Wednesday, August 1, 2012

a faint cri de couer

i think that, buried somewhere in the ridiculous number of posts i've written this year, is something about the viral article from the atlantic from anne marie slaughter, but i don't feel i've yet articulated what has bothered me about the fervent discussion of slaughter's piece, so here it goes again.

today i read a response to this article that moved me, that was salient in so many ways, but that i also feel compelled to rebuke just a little bit.

marie myung-ok lee, a writer and professor at columbia university (not exactly a slouch) talks about the limitations she lives with because of her severely disabled son.  here is one of my two favorite parts of her article (the other part is when she talks about how incredibly adequate her '69 hotpoint stove is for cooking three meals a day, despite her realtor's insistence that no one would cook on that stove.  i really hate renovation fever more than almost any of the other insane white middle-class trends of the 2000's):

When I look at friends and acquaintances, many with perfectly beautiful children and wonderful lives, and see how desperately unhappy or stressed they are about balancing work and family, I think to myself that the solution to many problems is deceptively obvious. We are chasing the wrong things, asking ourselves the wrong questions. It is not, "Can we have it all?" -- with "all" being some kind of undefined marker that shall forever be moved upwards out of reach just a little bit with each new blessing. We should ask instead, "Do we have enough?"

i completely agree with her on this.  .  

what should we be asking?  

how do we know when we have enough, or, how can we re-train our collectively disordered thinking to appreciate our blessings rather than despairing out lacks?  

i don't know.  i suck at that, especially today.


i can't leave without also speaking in defense of slaughter, whose work has been mischaracterized too often, in my mind.

so many responders, including myung-ok lee, seem to think that slaughter mostly cares about the individual woman's ability to fulfill her personal potential and live a life she feels deeply satisfied with.  certainly individual liberty is very important. but

i think slaughter makes a much broader, more encompassing, and more important point:

when we don't have women in the highest echelons of power, all women of all classes suffer.  and so do all men.  and so do all children.  and trees.  and animals.  

without the female perspective in the halls of power, something crucial is missing.  and, if i may be permitted to generalize, one of the things women seem to bring to the boardroom table is bigger, more communal or collective thinking.  thinking that takes into account the needs of the whole as much as if not more so than the needs of individual parts. there seems to be a world crisis looming, if not already here, because we have not been working holistically enough as a human family.

check out the work of valerie hudson for data that convincingly bears up this assertion.

i just wanted to say, and this is today's cri de couer, that getting sisters up there is more than a matter of individual fulfillment. it's necessary for community survival.

it's late, and i've had a rocky day.  a rocky couple of months, really, so 

hope i made any sense, 

or said something meaningful today. 


  1. Thank you for this. I read the Marie Myung-Ok Lee article this morning, and it was useful for me to read it. But you're right about Slaughter. Feminism is not just about personal fulfillment for individual, ambitious women. It's about a better society for everyone. It's just as important to remember this as it is to remember to be grateful for what is.

    Also, I loved that thing about the stove, too.

    1. so glad you know what i mean, lisa! thanks of reading and commenting.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Lara! We talked about Slaughter a little bit last month, and I'm still thinking about our conversation... I've reread Marie Myung-Ok Lee's response at least 5 times in the past three days, and I keep trying to figure out what I want to say.

    Like you, Lara, I agree with the section you've quoted -- I do think that sometimes we ask the wrong questions. "Do we have enough?" is a question I like very much; yet it niggles into my brain to pair with the question of "Am I good enough?", which is a question I'd very much like to jettison from my life!

    But what worries me most about Marie Myung-Ok Lee's response is her comment about paraplegia. She writes clearly and movingly about her role as a caregiver for a person with a disability (her son), and the constraints that his disability places on her family. In loving her son with his limitations, she comes to the realization that grounds the question, "Do I have enough?" On this reading, I would (foolishly?) assume that she is also making a bigger point about disability, yet the comment about paraplegia seems to belie this. I mean, I get that she is happy that she can ambulate on her two legs, but her comment could imply that this is a misfortune greater than those in the life in which she currently resides. Does that make any sense? (Not to play the disability sweepstakes game or anything).And I want to push back and say, YES, but people with paraplegia come to the same conclusions that you do re: what is important. (There's a whole body of lit on emotional setpoints and self-reports of quality of life and disability that I will just wave at for now...)

    I suppose it just *bothers* me that a caregiver of a person with a disability missed this point, or at least, wasn't careful enough in her thinking to consider it.

    1. yes, teresa, i thought the very same thing. it's interesting how we always manage to say, "i'm bummed that i can't_____, but thank god i can still_____." i remember thinking this when cecily was in the nicu: "at least she's not. . . ." but yeah, it does seem that, based on some of her great insights, the author would have been more nuanced/enlightened in her thinking on that particular comment. thanks for commenting. i'm always excited to get your take on things.

  3. ...and about Slaugther. Yes, I think that the big point about the benefit to society when these barriers are removed and women (and people with diversities of all stripes) are included, is spot on. The Gendered Conference Campaign at the Feminist Philosophers blog is all about this, I think.