Harvard, The Other Half — February 25, 2013 11:49 am

A Few Thoughts on “Can Harvard Women Have It All?”


The Harvard Crimson‘s magazine, FM, published a fascinating article, “Can Harvard Women Have It All?,” applying the question posed by Ann-Marie Slaughter in her 2012 Atlantic article to Harvard Women specifically. Both Slaughter’s veritable tome and FM‘s piece deserve to be read in full.

Below are a few things I found interesting about the Crimson article. Most are gut-level reactions and unresolved questions, so I would love to hear responses from other HPR writers and readers in the comments.

1. Outside the Ivy Gates

The point towards the start of the article about gender dynamics at Harvard not necessarily mapping onto gender dynamics outside the College reminds me of the point/criticism in Slaughter’s article about the challenges and environments faced by “elite” women like Slaughter being different from those experienced by most women. Exploring the differences there would be really interesting. Few would deny that the challenges of both groups are real, but we (at least I) haven’t seen many attempts to address their differences in depth, with most of this analysis coming from uber-educated people who understandably reflect on their own environment.

2. Who Is A Feminist?

It’s interesting to hear the comments from some of the current students to the effect that they don’t think gender has been a problem for them, and that they think women need to “try harder.” If a guy said that, I feel like we would all dismiss him, but do we have to entertain the thought more seriously when it comes from a woman? Are women who think that way anti-feminists or just different types of feminists? Are they good or bad for “the cause”?

3. Women in ________

The growing number of “Women in _____” groups: good or bad? My instinct is to say that there are genuinely unique challenges faced by women within industries/fields, and it makes sense to develop groups to specifically address those challenges. “Women in ____” groups also potentially serve as a sort of pseudo-affirmative action/AA alternative. They’re not just forming a supportive community and talking about challenges, they’re also providing women with skills and connections so that they’re more competitive in their field. Basically, they work to make the old “there are no qualified women candidates” argument even more patently and apparently false than it already is. I can also see the argument,though, that “Women in _____” groups reinforce differences, and (perhaps more importantly) leave men out of the conversation, thus allowing them to remain ignorant of the issues/solutions that get talked about in those groups. Women’s groups can do all the “awareness raising” they want, but ultimately men who are disinclined to care are going to self-select out of those conversations. If those conversations are going on within the groups that those men are a part of, they can’t do that. So I can see this going both ways.

Those are some of my thoughts. What are yours?

  • Sam Finegold

    The idea that “women need to try harder” is peculiar indeed. But I think it would be strange coming from a guy as well. Especially since more women go to college than men and that one of the things I took away from the Slaughter piece was that women in elite positions are working to the point where they simply cannot juggle everything that they want to or are expected to handle.

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