Equality Requires Men and Non-Mom Working Women to Work Less

The latest feminist volley, “Finding balance requires changing the lives of men,” from Professors Joan C. Williams and Anne-Marie Slaughter, calls to mind nothing so much as “Harrison Bergeron,” Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant short story projecting to its logical conclusion what the demand for strict equality would result in: everyone equally handicapped.

Thus, as employers perversely continue to reward workers who work longer hours and with more on-the-job experience with higher pay—thus leaving women (and some men) who take time off to care for family with lower pay—the time has come to require men and working women who are not mothers to work less, too.

Professors Williams and Slaughter patly declare:

The long-hours ethic that pervades elite jobs is more about masculinity than productivity.

It’s not terribly surprising to learn that their fields of study are law, politics, and international affairs, and both are therefore apparently unfamiliar with the realities of the formerly-competitive economy in which most of us operate. Yes, as a matter of fact, one is more valuable to one’s employer when one can be found in the office when needed, and this value translates into a more productive enterprise across the board, which in turn positively feeds competitive advantage.

What is surprising is that the piece completely discounts the benefits women (and some men) derive from stepping off the fast track; and, on the obverse, the rewards foregone by those who do not—namely, the value of familial love and the happiness derived from raising children.

Professors Williams and Slaughter continue to hold to the feminist ideal of women truly having it all: satisfying marriages, fabulous careers, and perfect children. They believe such utopia can be achieved through “changing the lives of men” and changing the workplace.

In her earlier piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Ms. Slaughter described the frustration of discovering that her children wouldn’t simply raise themselves when she left to pursue a high-powered political appointment; her embarrassment at subsequently finding herself one of “those women” who couldn’t “have it all”; and the horror that today’s next generation of women understand and accept that “having it all—all at the same time” is a myth.

Ignoring the facts of life she has described so poignantly first-hand (children need lots of attention and so does being a powerhouse), she clings desperately to the feminist vision that somehow creating an entirely new kind of society would achieve:

Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.

“Everyone” … really? In the real world, all marriages are not made in heaven, all jobs do not equally provide life with meaning, children do not come with guarantees, and not everyone wants “it all.”

Professors Williams and Slaughter may wish that if only women had sufficient political power, men would suddenly invest more in marriages and child-rearing and women wouldn’t need to do so disproportionately; children would thrive no matter their parents’ involvement; and “family friendly” workplaces wouldn’t lose out to international competitors who would continue to reward long hours and greater productivity with higher pay.

Unfortunately, history bears out Mr. Vonnegut’s graphic lesson: when “equality” is mandated, the equality we get tends to fall not only far short of the equality we imagined, but also from the inequality with which we started.

Real life really does involve trade-offs, and Professors Williams’ and Slaughter’s beggar-us-all choices should not infringe on my ability to make my own.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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