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Women Having It All: A Feminist Fantasy?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. Now, it's time for the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh look at the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists and commentators.

Sitting in their chairs for a new do this week are Danielle Belton, author of the pop culture and politics blog, The Black Snob. She joins us from St. Louis today. On the west coast this week, we have Bridget Johnson, the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. And, in our D.C. studio and new to the Beauty Shop, we have Deepa Iyer. She's executive director of SAALT, South Asian Americans Leading Together. That's a nonprofit group which aims to elevate the voices of South Asian individuals and organizations.

Welcome, ladies.

DANIELLE BELTON: So good to be here.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Thanks for having me.

DEEPA IYER: Hi, Viviana.

HURTADO: So let's begin with the Supreme Court's decision this week on Arizona's immigration enforcement law called SB 1070. The issue at the heart of the case was how far states can go to combat illegal immigration. The justices struck down three elements of Arizona's law, but the court let stand one of the most controversial provisions, the so-called Show Me Your Papers rule. It allows police to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons if they suspect the person is in the country illegally.

However, shortly after the ruling, the Obama administration instructed the Department of Homeland Security to stop working with some Arizona law enforcement agencies on checking the status of suspects.

Here's how Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer responded Monday on Fox News.

GOVERNOR JAN BREWER: It's just unconscionable. What they said to Arizona is drop dead, Arizona. Drop dead and go away. We're going to ignore you.

HURTADO: Some pretty strong words there from the governor. You can imagine, people on both sides of this debate claimed victory, though, after the court's ruling. So, Deepa, you work on immigration policy with your organization, South Asian Americans Leading Together. How do you see the court's decision?

IYER: So, overall, I think it was a really positive decision for immigrant communities. I think that the court's ruling said immigrants are welcome in this country. We value their contributions. And it also said, look, immigration policy should be regulated by the federal government. This is not the state's rule. And I think that the court made that really clear in this ruling and it'll be a bellwether because we have other states in the South that have also passed similar laws like Arizona.

There is this controversial provision that you mentioned that's still in place and we are concerned that that provision and the implementation of it will lead to racial profiling and that's something that we're monitoring, as well.

HURTADO: Bridget, you've covered this issue extensively in the past. Some observers say the ruling left things even more confused than before and even Deepa was talking about eluding to some of the other laws that are still in place. For example, Alabama's. What do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, I have to say that this ruling came across at the worst time for a journalist, when I was at 38,000 feet in the air. But it was interesting because, on the dish TV, Fox headline was Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Part of Immigration Law. You switch right over to CNN. It says Supreme Court Strikes Down Controversial Part of Immigration Law.

So they're both right. Everybody got something. Whether that hobbles the law too much for the intention of its authors, we'll see. But, you know, it reflects that not is all black and white, especially with Roberts siding with the majority and even the split dissents that were issued.

But, you know, having covered the immigration protests in L.A. during 2006, covering the border, etc., it just really heightens that what else is needed beyond this decision and the DREAM Act-ish type order from President Obama is just - it's like screaming for comprehensive immigration reform.

The court made, you know, important points about divergent state laws on the - giving the federal responsibility for across-the-board enforcement, but you know, there was a very scathing dissent by Justice Scalia, you know, called a constitutionalist by some, an originalist by himself, reflecting the frustration that's leading to these laws in the first place, you know, the belief that the administration isn't enforcing the laws on the books.

And I think that Obama's decision on Homeland Security will only heighten that frustration, so it's going to be very interesting to see how it plays out, but you know, I think there were some really important messages sent by this ruling.

HURTADO: And Danielle, Bridget just said that it screams, in her interpretation, the need for comprehensive immigration reform. What do you think about that? And, I mean, is it going to happen within the next year with an election in between?

BELTON: I find it...

HURTADO: Chuckle, chuckle.

BELTON: ...that unlikely. I don't - honestly don't see that happening because it's such a loaded issue, especially on the GOP side, where you have one-half of the party that understands that you have immigrants, you have recent citizens who are of different nationalities who deserve rights and protections under the law and a pathway to citizenship. And you've got an other half who's just, like, pushing these laws that are in Arizona and Alabama.

I just don't see it happening this year, but the reality is we need comprehensive immigration reform because what we're doing is you're having states deal with this on a police level, which pretty much just turns your citizens - it criminalizes your citizens. You end up with people like they're, you're Mexican-American, you've been here sort of ever since Texas became part of the United States, and you're getting accused of the same thing as people who just recently came over because of, you know, of racial profiling. So that's my concern where we do all this on a police level. I don't see how this is helpful. I don't see how this is going to solve our problems.

HURTADO: Bridget, Daniel's talking about a perception among certainly the Latino community of this hostility that Republicans have towards a whole community, not just the undocumented or the illegal immigrant community. How do you react to that, Bridget?

JOHNSON: You know what. I actually definitely agree with that to a certain extent. I think that in some cases it's overblown and there isn't as much hostility that is there. And - but this really came to a boiling point, like I said, you know, during 2006, when those huge protests were going on on the street. But now you have some representatives like David Rivera from Florida, who recently introduced a DREAM Act-type legislation that was more generous than what Senator Rubio is probably going to come out with. And he was working directly on his bill with...

HURTADO: Right. With Senator Rubio, Bridget, being the junior Republican senator from Florida.

JOHNSON: Correct. And - but Congressman Rivera was working on this bill with a young lady who was going to, who was facing a deportation order and she was a valedictorian of her high school, etcetera. So I think there is a lot of recognition that this is a very human issue, especially as more diversity comes not just into the Republican Party but into the Republican leadership. And I think that you're seeing some of these gentlemen, you know, also Raul Labrador from Idaho, you know, another prominent Latino who is rising up in the party. So I think that that's going to interject kind of a different, different spin on how these things are handled.

HURTADO: If you're joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado and you're listening to our Beauty Shop roundtable. We're joined by Danielle Belton, author of the Black Snob website. You just heard Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor at PJ Media. And Deepa Iyer, she's executive director at SALT, South Asian Americans Leading Together.

So let's talk about a conversation that's really burning up the Blogosphere. Former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter stirred up the age-old debate over work/life balance with her piece "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" in the Atlantic Monthly. Slaughter wrote that having it all is not possible in many types of jobs - at least not for very long. Here's a clip of her speaking to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell yesterday about whether women just lack the ambition for high-powered careers.


ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I'm not saying there's not women who don't - who say right now, no, I don't want to be CEO, but many of those women are looking at being CEO and thinking to themselves, to be CEO means I either can't have a family or I can't spend any time with my family, and that's not a choice I'm willing to make.

HURTADO: Deepa, you're a married mother and you work really long hours, so how do you see the dilemma? Do you have to make these choices?

IYER: Well, I think that this article has really opened up a lot. I know that the community of moms I'm in touch with had a lot to say about what this means. And I think it's - we need to go beyond kind of this choice issue and we need to start looking at what are the root causes that are preventing working mothers, single mothers, from feeling empowered in both the workplace and at home. And what that's going to be meaningful for working moms is that we need to change the way in which we are structuring our workplaces. We need to change our cultural perceptions of the expectations of working mothers.

HURTADO: What would be some of these changes?

IYER: Yeah. So whether that means, for example, looking at paid maternity leave, looking at job sharing, flexible work arrangements for working mothers and parents generally in the workplace, as well as changing our cultural expectations. I think there are these expectations - and that clip alluded to it as well - that women are expected to work much harder, much longer if they're mothers. I think we need to really look at these root causes and change them if we're going to change things for all women, not just a subset of highly privileged women.

HURTADO: And so that kind of goes to the whole question that I have about the definition of having it all. And Danielle, I wanted to ask you, you know, is having it all just limited to being married, having children and being really successful in your career? For example, I'm not married and I don't have children, so does that mean that I don't have it all? What do you think, Danielle?

BELTON: Well, I definitely - I feel like there so many different ways if you're going to have it all. It depends on how you define it. Like I don't necessarily feel like I'm missing something in my life. I'm not married. I don't have kids, but I feel like I'm living a very full and meaningful life. I'm very happy with my career. I'm happy with my personal life. I'm happy with the relationships that I have with my friends and family. So I feel like it's about how you feel on the inside, it's about your own esteem. You can feel like you have it all. When people say do you have it all, they very mean specifically, are you successful both in your professional life and in your home life? Are you married, do you have kids, and are you also a millionaire? I mean that's what people are basically saying - you know, can you be a size zero and have like the perfect kind of shoes and live like this ambitious perfect life that nobody really has? It's largely an illusion, and I feel like it's created to put us on this endless chase for something that we can never really have and causes us to be dissatisfied with ourselves, as opposed to actually embracing what we do love, what we do enjoy, and celebrating that.

HURTADO: And Bridget, what do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, it's interesting because we've recently had some very heated debates at our site, PJ Media, about, you know, some conservative women coming out and saying, you know, I realize that children aren't for me, myself included, and so there's a debate about, you know, is it an insightful, thoughtful choice or is it selfish? You know, so when women talk about having it all, they should make sure that it's what they really want and not what society thinks that they should want or have. You know, in my opinion you cannot say that job XYZ is women's most important job. You know, you never hear like labels of this is the most important job that a man can do. What's most important is fulfilling what we are meant to do and knowing that we make the world a little richer doing so.

HURTADO: Switching from articles that have women talking - to books that have women whispering, E.L. James "Fifty Shades of Grey" series has sold more than 16 million copies since coming out in the U.S. And just to give you some perspective, the Washington Post reported it took more than three years for the popular "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series to sell that many books.

If you haven't heard of it - and truthfully, I kind of had but I didn't read it until it was my homework here at NPR - "Fifty Shades of Grey" is the story of two lovers. It's been described as daring by fans and outright indecent by detractors. Some libraries won't even carry it, yet it's making the rounds in women's book clubs across the country.

So Danielle, our resident "Fifty Shades of Grey" expert, or at least reader...


HURTADO: ...what did you think of it?

BELTON: Well, it's a terrible, horribly written book. Like I'm just going to be honest, like it's not that good. But I can understand why it's popular, when you consider that it started out as "Twilight" fan fiction. Like originally this woman was a huge fan of Stephanie Myers' novel, young adult novel series, took the main characters of it and just basically decided to write an erotica base on it and it became very, very popular online. When she saw how popular it was, she just honestly just changed the names and took out the references to "Twilight," packed it in the book and sold it.


BELTON: And so that's why I understand why it's popular, because it contains all the essence of all these mass-market paperback kind of, you know, things that are already popular with women. So if you just throw in, you know, your typical soap opera drama, you got a little bit of the reality TV drama, you've got your "Twilight" drama, and you're like if you were a fan of "Titanic" and all he really wanted more of was maybe something a bit more explicit, that's what the book is.

HURTADO: But what are those themes that drive women crazy and to buy books? Is it the fantasy of being taking care of? What is it? Bridget?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, I think a lot of it goes to the draw that women have towards stories about two tormented souls finding each other, because it actually nudges on a deeper level that life, including the picture-perfect family, isn't always so picture-perfect. But, you know, what was really interesting was that in this Washington Post review of this book it kind of likened it to "Jane Eyre." But, you know, Jane Eyre had a really strong pro-woman theme that, you know, transcended, you know, all the S&M stuff, you know, where Mr. Rochester was really only worthy of her love until he atoned for his sins of the past and their passion was actually rooted in tenderness and forgiveness. So I don't know if it's a matter of, you know, being drawn to this sort of tormented theme but then kind of going off course to something that doesn't have any meaning.

HURTADO: And just to be realistic, most 28-year-olds - men - with the exception of Mark Zuckerberg - are not leading these big empires normally and driving around and hot rod cars. They are likely waiting for the bus.

BELTON: But that's what made it so bizarre. This is Danielle again. Because I kept expecting the main character to be like some 40-year-old man because then that kind of made sense because he'd already lived his life. But no, it's like a 28-year-old guy.

HURTADO: And so...

BELTON: A 28-year-old is(ph) playing PlayStation.

HURTADO: Thank you Danielle, for that. Exactly. A 28-year-old is playing PlayStation. But I was curious, Deepa, I know you haven't read the book. But you were talking about this circle of moms that you're friends with. So are they reading it? Have they owned up to reading it? Like what's this fascination with what people are calling mommy porn?

IYER: Yeah. I haven't polled my friends about that, but I'm pretty sure no one has volunteered to tell me that they're reading this book. And I think it's interesting because there was a piece I think that Katie Roiphe had done about this obsession that people have with this trilogy, and talking about how while, you know, women in other aspects are gaining power, you know, whether it's economically, whether it's as breadwinners, why are they kind of looking to this trilogy where you have sort of more of a submissive element going on in terms of the relationship between these two main characters? So I think it brings up a lot, not just about what we're drawn to, but how we look at women and what we think of women's place and their roles - kind of going back to your last questions as well. So I'll have to poll...

HURTADO: About women having it all?

IYER: Yeah. And I have to poll my friends to see...

HURTADO: Maybe we're tired of having it all. At least when we're reading we want to have a little escapism and a little bit of fantasy.

That was Deepa Iyer, she's the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together. And Deepa joined me in our Washington, D.C. studio. Danielle Belton is the Black Snob. She blogs on her website about pop culture and politics. She joins us today from St. Louis. And Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media, the conservative libertarian commentary and news website. She joins us from NPR West, our bureau in Culver City.

Thank you, ladies, so much.

IYER: Thanks so much.

BELTON: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

HURTADO: And that's our program for today. I'm Viviana Hurtado and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.