In Which We Once Again Question The Paradigm of All

An interesting piece this weekend in the NY Times highlights a women-led law firm founded around the principle of being family friendly.  As the article lays out, they take many convoluted steps to make this family-friendly set up work – they are an entirely remote operation with a set up to rent office space and conference rooms by the hour; the flexibility demands a major schedule juggle; and they are making less money than if they were in a big, non-family-friendly firm.

In addition to practicing law, Ms. Simon and her law partner, Rebecca Geller, have a near-evangelical determination to show that parents can nurture their professional ambitions while being fully present in their children’s lives. Ms. Simon has such conviction on this point that she is almost personally offended by suggestions it might not be possible. The widely read and debated 2012 essay in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official, is a particular source of irritation. “I think women can have it all,” she said. “It’s just based on your paradigm of ‘all.’ ”

The debate around women “having it all” has always driven me a little batty for a lot of reasons.  For starters, this is an extremely privileged conversation that assumes a high level of economic security and social safety for women and their families.  Secondly, the obvious fact that we don’t talk about dads in the same way is ridiculous and is reason enough to abandon the topic altogether.  And finally, and perhaps more subtly, it codifies the paradigm of “all” that only respects certain types of families, communities and lifestyles and embraces the idea that our jobs across the board should be all consuming with no sunlight for other life priorities, be them children, other family, other community or beyond.

Too often the conversation puts the onus on individuals to juggle a set of priorities rather than looking at a system that increasingly demands we be available 24/7 to our jobs – something that is made stark when we look at the average number of hours most Americans work compared to other countries around the world.  And too often we collectively only acknowledge the juggle of parents rather than any worker who undoubtedly has a set of other priorities in life that are pressing, beyond children.  And of course, there is the fact that the income disparity, another major driver of work-life IMblanace for many American families, is at its highest level in decades.

Back to this article – I for one look forward to when such stories are not novel; when a firm does not have to be run by women to be family-friendly; when family-friendly (or just life-friendly; sanity friendly?) is itself not a novel idea; and when we drop the phrase “having it all.”

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