Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter

Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie SlaughterUnfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
Published by Random House Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Source: Library
Pages: 352
Buy from IndieBound


In 2012, fresh from leaving her high-ranking position with the State Department in order to have more time with her family, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote Why Women Still Can’t Have It All for The Atlantic. The article soon went viral, earning its fair share of praise and criticism. The comments and e-mails Slaughter received in the wake of the article’s publication began to reshape her view and led her to Unfinished Business.

A major criticism of Slaughter’s Atlantic article was her problematic focus on women too much like herself. There were points in Unfinished Business when I wanted more from her renewed efforts to include single mothers and women working low income jobs in the discussion, but there was improvement. Her comments on America’s relationship with work apply across the board and get to the heart of what so many struggle with.

“We must rework our society so the expense and headache of childcare and eldercare don’t sink women and their families, and we need to remodel our workplaces so that our employers no longer assume that a lawyer or businessperson can be available 24/7 to answer email or that a restaurant worker or clerk can be available 24/7 to staff a shift.”

Still, I found myself pushing back when Slaughter mentioned the need for caregivers to have greater flexibility at work. While I know parenting is extremely difficult, I also know how frustrating it can be to have your need for personal time ignored when you don’t have children. Thankfully, she went on to discuss how caregiving covers a wide spectrum that includes eldercare and self-care, making a great point about flexibility leading to increased productivity.

“A second strand is the assumption that people who do not have family members to go home to have no reason to want to go home. Even viewed purely from the performance standpoint as competitors, they will perform far better if they rest and recharge. Care also has many faces. Caring for members of your community—your church, temple, mosque, YMCA, local food bank, Little League, Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization, and so many more—occupies a different but no less important part of the care spectrum as family responsibilities.”

Unfinished Business also spends a great deal of time discussing society’s devaluing of care and its negative impact. I would have liked the topic to get a bit more broad, as it touched on some interesting territory before circling back to the traditional two-parent family, but many of her points were extremely valid. As is the case with the book as a whole: though there’s more to be explored, Anne-Marie Slaughter offers a compelling contrast to “leaning in”—changing work so it benefits us all.

  • It sounds like there is so much to discuss that one book just can’t cover it all (without it being way too long). For example, the topic of society’s devaluing of care could have it’s own book. It still shocks me when I hear people imply that child care and home personal care aren’t real jobs, or good enough jobs.
    I love the point she makes about care having many faces. Of course it does!

    • You’re definitely right – there was a ton to tackle here. Overall, it was a pretty great way of framing the topic and posed some solid suggestions for steps forward.

  • Emily Avers

    I really appreciate when the conversation can be opened up to care giving in all its many forms. Discussions about increasing family leave benefits tend to stall out with childless people claiming (not unfairly) that they are left out of the conversation and then devolve into both sides claiming the other side is selfish. It’s too easy to get stuck looking at the issue from your individual perspective and miss out on the bigger picture, which is almost everyone will have to deal with this at one point or another. It’s not a working parent problem; it’s a problem for everyone who has a family, biological or chosen, and just focusing on working parents really isn’t helping us move forward.

    • Agreed, 100%! I thought the book was strongest when it focused on everyone and, even though it’s a tough conversation to have, made suggestions for the best ways to move forward.

  • I really think I need to read this. Maybe I’ll tack it onto NN if I get the time. I remember the criticism of her article about not factoring in single moms or low income jobs, etc and glad she addressed that in this book. And I like the quote you shared about all the faces of care. I agree that even if you don’t have children or aren’t caring for any elders, you are more productive at work if you can recharge your batteries in whatever way you like between days.

    • I’d love to see what you think. It’s actually a really quick read – the last 1/4 of the book or so is sources, so it might be possible to squeeze in!

  • This hits several notes for me, so I’ll definitely check it out. I find myself really craving non-fiction in this vein.

  • I’ve not read this so I’m not sure if I understand properly your contrast to ‘lean in’, but the message I took away from that book was that women should push for positions of power and then make change for other women, not just that we should all slog away trying to have it all instead of changing the workplace. This sounds like a fascinating read!

    • One of the major problems with the Lean In way of thinking is that very rarely do women who get to the top actually work to make change for other women once they get there. The focus here is on changing the way society thinks about work, care, and masculine/female roles across the board.

      • I can see where it might be hard for women at the top to stick their neck out for other women when they’re still in the minority. It definitely makes sense to me to focus on changing the way society thinks as well :)