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Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family
Random House, 2015
352 pp., 28.00
Andrea Palpant Dilley
Paying Attention to Caregiving
In season four of The Good Wife, the character Patti Nyholm strides into the court room with a toddler slung over her shoulder and before sitting down in the prosecutor's chair, hands her off to a male caretaker. The judge clears his throat. "Welcome, ma'am," he says. "I see you have some, uh, accoutrement with you." Nyholm looks impish and triumphant—as if to say, I'm not supposed to bring my kid to work, but I just did. Her counterpart in the show is an equally fearless stay-at-home dad and freelance investigator named Andrew Wiley who confronts an attorney with key evidence while his kids blow raspberries on the office window—insert noises—and spars with an almost disbarred lawyer while his daughter rides a trike nearby. "Sabrina, no more apple juice!" he calls out before delivering his penultimate threat.
As a parent, I view these scenes with subversive pleasure. There's something almost exhilarating about watching both characters violate social convention with such panache. The show's writers—God bless them—are narrating the story of modern working parents, albeit in the form of a fantasy, in which kids are only slightly irritating and adults have no lack of temerity. Fantasy aside, the question underlying these scenes is a complex, painful one that dogs many of us who live and work in the developed world. How do we integrate family and career in an age when the office—separated from the home—is still the main space for economic productivity?
In Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter argues for nothing less than broad cultural change to solve this labyrinthine problem. The book is the offspring of an article she wrote in 2012 for the Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," which in two weeks attracted over a million readers. Slaughter's own story provides the dramatic hook: she bailed out of a rocket-ship career ...