Two days ago I went to a speaking event with guest Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was interviewed by Rebecca Traister of Big Girls Don’t Cry‘. Slaughter wrote a famous piece for The Atlantic titled ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’, which is one of the most shared articles in the publications history at 209,000 facebook shares alone.
It was a free discussion, with about 40 women in attendance, nestled in a cosmopolitan private screening room at The Core Club off Park Ave. There was swank lighting, comfy seats, and delicious mini sandwiches so beautiful one felt real pressure to use the embellished silver tongs provided, despite clear finger food status. Almost all the women in attendance were white. From my seat in the middle back I couldn’t help but notice how shiny everyone’s hair was- yes indeed these women were groomed. I fidgeted in my head-to-toe thrift store get up, but reassured myself that my hair looked just as good as these women’s.
I was supposed to attend the event with Stephanie Lind, but I ended up participating alone. Stephanie has two young daughters. When I invited her to the event she asked if we should get a babysitter. I said “No way! If there is one discussion topic where they’ll welcome women and their children, this is it.” I was supposed to bring my 8-month-old, but she was acting fussy. Luckily, I am in the luxurious position of having an amazing husband who works from home and happens to love spending time with his daughter. I meet Stephanie and immediately upon arrival we’re informed that children are not welcome. We stumble and stutter for a minute about what to do. “Should we just leave and go get coffee somewhere together?” I ask. “No, no, no! You are going to this discussion. We will not take No for an answer. Please, go enjoy yourself.” she responds. We agree that she and the girls will find something else to do for 2 hours and then we’ll meet up afterwards.
The discussion was what you’d expect. One woman wanted affordable daycare. Another woman wanted equal pay. One young woman my age asked “When is a good age to have kids?” and specifically mentioned fertility treatments. She also wrote about the event here. Anne-Marie Slaughter brought up how Harvard is now offering their female grad students subsidized egg freezing.
Slaughter described the moment she told her administration and colleagues that she was resigning from her position so she could spend time at home and be a more present mother with her two teenage sons. She said “I could see them devaluing me right before my very eyes.” I myself experienced that when I told my contacts in the music industry I was pregnant. “Society as a whole needs to be more welcoming towards mothers!” they cried. “Yes! Yes!” We all shouted. Slaughter and Traister then took questions.
I quickly raised my hand in response and was thrilled to be selected. “You know, it’s funny you should say society should be more welcoming of mothers,” I began. “I was supposed to come here with another young woman, a mother. She has two young daughters. We discussed if we should get babysitters so we could come here, but we’re both of modest means, paying down big student loans and I said ‘No’, out of all the topics we should be welcomed to bring our kids to, this is it. But when she tried to get in, she was turned away because kids aren’t allowed. My friend is a brilliant person, a conservative, there are lots of young conservative women like us who are choosing to have our kids at age 23, 24, 25… How are we supposed to participate in the conversation if we can’t even get in the door?”
I think that comment caused a bit of a stir. It’s not really fair to have a conversation about women, motherhood, and labor when the only women that are in the room are rich enough for nannies or don’t yet have children. Traister responded to me, “I know that seems unfair, but actually all of the policies that we’re suggesting here would actually benefit conservative women! So you don’t have to worry!”
I know what she meant and I appreciate the sentiment. Five years ago I remember myself saying the same thing. But this is how I responded, “I appreciate what you’re saying Rebecca, but those kinds of propositions conflict with conservative sacred truths. They violate our conscience.” Because the truth is, it doesn’t matter if liberals perceive free contraception as a way to improve all women’s lives, including conservative women’s. It doesn’t matter if liberals perceive universal daycare as a way to improve all women’s lives, including conservative women’s. If we believe separating sex from childbearing is wrong, and forcing us to pay for things we don’t want (like others’ contraception) is wrong, then it’s not actually improving our lives. And if we’re not comfortable hiring strangers to raise our kids, and we don’t want to spend our own money on taxes that pay so other people can hire strangers to raise their kids, then its not actually improving our lives.
The way I see it, the conservative women I know are doing very creative things in order to get their children raised and live comfortable lives simultaneously. And the best part is they’re not stealing or burdening other people to get there. They’re having children at reasonably young ages so they don’t have to prey upon poor women in the future (for eggs and wombs). They frequently stay at home to raise their own kids, avoiding the awkward race/class issues (I just went to the library and more than half the white babies I saw were accompanied by black nannies- you never see the opposite). They delegate income generation to their husbands who are quite fit for steady work anyways since they never have to worry about morning sickness, labor and delivery recovery, or nursing- which btw I think delegation is a marked characteristic of great leadership, is it not?
Another reason I thought of about why there weren’t more (any?) conservative women at the discussion is the fact that most truly conservative people find it obnoxious to pay astronomical rent, such as the large sums we pay in New York City, and thus are left out of influential circles by simple proximity issues. One strategy for having a comfortable life and raising a family is living in more affordable places (shout out to the Lapps- newest residents of Maytown, OH!).
The truth is, with marriage women have totally equal access to material wealth as men. And men have almost total equality in access to their children. With it we live in the same homes, eat the same foods, have access to the same bank accounts, vacations, etc…
But it’s not about equality in material, familial, or spiritual pursuits. It’s about equal glory. Women want the same amount of glory, fame, respect and recognition that men receive. That’s what having it all really means.
I would love to give you a great conclusion but my kid is crying and I have to go tend to her needs.