In response to Anne-Marie Slaughter's much-discussed Atlantic cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," Barnard President Debora Spar raises the question, "why do successful women feel so guilty?" In the Atlantic's online forum, "The Myth of Work-Life Balance," Spar examines Slaughter's assessment of the speech that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave at Barnard's 2011 Commencement. An excerpt:
"Like Slaughter, Sandberg also tiptoed into the treacherous area of guilt. But while Slaughter's piece focuses on the more obvious guilt women face both in leaving their children to attend to their jobs and leaving their jobs to attend to their children, Sandberg spoke more obliquely about the guilt women feel even in taking jobs that might, someday, force them to make these trade-offs.
The irony, of course, and the sadness, is that two women of Slaughter and Sandberg's stature even feel the need to speak about guilt. Did Bill Gates feel guilty as he built the behemoth of Microsoft? Was Bill Clinton racked by personal failings as he advanced his political career? Maybe, but neither of them really dwells upon these topics in public. Contemporary women, by contrast (and I count myself among them), seem positively obsessed with our own trade-offs and misgivings. We feel guilty about leaving the halls of power too quickly, or too late. About pushing our children too hard, or not hard enough. About not home-making cupcakes that are sufficiently organic, vegan, and nut-free."