Why Family Is a Foreign-Policy Issue, Too

By Slaughter, Anne-Marie | Foreign Policy, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Why Family Is a Foreign-Policy Issue, Too


Slaughter, Anne-Marie, Foreign Policy


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I have a split personality these days. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I give speeches on work and family--and the changes America needs to make to enable more professional women to get to the top. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach a course on the politics of public policy and give speeches about a wide range of foreign-policy issues. My audiences for the work-and-family talks are often interested in foreign policy as well, but for most people in my foreign-policy audiences, that "work/ family stuff" is a completely separate arena, a sideline at best. Sure, individual women and men will often tell me privately that they appreciated the essay I wrote for the Atlantic this summer on why I gave up my high-profile State Department job to return to Princeton University and my two teenage sons, but they see no real connection with the foreign-policy world.

They're wrong. The connection is there, and it's a very important one: If more women could juggle work and family successfully enough to allow them to remain on high-powered foreign-policy career tracks, more women would be available for top foreign-policy jobs. And that would change the world far more than you think, from giving peace talks a better chance to making us better able to mobilize international coalitions to reordering what issues governments even choose to work on.

My 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. Some argue that as long as some women can juggle high-powered careers and kids at the same time, others should just follow their example and get on with the work. Others argue that my analysis shouldn't be so globalized because it is based on my own unique situation, suggesting that I should have moved my family to Washington.

Perhaps. But the larger issue is not about me. It's about the numbers. Even with Hillary Clinton as the third woman secretary of state in the last dozen years, the line of top female foreign-policy professionals in Barack Obama's administration is one woman thick. I can think of only a handful of qualified women who were not tapped for senior foreign-policy jobs under Obama (some of whom chose not to enter government for kid-related reasons). Some men, of course, opt off the Washington fast track for family reasons too; the pace of top jobs is exhausting, if exhilarating, for everyone involved. But for every man who leaves, another man is waiting in the wings. For every woman who steps down to spend more time with her family (for real!), the next president is going to have to look very hard and perhaps even order in "binders full of women" if he wants to keep his administration from being a boys' club.

But so what? Does it matter if the president has an all-testosterone team shaping America's place in the world? I'm sure it does, and in ways that hinder the country's ability to address the complex new challenges of our 21st-century planet. More than a decade after 19 men armed merely with box cutters and their own radical convictions struck at the heart of the most awesome military power in world history, we are only now beginning to focus on societies as well as on states as part of the core foreign-policy agenda. …

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