Let’s blame feminism, version 984,026: The Atlantic magazine

22 June 2012

Scene: the editorial meeting of The Atlantic magazine.

Editor 1: You’ll never guess who’s proposed a piece about the struggles faced by women in prestigious, high-power jobs! Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department!

Editor 2: Oh, I seem to remember hearing that she’d left that position to return home to her growing boys.

Editor 1: Well, to be precise, that decision didn’t really mean giving up her career. Rather, she left the US government job to return to her high-power tenured professorship at Princeton, where her husband also works and where the boys are.

Editor 2: Hang on: she’s complaining that she had such great employment options that she got to choose between them? How are we going to sell that?

Editor 1: Well, the idea is that she discuss why the workplace and working conditions make it highly stressful even for high-power women like Slaughter to strike a good work/life balance.

Editor 2: Sounds boring and dangerously like a feminist diatribe. I vote to turn it down. No one wants to read about struggles faced by working mothers. [Yawns in an exaggerated way. The rest of the room offers an obligatory laugh.]

Editor 1: Her perspective is actually more interesting than that. She’s going to argue that coming to this decision to leave the State Department job conflicted with her feminist beliefs — that her feminism had led her to believe that women could “have it all.”

Editor 2: Okay, I’m listening.

Editor 1: I think there’s a way to [pauses dramatically] — suggest that feminism is part of the problem!

[Entire room bursts into applause. Except for:]

Editorial intern: Excuse me — my name is Maribel, and I just started this week, and I know Editor 2 told me I wasn’t supposed to talk in this meeting, but I have a question: is this article going to argue that feminism promised that women would never feel stressed out or over-worked, no matter how much they’re juggling?

Assistant editor 1: Shhh!

Editor 1: No, really, Assistant Editor 1, it’s fine. Maribel, thank you for your comment. Our job is not to “argue” anything. Our job is to stir up controversy with provocative questions and misleading magazine covers in order to sell copies and win a lot of hits via Facebook posts.

Editor 2: Okay, but make sure Slaughter’s down with this. We need enough references to feminism throughout the piece that it seems plausible that feminism is at least partly to blame. Ask her to use misleading rhetorical questions as section-break titles — we all know how many hits we get from a few misleading rhetorical questions!

Editor 1: How about an interview video to accompany the piece? Hanna Rosin will do it — you know how she loves to poke at feminism.

Editor 2: Great! You can title it something like, “Has Feminism Ruined the Workplace for Women?”

Assistant editor 2: Umm, excuse me, but maybe that’s a little bit strong.

Editor 1: Well, okay. How about, “Have Feminists Sold Young Women a Fiction?”

Editor 2: Yes! exactly!

Editorial intern: Excuse me — once again, my name is Maribel, and I know you’re not paying me for this job, but I actually don’t understand. My mom works 80 hours a week at two jobs to pay the rent so I can get this experience in the publishing world; I never heard once in my life that feminism promised me that I could “have it all” with no hard choices to make. I thought feminism was still working on things like the glass ceiling and the gender pay gap and prosecuting rape charges.

[No one says anything for a beat. Assistant editor 1 looks panicked, as if she’ll get fired for this misbehavior by an intern.]

Editor 1: You’re right, Maribel. We need Slaughter to offer a disclaimer early on. Something about how she knows about her own privileges. Something like, “Millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. Some are single mothers; many struggle to find any job; others support husbands who cannot find jobs. Many cope with a work life in which good day care is either unavailable or very expensive; school schedules do not match work schedules; and schools themselves are failing to educate their children. Many of these women are worrying not about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have.”

Editor 2: That’ll make her sound smart and well-informed, and even sensitive. Then she can drop all interest in those millions of women and get back to suggesting subtly that feminism is to blame.

Editor 1: I’ll sit on Slaughter to ensure that the first couple of screens of text keep the subject of feminism on people’s minds.

Editor 2: It doesn’t matter how much Slaughter fights against “The Man” [uses exaggerated scare quotes with hands, producing more obligatory giggles from the room] in the final pages of the piece — in fact, it’s even better if she does that, because it’ll nix some of the criticism from “feminists” like Maribel. [Room laughs even harder at this, turning heads to look at Editorial Intern, knowing that her internship will not lead to a paying job with the magazine; this laughter also reminds all the women in the room not to push this “feminism” thing.]

Editor 1: Okay, folks, let’s make this happen! Now: ideas for a cover. How about a variant on the “sad white babies with mean feminist mommies” theme? Anyone?

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6 Responses to “Let’s blame feminism, version 984,026: The Atlantic magazine”


  1. Didion,
    Fantastic and disturbing post! Poor Maribel and all the other young people that are getting poisoned messages about feminism. Did you read the article by one of my favorites, Barbara Ehrenreich in Harper’s a few years ago? I think it was called Maid to Order.

    • Didion Says:

      Oooh! you’ve inspired me to re-read this … did you know that “by a few years ago” you mean the April 2000 issue? I’m pretty sure I had a subscription at that time. Ehrenreich is such a hero of mine — I’ll re-read her glistening prose ANY day.


      • I, too, love Ehrenreich! My guess is you have already read the article. She does a phenomenal job of exposing how the patriarchal system we still live in forces women to make choices men don’t have to think about.


  2. I loved it, and shared it on Facebook and Twitter. I have been blogging on the need for a feminist revolution for a family friendly America, and not many people paid attention to me:) So I am happy people are talking about it. I am inspired to start blogging again.

    • Didion Says:

      Oh please, please Redstocking Grandma, please help us fight for a feminist revolution. So important.

      This piece has such good suggestions — why packaged in the anti-feminist red bow? For all I know, this really was Slaughter’s decision — but I’ll bet money that this was urged by editorial writers who smelled blood in the water.

  3. Didion Says:

    And on cue, it appears that I’m not the only one who perceives that The Atlantic has a problem with feminism:

    E. J. Graff in The American Prospect, “Why Does the Atlantic Hate Women?

    And Caryl Rivers in the Huffington Post, “The Atlantic’s Woman Problem


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