Unfinished Business: A book review by Bob Morris

Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business: Women Men Work Family
Anne-Marie Slaughter
Random House (2015)

A brilliant exploration of “the world as it is, not as many of us would like it to be”…but one it could yet become

There will always be “unfinished business” in a world inhabited by imperfect people. However, the Serpent observes in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Back to Methuselah (1921), “I hear you say ‘Why?’ Always ‘Why?’ You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?'”

We need people such as Anne-Marie Slaughter who see what needs to be improved in the human condition and asks, “Why not?” In 2012, She wrote an article that appeared in The Atlantic and it immediately created a firestorm of discussion of its subject, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Slaughter has since expressed regret about that title, preferring one that is more accurate such as this: “Why Working Mothers Need Better Chances to Be Able to Stay in the Pool and Make It to the Top.” Yes, that’s a mouthful and I would prefer “Working Parents” because many single parents are male. In a perfect world, employers will also be able to accommodate the needs of those who are primary caregivers to family members with basic needs who depend on them. She wants “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. I hope this book can help move us in that direction.” She then adds, “But one step at a time. To get there, let’s start with the world as it is, not as many of us would like it to be.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me in Parts I and II, also listed to suggest the scope of Slaughter’s coverage:

o Three Half-Truths Women Hold Dear (Pages 9-12, 24-25, and 30-32)
o Whole Truths (235-36)
o Three Half-Truths About Men (38-39, 44-47, and 48-50)
o Half-Truths Pattern (82-87)
o Paid Care (98-100
o Caregiving (103-107)
o Care-Getting (107-110)
o Care Growing (110-115)
o The Competitive Mystique (119-125)
o What Men Want (130-134)
o Expanding Choices for All Men (134-139)
o The Courage to Care (143-146)
o Turning the Spotlight on Ourselves (148-154)
o Fifty Shades of Confusion (158-160)
o Leave Superwoman Behind (161-162)
o Back to The Future (166-168)

Then in Part III, “Getting to Equal” (Chapters 8-11), Slaughter shares her thoughts about changing the way men and women talk about key issues, planning a career (although it rarely works out as planned), “the perfect workplace,” and citizens who care.

One of Slaughter’s most important points is made in response to the background from which the workplace realities in the 21st century have evolved. She believes “the majority of Americans are mired in a 1950s mindset when it comes to assumptions about when and how we work, what an ideal worker looks like, and when to expect that ideal worker to peak in his career. Men who came up through the old system and succeeded in it simply find it very hard to believe that their businesses could flourish any other way.”

They should know better. They have raised daughters and sons to achieve success in a world they remember rather than in one they observe today. So many students in schools, colleges, and universities are being prepared for jobs that no longer exist or will soon be gone. Many of those who seek meaningful work are frustrated and, in some instances, defeated because so many terms and conditions of traditional employment have been replaced or redefined. So many people yearn for what they describe as “meaningful work.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter agrees with Jennifer Aacker that a defining feature of such work “is connection to something bigger than the self. People who lead meaningful lives feel connected to others, to work, to a life purpose, and to the world itself,” adding her own belief that nourishing human connection is the essence of care. “We can, all of us, stand up for care. We can change how we think, how we talk, how we plan and work and vote. We can come together as women and men. We can finish the business that our mothers and grandmothers began, and begin a new revolution of our own.”

Indeed, why not?

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