You Can Have It All … Once Your Kids Are in College

Why working men still rule Washington.

Anne-Marie Slaughter made a splash this summer with an article in the Atlantic called "Why Women Still Can't Have it All," chronicling her decision to leave a prestigious State Department job to spend more time with her teenage sons. This week, Slaughter published a short follow-up article on the foreign-policy impact of workplace policies that lead women to "opt out" -- and the factors that make many successful women unwilling to discuss these issues openly.

"[I]ndividual women and men … tell me privately that they appreciated the essay I wrote for the Atlantic," Slaughter writes, but "[m]y decision to talk in such specific gender terms is still deeply uncomfortable for many. Foreign policy is a very male world. The women who have made it are a small and close club, all committed to advancing the careers of younger women and worried that even engaging in this conversation could make it harder to break those glass ceilings."

Let me fess up: I'm one of those people -- one of those women -- who has privately agreed with Slaughter's take on women in foreign-policy jobs and the gendered nature of the workplace but has until now refrained from wading into the public debate.

But Slaughter -- whom I know and admire -- has it right: Foreign policy remains for the most part a boys' club, and that goes double for national security policy. During my recent stint at the Pentagon, I grew so accustomed to being one of the only women in the room that I almost stopped noticing it. Outside government, it's not much different. There are plenty of women in the room if the topic relates to "soft" issues like human rights or development -- but if the topic relates to the so-called "hard" security issues, such as defense and intelligence policy, those participating in the discussions are almost all men.

This magazine is no exception. Foreign Policy's top editor is a woman, but take a look at the current list of regular columnists and bloggers and count the women. Go ahead: It won't take you long, because at the moment there's only one. That's me. And, yes, I'm feeling kind of lonely.

Slaughter is also right that most women find talk of gender issues uncomfortable. Those women left outside the foreign-policy power boys' club worry that if they raise gender issues they'll be perceived as resentful whiners, asking for "special" treatment or trying to blame their exclusion on gender rather than talent. Those women inside the boys' club -- the honorary boys -- are often all too aware of the precariousness of their status and may worry that raising gender issues will cause them to be taken less seriously or, worse, that they may be perceived as self-pitying or self-serving, determined to guilt-trip their male colleagues.

Given this context, Slaughter's call for an open discussion of gender issues in the foreign-policy workplace is both important and courageous -- and she shouldn't have to be out there alone. So I'll join her, because she speaks for almost every woman I know in the foreign-policy world, and for many men too.

It's past time to rethink our standard assumptions about how the workplace "naturally" functions. In the foreign-policy world, as in many other professional spheres, success and prestige depend as much on being ubiquitous as on being talented. In high-powered government jobs, working long hours continues to be viewed as a sign of seriousness. (You're going home at 5:30? Obviously you aren't committed to protecting the nation.)

Even those outside government face pressure to be ubiquitous: Important people go to lunch-time workshops at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, hobnob at book parties and think-tank conferences, and make the rounds at the Council on Foreign Relations' holiday party.

All this is hard to do for those people with significant family responsibilities -- and in our gendered society, that means all this is particularly hard for women. (And I'm talking about affluent professionals. The difficulties faced by low-income women, who often work punishing hours out of stark economic necessity rather than the desire to climb a career ladder, are different and far more acute). Although the average man today does more housework and childcare than the average man did a generation ago, the average woman still does twice as much as the average man. Married women remain far more likely than married men to take the kids to the doctor, pack the kids' lunches, chaperone the school field trips, get up in the middle of the night with the baby, and so on. Women are also far more likely than men to be single parents.

In practice, this means -- as Slaughter has noted -- that many talented, educated women opt out in ways large and small. They skip the evening receptions because they need to be home to put the children to bed. They cede to their male colleagues the "hot" crisis issues that require attendance at weekend meetings. They decline the interesting foreign trips that would give them face time with the boss, because who's going to take care of the kids? They turn down the job close to the center of power because they don't think it's compatible with maintaining meaningful family relationships. Sometimes, they opt out altogether.

Of course, this isn't a tragedy. Affluent, educated women at least have the luxury of choice -- and when I have to choose between an evening think-tank reception and reading bedtime stories to my children, it's no contest: The bedtime stories almost always win. I like being with my children a lot more than I like going to cocktail parties. And though I sometimes (OK, often) miss the adrenaline rush of being involved in the crisis du jour, I know I'd feel even worse if I thought I was missing my daughters' childhoods. Children don't stay children forever, but I'm pretty sure that there will still be plenty of foreign-policy crises left when my kids have gone off to college.

This is perhaps my only slight disagreement with Slaughter. Unlike Slaughter, I think women can "have it all" -- they just can't have it all at the same time. Neither can men.

It's just not possible to work effectively from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day and travel to war zones and hobnob with bigwigs at receptions and conferences and be available at a moment's notice for an urgent call or meeting and write op-eds and policy papers and run the Girl Scout troop and make a home-cooked meal every night and keep an eye on the kids' math homework and sustain vital family relationships and make sure the bills get paid and the car gets fixed, all in the same week, or month, or year. No woman can do that -- and no man can do it either. It's too much.

The problem, then, is not that men can "have it all" but women can't. The problem is that we still live in a world in which social pressures tend to push men and women onto different tracks, and the nature of the workplace reinforces the impact of those social pressures, instead of counterbalancing them.

We still live in a world in which women rather than men are expected to be the primary caregivers for children, and women who are perceived as placing career over family can expect to encounter social disapproval from neighbors, their children's teachers, and even family members. Sometimes it's open, and sometimes it's subtle, but we all know it's there. (Men, of course, are caught in a different but equally painful trap: If they appear to prioritize family over career, they too are apt to be regarded with some suspicion. Just as women whose high-powered jobs take them away from family may be regarded as "unwomanly," men whose families take them away from high-powered jobs may be stigmatized as "unmanly.")

Against that backdrop, workplace cultures that prize ubiquity will disproportionally push women out. And this, as Slaughter argues, has consequences that go well beyond the personal.

On the most basic level, workplaces that drive women out when they have kids lose a lot of talented people. More insidious, if the foreign-policy workplace is mostly male, is that the policymaking process will prioritize the issues that men tend to consider important, while the issues and perspectives traditionally important to women will get short shrift. (No, I'm not wading into the "essentialist versus constructivist" debate here -- this is a comment on what the world looks like right now, not on what it must inevitably look like). Globally, there's ample empirical evidence that gender equality is strongly correlated with societal stability and economic development, but instead of setting a positive example, the United States ranks abysmally low in terms of the percentage of women in leadership positions.

It doesn't have to be this way, and it shouldn't be this way.

The workplace policies and structures that push out women also push out many talented men -- and render those women and men who stay less creative and less capable. There's a growing body of research suggesting that long hours are just plain bad for business, whether "business" means the production of better widgets or the production of wiser foreign policy. The human body and brain can only take so much before productivity, judgment, and decision-making skills begin to suffer. We don't want sleep-deprived pilots to fly planes -- why would we want exhausted, overstretched officials making vital foreign-policy decisions?

The long hours and pervasive crisis atmosphere that characterize most foreign-policy workplaces aren't signs that Very Important Work is being done by Very Important People -- they're just signs of poor management. Good managers, whether they supervise air-traffic controllers, auto workers, or the National Security Staff, recognize that human beings function best when they work in humane and flexible conditions. Good managers make sure their employees -- both female and male -- have the time and encouragement to eat, sleep, exercise, take care of basic life- maintenance tasks, and spend time with family and friends.

It's far from impossible to do this, even in the foreign-policy workplace. At the Pentagon, for instance, Michèle Flournoy, then defense undersecretary for policy, actively encouraged her staff to adopt flexible work schedules. Secure videoconferencing reduces the need for travel, and emerging technologies increasingly permit people who must work with classified information to do so remotely via smartphones and tablets, reducing the need for people to spend long hours at the office.

"What's good for business is good for America," President Calvin Coolidge is said to have remarked. That may or may not be true. But Anne-Marie Slaughter deserves a lot of praise for reminding us that when it comes to the workplace, what's good for women is good for business -- and good for American foreign policy.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

National Security

On Pilgrims and Zionists

Why I’m thankful America didn’t turn out like Israel.

It's Thanksgiving, which means it's time to think about Israel.

That's not as nonsensical as it may sound. The Pilgrims who established our American Thanksgiving ritual thought about Israel a great deal: both they and the larger group of Puritan settlers who followed them a decade later saw themselves as New Israelites, forced into the wilderness by religious persecution.

Given that history, Thanksgiving is a good time to contemplate the parallels between the United States and Israel. After a week of front-page news about Israel and the violence that has increasingly come to define it, this is also a good time to count our blessings -- for despite many parallels, the United States is, thankfully, not Israel. Not yet.

"Empty Land"

Tradition tells us that the first Thanksgiving feast took place in the autumn of 1621, as the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest. On December 12, 1621, Robert Cushman preached the earliest surviving sermon to the Pilgrims. God, said Cushman, had opened "a way...for such as have wings to fly into this Wilderness," so that "as by the dispersion of the Jewish church through persecution...a light may rise up in the dark." A New Israel had sprung up in New England.

If the early American setters saw parallels between themselves and the ancient Israelites, we modern Americans can also find parallels between the American Pilgrims and the Jewish Zionists who settled in Palestine between the late 19th and mid-20th century.

After all, America and Israel share similar origin tales: the Pilgrims who set sail from Plymouth, England in 1620 did so against a backdrop of European religious wars, massacres, and persecution; while the Jews who founded the modern state of Israel fled centuries of European anti-Semitism and the unprecedented horrors of the Holocaust.

Each of the two groups imagined themselves to be settling a mostly empty wilderness: "We found the place where we live empty, the people being all dead and gone away," reported Cushman in 1621. Three hundred years later and almost 5,000 miles away, Jewish Zionists sought "a land without a people, for a people without a land." Palestine "remains at this moment an almost uninhabited, forsaken and ruined Turkish territory," enthused Israel Zangwill, an early Zionist, in 1902. He later realized his mistake ("Alas... The country holds 600,000 Arabs"), but by then the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine had picked up unstoppable momentum.

Both the Pilgrims and the Zionist settlers -- separated as they were by centuries and miles -- underestimated the staying power of the local inhabitants. In the "New Israel" of New England, Cushman observed that the natives who initially appeared were "very much wasted of late, by reason of a great mortality that fell amongst them three years since." (Though Cushman probably didn't know it, the "great mortality" stemmed from smallpox, typhoid, and other diseases unwittingly brought by European fishermen.) With regard to the "poor heathens," wrote Cushman, "Our care hath been to maintain peace amongst them."

The Native Americans turned out to have opinions of their own about the European "errand into the wilderness," however, and over the next decades, European encroachment onto Native American land increasingly led to conflict. New England saw the Pequot War of 1637, for instance, followed by King Phillip's War of 1675-6, which killed hundreds of settlers and thousands of Native Americans.

The Zionists who settled in Palestine found themselves similarly mired in conflict. As the region's Jewish population increased from just over 10 percent in the early 1920s to about 33 percent after World War II, tensions with the Arab majority went up as well. By the late 1930s, attacks on Jewish settlements by Arab militants were matched by retaliatory attacks on Arabs by Jewish paramilitary groups.

Diverging paths

Here, however, Israel's path began to diverge from that of early America. The Native Americans were already badly weakened by epidemic disease and internecine conflict by the time European settlers arrived in force. Although bloody skirmishes between Europeans and Native Americans continued until well into the 20th century, by the mid-1700s the native population had ceased to pose an existential threat to the European colonists, and the emerging nation could turn its attention to other matters. To the colonists, all this was a sign of God's providence. To the Native Americans, it was just a tragedy.

In Palestine, things were different: the Arab inhabitants declined to die out of their own accord, leaving the Jewish settlers surrounded by displaced, aggrieved locals. Escalating attacks and counter-attacks embroiled the Israelis in a cycle of violence and retaliation. In 1948, when David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish state, war immediately broke out with Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq. Israel prevailed -- but in the nearly seven decades since then, Israel has remained in a state of intermittent war.

Israel's cycle of war and escalation broke out yet again last week, as Israel retaliated against Hamas rocket attacks by pounding Gaza from the air. In this conflict -- as in all of Israel's past conflicts -- Israel's military superiority (much of it thanks to U.S. weapons sales and aid) has made it a lopsided fight: as of Tuesday, five Israelis and 130 Palestinians had been killed. In the last Gaza conflict -- Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009 -- 13 Israelis and 1,400 Palestinians died during the three weeks of fighting. During the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon War, Lebanese casualties exceeded Israeli casualties by a factor of ten.

But Israel's immense military superiority has produced only illusory gains. What good is winning when winning only sows the seeds of the next conflict, one following another in rapid succession?

As Janine Zacharia, former Jerusalem bureau chief of the Washington Post, wrote last week, "Israel's response to these ongoing rocket attacks is justified. But being justified isn't the same thing as being smart. The truth is Israel has been engaged in a low-grade war with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip for five years now, with no plan besides a misguided military strategy for how to end it.... To be sure, Israel will once again achieve many of its short-term tactical goals...[but] in the end, Israel will be no safer, although it will surely be more alone in the world and living in a neighborhood that is less tolerant of its aggressive countermeasures."

Once, Israel represented a dream or freedom, safety, and peace for Europe's persecuted Jews. But decades of on-and-off war, suicide bombers, and rockets attacks have left Israel isolated, imperiled, and in danger of losing its soul. Each new round of asymmetric attacks from Palestinians or neighboring states triggers an outsized Israeli military response, which buys a few years of relative quiet, until the violence escalates again. And meanwhile, Israel has become a permanent garrison state, defined almost solely by its embattled status and losing, each year, a few more of its democratic traditions.

"Everyone is sad"                                                                                

This isn't an "attack upon Israel." Suicide bombs and makeshift rockets are weapons of the weak, but they have left a trail of mangled, broken bodies all the same, and the Holocaust still casts a long shadow. By now, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are fighting the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Arabs displaced or killed by the Jewish settlers who created the state of Israel. Everyone's a victim, and everyone has become a perpetrator.

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick recently wrote the best essay I've seen yet on living in Israel during the current conflict: "[T]he harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don't constitute a conversation.... Scoring your own side's suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone -- absolutely everyone -- is suffering and sad, and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.... Bombing the other side into oblivion is no more a solution than counting your dead children in public.... Please don't judge. Work toward solutions. Because everyone on every side of this is desperate. This isn't a way to live and we all know it."

In the Arab-Israeli conflict, there is a stronger side and a weaker side, but there is certainly no "right" side.

There but for the Grace of God

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for all the mundane but vital blessings: happy children, a loving husband and family, work that I love, the health to enjoy it. I'm also thankful that we Americans still live in relative peace and prosperity. And this year, I'm particularly thankful I don't live in Israel, that America is not Israel, and that America's path long ago diverged from Israel's.

That it did so is hardly to our credit, since the American Republic was built upon the virtual destruction of the Native Americans. Our peace and prosperity owe much to happy accidents of geography -- how lucky to have oceans on two sides! -- and more to the suffering of others (slavery, too, casts a long shadow).

But we should not assume that America is exempt from Israel's fate. Stunned by the 9/11 attacks, in 2001 the United States began a blind lurch towards the Israeli path, ultimately embroiling ourselves in two bloody wars of occupation. With our temporary embrace of torture, we came perilously close to losing our own national soul.

Although we have now repudiated torture, we continue to find the Israeli path tempting. Indefinite detention has become an accepted reality for America, along with an aggressive, expanding surveillance state. Before 9/11, the United States condemned Israeli "targeted killings" of alleged terrorists. Now, targeted killings have become the American weapon of choice.

Like the Israelis, we're increasingly playing counterterrorism whack-a-mole -- and as with the Israelis, each drone strike may pull us that much further into an endless cycle of attack, retaliation, counter-attack, and counter-retaliation, with nothing gained at the end of the day but dead bodies on all sides.

Israel is what the Pilgrims imagined themselves to be building, and if we are not both lucky and wise, Israel is what we may yet become -- but not in the way our forebears imagined.

The Eyes of All People Are Upon Us

Shortly after the First Thanksgiving, Robert Cushman urged his fellow Pilgrims to "win [the natives] to peace both with yourselves, and one another, by your peaceable examples." The lesson didn't really take.

Few Americans have heard of Cushman, but most are familiar with John Winthrop's Arabella Sermon, delivered nine years later. Like Cushman, Winthrop exhorted his fellow American settlers to set a good example:

[We must] follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.... We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities.... [So] Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.... For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are uppon us.

Less often quoted is the more ominous passage that follows:

For if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this worke wee haue undertaken... wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world....Wee shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into curses upon us, till wee be consumed out of the good land whither wee are a goeing.

Happy Thanksgiving.