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“Why Women Can’t Have It All” an Article by Anne-Marie Slaughter Essay


The relation between language and power is obvious. Thousands of speeches convinced people in the necessity for a political change; a variety of motivational texts contributed to people changing their ways and altering their behavioral patterns. Even when considering such down-to-earth issues as marketing, one must admit that language obviously has an immense power on the choices that people make in their everyday life. The art of using the power of language is quite hard to master, though; as numerous as the successful usages of the power of language are, a huge amount of such messages have failed. It seems that the creation of a message that will become a powerful call for all those concerned demands not only the choice of a proper style and the right words, but also correct timing and the efficient usage of the symbols and concepts that are popular within a specific society or its segment.

The text chosen for the analysis is located on the cover of one of The Atlantic’s most famous issues, the one that contains the article written by Anne-Marie Slaughter (2012). More to the point, the article itself is also going to be taken into account. However, though the latter seems impressively coherent and well put together, with a good argument and enough evidence to back it up with, it is the image and the textual elements surrounding it that make the article so unique. By incorporating several elements from two key domains, i.e., the home and working environment, and disclosing the image of the woman’s face, the author of the picture managed to convey the essence of the present-day stereotype of a woman, at the same time proving the pointlessness of these prejudices (Conde 2012).

The rationale for the study of the specified text, therefore, concerns the power of language as the key tool in getting a message across to the target population, as well as the significance of nonverbal components that are used in order to enhance the message in question. The text mentioned above provides ample opportunities for exploring the specifics of modern feminism and identifying its key features. More to the point, the above-mentioned text locates the problems in the modern feminist argument and offers the methods of correcting this argument to make it more valid. The problem of the modern feminism in general is that the image of a woman that is foisted onto girls from the very start of their development conflicts with the basic idea of feminism as a struggle for equal rights (Meagher 2011), which the text in question is a graphic example of.

In order to investigate the issue fully, one will have to develop a cohesive strategy that will become a legitimate tool for the analysis of the text in question. For the study of the hidden innuendoes in the above-mentioned texts, the approach known as the power analysis will be utilized (Sierra 2007). Since the aforementioned text incorporates the elements of power language and shapes the current perception of women under the influence of modern media, feminist tendencies and the need to expose the impotence of the existing stereotype of a woman, it will be crucial to integrate the elements of a power language analysis, which the power matrix (Miller n. d., p. 1) can be viewed as a perfect tool for.

Indeed, according to the existing definition, a power analysis is traditionally interpreted as “essential when seeking changes to attitudes and beliefs” (Oxfam 2013, p. 11), which means that it can be used to find hidden innuendoes in the text in question. It should be born in mind, though, that, over the past few years, the concept of power analysis has been stretched impressively; as a result, the phenomenon of power analysis has spawned a variety of supplementary methods, including the so-called institutional, political and social analyses. The existing sources define power analysis as a “diagnostic tool developed by Sida that analyzes actors, interest groups, and structures to uncover where the real power in a society lies and how power is distributed geographically, institutionally and socially” (Sierra 2007, p. 34).

Applied to the text in question, the concept of power analysis will include a careful overview of the textual and visual information offered by the creators of the poster and the author of the article. In the course of the txt study, the analysis of both textual and graphical information should be carried out separately; afterwards, the data acquired from both types of sources will be synthesized in a single set of conclusions. The given framework can be seen as rather viable for the analysis of textual and graphic information, since it helps locate the data and evaluate the effects that the specified pieces of information have on the target audience. It is quite remarkable that the analysis allows for taking both verbal and nonverbal pieces of evidence into account, thus, integrating them into a single informational flow. Indeed, when considered separately, some of the elements of the text in question may be considered as charged with different semantics; however, when combined, they work together, therefore, creating a new and entirely original message. This specific of the text in question must be analyzed more closely, which the research design under consideration allows for.

The construction of the text is quite simple. Anne-Marie Slaughter dwells on the problems that modern women encounter on a daily basis. In order to prove the uniqueness of the approach, as well as the originality of the method, in which the author conveys the argument, taking a single look at the very title of the text in question will be enough. At first sight, “Why Women Can’t Have It All” may be viewed as a strike against everything that the feminist movement stands for, including the fight for the irrefutable rights of women, the claim that the image of a woman should not be reduced to a glamorous epitome of vapidity, etc. (Davis 2008). Indeed, the semantics of the message is quite negative; it allows for thinking that the author acknowledges the futility of women’s attempts at establishing equity in the workplace, in society, and in family relationships. More to the point, the way, in which the author represents the situation in the heading, suggests that women are compelled to making a choice between the two and, therefore, suffer from the feeling of being incomplete or underachieving in one of the fields mentioned above.

The striking contrast, which the message represented in the title and the issue discussed in the article makes the latter all the more poignant and topical. Slaughter uses a range of stylistic choices, which allow for getting her message across in a very efficient manner. For example, the choices of words used by the author contribute to the creation of a very specific atmosphere of social tension, therefore, leading to the inevitable conclusion about the necessity to resolve the issue.

Apart from creating her own set of linguistic strategies, which serve the purpose of overthrowing the existing prejudices about women and feminism, the author also manages to attack some of the current linguistic clichés, which are traditionally attributed to women and reduce the image of the latter. For instance, Slaughter criticized the concept of “having it all” as the goal for women to strive towards from the modern feminist point of view. By subverting the concept in question, the author specifies that, to become successful in whatever field a woman chooses to, she does not need to go beyond her limits in order to excel in it (Gray 2011). In fact, Slaughter turns the initially negative message further in her writing into a positive statement by pointing out the fact that women, actually, do not have to “have it all” (Slaughter 2012, para. 5):

I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot). (Slaughter 2012, para. 5)

Thus, with the help of the power of the language, Slaughter manages to subvert the traditional concept of female empowering as the necessity for women to reach for the top; instead, the author states that the concept of empowering should be based on a conscientious choice of the preferred life path. Apart from the careful choice of words, the power of speech is enhanced by the active use of a variety of signs and images. Much to the author’s credit, Slaughter does not resort to operating with traditional clichés and instead uses very complex images by constructing them with the help of various lexical approaches. For instance, Slaughter manages to provide a very vivid description of both her colleague and herself with the help of a single phrase dropped by the latter. As Slaughter’s colleague hears about the title of the article that her friend is about to write, she responds in a rather peculiar manner, and Slaughter defines her reaction in a nutshell: “She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said” (Slaughter 2012, para. 3). Though the message that the author’s friend sent seems as simple as a basic warning can go, it also shows that both Slaughter and her friend used to follow a rather rigid set of principles when it came to them speaking on behalf of feminists.

To some extent, being feminists bound these two characters to act in a specific manner that they found alien, yet complied with it for some reason. On a more global scale, the phrase that Slaughter’s friend utters defines the problem of feminism worldwide – the fact that the feminists are bound to the obligations of writing or saying only specific things, behaving in a specific way, adhering to a specific set of behavioral standards, etc. As a result, with the help of her skills of constructing an argument, the author not only nails the reader’s attention to the key point that she is trying to get across, but also reveals the basic faults and flaws of the existing stereotype, therefore, proving that the cliché in question is utterly invalid.

The structure of the speech in question is also beyond impressive. While the text itself is rather long, it is arranged in rather concise paragraphs; this strategy helps understand the arguments beyond Slaughter’s speech easily. In addition, the fact that Slaughter reiterates her key argument concerning the misrepresentation of women’s choice in every single paragraph fills the text with the power to convince its readers in the correctness of the author’s standpoint. Indeed, a closer look at the paragraphs will show that the idea of absurdity of demanding from feminists’ excellent performance in both job and family relationships is conveyed repeatedly; these reiterations reinforce the message.

The first part of the message in question, i.e., the image, in its turn, is much more complicated than the argument that Slaughter delivers in her essay. Though it seems less significant than the text, it, in fact, points out the problems of feminism in the contemporary society just as, if not more, efficiently as the article does.

The first detail that catches the eye of the viewer immediately is the fact that the image of a woman in the picture does not have a face – the picture has been cropped significantly, leaving only the midsection of the female body to see. In fact, the only element that allows the viewers to guess that it is the woman being talked about is the hand holding a bag – even the grey skirt blends into the background. The cropped image sends a strong and a very persuasive message to the viewer immediately, making the message about the loss of identity of a modern woman all the more striking.

The efficient use of two other images, i.e., the baby and the bag, allows for a wide range of interpretations, yet also points at one significant issue in the contemporary society, i.e., the necessity for a woman to tend to her household chores and at the same time excel in her career. Thus, the duality of the image is emphasized.

To be more specific, the conflict between the family values and the idea of pursuing a career, the first being foisted on women since the beginning of time, and the second one having become a trend only since the 20th century, enters the life of every adult woman at some point and demands that she should make the ultimate choice; otherwise, a woman will be unable to pay equally large amounts of attention to the specified areas and, therefore, will ultimately fail in each. Therefore, the non-verbal elements of the text in question point at the obvious flaw in the contemporary society. It is quite remarkable that the author of the poster manages to capture the tragedy of everyday life of a modern woman with a single expression on the child’s face – the semantics of this expression is obviously negative, which makes the message concerning the disturbing changes in the family lives of modern women obvious.

On the one hand, the fact that the text incorporates only one image and does not make use of any other media could be interpreted as a disadvantage. On the other hand, one could argue that the combination of one powerful image and the following train of logical reasoning create a special effect that makes the text unique. The thought-provoking picture at the beginning of the article hits the reader with its heavy meaning and prepares the reader to the discussion of the role of feminism in the contemporary society. Serving as the hook for the narration itself, it creates the premises for a logical twist, which Slaughter pulls off with an incredible skill. In addition, the lack of graphical elements in the text is compensated with the active use of imagery in the text. Indeed, the author incorporates a variety of images and epithets in her essay, thus, strengthening it and defining the course of the argument. For instance, the following phrases: “I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause” (Slaughter 2012), “I’d been on the other side of this exchange” (Slaughter 2012), “I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in” (Slaughter 2012), etc., display the power of language at its fullest, as the reiteration of “I’d been” creates a pattern that reveals the shocking injustice behind the stereotypical image of a woman succeeding in every possible domain (Jones 2012). Though the specified approach can hardly be considered innovational from the perspective of power language and its use in persuasive speech, it still creates a very recognizable pattern, therefore, turning the text into an appealing message. As far as the epithets are concerned, Slaughter incorporates the characteristics of reactions that she has to deal with when getting her point across to other people, especially feminists, in her essay:

But I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”). (Slaughter 2012, para. 4)

The specified characteristics sum up the problem of the image of a woman in the modern society extremely well: if a woman chooses her own path of personal and professional development instead of the one that feminists have charted for her, she is considered weak and unfit for being a feminist. Instead, Slaughter points out, feminism should be about a personal choice and the ability to define one’s own life path without regard for social stereotypes.

It is also quite remarkable that the author does not choose addressing the reader directly in order to position the latter; instead, Slaughter narrates her story from the first-person point of view. This creates the illusion of being in the heart of the discussion and helps engage the reader into a dialogue by making the viewer empathize with the narrator. An admittedly risky technique, it has a number of disadvantages, the inability to engage the reader in a conversation being the first and the most obvious one. In other words, Slaughter positions the reader to the text and the message behind it with the help of the technique known as the Point of View. The technique in question, though having its obvious benefits, is viewed as risky primarily because of the inability to establish a dialogue with the reader and, therefore, leaving the latter to either step into the author’s shoes, or to take the standpoint of a side observer and, therefore, open the author’s argument to critique. On a surface, the specified approach is rather flawed, as it seemingly weakens the persuasive tone of the essay: “The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough” (Slaughter 2012, para. 4). On a deeper level, the Point of View strategy makes the reader respect the author for giving the audience an opportunity to form an opinion of their own instead of having the one of the author being foisted onto them. In fact, from the given perspective, the choice of a strategy for reader’s positioning is flawless – complaining that the existing stereotypes are far too binding for women, Slaughter would have seem hypocritical if she tried to impose her vision of the problem on her audience. Luckily, she chooses a different manner of convincing her audience, and this approach works rather well.

As it has been stressed above, Slaughter deploys a variety of linguistic approaches and stylistic devices in order to make her speech sound more convincing. Therefore, a range of language and power related elements can be spotted in the essay in question. Moreover, each of the elements of the entire message, i.e., the textual and the visual ones, use their own set of language and power tools. To be more specific, the latter deploys a range of symbols, the semantics of which carries the same meaning as the author’s argument does. For example, the color cast chosen by the designer delivers the message about the intensity of a modern woman’s life in a very obvious manner. The combination of the black, solid and weighty font and the bleak colors of the woman’s clothes in the picture puts the viewer into a thoughtful and even depressive mood; therefore, the author makes a very clear statement about the problem brewing in the specified area for quite long.

The power of the language, therefore, is manifested in the impression, which the given image makes on the reader instantly. The text added to the image, the letters written in thick lines and pressed together, creates the same disheartening impression, signifying that there is a social issue, which needs an immediate resolution. In a way, the combination of colors and letters “reproduces a binary logic based on dominant and dominated social positions” (Janks 2010, p. 47), since they clearly juxtapose the clichés dominating in the modern society and the struggle that feminists lead in order to subvert these clichés.

The same can be said about the rest of the text; the language of power is used in it vastly. In fact, the vocabulary that the author utilizes in her analysis literally blends the so-called “male” and “female” styles of writing together, thus, reinforcing the message. The claim that the postmodern feminism is suspiciously similar of major globalizations (Cameron 2005, p. 487) is barely visible in the text; quite on the contrary, Slaughter clearly tries to evaluate the current changes in the image of a woman on a case-by-case basis, with a number of examples that she has encountered in her personal life or in the lives of her friends: “As the evening wore on, I ran into a colleague who held a senior position in the White House” (Slaughter 2012, para. 4).

This does not man, however, that Slaughter’s essay is devoid of generalizations – some commonplace remarks still trickle into the article: “The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough” (Slaughter 2012, para. 4). The information quoted above implies that there were only two basic reactions, yet there must have been at least several neutral ones. However, in general, the argument that Slaughter has started and is clearly going to continue leaps through the cracks of several misjudgments.

One could argue that the statement, which Slaughter makes, corresponds mostly to her personal experience and, therefore, cannot be deemed as objective. True, the creation of a power argument does presuppose the inclusion of referencing to the narrator’s personal impressions (Posch & Bauer 2000). The above-mentioned approach is traditionally used in order to trick the audience into paying attention and, thus, win their trust (Propst 2009). However, Slaughter seems to use the first-person pronouns a touch too many times. This stylistic choice may seem somewhat redundant in a number of passages. Still, one must admit that the incorporation of personal experiences helps Slaughter make her narration more relatable, not only disclosing the weaknesses of a 21st-century woman, but also showing that these weaknesses are nothing to be ashamed of.

By combining a set of unique imagery with specific and convincing manner, Slaughter manages to provide an entirely different viewpoint on the current image of women in media and society, particularly, the feminist one. The incorporation of semantic and semiotic elements, the author convinces the readers that the current vision of a woman as it is represented through the lens of feminism is by far too demanding, and the graphic and textual elements of the narration allow the writer to sound very convincing. The power analysis of the texts in question has shown that the author of the article uses a variety of verbal and graphic tools in order to convince the readers that modern feminism needs changes – and, much to her credit, she manages to attain her goal.

When it comes to identifying the feature of the specified media, which turns it into an absolutely unique message, one must mention the combination of the textual elements and the graphic ones. By incorporating the two, the author juxtaposes the existing prejudices regarding the image of a feminist and the ideas that pursue the concept of equality and diversity, therefore, allowing for an unbiased evaluation of the current situation regarding the feminist movement. With her powerful speech about the problems of the contemporary feminist movement and the image of a strong and independent woman in the modern society Slaughter, therefore, proves that most of the feminist ideas have been taken to their extreme and, therefore, stopped being reasonable. The author convinces the readers that feminism presupposes having an option between several types of social behavior, and she does so by selecting specific stylistic devices and speech tools.

Reference List

Conde, M L 2012, PBS, Web.

Davis, K 2008, ‘Intersectionality as buzzword: a sociology of science perspective on what makes a feminist theory successful,’ Feminist Theory, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 67–85.

Gray, B 2011, ‘Empathy, emotion and feminist solidarities,’ Critical Studies, vol. 34, pp. 307–333.

Janks, H 2010, Literacy and power, Routledge, New York, NY.

Jones, J C 2012, ‘Idealized and industrialized labor: anatomy of a feminist controversy,’ Hypatia, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 99–117.

Meagher, M 2011, ‘telling stories about feminist art,’ Feminist Theory, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 297–316.

Miller, V n. d., , Web.

Oxfam 2013, , Oxfam, Oxford, UK, Web.

Posch, M & Bauer, P 2000, ‘Interim analysis and sample size reassessment,’ Biometrics, vol. 56, no. 4, pp. 1170–1176.

Propst, L 2009, ‘Unsettling stories: disruptive narrative strategies in Marina Warner’s Indigo and the Leto Bundle,’ Educational Review, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 181–190.

Sierra, K 2007, Tools for institutional, political, and social analysis of policy reform, The World Bank, Washington, DC.

Slaughter, A-M 2012, The Atlantic, Web.

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