The Recline! Response (Part 2)

Kristin Lord, Suzanne Nossel, Whitney Kassel, and Ari Ratner weigh in on Rosa Brooks's recent columns and a woman's right to recline.

In case you missed it, Rosa Brooks's recent columns -- Recline! and Slack? Nap? Snooze?-- have created quite the buzz. Yesterday, FP turned to Anne-Marie Slaughter, Julianne Smith, and Mieke Eoyang to get their thoughts on the Recline Revolution. Today, four others -- Kristin Lord, Suzanne Nossel, Whitney Kassel, and Ari Ratner -- offer their insights. And even a mantra or two. 

* * *

Kristin M. Lord:

Women of America: I have seen the enemy and it is us. 

Sheryl Sandberg implored us to Lean In. Tara Sonenshine implored us to Lean Out. Now Rosa Brooks asks us to Recline. Anne-Marie Slaughter reminds us that women still can't have it all.

Ladies, we are making ourselves, and each other, nuts.

I suggest a new (if somewhat facetious) mantra: "Who Cares?"

Who cares if a wealthy tech tycoon has perfect hair and wants others to be like her?

Who cares if you decide you can't be PTA president, run marathons, run your organization, and look fabulous all at the same time?

I have spent the past 20 years working on security, conflict, and science and technology. Suffice it to say, I have worked with lots of men. And this is what I've noticed: Men don't spend nearly as much energy worrying what other people think -- and that may be one of the secrets of their success. 

Many things hold women professionals back, but women also hold each other back by thinking that what other women do is somehow a reflection on them -- as leaders, as mothers, and as people.

Here are three reasons we should care less.

First, the alternative is exhausting. It is not possible to live up to the standard set for modern women without running ourselves into the ground and bringing the people who depend on us along for the ride.

Second, it is a distraction from bigger challenges. Difficult issues like flexible schedules and childcare affect women, men, and families alike. Let's focus on them.

Third, the current discussion is dominated by people -- myself included -- who generally have it good. Too many Americans are struggling with stagnant wages and levels of skills and education that don't make them competitive in today's economy. For all the problems we encounter, we should remember how fortunate we are.

When we hold each other down, it keeps us from doing the things that will help other women (and, yes, men) get ahead -- or enjoying a novel or taking a well-deserved nap. 

-Kristin M. Lord is acting president of the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are her own.


Suzanne Nossel:

Sheryl wants us to lean in. Rosa wants us to recline. The rest of us want a choice -- to lean when we're motivated and recline when we deserve a break. To win this freedom, we need my mantra: Lean and Let Lean. By leaning on one another to share information, lend a hand, ask or give advice, or just sustain a friendship all of us will be better able to lean in, lean back, and stay up on our feet.

We've heard about the "mommy wars" -- battles between stay-at-home and working moms over who could claim the moral, financial, and feminist high ground. Yet even in the parental Ground Zero of Manhattan's Upper West Side, mommy corps seems a more apt metaphor.  

The "stay-at-home" moms are the mommy-corps infantry. They are class moms and PTA chieftains. Us working parents do our fair share of freeloading, but also run the pledge drive, the PTA Nominating Committee, and other time-bound and less demanding (and often duller) tasks. Working parents also tap their networks, employers, and bank accounts to support the school.

One of my favorite forms of leaning involves extending a hand to pull a stay-at-home mom back into the workforce once she's ready. Having tossed out their business cards years before, these women tend not to be looking for fancy titles or perks. They can work hard and well as consultants, getting experience that brings their resumes up to date.

Rather than ogling Sheryl's blow-dry or pondering Rosa's Lay-Z-Girl, we should focus on how to foster and support the leaning that can allow all of us to both lean in and recline. Workplaces that allow employees the time and resources to mentor others, schools with schedules that accommodate both working and stay-at-home parents, and companies that hire women returning to work can help make the choices and trade-offs less stark.

So lean in when you feel the passion, recline when you need to breathe but -- above all -- lean and let lean so that if and when you finally have "it all" you don't find yourself all alone.

-Suzanne Nossel is the executive director of PEN American Center.


Whitney Kassel:

In Washington, the "lean-in" mentality pre-dates Sandberg by decades, with unclear effects on policy-making, and foreign policy in particular. It's not just the bemoaned "tyranny of the inbox," which keeps senior officials treading water in a morass of memos and meetings so deep they can hardly step back and strategize, let alone recline. But there's also the issue of self-selection among those who choose to pursue high level policy careers.

These are major leaners-in (lean-iners?) from the outset, having climbed the ranks of a field in which the participants are driven not by financial incentive, but rather a feeling of purpose and duty -- two factors that make leaning in even more tempting than money alone, at least for some. 

In some cases, "short" stints of two or three years in a senior policy job may seem like a manageable amount of time to give up a bit of reclining. Maybe your kids are grown or your spouse is able to take time off while you grind away 14-plus hours a day. Nevertheless, those who are offered, and are willing to take these jobs are a very particular kind of bird.

It is very possible we want leaners-in to be running our country, as they are clearly both capable and highly motivated. We don't, however, know what we might be missing if we were to include other kinds of personalities in the mix. The realities of Washington may make this impossible. There is stiff competition for policy jobs, and those who make it to the top may inevitably be of the lean-in variety. But it is worth considering what a few more leisurely thinkers, or doers -- recliners, even! -- might bring to the policy-making table.

-Whitney Kassel is the regional director at the Arkin Group and previously served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense covering Pakistan, Special Operations and Counterterrorism.


Ari Ratner:

Rosa Brooks's advice to "Recline" struck a chord with my friends and me -- all of us single guys, most in government or former government officials. The consensus: Women obviously face particular hardships in attaining leadership positions and "balancing" work and family life. (Some that I can barely imagine: I heard Anne-Marie Slaughter speak last year and was identifying with her description of "why women can't have it all" ... until she started talking about whether a woman should freeze her eggs.)

But as much as I support any movement that encourages women to "lean in" into leadership positions, this entire town could stand to "Recline" a little more.

Today, I stand -- OK, sit -- with Rosa. Most of us privileged enough to have this conversation don't lead lives of quiet desperation. We lead lives of manic desperation -- constantly maneuvering, incessantly accumulating, surrounded by a cacophony of noise (email, Twitter, our own self-doubt). And I don't even have kids.

For what? Leadership comes with all sorts of perks. You have the chance to improve the world. People also return your emails. It's a heady brew.

But the climb to the top is toxic -- for leaders and everyone else affected by policies made on little sleep and lots of ego.

Look at D.C.'s typical psychopathology: Those striving for power tend to combine deep-seated insecurity with the conviction both that they're better than everyone else and that their superiority (somehow!) goes unrecognized. (Ted Cruz, you're not alone.)

Those at the pinnacle often just want to reclaim what they've lost -- their "Rosebud" -- before it gets tossed in the fire.

Leaning in can be valuable: Women rightly deserve their seat at the head of the table. And we can all benefit from Sheryl's sage advice on self-empowerment.

But our problems are systemic. We can't just escalate the arms race to the top. We need a comprehensive approach to empower all of society that would be something truly new under the sun.

-Ari Ratner is a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. He served as an appointee in the Obama administration's State Department from 2009-2012. Follow him on Twitter: @amratner.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images for La-Z-Boy


The Recline! Response (Part 1)

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Julianne Smith, and Mieke Eoyang take on Rosa Brooks' Manifesto for the new working woman.

Everyone, it seems, now has a plan to design the most efficient professional woman: part machine, part mom -- and always satisfied. Needless to say, much of this advice has been exhausting. So when FP's Rosa Brooks encouraged women to recline in a La-Z-Boy, rather than "lean in" to all aspects of life -- and still be successful -- well, that got thousands of FP's readers talking. In fact, more than 60,000 readers have already shared her column across social networks.

So what are other notable women (and men) saying about Recline! and Brooks's follow-up column Slack? Nap? Snooze?  FP caught up with a few to get their sense of the Recline Revolution, and we will be publishing their comments throughout the week.

* * *

Anne-Marie Slaughter:

The most important thing that Rosa Brooks has done with "Recline!" has been to inject a much-needed note of humor into our oh-so-serious feminist debates. They are serious, above all, for the millions of women, as Rosa suggests, who have no option of leaning in or leaning back, but struggle simply to stay upright and afloat. Still, no one with any sense of humor at all could avoid laughing out loud while reading Recline. Indeed, I suspect that Sheryl Sandberg herself must have laughed.

The absence of a sense of humor -- which requires a sense of perspective and the ability to step outside your own beliefs and commitments and laugh at yourself a little, at least a little -- is what so often turns young women off about what they perceive the traditional feminist movement to be. The most effective movements blend humor, creativity, commitment, ideas, and inclusion.

On the more serious side, Rosa also surfaced an important disagreement among some of us who are fully committed to push back against the insanity of trying to have full-time careers and full-time caregiving responsibilities at the same time -- something no male CEO I know tries to do. Our disagreement is not over substance so much as the advisability of revealing any chinks in our collective armor in public. 

Rebecca Traister's response to Brooks' piece is similar to Sheryl Sandberg's desire not to debate with me in public. She has a legitimate concern that the media will then focus on a perceived disagreement between us rather than on the larger goal of achieving true equality between men and women. I understand and respect this perspective, but also respectfully disagree.

Intelligent, powerful women should be able to have a debate among themselves just as intelligent powerful men can. That human beings are naturally drawn to disagreements and debate rather than lockstep uniformity is at the heart of dialectical progress. We structure our entire legal system on the adversary principle for a reason.

I, for one, think that the women's movement has certainly come far enough to allow for robust, humorous and substantive debate. In my view, that can only advance us further.  Let's all recline, read, and share a laugh.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the president and CEO of the New America Foundation, and former director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, the first woman to hold that position.

* * *

Julianne Smith:

Last summer, after four-plus years with the administration, including one year as the deputy national security advisor to the vice president, I quit my job, let our nanny go and became a stay-at-home mom. 

I didn't simply recline. I went horizontal. 

What was it like to transition from DNSA to SAHM? Let's just say expectations didn't always line up with reality. While I was still at the White House -- particularly on days that ended well past my son's bedtime -- I'd imagine the glory of my upcoming move. Sometimes, as I sat in the Situation Room, my mind flipped through a montage of summer snapshots: teaching my son to swim, going for walks in the woods, and enjoying picnics in the park all without a BlackBerry or secure phone. 

In truth, my son and I did all of those things last summer and more. We took day trips to museums and local farms, literally reclined on the back porch and watched the wind blow, and took long naps. After too many missed bedtime routines, I was grateful to have the luxury of spending full days with my son and many more nights and weekends with my husband. 

But the summer wasn't without its challenges. I lost connective tissue with friends still in the administration and a sense of belonging. I found that rainy days were long and sometimes my patience wore thin. I discovered that making a 3-D cake is much harder than solving Syria. And sometimes, I missed my BlackBerry. Of course, none of these realizations made me enjoy the summer any less. But they did help me understand that there was no need to side with Sheryl Sandberg, Ann-Marie Slaughter or Rosa Brooks in the never-ending debate about working moms. 

I have the good fortune of being able to choose when I want to lean in or recline, and it's okay if those instincts occasionally kick in all at the same time.

Julianne Smith is senior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security and former deputy national security advisor to the vice president of the United States.

* * *

Mieke Eoyang:

Lean in. Recline. Have it all. Don't. A girl could pull a muscle watching the debate rage over work-family balance. But for some of us, it's like watching Wimbledon. We're watching the elite athletes in a game we may never play, whether or not we'd be good at it.

For many women, the debate over a work-family balance is an academic one -- because they don't have children, and it is overwhelmingly family that sits on the other side of the scale. Talking to a number of my friends who are single women (and some men), they often find that they are the ones who pick up the slack for their colleagues when family comes first.

Without a family, one has no excuse to decline that rubber-chicken dinner where someone must go to "show the flag." For the childless, there are not early departures for soccer games, sick kids, or parent-teacher conferences. If a colleague goes out on maternity (or in a sign of increasing gender equality, paternity) leave, that TPS report doesn't write itself. 

Over the course of my career I have watched the 24-hour news cycle, cell phones, BlackBerrys, video conferencing, and finally mobile desktops let the office follow us everywhere. It becomes increasingly more difficult to protect one's personal time against the demands of work and its crises -- real and imagined -- especially when one cannot point to children's needs as a countervailing force. It feels like shirking to say that we cannot tackle that project because we need to go for a run, see friends, or even just catch up on Homeland. But everyone needs a break.

I have held jobs that were all-consuming, where I had to quit my gym because I never left the office. But I have since realized that I am the only one who can make my health and my own life a priority, and they are just as important to me as other people's kids or spouses are to them. In the absence of family, I have chosen to put my life first.

Mieke Eoyang is the Director of the National Security Program at Third Way. She tweets under @miekeeoyang.

Paul Morigi/Getty Images for FORTUNE