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Posts Tagged ‘maternal wall’

Now that the chatter about Marissa Mayer has started to grow cold, let me admit that the whole conversation has pissed me off.

In case you’ve spent the past few days under a rock or — same thing — totally unplugged, Marissa Mayer is the former Google superstar who was annointed CEO of Yahoo on Monday. Her story went viral when she casually announced that she was preggers, telling Fortune Magazine: “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”  Those 14 words ignited a shitstorm.

What made me incredibly cranky is how retro the conversation quickly became: It wasn’t about Marissa Mayer, 37-year-old brainiac tapped to become one of only 20 women at the helm of a Fortune 500 company. But Marissa Mayer, new mom:  How on earth will she manage?  When will she bond with her newborn?  How in the hell will she ever run Yahoo (which, it should be noted, is in desperate need of turnaround.)

All the backchat and the judging that came with it? Sheer lunacy.  And, yeah, more than a little bit retro:  Would we be talking about any of this if a soon-to-be-a-father had gotten the top job at a major U.S. company?  You know the answer. No effing way.

What makes me crazy is what we’re not talking about: the real reason the conversation caught fire in the first place. And that’s the fact that the U.S. remains one of the least family-friendly countries in the industrialized world when it comes to public policy and workplace structures. And that, when it comes to managing the almighty juggle between home and work, the problem is seen as purely a woman’s to solve.

We never seem to question that.  Or ask why, when we talk about ambitious women like Mayer, we make what should be the political intensely personal: What will she do?

Who cares? What really matters is what we – men and women alike – need to do to make work work for all of us. Let’s start with public policy. Ours sucks. To demonstrate just how much, look at Sweden. As we reported in Undecided, Sweden subsidizes preschool and elder care—and provides thirteen months of paid parental leave that can be taken in any increments until the child turns eight—reserving at least two months of that leave for fathers. As a result, 85 percent of fathers take parental leave. And those who don’t often face the stink-eye from family, friends, and coworkers.

By contrast, here in the U.S., the Family Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees unpaid, job-protected leave for twelve workweeks after the birth of a child.  Period. As for valuing work-life balance? In spring of 2010, Congress failed to pass the Work–Life Balance Award Act, a thoroughly benign bill that would have established an award for businesses that develop and implement work–life balance policies.  And child care? Legislation to establish early childhood education and day care programs, with tuition on a sliding scale, was passed by both houses back in 1971.  Then-president Richard Nixon vetoed it.  Some forty years later, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies reports that only one out of six children eligible for child care assistance receives it.

Then there’s the workplace itself, which is still more reflective of the days of Don Draper, where there was always a Betty at home to take care of business, and Don could come home (or not) whenever it suited him. But how many families live like that anymore?  In this economy, how many could?  And so Betty, like Don, puts in the expected 52-hour workweek, and then comes home to do the laundry.  And sure, while many forward-thinking companies now allow employees to be flexible, what that often means is that, whether you’re at the office or at home, more than likely, you’re at work.  At two jobs.

And finally, let’s look at our social culture, by which I mean: where are the men? Despite the fact that most working women put in the same long hours as their husbands, when they come home, they still own the second shift.  To this day, we largely define work-outside-of-work in traditional gender terms: men do the yardwork and take care of the car, women do the dishes and take care of the kids. This is not to put down the male gender: I’m sure there are any number of guys out there who are more than willing to pick up the kids or fold the clothes, as a 2011 Boston College Center for Work & Family report on “The New Dad” found.  But where the conflict arises, Brad Harrington, executive director of the Center for Work & Family told Diversity Executive Magazine is within the cultural context:

Many working dads are stymied in their desire to spend more time at home because of age-old perceptions of men’s roles, both at home and at work. But it’s also partly because men want to have the best of both worlds. While many men in the Boston College study expressed an increased interest in being at home with their children, a large percentage also said they wanted to have greater responsibilities at work.

So trust me.  I am delighted that  Marissa Mayer was hired as CEO of Yahoo while being, you know, openly pregnant. She’s a great example of the fact that a woman can use her brain and her uterus at the same time.  And as such, she is sure to start chipping away at the maternal wall that holds many of us back when it comes to positions of power.  But let’s go beyond the obvious.  Rather than opining on whether Mayer will be a good mommy, what we really ought to be talking about is why the workplace remains so incompatible with motherhood in the first place – and why we assume that fixing that incompatibility is women’s work.

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Bryce Covert’s recent post on The Nation’s website got me thinking today. It’s about an Accenture survey of Gen Y working women which found that

-they have the most positive outlook for women in the workplace of any other generation.

And yet:

-when it comes to their careers, they’re less likely to proactively manage their career or ask for a raise than their male counterparts.

Further:

-they feel underpaid,

-and have found that their careers take a bigger hit than their male counterparts’ once they become parents.

Whew. That’s one hell of a disconnect, wouldn’t you say? While I’m generally an unrepentant optimist, the type to blow sunshine up even the crankiest of derrieres until I get a smile, a study like this makes me question my approach. A positive attitude is well and good, but, when young women declare themselves optimistic about women in the workplace in the very same survey in which they point out gender-based inequities, you kinda gotta worry. Sunshine is good; complacency, not so much.

The trouble is the message we women have been fed: that feminism’s work is over; the battle won. That’s where that sense of optimism comes in, I’d argue. I myself went to an all-girls high school, not too (too too) terribly long ago, and spent my four plaid-skirted years surrounded by the enthusiastic and inspiring message that girls could do anything boys could do. Which is good, of course–because it’s true. Save for peeing one’s name in the snow.

But there’s a little bit of trouble with that approach. One: that you enter the real world largely unprepared for the injustices you will, (yes, I said WILL) come up against as a woman. And two: that when you do come up against them, you will assume they have only to do with you. That the situation–your lesser paycheck; your unwillingness to “proactively manage your career or ask for a raise” for fear of bias or judgment; your employer’s subtly shifting opportunities away once you’ve become a mom or the discrimination you’ll face if you don’t have kids–and the fact that your male counterpart in either of those scenarios will likely be rewarded, seen as either a dependable family man or a guy who has the time to devote to his job, where you’ll be perceived a flight risk or cold and odd, respectively; the realization that if you want a killer career and your husband wants a killer career and you want kids you’re in for a daily struggle that may well lead to one of you “opting” out; that if, against these formidable odds, you do make it to the very top, you will find yourself wildly outnumbered–is merely your problem. That it is personal, and not political. When, of course, it is exactly that. It is collective and it is political–and change happens when we’re willing to see it that way.

Don’t get me wrong: We have come a long way (baby). Think about this: when my mom graduated from college, it was still totally legal for employment want-ads to be segregated by gender. A company could list a managerial job in the men’s want-ads, a secretarial one in the women’s. This was not the dark ages; this was the 1970s.  So clearly we’ve come a tremendous way since disco inferno.

But the fact that we’ve come so far does not mean that our work here is finished. The fact that we have much to be grateful for in no way precludes the many things we should be angry about. Take that pay gap, for example:

U.S. Department of Education data show that a year out of school, despite having earned higher college GPAs in every subject, young women will take home, on average across all professions, just 80 percent of what their male colleagues do… Motherhood has long been the explanation for the persistent pay gap, yet a decade out of college, full-time working women who haven’t had children still make 77 cents on the male dollar.

April 17 of this year is Equal Pay Day. Don’t let the delightful sounding name fool ya, though: that’s the day that a woman’s salary catches up to a man’s… from last year. For doing the same job. Another way to look at that is like this: taken as a whole, from January through April 17, women are working for free.

So, clearly, we still have a hell of a way to go.

Or, I suppose, maybe I should rephrase: the world still has a hell of a way to go.

But who is going to be responsible for steering it in the right direction?

It occurs to me that perhaps these young women are right in their optimism–or here’s my Pollyanna side’s spin, anyway:  for centuries, men’s roles have not changed. Whether buffalo or bacon, they were to bring it home. They were the hunters. They were to provide.

Women, on the other hand, have always adapted–whether when acting the gatherers, surveying the environment to see what it had in store and shifting the game plan accordingly, or to a male-dominated workplace in which we nevertheless were able to ascend, bit by bit, to the point where we are today. We had to fight for the right to wear pants, for craps sake. Now, how many pairs of jeans are in your closet? Change is in our DNA. The office, corporate culture, political institutions — these things aren’t going to change themselves.

The angry part of me and the Pollyanna part come together in the faith that these women will eventually get angry on their own behalf: and once that happens, they’ll see the rest of us, and they’ll join us. And then we’ll do what we’ve always done. We’ll change things. A little anger will help. And so will a little optimism.

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When the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn was dismissed on Tuesday, it occurred to me that what we had in front of us was a good metaphor for one of the tawdry underbellies of American life.

Call it the power of privilege — the unacknowledged advantages that permeate so many layers of our public, and not so public, lives.

I’m not here to argue the merits of the case, or to rant about the legal system. We are, in fact, a family that is lousy with attorneys. On any given day, you can’t walk down the hall without bumping elbows with one. On Thanksgiving, we joke about replacing the kids’ table with a lawyers’ table.

But this is essentially a case of he-said, she-said, right? Of parties whose closets apparently hold more than a couple of skeletons. So our thought question for today is this: Why is Strauss-Kahn, a powerful white male, who asserts that the sex was consensual, more believable than Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel maid who fled her native Guinea for asylum in the U.S., who says she was raped?

And why has Diallo’s background cast doubt on her story when our erstwhile defendant’s past is equally checkered? As Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman wrote on Tuesday:

A woman who gets intoxicated can be raped. Prostitutes can be raped. And a poor woman who has told lies can be raped. In fact, it is often the women who “don’t make good victims” who are most at risk because they are the most vulnerable, and it is these women who are least likely to be listened to.

I confess I know no more about the case itself than do any of you, and I am willing to admit that it’s possible that there was no criminal case to be made. But – evidence notwithstanding apologies to the attorneys in the family– I still wonder about the larger issue, which is this: All things being equal, why is it that the scales always tend to tip in favor of privilege?

One of the worst aspects of privilege, whether in the courtroom or the workplace, is that those who have it tend not to notice. What’s second-worst is that, because of the above, privilege tends to perpetuate itself.

Back in 1989, Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D., associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, wrote a pivotal paper entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In the paper, she listed the contents of that knapsack, a collection of invisible “privileges” she enjoyed by virtue of her race – from being able to buy or rent a home wherever she wanted to being assured that when she’s pulled over for a traffic stop, it’s not because of the color of her skin.

Her point, derived from her work in women’s studies, was this. While those with privilege may be willing to admit that those without it are indeed disadvantaged, what they don’t seem to notice is the other side of the coin: doors automatically open for some folks simply because of their skin color – or their gender.

As McIntosh noted, it’s a source of power and advantage that is largely unearned. And it automatically puts many of us on the other side of the power divide. That includes women, even when we enjoy the privileges of race. Need a refresher? We make less money than our male counterparts. We’re often stymied on our way up the corporate ladder simply because of something related specifically to our gender: motherhood – or in some cases, lack of same. And then there’s the workplace itself, which is still structured around the outdated concept of the ideal employee, who can put in the 52 hour workweek, secure in the knowledge that there is someone at home to take care of business.

We’ll stop there.

My point, at least today, is not to vent about the inherent inequities – but to suggest that we start paying attention to the power that some folks hold through no fault of their own. Which brings us back to the case at hand.

Diallo has filed a civil suit against Strauss-Kahn, whose attorney has announced that Strauss-Kahn is considering a lawsuit of his own because he has suffered “enormous damages.”

Should both lawsuits see their day in court, let’s lay some odds, shall we? Who do you think is likely to prevail?

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The new buzzword is “He-covery”. That’s the term the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell  and others use to characterize the new numbers on our so-called economic recovery. Cute the way we use gender terms to nickname serious issues, isn’t it?

In case you’ve forgotten, the recession was dubbed the “mancession,” because the menfolk had lost the majority of the jobs, leading to a workplace that was finally gender-equal.  But, as a new report from the Pew Center has shown, since the recovery started, men have picked up some three-quarters of a million jobs.  Their sisters have lost close to a quarter of a million. Welcome back to the gender gap: Pew found that men “have fared better than women in all but one of 16 major sectors of the economy identified in this report.” Here’s a taste:

The recovery from the Great Recession is not off to a good start for women. From June 2009, when the recession ended, to May 2011, women have lost 218,000 jobs, with their employment level falling from 65.1 million to 64.9 million. Men, however, are finding new jobs in the recovery. Their employment level increased from 65.4 million in June 2009 to 66.1 million in May 2011, a gain of 768,000 jobs. Since 1970, this is the first two-year period into an economic recovery in which women have lost jobs even as men have gained them.

Now, the easy explanation would be to assume that job growth is occurring in the, you know, manly sector: construction, mining, manufacturing, the heavy-lifting kinds of jobs.  But what’s curious here is that men are also outscoring women in retail, professional and business services, education and health services (traditionally a female domain), hospitality and the federal government.  And when it comes to jobs lost, men have also won the jackpot, losing fewer jobs than women in utilities, information services and finance.

What gives? Pew can’t figure out the explanation for the gender discrepancy, and neither can anyone else. But what I wonder is whether we’re simply unwilling to suggest that the emperor has no clothes.  If women are losing ground even in traditionally female sectors, isn’t it possible there’s a little bit of gender discrimination at play? There I’ve said it. Mea culpa.

As one quick example, let’s look at the maternal wall:  studies have shown that women are penalized and considered less promotable because of family committments.   As University of Illinois management professor Jenny Hoobler found, this holds true even when women have no kids — and don’t plan on having any.  We interviewed Hoobler for our book, and here’s what she told us:

[Her study showed] “this lingering stereotype that women aren’t as dedicated to their careers because they are or will at some point take the primary responsibility for caregiving in the family.  What we found was that even when women did not have did not have children, did not have an elderly parent to care for, didn’t have a sick spouse, their bosses still felt  that they had higher conflict between the family and work than their male counterparts did.

“People think that this is something that has gone away. I think there is a misconception when you are talking about workers with kids that male and female parents share equally the responsibilities for the home but many research studies have shown recently that that is not the case.  While men are doing a lot more that their fathers did a generation ago, in dual career families, women are bearing the lion’s share of the caring of people in the home.  But what our study showed was that even when women DID NOT have those responsibilities, their bosses felt that they still did.”

We also found a study on fathers showing that, conversely, having a baby enhanced their self-image at work, in terms of reputation, credibility and even career options. He became a family man, as in “What a guy”!

Now I would be the last to suggest that the reason for the so-called He-covery is the fact that, all things being equal, empl0yers prefer men over women and hire accordingly. Nor would any boss cop to that. But it makes you think, right?  And the irony is that, at 77 cents on the dollar, women are good for the bottom line.

And even when we women made up half of the workforce, we were hardly taking home half of the pay. As The Nation’s Katha Pollitt wrote, back in 2009, when women first achieved workplace parity:

It is indeed remarkable that women are half the workforce, but there’d be more to cheer about if they also earned an equal share of the pay. It may be easier to find a job as a home health aide than a welder, but male jobs tend to pay a lot more than female ones (and, one might add, do not involve a lot of deferential smiling).

Deferential smiling. Wonder if the guys are good at that?

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By now you have surely heard that the Supreme Court has denied the Wal-Mart class action suit, brought on behalf of some 1.5 million female workers, on grounds of gender descrimination.   The ruling was not a decision based on whether Wal-Mart had discriminated against the women (more below), but that they could not proceed as a class because, you know, the class was just too big for them to have had common experiences.  In effect: the judges found that the class was too big to prevail.  From the New York Times:

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said the women suing Wal-Mart could not show that they would receive “a common answer to the crucial question, why was I disfavored?” He noted that the company, the nation’s largest private employer, operated some 3,400 stores, had an expressed policy forbidding discrimination and granted local managers substantial discretion.

“On its face, of course, that is just the opposite of a uniform employment practice that would provide the commonality needed for a class action,” Justice Scalia wrote. “It is a policy against having uniform employment practices.”

The case involved “literally millions of employment decisions,” Justice Scalia wrote, and the plaintiffs were required to point to “some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together.”

Now I’m not a lawyer, though I am married to one and have raised another, so I can’t get into the law here, but it’s interesting that the court was divided not only along ideological lines, but gender lines as well.   And what interests me were the plaintiff’s (Betty Dukes et. al) complaints.  Let’s check what Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, wrote a while ago on Huffington Post:

Ms. Dukes was an enthusiastic Wal-Mart employee, eager to work her way up from store “greeter” to a position in management. But after years passed watching male colleagues move up and finding no opportunities for her own advancement, she discussed her concerns with a district manager. The result was a pattern of retaliation that eventually led to a demotion and pay cut — and the biggest sex discrimination case in history.

It turns out Ms. Dukes wasn’t alone. When a woman with a master’s degree who had worked at Wal-Mart for five years asked her department manager why she was paid less than a 17-year-old boy who had just been hired, she was informed, “You just don’t have the right equipment… You aren’t male, so you can’t expect to be paid the same.” Another female employee was informed that a male employee got a bigger raise then she did because he had “a family to support.” Another was told that men would always be paid more than women at Wal-Mart because “God made Adam first, so women would always be second to men.”

… In every category of salaried management at the company, women are significantly underrepresented and are paid consistently less. To move up in Wal-Mart, employees need a “tap on the shoulder” from upper-level management, which is overwhelmingly male and stubbornly protective of a corporate culture that demeans women.

Pissed off?  I am.  Clearly those two weren’t the only ones with a major beef.  And here’s the thing: this stuff cuts to the core of one the reasons why, for women, our career and life decisions are so much more difficult.  We’ve been promised an equal world, opportunities our mothers never had, along with the expectations that we can sail along blissfully, the way the menfolk have done for generations.   And yet.  There’s the maternal wall:  women are promoted less, given fewer challenging assignments, once they have kids, for fear that they are less serious about their careers.  And if they don’t have kids?  On the one hand, there’s the assumption that they might (see above) or that, if motherhood isn’t in their sights, well, they are weird.  And if they are ambitious?!  God forbid.

And then, there’s this:  despite the strides we women have made over the last several decades, we’re still stuck in a world designed by and for workers (as in the case of Wal-Mart, with the right anatomy) who have someone at home to take care of business.   But who lives like that anymore?  Do you?  Will you ever? And why don’t we talk about it?  I was particularly taken by my cyber-friend Morra Aarons-Mele’s post yesterday in HuffPo where, prompted by a mother-daughter panel at the Worklife Legacy Awards in New York, she got into a discussion about work-life conflict — and the fact that we women don’t talk about it nearly enough — and feel vulnerable when we do.  What I liked best was this:

We work in a male system. To paraphrase Anne Weisberg, it’s the dynamic between men and women in the workplace that’s the cause of so much work-life conflict. And we don’t want to be bitches so we play along with the system and pretend like everything is OK. And before you say, working for women is way worse than working for men… I went to girls’ school. When you were in class, all girls, and you got a better grade or knew more than another girl, you weren’t a bitch you were just smart. When you got into the co-ed world and one-upped your fellow women, you were a bitch. We work in the world men who aren’t primary caregivers built, and we feel we have to play by their rules.

Like.  We’re in a state of transition, trying our damnedest to take advantage of all the opportunities that were never there a generation ago, in an economy where we will always have to work, while still navigating a workplace and a societal culture that hasn’t kept pace.  What Shannon and I think is that it’s all a work in progress, and if we’re going to make any sort of change — we need to keep the conversation going.

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Funny the stuff you find on Facebook that you would never find on your own.

For example, I discovered that Beyonce has this new video for her song, “Run the World (Girls)”.  Have you seen it?  If not, what you see are a bunch of strong, in charge, kick ass girls who are, um, running the world.  Lyrics?

Who run the world? Girls!
Who run this motha? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!

Powerful images of take-no-prisoners girls.  Big hair, big heels, unabashedly sexy.  Great images, right?

Or not so much.  Because on Facebook, via Jemhu Greene –  a political commentator, social justice organizer, and former president of the Women’s Media Center — we find the perfect counterpoint video from Nineteen Percent that explains exactly what’s wrong with such media images of powerful, dominant, got-it-together women.  They’re lies.  Take a watch below:

Her point?  Such media images lull us into a fall sense of achievement, and distract us from “the work it takes to actually run the world.”  Shall we count the way in which we don’t?  Pay equity is one: seventy-seven cents on the dollar, anyone?  Or how about workplace structures that have not yet shifted to accommodate the fact that the majority of the workplace is made up of women, many of them with kids, and almost always without a housewife at home to drive the carpool?  Or there’s the maternal wall: the fact that women are often discriminated against in the workplace simply because of their gender.  Kids?  Uh-oh: flight risk.  No kids yet?  Yeah, but maybe someday…  Or maybe not ever.  In which case, um, outside the norm.  And then there’s this:  As Nineteen percent points out, women are the only American group classified as a minority — that makes up the majority of the population.  Go figure.

Sure it’s nice to see female doctors and lawyers on TV, but as Nineteen Percent says on the video:

Lady humans can work outside the home – but a simple survey of reality will reveal we don’t run anything – and pretending we do will get us nowhere…

So true.  The images won’t get us anywhere until there’s some actual change behind them.  You know, the kind of change that will result in a shift in policy and values, and in workplace structures.  Pretending otherwise, well, it just lulls us into a false sense of complacency.  We’ve gone here before:

Tell everyone the problem’s been solved already, and maybe it’ll go away. Move along, nothing to see here… Nothing, of course, but those inequalities listed … below:

  • A Girl Scouts study found that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they’ll be labeled ‘bossy’;
  • women are four times less likely than men to negotiate a starting salary…
  • which is probably for the best, as a Harvard study found that women who demand more money are perceived as “less nice” (=less likely to be hired).

As infuriating as all of that may be — and, duh, it is — even more so is the fact that no one seems to be pissed off about it. And, I’d venture to say, there are even some among us who read those stats, who are familiar with the surveys and the survey results, and yet, somehow, can’t quite bring ourselves to believe it.

Susan Douglas would diagnose that as a classic case of “Enlightened Sexism,” and her new book on the subject makes a compelling case that, because of all the advances that we have made — and because of a lopsided accentuating of the positives (so sugar and spiced and everything niced are we!), the stereotypes, inequities, and biases that would have once been called sexist go unnoticed. Turn on the TV, she says: there are women doctors, women lawyers, women detectives and DAs and Hillary Clinton and Oprah to show you: See? We have come a long way, baby! But all that rose-colored imagery doesn’t exactly reflect reality. For instance, here’s something you might not have realized:

The four most common female professions today are: secretary, registered nurse, teacher, and cashier–low-paying, “pink collar” jobs that employ 43 percent of all women. Swap “domestic help” for nurse, and you’d be looking at the top female jobs from 1960, back when want ads were segregated by gender.

Ahem.  So sure, I like big hair and big shoes and the image of kick-ass girls as much as the next, well, kick-ass girl.  And maybe I even like Beyonce.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  We’ve still got a way to go.  And pretending that we don’t — well, that’s one sure way to keep us in our place.

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So, earlier this week writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner (we’ve written about her before), had a piece on the Wall Street Journal’s blog that ignited what can only be described as a Category 5 shitstorm. The post is entitled “Time for a War on ‘Mommy’”–and, while I am neither a mommy nor a mother, I happen to believe that her point… and maybe, the real source of the vitriol–is relevant for all women. Not just mommies mothers.

But first. At issue: use of the word ‘mommy’ by anyone other than the fruit of your womb–and, importantly, in phrases like “Mommy Wars,” “Mommy Track,” and “Mommy Blog”. Here’s a taste:

Why is anyone other than my 3-year old (and his 8-month old brother eventually, but not yet) calling me Mommy? Why are we grown women calling each other Mommy? Is being a mother such a silly avocation that we have to baby it up, stringing it with the hormones and gushy feelings of what our children call us? Does it strike anyone that calling a woman who has had a child Mommy is demeaning and infantilizing?

This started long before the Mommy Wars, though. In the 1980s, the attempt to simplify our conflict over how to balance family and career results in a conclusion called the Mommy Track. It was a way to paint us as women who were so flighty that now that we’d gotten what we wanted–careers!–we realized that jobs weren’t all that and we wanted to go back home, where we could safely watch soap operas. Calling us Mommy then said, ‘You’ve done a good job pretending to be men, but the minute you get a baby in you, you become a hearth-sweeping woman who can only speak in goos and gahs.’

But when enough people say something, it kind of becomes true, doesn’t it? Women began to identify with the name Mommy and started not to mind when businesses would market to them as such: The Mommy Hook is a clip that hangs off my stroller and holds a shopping bag. The Mommy Necklace is a necklace that your child can’t choke on. Mommy Make-Up promises I can ‘look divine in half the time.’

Mommy Make-Up? Really? Ugh.

Moving on:

We are being marketed to as this squishy thing–the Mommy–which confirms our needs but calls us names while doing it. Because when a woman calls herself a Mommy, she is, in some ways, identifying with her captors.

Okay! Now, one might think that a woman–a mother herself–pointing out that she is first and foremost, you know, a person, might be allowed to make her point. Maybe even engender a little sympathy. Perhaps pointing out the fact that there’s a “linguistic discrepancy”–Daddy Track, anyone? Thought not–might ignite just a spark of consciousness around the fact that, yes, women are treated differently when they become parents (in more ways than one: let us not forget the charming fact that employers view an employee who’s a mother as risky–potentially flaky, distracted, likely to duck out early, while they tend to view employees who are fathers as more stable, more reliable, more worthy of promotion). One might wonder if there isn’t something worth exploring in the idea that men don’t get comparatively bent out of shape when they’re called daddies… upon consideration, one might conclude that this is perhaps because men aren’t insidiously infantilized, here and there, all over the culture. Or one might relate, but in a different way: perhaps one is not a mother or a mommy, but a woman writer who would take grand offense if one’s books were classified as a chick lit.

One might even think: mother, mommy; tomato, tomahto…who cares?–and promptly move on.

But, no. The Internet is a dark and scary place, after all, and the commenters came out of their caves in force, some of them resorting, literally, to schoolyard taunts. (One quoted an English nursery-school rhyme about killing a Welshman named Taffy. Just…. really? Who are these people?)

So anyway, my question is: why the vitriol? Why is it so taboo for a woman to suggest she derives her identity from within, rather than without? And why is it so difficult for women to allow their sisters a little nuance in their identities? Can’t someone be a great mother and HATE being called Mommy by someone trying to sell her something (something, in all likelihood, nearly exactly like something else she already owns, but which is not festooned with the grand identifier Mommy)? Can’t someone who enjoys being called Mommy be also intelligent, aware, not a tool who’s blindly “identifying with her captors”? From Erica Jong’s riff on attachment parenting to the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother to Hiroshima in the Morning to Taffy’s takedown on ‘Mommy,’ why does everyone feel so damn invested in what one mother says about the way she’s doing it??

I have a theory.

We like our people simple. Our women especially. Easily defined. Simply categorized. And, when it comes to women, the less threatening, the better. But also: this thing about women having all kinds of options, all sorts of ways to structure their lives, to cobble together their own reality made up of some parts work, some parts fun, some parts family–well, it’s new. And nothing’s perfect–and when we’re having One Of Those Days, maybe we start to question the way we’re doing it. And maybe one of the easiest ways to reassure ourselves we’re Doing It Right is to clobber anyone who dares to do it differently.

What sucks, of course, is that the more we buy into this sort of Us vs. Them thinking, the quicker we are to file everyone else away into one camp or the other–which is bad–and the less able we are to allow ourselves a little bit of nuance–which is worse. And it’s sad. Because each of us is loaded with nuance–that’s what makes us special, as individual as a snowflake.

I know — my mommy told me so.


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Somewhere on the way to gender equality, young women have apparently lost the ability to iron a shirt or roast a chicken.  So says a patronizing new study — titled “Male and female roles in the 21st century: breaking gender stereotypes” — by Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle.

What we learn from an exclamation-point-studded press release from McCrindle’s company is that when it comes to the tricks of the traditional housewife trade, millennial women fall short.  They are much less able than their mothers to bake a birthday cake, hem a skirt or grow a plant from a cutting.   (Insert gasp here)  On the other hand, McCrindle found that these women  are more likely to pay the bills, wash the car, or even change a lightbulb — bless their hearts — presumably, while their male counterparts are cooking dinner, stacking the dishwasher or changing their babies’ nappies.   The study also found that 61.2 percent of the men surveyed could also work magic with a steam iron.   About the testosterone shift, McCrindle tells us in his press release:

“What we are seeing is not so much a decline in ‘man skills’ but rather a change in family dynamics, reflecting that both parents are likely to have full time jobs and greater demands on their time than ever before.”

“Even though skills such as woodworking and mechanics are on the decline, men are picking up new talents such as cooking, ironing and an increased role in bringing up the kids. The advent of “Kitchen TV” in particular seems to have influenced our nation’s men, with over half the population saying men can now fire up the oven to bake a cake, or cook for a crowd at a dinner party,” McCrindle continued.

Fancy that.  As for the Millenial women:

Mark McCrindle said, “Gen Y women are sometimes disparaged as having lost the traditional skills of their mothers, yet the reality is that they are a multiskilled generation. The fact is that they are more likely to text a photo than dust a photo frame, or work with spreadsheets rather than mend bedsheets is testament to their twentieth century roles.”

Feeling patronized yet?

What’s funny in that not-really-funny-kind-of-way  is that, despite its title, the study breathlessly defines these “changing gender roles” in terms of silly gender stereotypes.  And in doing so, completely trivializes the point — if not misses it completely.    We are at a place in time when truly changing gender roles is more important than ever before.   In terms of career options, women’s roles have evolved to the point where, just like our male counterparts, we too can work 40 hour weeks that add up to 52.  We can be doctors or lawyers, bankers or brokers.  We earn more than our share of advanced degrees.  And we grow up knowing that, for most of us, work is not a choice, but a necessity.

And yet.  While all those doors are open to us, once we walk inside them, we’re faced with workplace structures designed by and for men.  (You know, the ones with the wives at home with a chicken in the oven.)  As we’ve noted in this space time and again, though we’re welcome in the building, we rarely make it upstairs to the boardroom:  Sooner or later we slam up against that maternal wall that prevents women with kids from moving forward in their careers for fear that childcare responsibilities might interfere with their performance — and women without kids are also held back because, you know, they might have them.  On the other hand, a man with kids gets to be a “family man.”  As in, all around good guy:  reliable and raise-worthy.

Meanwhile, maternity leave?  Paternity leave?  Available day care?  For most families, more pipe dream than reality.

And then comes the second shift where studies show that the household division of labor often reverts back to the days when men earned the bread and the women baked it.  So yeah, it’s sweet that men can load the dishwasher or change a diaper, but really, who cares?  If gender roles are truly going to change, it calls for a much deeper conversation on more substantive issues than chickens and nappies.  And in fact, there’s one going on now over at Role/Reboot, a new website that challenges members of the “shift generation” to employ the book club model to start talking about how to make change in a meaningful way:

Definitions of womanhood and manhood are breaking down, along with all the expectations and baggage that come with them. And for that, we’re thrilled. But we often feel like the country hasn’t really caught up – or worse, is again entering a period of woeful feminist backlash – and the realities of our lives aren’t well reflected in the media (thanks “The Bachelor” and “Bridalplasty”!) or the policy arena (Oy, where to begin…). Society is still so conflicted about women and men’s roles, and often we are too – both personally, and within our relationships. It’s a confusing moment, and like our 60s sisters, we want to talk about it.

But back to the McCrindle’s study.   Despite the fact that it’s nonsense, I must confess two points of resonance.  One, the only person (including me) who has ever used an iron in our house is my son-in-law.  And two, unlike my millennial sisters, I can cook a killer roast chicken.  If it matters, I’ll be glad to show you how.

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So today I thought I’d offer a quick riff about double standards.

Case number one, the most obvious:  Rep. John Boehner’s weepathon on “60 Minutes.”  The prospective Speaker of the House cries.  Don’t know why.  But as USC Professor Kathleen Reardon points out on HuffPo, it’s perfectly fine — if somewhat creepy — if a Republican male cries on TV, but can you imagine the outcry if Nancy Pelosi had done the same?  From Reardon’s post (Note:  videos from “60 Minutes” are embedded here):

Men get to cry with impunity lately, especially those considered tough, stiff, distant, difficult, demanding or dispassionate. The context matters; nowadays in politics talking about old friends, soldiers, children, harm done to one’s family, or personal challenges provide opportunities when a tear or two can do more good than harm.

Republican crying is more acceptable than Democratic crying because liberals are expected to be softer – “bleeding hearts.” Republicans are perceived as tougher, less sensitive, often more concerned with business priorities. So, crying works well for them. It’s the violation of expectations that makes conservative crying persuasive. It’s the beauty of not being predictable.

Women, whether in business or politics, are in a more difficult position with regard to any sort of emoting. Since it is expected of them, crying doesn’t serve as a balancing technique. It merely confirms that they are soft. Of course, if a woman like Margaret Thatcher were to shed a tear, it would violate expectations and in the right context might serve her well — once or twice.

Yet the tough Nancy Pelosi won’t take that risk. When asked about John Boehner’s tendency to cry, Pelosi responded:

“You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.”

You can’t blame Pelosi. She remembers what happened to Hillary Clinton.

So do we.  She cried on the campaign trail.  And was roundly castigated for it:  How, you know, like a woman to be so emotional.  And so it goes.  Need we say more?

Case in point number two:  While reading the paper on Sunday, I came across a curious, dated expression not once but twice.  Family Man.  As an accolade.  Really, hadn’t that phrase had gone the way of the beehive hairdo?  Apparently not.  The first reference came via a column about our newly elected District Attorney and his newly appointed chief deputy, his best friend.  The columnist took pains to note that both were “dedicated family men”, each with two kids.  The subtext?  Well, it might have been to note that though the two men are close, they are decidedly hetero.  But that’s beside the point.  The implication is that, because they are fathers, well, you can trust them to get the job done.  More in a minute.

The second reference was to some movie star or other.  I think it was Matt Damon.  But again — and I’m embarrassed to admit that I read such stuff, but what the hell, it gave me meat for a riff — shortly after the nutgraf, he was described as a “family man.”  As in, what a guy!

Now, I like families as much as the next girl.  I have one of my own, which I guess means you could call my husband a dedicated family man.  But have you ever heard of a “family woman”?  Yeah, thought not.  And here’s where that double standard comes in.  As we discuss (okay, at length) in our book, studies have shown that women are held back in their careers because they have families, which is bad enough, but also because they might have families.  It’s called the maternal wall, and there’s an impenetrable bias there.  As one of our sources, University of Illinois business professor Jenny Hoobler, told us: “ If a man has a picture of a child in the office, it makes them look like they’re stable, like a good, solid trustworthy employee, but if a woman has pictures in the office, it looks like, uh-oh, she’s not really dedicated to the career.  Will she leave the workplace early to pick up her kids?  Will she take an extended maternity leave?  Will she even come back after the birth of her next child?”

Ugh, right?  Right?

And then, there’s this: A study on fathers out of the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that the dads confirmed that having a baby enhanced their self-image at work, in terms of reputation, credibility and even career options.

I’m sure there are a plenty more examples, but, frankly, I’m off to find my Kleenex.  And so, I leave the cries and whispers to you.  Anything to add?

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Last week Forbes released its list of the hundred most powerful women in the world and Broadsheet’s Mary Elizabeth Williams had a big beef with it.

Not the women who were chosen or, for that matter, why they were chosen.  She was pissed because of a chunk of info that was included in each woman’s bio:  marital status and whether or not these rockstar women had kids.

Let’s check:

But why, as NARAL’s Mary Alice Carr pointed out Wednesday, did Forbes feel the need to include the marital status of and number of children produced by each of its world-shaking women? One might understand that in highlighting the achievements of television host and gay rights advocate Ellen DeGeneres, marriage, and the right to be married, are a huge part of what she stands for. But Danica Patrick? Not so much. Hey, Forbes readers, meet Indra Nooyi! She’s 54, she runs PepsiCo — and she’s married and has two kids. And say hello to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — and note that she is “single.”

Sexist, sexist, sexist.  Right?  Williams also took issue with the fact that Forbes never defines  men in terms of their personal lives.  (Of course, as numerous commenters pointed out, she was slightly off-base: Forbes indeed includes the same info on the world’s wealthiest men, or so we learn from the so-called wisdom of the crowds.)

But who cares.  That’s not the point.  Or at least not mine.  Now, let me just say that I love Mary Elizabeth Williams, and rarely do I disgree with her smart commentary.  But here I do.  Why?  Because for the past 14 years I have taught college women who seem to believe that they have to choose between family or dreams.

You think that impacts their career decisions — or lack of same?  Duh.

There is no question that women suffer from what’s been called the maternal wall:  penalized and considered less promotable because of family committments.   As University of Illinois management professor Jenny Hoobler found, this holds true even when women have no kids — and don’t plan on having any.  We interviewed Hoobler for our book, and here’s what she told us:

[Her study showed] “this lingering stereotype that women aren’t as dedicated to their careers because they are or will at some point take the primary responsibility for caregiving in the family.  What we found was that even when women did not have did not have children, did not have an elderly parent to care for, didn’t have a sick spouse, their bosses still felt  that they had higher conflict between the family and work than their male counterparts did.

“People think that this is something that has gone away. I think there is a misconception when you are talking about workers with kids that male and female parents share equally the responsibilities for the home but many research studies have shown recently that that is not the case.  While men are doing a lot more that their fathers did a generation ago, in dual career families, women are bearing the lion’s share of the caring of people in the home.  But what our study showed was that even when women DID NOT have those responsibilities, their bosses felt that they still did.”

We also found a study on fathers showing that having a baby enhanced their self-image at work, in terms of reputation, credibility and even career options.  Ugh. But that’s another story.

So, hideous, right?  Every bit of it.  Major inequities.   But you have to wonder.  How do we change all this garbage, not only for all the young women who think they have to choose between med school or, you know, preschool — but for their bosses as well, who assume they are doing the girls a favor by NOT giving them the challenging assignments that might take them away from home — but ultimately impact their promotability?

How do we allow women the same ability to have a family and career that men have always taken for granted?

I think one way you break down that maternal wall is with role models.  The Forbes list may indeed be sexist in defining women in terms of their traditional family relationships — or lack of same.  And that stinks.  But what that list also does is this:  When we’re being held back because of who we are, when it’s assumed we can’t take on a challenging assignment because we have family obligations — as if our male counterparts don’t — it gives us the goods to back up our claim that we can get the job done.  Whether or not we’ve got anything going on at home.

You know.  Just like the men.

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