The new line, replacing roar with whine, hasn't found a place on the 21st century Hit Parade, but we've all heard versions of it. This latest wail was inspired by the latest feminist cause celebre, an Atlantic magazine cover story titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." The article (and the controversy) by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a 53-year-old onetime star in the Obama constellation, has gone viral.
She was the first woman to be director of policy planning at the State Department, and she dropped out after 18 months to return to a more leisurely tenured professorship at Princeton, where she can spend more time with her family. Now she can teach, write articles, work on a book, make 40 or 50 speeches a year, appear regularly on radio and television, and not feel guilty about neglecting her children. Ah, for the velvet-lined rigors of academe.
What precipitated her return to the hearth was a troubled and troublesome son, 14, and his 12-year-old brother, whose weekday care had been left to their father, a tenured Princeton professor. Mom commuted on weekends from her day job in Washington. She rediscovered the wheel of maternal misfortune and decided that a teenager can be more complicated than politics in the Middle East, and her 14-year-old son's "rocky adolescence" required more attention than the rocky affairs of state.
By the eighth grade, he was skipping homework, failing math, disrupting classes and dissing every adult near home or school. No maternity leave was available for dealing with that, and teenage emergencies required her to make several unexpected train rides back home, "invariably on the day of an important meeting."
Her return to domestic tranquility was assisted by Princeton rules of tenure, which she would automatically lose after two years of working elsewhere, even for Barack Obama. Her solution sounds like a commonsense compromise with its own rewards, but it has set off a ferocious debate among the feminist elite: "Say it ain't so!"
Her problems aren't those of her foremothers, as depicted on HBO's hit "Mad Men," how women in the 1950s couldn't succeed in advertising without acting like men. She understands that her cushy choices hardly resemble those of her less fortunate sisters, the single mothers who have trouble finding a job or are supporting an unemployed husband. Not many working wives get a sabbatical year in Shanghai, as she did, with her family, so the children could learn Mandarin.