On Beginnings and Being a Superwoman

Author name
Lauren Sibley

Thumbnail “To be a strong woman, you don’t have to give up on the things that define you as a woman.”
                                                                                                                      – Lisa Jackson
This month, I had the pleasure and privilege of having dinner with Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the think tank New America, prominent foreign policy analyst, published author, frequent public speaker, and (as she makes a point to always include) proud mother of two sons. Reading her resume, she seems like a veritable superwoman. One of those women I aspire to be. One of those women who manages to be a top professional and a dedicated mother. Although I can verify after meeting her that Dr. Slaughter is an incredibly inspiring, articulate, dedicated, and successful woman, I can also say she would reject the superwoman label.

After leaving her top government job to be home with her sons, she wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” one of The Atlantic’s most-read articles. The article discusses the “work-family balance,” a buzzword on the minds and tongues of many workingwomen. What Dr. Slaughter argues in the article and articulated during the dinner is that the expectation that women can be top professionals and equally dedicated mothers is simply unreasonable. Many women who are current top professionals are not only extraordinary individuals, but typically do not have children. Dr. Slaughter explains, “such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.”

As an aspiring physician, I have thought about work-family balance quite a bit, given the demanding nature of a medical career. However, it seems ridiculous to me to have to adjust my aspirations now to enable myself to balance a career and motherhood, despite not intending to have children in this decade. When I mentioned this to Dr. Slaughter, she looked directly in my eyes and with a slight smile bluntly asked, “Would your brother grapple with this situation?”

For years now, I have been told that we live in a male-dominated society, read article headlines on “breaking the glass ceiling,” and applauded initiatives empowering women in STEM and business. However, this was perhaps the first time when all of that felt tangible. As Dr. Slaughter explains, if more women were at the top, we wouldn’t have to grapple with “work-family balance”. In a society led equally by women and men, family life would be a societal priority. This is not a weakness, but a means to allow women (and men!) to be the best parents and employees possible. A solution to this “work-family balance” has never been explained to me so clearly.

And thus, I have embarked on the first stage of my exploration of feminism. Slowly but surely I am recognizing and challenging male-conceived societal norms. More importantly, I am beginning to connect feminism with my own life in a tangible way. Historically, I hesitated to explore the intersections of gender and all other aspects of my life. I thought they were better off dealt with separately. However, the more I read, discuss, and explore feminism I recognize the benefits of fully embracing gender in discussions of other disciplines and seeing the world through a feminist lens. I am excited that I have come to this realization and am eager to continue this journey!

P.S. I enthusiastically encourage you to read Dr. Slaughter’s Atlantic article. It is very articulate and speaks to well-educated ambitious women, the type of women in this very cohort! http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

Posted by Lauren Sibley on October 26, 2016