Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book is compelling. But too frequently it relies on unsupported, and in fact unvoiced, assumptions. And like a stick figure with one leg, the result is instability.
“Unfinished Business” lays out a solid case for social change, buttressed by data and concluding in policy proposals. Unlike with most arguments nowadays for social change, which their advocates view as self-proving, Slaughter addresses counter-arguments to her proposals. She has clearly thought deeply about these issues, and it shows in her approach. Unfortunately, as I say, what Slaughter has not thought deeply about, or at least does not address, is many of the key assumptions underlying her arguments.
Slaughter’s very core assumption, which she assumes without discussion, is that men and women are not only functionally identical for all relevant purposes to her inquiry—they want the same things from their lives. Not that every person wants the same thing, but that the distribution of wants is the same among men and women. At most points in her book, this is a necessary (but always unstated) element of her arguments. But nowhere does she address whether this is true. I think most people (but not most people Slaughter knows) would say it is not true—at least not wholly true.
I suppose Slaughter is constrained to make this assumption. She is trapped in her own universe, even as she honestly tries to break free. In that universe, every thinking person is liberal. For thirty years, every liberal in public life has been required to believe, or at least appear to believe, that there are no relevant differences between men and women—to the extent there are differences, they are socially prescribed, not biologically derived, and therefore both malleable and necessary to overcome to achieve the ultimate goal, equality of result. As with so many liberal positions, ideology trumps rationality. In this case, unfortunately, for Slaughter, the prison of her liberal framework cripples her argument by preventing her from addressing her own assumptions.
However, Slaughter’s book is much less ideological than most similar liberal analyses. “Unfinished Business” is not a screed; it is a calm, interesting, rational work. At its core, and leaving assumptions aside, “Unfinished Business” is a measured call for recognizing that (a) there are limits on everything—there is no free lunch; (b) current social structures impose those limits more on women; and (c) such limits for women should be reduced by shifting their costs onto men or onto society at large (including other women who make different choices).
Before I begin the detailed analysis, I should note two things. First, I’m a big Slaughter fan, of her personally. Many years ago in law school she taught me Civil Procedure and wrote me a recommendation for a federal judicial clerkship, which she had no reason to do, given that I was an indifferent student. She is interesting, intelligent and engaging. Second, unfortunately not so positively, Slaughter’s liberal blinders appear constantly. I could give a score of examples, but let’s just take one from the preface. Speaking of the feminist movement, Slaughter, a foreign policy expert, says that the feminist movement “takes its place with the civil rights movement, the global human rights movement, the anti-colonial movement, and the gay rights movement as one of the great struggles for human freedom of the twentieth century.” What’s missing from this list? Only the greatest struggle for human freedom in the twentieth century, and probably in all human history, the one which dwarfs all others: the struggle against Communism, which slaughtered more than 100 million people in that century and deprived billions of all freedom, until ultimately extinguished by its own contradictions and the tireless and dangerous work of thousands of internal dissidents, aided by a few leaders in the Free World (who were constantly vilified for their efforts). But freedom from Communism (which is freedom itself, since the antithesis of Communism is freedom, not “capitalism”), is not on the liberal checklist. Slaughter needs to try harder to break out of the liberal prison if she wants to do more than preach to the choir, and her failure to do so severely undercuts her book.
But let’s focus on the topic at hand. I will first evaluate Slaughter’s framework and public policy prescriptions, mentioning necessary assumptions that are not discussed or argued. I will then step back and briefly address those assumptions by suggesting an alternate framework of questions Slaughter ignores that would need to be addressed to actually fully discuss the issues Slaughter raises.
SLAUGHTER’S FRAMEWORK AND PRESCRIPTIONS
Slaughter begins with her decision in 2011 to leave her position as Director of Policy Planning at the United States Department of State, a position she had held since 2009, and which she left primarily to spend more time with her family. This decision was the genesis of an article she wrote in The Atlantic, titled “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” which launched the thought processes of this book. Contrary to some other reviews, this book is not merely an expansion of that article, although it is similar in some areas. Instead, it is mostly an attempt to address criticisms directed at that article, and criticisms directed at her as a result of that article. “Unfinished Business” is a highly personal narrative of her decision and the broader implications Slaughter sees implicit in that decision.
The preface is where Slaughter lays out her core point, which is, “The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me profoundly wrong that the millions of women and a growing number of men who made choices similar to my own should not be affirmed and even celebrated for insisting that professional success is not the only measure of human happiness and achievement.” Her core goal is also in the preface, “I want a society that opens the possibility for every one of us to have a fulfilling career, or simply a good job with good wages if that’s what we choose, along with a personal life that allows for the deep satisfactions of loving and caring for others.”
Slaughter then proceeds, in the first major section of the book, “Moving Beyond Our Mantras,” to attack a series of “half-truths women hold dear.” These are basically the received liberal truths of the 1980s and the 1990s, the questioning of which at the time would at that time lead to instant pariah status for the questioner (and the questioning of which led to Slaughter being attacked for her Atlantic article, and thus this book). All three half-truths boil down to “you can have it all,” meaning a complete family life and a “top” professional life—if you are committed, if you marry the right person, or if you sequence your career right. Slaughter disagrees. This is an easy argument, because the “truths” of the past are so obviously false.
Slaughter recognizes that there is no free lunch. In the system as it works today, a woman cannot have a career identical to that of a top-earning man, along with a family, unless she has someone not working outside the house doing the “care” work, as all top-earning men do. If a woman splits her time between career and care, and her husband does likewise, neither will reach the top of their profession. Slaughter’s response is a call to “rework our society.”
Slaughter wants structures that allow women the option to choose professional ambition in the same way that men have traditionally chosen professional ambition. In this sub-section on half-truths, Slaughter does question obliquely whether that is what women usually really want, without answering the question. Slaughter notes at length that many women choose to step off the career path. She relates many anecdotes, and among them notes “the extraordinary pull of children on women,” and that some women feel “an intense physical need to be with their baby.” Implicit in these statements is that men do not feel the same pull and needs to the same degree. But for the most part, Slaughter assumes without stating that women want professional achievement to the same degree and in the same numbers as men.
Slaughter’s next sub-section, on “half-truths about men,” is much less successful, because it is incoherent and counter-factual. Her first such half-truth is “Men can’t have it all either.” This is somewhat of a red herring, because if “all” is defined as also being a primary caregiver as well as a top earner, very few men want it all. Slaughter never really defines “all,” so this sub-section feels very vague. But this sub-section is where Slaughter’s weakest, yet constantly repeated argument in numerous contexts, first crops up. Actually, it’s not really an argument, it’s a feeling exalted to a conclusion. The feeling is that society must not think women and men are different in any way, because gay. That is, if we dare believe that women and men are different, gay couples are necessarily treated differently, and that would be the Worst Thing Ever, if gay people ever felt they were treated differently.
More specifically, because gay couples exist, their very existence is repeatedly cited in “Unfinished Business” as making it impossible to say anything definitive about male-female couples. But gay couples are not the same as male-female couples, any more than a couple composed of a woman and her invisible friend would be. They may be interesting, they may be worth studying, but they are not a lesson for the rest of us, because they are by their nature different. Slaughter fails to see this, again because of her liberal blinders. Everyone she knows regards, in this moment in time, gay rights as The Cause To End All Causes, so it must necessarily have something to teach us all about everything. Except—it doesn’t. It’s just dumb when it’s shoehorned into the book constantly. Its faddishness is shown by that it did not appear in Slaughter’s 2012 Atlantic article—it probably appears here because Slaughter, trapped in her echo chamber, has since then discovered that gay rights is equivalent to the discovery of fire in the arc of human history. “Unfinished Business” appeared before the current craze for pretending transgender people are other than sufferers of mental illness, for Slaughter nowhere discusses the impact of her thought on such people, which failure in her circles is today a great thoughtcrime, and will doubtless be redressed in any future statements by Slaughter on these topics
Anyway, back to discussing this half-truth, that “men can’t have it all either,” Slaughter’s basic response is to cite at length approvingly a gay man as complaining to her that because gay, “To say that PRIMARILY WOMEN face the pressure to ‘have it all’ is itself sexist.” But that statement is an inexorably true statement. Without it being true, Slaughter’s entire book would have no reason to exist. The reality is that if you’re a gay man, this book is less relevant to you, because you are a tiny minority, not relevant to the social structures that occupy the vast majority of society, which are the subject of this book. The reality is not that we should set up social structures as between men and women such that gay men (or women) fit without modification into those structures. It’s like designing tools for left-handed people. We may want to specially design such tools where appropriate. But that doesn’t mean that the core focus of tool design should be left-handed people.
Slaughter’s next half-truth about men is that “children need their mothers.” Again, Slaughter’s response to this is conclusory: “I hear it as statement of the natural order of things, a mantra that ends any discussion of genuinely equal parenting.” She does not address if it IS the natural order of things, though. She merely states that she dislikes it, which apparently is meant to then actually end the discussion. Slaughter does attempt to SEEM as if she addresses it, by stating the truism that children genuinely need their mother during pregnancy (by definition). Then she states, without citation or argument, “Nothing a mother does can’t be done equally well by a father.” Next she cites that pinnacle of social science, the 1979 movie “Kramer vs. Kramer,” for the proposition that “we are still clinging to and having to combat the deep assumption that a mother’s love and care are somehow better and more essential than a father’s, even when that father has time and energy that the mother does not.” And finally she unleashes her killer argument, her Destroyer of Worlds—because gay. “And really, what are we to say to gay fathers if it is only mothers who matter?” Slaughter, in this sub-section, does a lot of “I wish it to be true so it must be true.” Finally, she lectures us that “What children need above all is love, stability, stimulation, care, nurture and consistency. These are things that can come from an array of caregivers.” That may be true, but do they OPTIMALLY come from an array of caregivers? Slaughter is silent (although she does bizarrely claim that single-parent families are just as good for children as two-parent families, which is about on a level with claiming that the Emperor of Mars is sending her telegrams).
Slaughter’s final half-truth about men is that “A man’s job is to provide.” She seems to think this is a primarily religious command that has infected the culture, but notes in any case that “Only 8 percent of Americans believe that children are better off with dads at home.” Then she instructs us we are all factually wrong, that men are not in fact providing, because “One simple statistic says it all: 40 percent of American women are the primary breadwinners in their families. That number includes single mothers, but it tracks a major trend.” No justification is given for concluding that there is a major trend, and if there is a major trend, that it is toward men becoming primary caregivers and not toward more single women heading households. Slaughter concludes that anyway, based on an anecdote about a man named Danny Hawkins, that “a growing number of men say they are committed to be caregivers.” Congratulations to Danny (I guess), but none of this demonstrates that it’s a half-truth that it’s a man’s job to provide. Maybe 92 percent of Americans are right, and that IS the job of a man in a functioning society, not to be Pajama Boy (the famous meme created, bizarrely non-ironically, by Obama’s social justice myrmidons to push Obamacare).
Slaughter’s next sub-section, which is much more successful, addresses “half-truths in the workplace,” such as “it’s a women’s problem.” She correctly notes that single women make as much as men, and that the “women earn 82 cents on a man’s dollar” is a myth (as is 70 cents, the more frequently heard “statistic”). She attributes women’s failure to earn as much as men to a “care problem” and a “company problem.” Women provide most care (primarily to children, but also elder care) and companies demand face time rather than, or in addition to, productive time, so women necessarily earn less. Slaughter says, “A better lens is that of the harried caregiver, male or female.” For similar reasons, she rejects “it’s a flexibility problem” and “he who works longest works best.” All this seems exactly correct, in that these specific problems are structural, not inherently “women’s problems” (although the reasons companies require face-time and long work is not necessarily because they are irrational, but because they are closely correlated proxies to the amount, and to a lesser extent the quality, of work. Slaughter calling disapproval of work flexibility “stigma” confuses irrational stigma with rational behavior.). Slaughter rejects the idea that more flexibility in the workplace as currently structured will solve this problem; she correctly points out that offered flexibility now is rarely used, is used disproportionately by women, and frequently (or usually) has deleterious career effects. But it is doubtless true that different structures in the workplace would address the flexibility problems on which Slaughter is here focused.
Slaughter’s second major section (after the three sub-sections on different types of half-truths), is “Changing Lenses.” She begins, again, by arguing from because gay, in the preface to the section. She then talks about “Competition and Care.” She alleges that “two complementary human drives” are the “two great motivators of men and women alike.” These are “competition, the impulse to pursue our self-interest in a world in which others are pursuing theirs,” and “care, the impulse to put others first.” (Oddly, Slaughter implies that the “care” impulse is primarily about “caring for strangers,” which is very far from a relevant human drive. But let’s ignore that.) Slaughter ignores whether men and women have these drives in the same degree, and then states, without argument, that one drive can never be more important than the other. Again—an unexamined and unjustified assumption underpins her entire argument.
Slaughter’s basic point here is that care is valued less than competition, and she thinks that’s bad. Perhaps it is. But she claims that employers who recognize that workers prioritizing care outside the workplace produce less, lower-quality work on average are (irrationally) “discriminating.” This conflates rational and irrational discrimination. It may be that some of the distinctions are irrational. But employers have good reason to make accurate distinctions, because they are harmed by failing to do so. Slaughter claims that “employers are assuming that it is impossible to be both a committed caregiver and a good worker.” That’s a straw man. What employers are (correctly) assuming is that it is less likely a committed caregiver will be the best worker. That’s inarguably true. The best worker from an employer’s perspective, all else being equal, is always someone with no family and no outside interests other than maximum job performance. Caregiving makes that ideal less likely. Slaughter may not like that. Such an employee may be an unpopular or even unpleasant person. But on average she will be the best worker. Slaughter concludes that “If we truly valued caregiving . . . . we would make every effort to accommodate and support it and judge workers based not on assumptions but on their results.” She seems not to realize that workers who prioritize caregiving ARE usually being judged on their results—and found wanting. And therefore paid less.
The next sub-section addresses “Is Managing Money Really Harder Than Managing Kids”? This sub-section is basically incoherent, for it is a plea to ignore the iron laws of supply and demand. Slaughter begins by quoting an economics student to the effect that caregivers are paid less because “there is a more limited supply of able breadwinners than there is of caregivers.” While Slaughter is “grateful for his honesty,” her response is to claim with a straight face that the talents of a caregiver necessarily are those of a physicist, a crisis manager, a psychologist, and a Jeopardy champion. This may be true, but it has nothing to do with supply and demand, other than that it appears to be claiming that the supply of caregivers is in fact more limited than that of able breadwinners, which is self-evidently false. Similarly, Slaughter claims that jobs that involve “women’s traditional work” are paid less than jobs with “men’s professional work” because “we have traditionally valued men more than women.” That makes no sense. Men’s professions are paid more because of supply and demand (and one reason for lower supply of labor for men’s jobs is that they are much more lethal than women’s jobs, and hence require compensation to overcome the danger in many jobs). Finally, Slaughter rejects the idea that competition is wholly desirable, calling it the “competitive mystique” (and saying, falsely, that it’s “equally attractive to men and women . . . [to be] winning out over others”), and calling for “understanding that competition is a valuable human drive but no more valuable than care.” This is like medieval just price theory—external value setting is the goal, by those less informed and not directly involved. Hayek is rolling over in his grave with laughter.
Slaughter’s next sub-section says, in essence, that men need to be relieved of their “traditional gender roles” and become more like women. The less said about this sub-section, the better (not that that will stop me). Anecdotes featuring beta males abound. A strong whiff of echo chamber again suffuses this section, because Slaughter has probably never met a single man in her social and professional circles who disagrees. (But I’m sure she’s met a lot of Pajama Boys!)
So, a Supreme Court clerk who chose to be a primary caregiver (but only for a year, note) complains, and Slaughter endorses his complaint in service of the argument than men should not be assumed to NOT want to be primary caregivers, that there is an “underlying assumption that women and men have different visions of what matters in life—or, to be blunt about it, that men don’t find child-rearing all that rewarding, whereas women regard it as integral to the human experience.” The problem with complaining about this statement is simple. The statement is true. Slaughter tries to evade this by saying that it “may be true in any individual case, but it should not be assumed.” But if it’s true on average, assuming it is the general rule makes sense. Individuals may choose alternative arrangements, but when arranging society, reality has to be viewed clearly and in the aggregate, not some fantasy alternate reality.
Don’t worry, though—Slaughter assures us “Change Is Coming.” Her main evidence for this is that when the manufacturer of Huggies dared to run a TV ad suggesting that fathers using them alone was the “toughest test imaginable,” “many fathers reacted furiously,” as shown by a Change.org petition that got (wow!) 1,300 signatures. So “Huggies pulled the ad and apologized, repeatedly, and in person.” (It’s not clear how a Huggies diaper apologizes “in person,” but whatever.) Other companies (Chevrolet; Dove) then ran ads celebrating beta males and “featuring a gentle male voice.” And, since “the companies making these commercials spend millions of dollars on consumer research . . . they are plugging into something their customers want before they fully understand they want it.” But these are the same companies that Slaughter the section before excoriated for being totally divorced from reality in that they valued competition over care. Apparently now they are paragons of rationality. Much more likely, as with so many ads, the executives of the companies are spending the shareholders’ money to gain laudation from All The Right People for their progressive stands, and couldn’t care less about whether consumers react favorably or not.
It’s in this section that Slaughter claims, based on the laughable book “Sex At Dawn,” wherein “a psychologist and a psychiatrist” (not, you know, an anthropologist or an archaeologist) “look deep into the evolutionary, anthropological, and sociological research and find that hunter-gatherers lived in entirely egalitarian societies, where childcare was generalized, food was shared, and sex was non-monogamous, not because they were utopian romantics, but because ‘it works on the most practical levels.’” Slaughter would have been well-advised to omit this passage, because for sheer ahistoricalness and irrationality it simply can’t be beat, and putting it in undermines her entire book. As Mary McCarthy said of the execrable Lillian Hellman, “Every word is a lie, including and and the.”
The next sub-section in “Changing Lenses” is a plea to “let go of our own expectations about who a man should be.” Slaughter doesn’t know quite what to do when a woman who claims to want an equal partner “wrinkled her nose at the idea of a ‘house husband, a man doing dishes.’” But her solution is, nonetheless, more cowbell—women should seek out such beta males and find them “fully sexy and attractive as a man.” Presumably they should also seek out iron pyrite and celebrate their new gold mine. Once they have successfully deluded themselves, however, women should demand a “whole new domestic order,” where care and competition are divided as they want. Slaughter recognizes that men and women may choose a traditional arrangement, but seems confused as to whether that’s OK. Frankly, this entire sub-section makes little sense, probably because Slaughter seems to want to admit that men really are very different than women, but can’t because that would undermine her entire argument.
The third major section of the book is “Getting To Equal.” Here is where Slaughter provides both personal and public policy solutions to-what exactly? It’s not clear, after the first two sections, what the problem is. But from the title of this section, the distillation of the many topics covered in the first two sections must be that women are not equal, and the policies must be desirable to make them equal.
First, Slaughter says we should all “Change The Way You Talk.” Regardless of rationality, each of us should in conversation ask men how they intend on being primary caregivers, refuse to admit that women choose to drop out of the work force more than men to be caregivers (even though Slaughter herself did that), and generally go through life acting as if reality reflected the desired equality rather than, you know, reality.
Next, is “Planning Your Career (Even Though It Rarely Works Out As Planned).” This is basically a series of admonitions to women to not entirely drop out of the work force and to plan your career as a series of phases. In other words, although on its face gender neutral, it is advising women to, if they choose to be primary caregivers for a time, to plan on a return to the workforce. “The point is not to ensure that everyone who competes reaches the finish line at the same time, but to ensure that those who choose a slower path will still have the opportunity to compete on equal terms if they want to, whenever they’re ready.” Slaughter does not explain why those who chose to hobble themselves in a competitive environment should be rewarded as if they had not. At the same time, though, Slaughter realistically identifies that the key to any of this is timely conversations with one’s partner, ideally before they become your partner, with the recognition that “trade-offs and indeed sacrifices [will] be likely at various points.” Failure to recognize this up front, by trying to achieve total equality without compromise, merely means (as it did for Slaughter’s generation) that “the choices we ended up making systematically disadvantaged the women’s careers.”
We must “insist on sweeping cultural change.” We must create “The Perfect Workplace.” Slaughter predicts that the “gig economy” and various forms of flexible work are the inevitable future (she ignores that these arrangements can impose more costs than benefits, and that Marissa Meyer’s first act as the new CEO of Yahoo was to end all work-at-home arrangements). These arrangements allow the employee the choice of the balance between competition and care, and are therefore necessary to achieve the desired “sweeping cultural change.” And if your company doesn’t offer them, you must “take charge” and “train your boss.” Good luck with that.
“Overseeing who comes in on time (or better yet, early) and leaves on time (or better yet, late) is much easier than thinking hard about how to set goals that can be met precisely.” This is true, but like Chesterton’s Fence, it ignores WHY businesses do that. Perhaps the net result is better than trying to “set goals that can be met precisely.” Perhaps that’s just too difficult. Traditionally, fixing the agency problem (the conflict of interest between principal and agent) requires either creating the right incentives or monitoring. Monitoring is complicated, inexact, and expensive. Choosing incentives (such as, get in early and stay late and you’ll be rewarded) may maximize employer return, not just be a stupid, illogical approach.
In her Atlantic article, Slaughter puts her cultural change goal differently. “Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family.” Slaughter shows the benefits of such an approach, among them that it would give greater choices to women. But what Slaughter never addresses is the costs of such an approach. This approach implies “top” performers in their work must perform at a lower level, because there is no free lunch. This then implies that work will not be performed at its highest level. Maybe that will be OK. Maybe that’s a cost worth paying. But we don’t have that discussion here (and it’s probably not worth paying, I’d say-no society gets ahead without top performers, who are most of what matters in driving a society forward).
Furthermore, we must create, through government action, “Citizens Who Care.” “We need an infrastructure of care: a set of arrangements and institutions that allows citizens to flourish not only in pursuit of their individual goals but also in their relationships to one another.” This means we need thirteen non-exclusive massive changes, including “Paid family and medical leave for women and men,” “A right to request [i.e., a right to receive] part-time or flexible work,” “Higher wages and training for paid caregivers,” more anti-discrimination laws, “Financial and social support for single parents,” and so forth. These are only the beginning, “a comprehensive catalogue is impossible.” All these must be mandated by the government, because any business that chooses to “do the right thing” (i.e., choose to bear massive costs that it would not otherwise choose for business reasons) will disadvantage itself relative to its competition.
Finally, and most critically of all, “citizens who care” must elect more women. This is more explicitly stated in Slaughter’s Atlantic article. “The best hope for improving the lot of all women, and for closing . . . a new gender gap-measured by well-being rather than wages-is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”
Nowhere does Slaughter explain why this should be so. Nowhere does Slaughter explain why she spends time telling men and women they both must change society, when the real and only solution is actually and simply to take power from men and give it to women. In “Unfinished Business,” Slaughter seems to expand (but not explain) her earlier solution to also suggest that men have false consciousness, and “women actually represent a broader spectrum of citizens than men do,” not because women are under-represented, but because they are inherently better. “By adding enough women to the mix . . . we will make it possible for the men we elect to be their true selves . . . .” I’m really not sure what to say to this, except-wow.
I’m pretty sure this last section, which as it contains Slaughter’s ultimate solution to the identified problem is the most important, philosophically undercuts the entire rest of the book. Perhaps it’s just a question, then, of enough sugar and spice and everything nice, whereupon all the conundrums laid out in the book will be magically solved at no cost, in manner to be, apparently, communicated to us later.
AN ALTERNATE FRAMEWORK OF QUESTIONS
It seems to me that “Unfinished Business,” or another book on the same set of topics, needs to address each of the following as part of its analysis.
1) Are women driven generally by the same goals and inner springs as men?
2) Do women want the same things as men with respect to work outside the home (“competition”)?
3) Do women want the same things as men with respect to work inside the home (“care”)?
4) If the answer is “no” to any of Questions 1, 2, or 3, what are the differences between men and women?
5) What is the source or sources of such differences?
6) Should we attempt to eliminate those differences and/or the sources of those differences? Why or why not? (For example, is a culture with a traditional sex roles better? Worse? Why?)
7) If we should attempt to eliminate those differences, how, when and under what circumstances? What are the costs and benefits of each and every action?
Slaughter addresses none of these questions. By implication in a few places, she admits that some of these are questions, but their existence is only obliquely addressed, and the substance never addressed (though answers are sometimes implicitly assumed, as I note above). Without addressing these questions, the book is hortatory, not analytical.
For example, and on what is perhaps the core unstated assumption of the book, every so often Slaughter will, without comment, analysis or conclusion, state that men and women differ in relevant essentials. Before the book even begins on, page xvi of the preface, Slaughter refers to “one of the things I never expected about being a mother is the sheer elemental pleasure I get out of watching my sons eat food I have cooked. It must be some very deep evolutionary urge.” On page 74, she states (citing a study regarding securities traders) that men and women take risks very differently-men “like to take them quickly, thrilling to the rapid-fire pace of the trading floor (think modern-day battlefield), whereas women prefer to take more time to analyze a security and then make a trade . . . The financial world desperately needs more long-term, strategic thinking, and the data indicate that women excel at this.” No dispute from me, but this is a very significant difference, which Slaughter apparently believes is biological. But she does not seem to see that this admits of the possibility of other, equally significant differences-for example, that perhaps women on average are biologically better care-givers and much less interested in “worldly” ambitious pursuits. On page 93, Slaughter claims that women have more “social intelligence, open communication, and even the ability to sit still.” On page 149, Slaughter informs us “Overall, I am happy to acknowledge and embrace gender differences.” But she never says what those are or where they come from.
This is not a bad book. Given that it is more realistic than others of its genre, it probably makes a worthwhile contribution. But it is sorely hampered by its ideological blinders and its failure to examine and dissect its own assumptions, as well as by its ignoring of key questions, and that makes the book less than it might have been.