Last night two of the most powerful women in American history, Sandra Day O’Connor and Madeleine Albright, sat down for a conversation at the New York Public Library with Anne-Marie Slaughter. The discussion ranged from O’Connor’s take on the greatest threat to American democracy (falling educational standards) to Albright’s favorite lapel pin (a snake), but, inevitably, it was steered toward the question of our time: Can women have it all?
Albright’s answer wasn’t entirely encouraging. “I do think women can have it all,” she said, “but not all at the same time. Our life comes in segments, and we have to understand that we can have it all if we’re not trying to do it all at once.”
The former secretary of State’s personal history would seem to inform this viewpoint. Married for 22 years and raising three daughters, it wasn’t until after her divorce that she began to focus on the potential of her career. Even when that potential was realized, Albright says she faced gender biases that saw familial duties as the woman’s domain. In one instance, while taking care of some business on the Hill as secretary of State, she was called upon to organize a carpool for her kid’s school, prompting her to ask, “What in God’s name does a woman have to be so that she doesn’t have to worry about the carpool?”
Toward the end of the night the discussion became more terse, and it became clear O’Connor was both for having it all and for having no more. She told Slaughter, “Anne-Marie, you’ve run out of time,” and that effectively wrapped up the event. Noticeably absent from the talk was what O’Connor thought of the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality cases, although the former justice did say she wished “she was there this week” — but just to watch.