An Ivy League scholar and mother-of-two is touching a raw nerve by questioning whether high-flying career women with families, at least American ones, can truly "have it all."
Writing in The Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter cited her own downshift from powerful State Department official to mere Princeton University professor as evidence that they cannot, at least not as US society now stands.
"I still strongly believe that women can 'have it all' (and that men can too)," wrote Slaughter, 53, referring to the ability to juggle a successful career with raising a family.
"But not today, not with the way America's economy and society are currently structured."
She floated a grab bag of potential solutions, from a female US president to more family-friendly working hours and encouraging young men "to act more like the women — to speak less and listen more."
She also hailed Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg for acknowledging knocking off work at 5:30pm to have dinner with her family rather than enslave herself to the "time macho" culture of many US workplaces.
No one expected Slaughter to resolve the issue once and for all, but her essay has touched off a firestorm since it appeared Thursday both online and in the print version of The Atlantic with a cover photo of a baby in a briefcase.
According to The Atlantic (www.theatlantic.com), Why Women Still Can't Have It All is among its most popular articles ever, on a par with the recent How Your Cat is Making You Crazy (about feline parasites and human brains).
It has garnered more "likes" on Facebook than any other Atlantic piece (more than 157 000 as of Wednesday) — although it has failed to make an apparent impact on the November presidential election campaigns.
"Absolutely wonderful ... As a 21-year-old woman, it is the most encouraging thing I have read all year," wrote New York blogger Tala Azar Strauss on Slaughter's Twitter account (@SlaughterAM).
But some of the reaction on a variety of blogs, social media and the Atlantic's own website has been critical, if not downright catty.
"Slaughter ... wants to be in a high-powered job and also at home making pancakes and doing school pick-up in another city," said author Lori Gottlieb in a blog on The Atlantic's website.
"And merely because she wants this so badly ... she believes she deserves it."
"Seriously, you live the life you choose," added an online comment-writer who identified herself — or maybe himself — as "pjs1965" beneath a Washington Post article about Slaughter's article.
"Those who choose to have children (and it is a choice) and have the need to work full-time have to wake up to reality. And having this thing called a 'career' isn't all it's cracked up to be either."
As director of policy planning from 2009 to 2011, Slaughter oversaw the State Department's internal think tank and reported to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom she holds up as a personal role model.
Slaughter — photographed inside the print version of The Atlantic smiling on a sofa with her two boys lying in her arms, one twirling drum sticks — candidly admits her lifestyle as a tenured professor at a world-famous university and author of a forthcoming book is out of the norm.
"I am writing for my demographic," she said, rather than the majority of American mothers with far less glamorous jobs, or none at all. She has almost nothing to say about women in other countries.