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BOUND TO PLEASE / Take wider view so everyone can ‘have it all’

The Japan News

By Heather Howard / Japan News Staff WriterUnfinished Business: Women Men Work Family

By Anne-Marie Slaughter

Random House, 328pp

So much rings true in “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family” — including the author’s description of the “half-truths” that modern society perpetuates about how to “have it all” — it’s difficult to know where to start in reviewing the book.

But surely most readers in most countries will agree with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s call for more caring. Or, more care for caring, to be exact. Until employees’ efforts to nurture their children and other relatives are properly valued and encouraged by companies and society at large, Slaughter argues, it will never be possible for anyone to “have it all.”

Examples abound. An analyst and scholar who worked for the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton, Slaughter describes how “leaving to spend time with your family” is widely accepted as a euphemism for being fired in Washington, D.C. So much so that a Pentagon spokesman essentially told the public, “No, really!” when one of its female officials gave that reason for stepping down in 2011.

“Consider what this standard Washington excuse implies,” Slaughter says. “It’s so unthinkable that an official would actually step down to spend time with his or her family that it must be a cover for something else. Anyone who willingly chooses family over career ... must not be able to cut it in the workforce.”

Slaughter herself resigned for that reason, and triggered a national debate with the article she wrote for The Atlantic magazine, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

She convincingly argues for reframing this issue as a care problem, not a women’s problem, which allows it to be marginalized. The numbers appear to back such a rethink: Research at one consulting firm, for example, found equal distress among men and women over work-family conflicts, and equal percentages of both genders leaving due to long working hours.

Far more hard-hitting is the second most common regret expressed by dying patients to Australian author Bronnie Ware: “I wish I didn’t work so hard,” which came from every male patient she had nursed. “They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship,” Slaughter quotes Ware as writing in the book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”

To those who cite flexible working hours and other such programs, Slaughter points to the “you’re not really serious about your career” stigma that can still dog those who use them. And that’s for white-collar employees; low-income hourly workers have no flexibility at all, she writes, with nearly one-quarter of U.S. adults having been fired or threatened with dismissal for taking off work to recover from sickness or take care of someone who is sick.

Slaughter calls on readers to harness the power of language to bring about change: Call men “working fathers,” for example, and don’t ask people leaving early how they plan to get their work done. “Talk alone will not change everything,” she says. “But talk can change the way we think, which can then change the way we act.”

Where to Read

In the book club you form with other “working caregivers”

Maruzen price: ¥4,480 plus tax (as of Sept. 28)Speech

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