January 2014

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

I do not often post these kind of posts in my blog, as I deliberately decided to focus on mathematics and science education. However, the article I am referring to here deals with the issues that are relevant to many mathematics and science educators who are women, so it does fit. It is also relevant to anybody who is part of the family where both partners (men or women) want to have a family and a career. The article is an interview with a Princeton Professor – Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter. She is one of the extraordinary women in academia who also faced and still faces the challenges of being a mother. This is just a brief excerpt about her from the web site I mentioned above:

Anne-Marie Slaughter is currently the President and CEO of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute and idea incubator based in Washington and New York. She is also the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. From 2009–2011 she served as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, the first woman to hold that position. Upon leaving the State Department she received the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award for her work leading the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, as well as meritorious service awards from USAID and the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. Prior to her government service, Dr. Slaughter was the Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs from 2002–2009 and the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School from 1994-2002.

And here is the interview: The reason I decided to re-post it here is because I also had to face some very difficult decisions and had to commute between Vancouver and Toronto for two and a half years while my husband was raising our two children (two boys). I kept asking myself if I made the right choice and didn’t forgo a position I wanted for years and settle to be a sessional lecturer forever in order to be a good mother (the way society perceives what it means to be a good mother). And yet, for me, I cannot imagine being happy if I had a job that I felt didn’t fulfill my potential. I see many women who settle for jobs that are low-paid, have low benefits and have very limited opportunities for career promotion because they are faced with these choice and because they DO WANT to have children when the are in their 20s or 30s, instead of waiting for a successful career prior to having kids. These are very difficult choices women are faced with. I do not want to judge anybody, but we do have lots of ambitious women and I wonder why our society makes us, women, face these horrible choices – having a family or being successful at a job. I am still looking for answers, but I think the society we live in has to change. WOMEN AND MEN have to be supported in raising families. What we have now is not good for either gender.

My sons are still growing and I am not sure if our struggles with finding two academic positions at one university have had a negative impact on them. However, what I do know that for  me, having a job I love is very important. I also know that making women make a choice between a career and a family is a wrong and horrible thing. Why don’t we try to support women so they can have both – a career and a family (for women who want to have both). I think we should support men who want to have both as well. I also think that being a mother changes you in many positive ways with respect to your ability to do your work. I am an educator and being a mother is a big asset for me, as it makes me continuously ask myself if the way I teach other people’s children would be the way I would like somebody else to teach my own sons.

I agree that every woman and every man have to make their own choices, but many of the choices we are faced with should not have been there to begin with. I do want to believe that having a family and a career is a possibility, but I also want to believe that it shouldn’t mean moms and dads who are also academics or professionals should be superwomen or supermen.


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