The feminist politics professor, 57, on her Belgian grandparents, seeing beauty in a puddle, and her sons wanting to be artists
Mothers were none too pleased with me when I wrote an article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. I betrayed the faith. They’d been telling girls: “We broke down barriers, you can’t go back to the home now.” Arianna Huffington told me her daughter showed up to Thanksgiving with underlined copies of the article. It has had almost 2.5m views online.
You can’t have the kinds of jobs I’ve had and be universally liked. When I used to get upset, I’d think: “I’ve worked for Hillary Clinton – she’s had more horrible stuff said about her than anybody. If she can do it, I can.” The negative stuff’s been harder on my mother than me.
I always felt different. My mother is Belgian and in summer we would leave our conventional, suburban Virginia environment for Brussels, where my grandparents lived in an apartment and ate lunch with silver and crystal, wine and multiple courses. Most of my friends had never heard of Belgium.
You can’t have everything. I felt huge disappointment when I left my US state department job [Slaughter was director of policy planning from 2009-2011], but I just didn’t have a life. During the week I was in Washington DC, then I’d get home late Friday and the weekend was a blur of errands and arguing with our sons.
When I need my soul enriched I turn to nature. I’m very sensitive to beauty. It can be a rain puddle, it doesn’t have to be a grand vista.
My father raised me to have a career. As I was growing up he saw all these women getting divorced and being left high and dry by their husbands. He vowed his daughter would be able to support herself.
We’ll look back on Obama as a great president. He turned the ship on healthcare. In foreign policy, I’m highly critical of him on Syria – he should have acted in 2012 – but he’s opened relations with Iran, Cuba and Burma. He’s laid the foundations for a new America.
I’ve never been the lead parent. For the first seven years of our kids’ lives my husband and I were co-parents. Then as my job got bigger, more fell to him. Women still think care is our job and men just help. But it’s not a woman’s job any more than breadwinning is a man’s.
I became a poster child for something I spent my life trying to disprove. I was trying to say women can do it if we remove the barriers of discrimination, but that’s not a neat narrative. The worst criticism was being set up as a dichotomy to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I’d be introduced with: “Sheryl says women can do anything if they try hard enough but Anne-Marie says women can’t.”
Both my sons want to be artists. I tell them they’re headed for lead-parent stuff. I asked one if it would bother him if his wife out-earned him. He looked at me like: “Are you crazy? That would mean I married well.” You’d never ask that question of a girl.