Tuesday Open Thread

Happy Tuesday!

Do you ever read a story and think to yourself… WHAT am I missing?!?!

That’s how I felt when I saw this Jezebel post regarding a brouhaha over Jackie O, an Aussie radio host who crossed a street while feeding her baby a bottle.

Yes, you read that right.

New South Wales Families Minister Pru Goward wins this weeks STFU Award for comparing a woman crossing the street while feeding her baby a bottle to… dangling a baby over a balcony.

“We all were horrified when Michael Jackson dangled his baby out the window and this woman is crossing the road not just holding a baby but feeding a baby and I think it was unnecessarily cavalier,” Ms Goward told The Sunday Telegraph.

“There would be no mother, no parent probably, or even a hardened feminist, in the country who would think that was a good way of feeding a baby, particularly a little tiny baby,” she said.

I looked at the “damning” photo. This woman was crossing the street, at a clearly marked crosswalk, with other pedestrians around her, while holding her baby and feeding her a bottle. Again I ask: WHAT is the problem here?

I nursed my baby while crossing streets. I nursed my baby while walking through a supermarket. I nursed my baby while CLIMBING THE STAIRS, because I needed to retrieve something important and the baby was hungry, damnit. Guess that makes me cavalier and unfit.

This seems like nothing more than a clumsy attempt to judge and tear this woman down. Goward (the former sex discrimination commissioner!) also took a passive aggressive swipe at the working mom:

“It is very disappointing when a woman like Jackie O doesn’t feel she can take advantage of [paid maternity leave] because she is paid so much money to be on air that presumably the management have said to her: ‘Look if you take three months off, sorry you don’t have your spot’.”

“That is a judgment call for Jackie O about what she thinks is more important.”

Hey Pru? STFU!!

Aussie MTers, can you shed any light on this for us? Frankly, I’m baffled.

What’s the wackiest place you ever fed a baby? Was it more or less dangerous than dangling a child over a killer whale tank at Sea World? LOL.

What else is on your mind today?


Recession Good for Families?

Newsweek’s Kathleen Deveny recently touched a nerve in the comments thread with the assertion that the recession may be good for families because it is forcing unemployed men to do childcare and will probably usher in a “new level of sobriety to parenting itself.”

Sure, working dads do more chores around the house than their fathers did. But the waiting room at my pediatrician’s office is still invariably packed with women. Working mothers spend 60 percent more time each day on child care and household tasks than employed fathers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And when a father faces unemployment, he is likely to spend just one minute more per day—just one minute!—on child care. (He will, however, carve out 83 more minutes to watch TV.) Unemployed mothers, on the other hand, spend nearly twice as much time as working moms taking care of their kids, all while they too look for work.

I would like to believe that for families who can get through this economic slump in one piece—without losing jobs or health insurance or homes—these hard times might encourage a rebalancing of responsibilities. Women’s salaries are now critical to the well-being of more than 40 percent of American families, and so men must do better on the home front, doing the dishes, yes, but also planning the dinner that precedes them. “I hope this will lead us past the mommy wars and to the parent wars,” says Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “We need to get away from the idea that one person has to do all the parenting.”

We might also want to abandon the notion that attending every single school event is pivotal to our children’s happiness. What if I told my 9-year-old that, much as I would love to attend her class holiday party, I have to work instead? She would be upset—I would be upset—and then we would get over it. I can’t imagine it would come up in future psychotherapy sessions.

First of all, I tip my hat to Deveny who had real, hard statistics to back the inequities in division of labor even between working mothers and fathers. I, too, think it is unacceptable to not split childcare and household chores 50-50 when both parents work outside the home. If anything, as Deveny pointed out, expectations at work are much higher for the mothers.

America is approaching a milestone: women are about to hold more than 50 percent of jobs for the first time, in part because men have been hit harder by layoffs. And yet women still shoulder the bulk of child-care responsibilities because of retrograde family roles, school-event schedules, and employers’ attitudes. All of which can force an otherwise honest woman to fib.

In part, the reaction is rational. Maternal profiling is real. When a working father takes time off to watch a ballet recital, he’s seen as noble. When a working mother rushes out of the office to care for a case of head lice, she’s more likely to be labeled undependable. Mothers looking for work are less likely to be hired, are offered lower salaries, and are perceived to be less committed than fathers or women without children, according to a 2005 report by Shelley Correll, now an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University. And according to a 2007 survey by Elle/MSNBC.com, female bosses are twice as likely than their male counterparts to be seen as having family obligations interfere with work.

In that sense, I disagree with the defensive male writers in the comments section that Deveny is wrong for feeling the way that she does. Maternal profiling in the workforce and the inequity in division of labor at home are very real.

But still, I am finding it very difficult to see any silver lining in this recession. The only scenario is if the father was laid off a job he really hated and received a nice severance package to boot. Other than that, the added stress of job loss is not what any family needs this holiday season.

What do you think of Deveny’s essay? Do you see any silver lining in this recession?


The Truth About Mothers in the Workplace

I hate mommy war stories as many of them are anecdotal or based on half-truths and clearly meant to make mothers feel bad about their decisions.

However, I want to send a shoutout to Nation writer and feminist Katha Pollitt for taking on the manufacturers of the mommy wars and setting the record straight on women in the workforce. Here are the numbers:

What a difference a recession makes. It seems like only yesterday the media were heralding the mass exit from the workplace of highly educated mothers, the mommy blogosphere was raging at veteran reporter Leslie Bennetts for stressing the risks of wifely dependency in The Feminine Mistake and faux stay-home mom Caitlin Flanagan was warning women their kids wouldn’t love them quite so much if they had jobs. Now it turns out that what New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin christened “the opt-out revolution” in 2003 was never the mighty trend she claimed. According to the 2007 census, stay-home moms are disproportionately younger, less educated, low-income, Latina and foreign-born. Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? That mothers who have a hard time getting stable jobs with decent pay and conditions would stay home if they could, while those who can get better jobs at higher pay would have more incentive to keep working?

Hard on the heels of this revelation comes another: the big headline from A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, a major report by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, is that for the first time in our history, women are now 50 percent of the paid workforce. And they aren’t working just to buy Christmas presents: four in ten mothers are primary breadwinners (that includes single mothers); among women generally, 80 percent contribute a major chunk of the family income. Shriver’s claim that “the Battle Between the Sexes is over” is overly optimistic: her own polls show women sense much more discrimination, at work and in the home, than men believe exists. But they also show that majorities accept working mothers, and even women earning more than their husbands. And yet, the report notes, although “workplaces are no longer the domain of men,” our society is still organized as if they were, with everything from doctors’ office hours to school schedules to Social Security organized around the outmoded stay-home mom/breadwinner dad model. This is not exactly news, of course–how long have feminists been pointing this out?–but maybe our mighty numbers can finally get us some daycare.

Before we declare women’s equality, Pollitt also pointed out dispiriting facts like women are still paid less than men. Mothers have a harder time securing jobs compared to their childless counterparts and are often shut out of promotions — or even employment — when they become mothers.

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). Men are still paid more, and promoted more, in virtually every field. American women are also the only women in the industrialized West with no legally mandated paid maternity leave. Mothers have half the chance of being hired as childless women, and for every two years they spend at home, they lose 10 percent of income–for life. In a recent New York Times Magazine piece, Belkin manages to note these and other dispiriting facts without ever acknowledging that it was her piece, “The Opt-Out Revolution,” that promoted, to much acclaim, both the notion that women don’t “run the world” because “they don’t want to” and the wacky idea that by quitting their jobs to tend the home, elite mothers would force employers hungry for their skills to make a family-friendly workplace. Neither is true. In a Washington Post online discussion of the census figures on stay-home mothers, sociologist Pamela Stone wrote, “The women I studied were NOT returning home primarily for family reasons, but were effectively being shut out of their jobs once they became moms.” As for flextime, shared jobs and other innovations Belkin thought employers would adopt to lure high-skilled mothers back to work, the recession has made such accommodations, always rare, unnecessary.

A woman’s nation? Hardly. But not quite a man’s world anymore either.


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

Amy Benfer over at Salon Broadsheet got a big freaking A-MEN from me on her fabulous diatribe against the mommy wars. But, oh, the irony of commenters bashing certain types of parents, okay, mothers.

Daily Kos diarist “coquiero” had an interesting piece on why she hates it when people tell her she is a “good mom.” Coquiero has a severely autistic 9-year-old and two other children. She thinks such compliments only absolve people from helping her. My heart goes out to her.

I. Could. Not. Help. Myself. I actually viewed a video clip, in which Nadya Suleman aka “Octomom” went after Kate Gosselin. Except I walked away with even less of a favorable impression of Suleman. Who knew mothers buried in diapers could be so entertaining?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Hump Day Open Thread

What’s up?

The mommy wars have re-reared their ugly head with this Washington Post column by Ruth Marcus, the latest writer to criticize Michelle Obama for taking on a more traditional family role as First Lady. My take on it: Can we become strong women secure in our decisions? Why must we continue to judge women for the way we balance work and family? Ugh.

Singer-actress Jennifer Hudson’s brother-in-law, William Balfour, was arrested and charged for the murders of Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crazed Parent had a diatribe against crocs for safety reasons. Her son broke his toe after a metal seesaw fell on his foot. He was wearing crocs. There is also a $7 million dollar lawsuit against the company after a little girl wearing crocs got her foot mangled in an escalator.

Dooce admitted she does not enjoy being pregnant and recommended everyone wear a condom. I could relate in that both my pregnancies were riddled with morning sickness, bad acne breakouts and too many emotional highs and lows. What about you? Did you like being pregnant?

The Mormon Church is being investigated for some of its donations to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign in California, which banned gay marriage in the state, according to Pastor Dan at Street Prophets.

Keeg’s Mom reviewed video game consoles over at her blog Kids’ Flix.

Here is something every new sleep-deprived parent can relate to: Ladies’ Home Journal’s “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” column was about a couple that stopped having sex after their first child was born.

MOMocrats have been debating the proposed automotive industry bailout. Initially, I was for it because I thought it would save my father’s job. My father works for one of the suppliers in the automotive industry. But after talking to him I changed my mind. He thinks the proposed $25 billion will benefit only the people on top and not him. At this point, I can’t help think we would be better off investing the money in unemployment and job training for auto manufacturing workers like my dad rather than give it to CEOs who have run the companies to the ground. What do you think, MotherTalkers?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Fairness for Working Parents

With the November presidential election drawing near, we may see groups of Americans pitted against one another: young versus old, blue states versus red, liberals versus conservatives.

But there is one issue that cuts across these (supposedly) opposing groups: the importance of family. There is a growing consensus that the U.S. needs to build both public and private sectors that are friendly to families in order to remain the economic and democratic leader of the globe, as well as to fulfill our human calling to care for our tiniest, most innocent citizens.

But can we do it? What would an America that is truly friendly to families look like?

First, it would recognize that American mothers are occupied with two roles: mothering and working. When she has on her “working“ hat, she’s a breadwinner, just like dad. Today nearly three quarters of American mothers are in the paid labor force. Six out of 10 moms with children under age six work full time. You know these mothers: they cut your hair, scan and bag your groceries, prepare your taxes, teach your children, run local businesses, and maybe even serve as your pastor, pediatrician, or mayor.

Today’s economic realities require two incomes from the vast majority of households, even those in which the mother might choose a reduced work schedule if it were available and devoid of penalties such as pay cuts, loss of upward mobility, and benefits like health insurance and retirement plans. The global labor supply unleashed by the Internet and other technologies has leveled the playing field for workers in many industries, ensuring that American parents—even that new mom down the street who is still breastfeeding her infant—will feel continued pressure to work more.

But employment is only half of what mom’s expected to do. As soon as she gets home, she puts on her “mothering“ hat. She holds, feeds, and cuddles her infant; talks, plays, sings, and reads with her toddler (oops, potty-trains, too); stimulates, teaches, and disciplines her pre-schooler.

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. mothers are in the paid labor force. Mothers earn 27% less than their male counterparts; single moms earn 34% to 44% less.

Sounds like fun, and it is. But these days, “mothering“ means even more, whether mom works full time at home or in the paid labor force: supplementing her children’s education, sometimes advocating for them when special circumstances arise; guarding against an ever-changing landscape of commercial and technological advances that seek to gobble up childhood; staying abreast of dangerous ingredients in food and toxins in toys and other products; and coordinating children’s social, athletic, and academic commitments. In Salary.com’s 2008 Mother’s Day survey, stay-at-home mothers reported working 94.4 hours per week. It’s no wonder the term “executive mom“ is catching on.

So an America that is truly friendly to families would recognize that mothers wear two hats and thus move toward social policies and employment practices that bridge work and family.

To support “mothering“ it would offer paid leave following birth or adoption, or to care for a sick child, parent, or self; educational excellence in the early years (child care and pre-school) as well as elementary and secondary school; after-school programs and other supplements to the traditional school day and calendar (including the need for remedial, accelerated, and summer programs); and access to affordable health care. This would lighten the burden of the two-hat mom, especially for the millions of mothers in America who are trying to solve these problems individually and piecemeal, year after year. You’ve seen them, Blackberry in one hand, science project in the other, scrambling to get a sick child to the doctor, frantically patching together a child-care plan for summer vacation that is stimulating (possibly) and affordable (rarely).

Support for moms’ (and all parents’) working role would include: flexible work arrangements, such as flex-time, telecommuting, compressed schedules, job sharing, part-time with parity, and on-ramps to ease back into work after time away to care for children.

And don’t forget fair wages. We’ve all heard about the wage gap between men and women. But mothers face a double whammy. Women who are not mothers earn 10 percent less than their male counterparts, while mothers earn 27 percent less and single moms earn 34 to 44 percent less.

Further, having a baby is a leading cause in the United States of “poverty spells“—temporary dips into poverty. That’s partially because 51 percent of new mothers lack paid maternity leave; those with the lowest-paying jobs are least likely to have it.

Those who deny mothers equitable wages would be wise to remember a basic finding of anthropological research: when more resources are placed in the hands of mothers, they use them to invest in their offspring, a nation’s future human capital.

We have a long way to go. The U.S. lags far behind other industrialized nations in support for working families. For example, the U.S. is one of only four countries, of 170 surveyed, without paid family leave for new mothers—the other three are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho. The U.S. is tied for 39th with Ecuador and Surinam for enrollment in early childhood education for three- to five-year-olds. And according to a report issued just weeks ago, the governments of 20 countries are ahead of the U.S. in workplace flexibility. Of 21 countries surveyed, 17 have laws allowing parents to move to part-time work or otherwise adjust their working hours; five allow working time adjustments for those with family care-giving responsibilities; and five give everyone the right to alternative work arrangements.

One of the great challenges at this moment in U.S. history is to find peaceful harmony at the nexus of work and family. Few Americans would be anything but grateful to see progress toward this goal. So this November and beyond, when politicians and corporate leaders lay claim to a family agenda, put on your “mothering“ hat and ask, “Is this what mothers and families need?“ Then put on your “working“ hat and ask, “Does this help me thrive at work and at home?“ If your answers are “yes, yes,“ then it doesn’t matter if it comes from a Democrat or Republican, an old-timer or newcomer. What matters is that he or she recognizes how many hats moms wear.

Nanette Fondas wrote this article as part of Purple America, the Fall 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. She is on the MomsRising.org executive team and she’s the mother of four children.


More On the Mommy Wars — Yawn

Third Wave Foundation’s Amy Richards has written yet another book on the mommy wars. (Isn’t this market already saturated?)

But she raised some worthy fodder in a Q&A with Salon’s Ashley Sayeau. Here is an excerpt:

What can the feminist movement do to change course, to challenge the perception that it has failed mothers?

I think the feminist movement has created just as rigid an image of what a mother should be as society has created — a very different version, but nonetheless it has created a stereotype of who is a good feminist mother. Organizations like NOW, for instance, have a Parenting Bill of Rights that promotes these specific mandates that qualify for feminist parenting. And while I don’t want to be misrepresented as watering feminism down, I also want to acknowledge that our choices are never going to be pure.

What stops so many people from wanting to identify with feminism is the belief that they’re never going to be able to do it in a pure way. So rather than being judged for doing it wrongly, they don’t do it at all. But I want more people to take the risk. Just taking the risk is going to make society look different.

What are some of the risks women can take?

I think a lot of it is the responsibilities in the home. You poll most couples, and women are still — even if they are working outside the home as much as their husbands — the primary caregiver in the home and are still primarily responsible for the home. Some of that’s because men haven’t stepped up to the plate, but some of it is because women haven’t pushed for control. And to me it’s sad that women don’t feel confident enough to own who they are as individuals and thus hold on very tightly to the role of mother.

I love it when authors purporting to hate the mommy wars then go on to tell you how to be a parent. Don’t you?

But I am interested in jump-starting a discussion on her first point about “feminist parenting.” What does being a feminist parent mean to you? How does this manifest itself?


More Blame for Mommy-not letting Dads be Dads

I’m almost loathe to post about this, seeing as though it perpetuates the theory yet again that anything that is right or wrong about child rearing starts and stops with mommy, but seeing as it exists and offends, I must share. This time, Laura Sessions Stepp of the Washington Post writes what by now HAS to be a tired story about how moms have a tendency to keep down the menz.

None of this is easy. We’re talking about changing habits of thought that go back to the days when women tended children in caves while their mates were out catching game and fighting off intruders.

Now, women are leaving the cave in increasing numbers and some men get nervous thinking women may one day lead the pack. Could it be that as men tiptoe back into the cave, we women worry that they’ll eventually take over?

Leaving the cave? GAH.

The start of the article is even more trite:

There’s a good bit of chatter these days about what some are calling “The Coming American Matriarchy.” National Journal columnist Jonathan Rauch, drawing on census data, suggests that American women will soon outnumber men in top professions and enjoy increased earning power. This is largely because they will have had more years of formal education, a trend already established among Americans in their mid-20s to mid-30s.

This raises the question: Who will take care of their children? Will women continue to run themselves ragged trying to be boss at work, full-time caregiver at home and on call for either obligation day and night? Or will they look to their mates, who, should projections hold, may not be putting in as many hours at work as they?

Women are moving up in the world! WHO will raise the CHILDREN!?!? Oh boo to the hoo. The family, that’s who. I’ll admit to micromanaging the parenting sometimes, but that is the dynamic of our relationship in general- I plan, he executes. If we had a different relationship, the parenting dynamic would be different too.

My mom was a stay at home mom, and yes, she did a lot more around the house and with us than Dad did. But I was still in Indian Princesses, had a t-ball coach and someone to work on yard projects with and play with. Looking back I wouldn’t call my Dad progressive in any way, but not “hands off.”

My only hope is 20 years from now? This beaten horse is so dead Lily won’t have to even bother reading yet another story about how men are Stepping Up! and women are Working Hard Outside the Home.


What Is An Office Mom To Do?

Just to show you that sexism and gender stereotyping is alive in the office, MSNBC online ran an article on how employees expect their female bosses to be sensitive, but they do not have the same expectations of their male supervisors.

(Syracuse University researcher Kristin) Byron surveyed managers and subordinates. Forty-four part-time MBA students with supervisory jobs and 78 hospitality managers rated the emotional state depicted in a series of photos showing facial expressions and postures, as well as audio clips with different tones of voice…

Female managers who were lousy at decoding unspoken emotions were seen as less caring and received lower satisfaction ratings from their staff.

Male leaders who were bad at spotting emotions were not subject to the same negative evaluations. Byron thinks this has to do with societal views of men’s roles.

Byron said for the employees it was more important that male supervisors be analytical and logical, and the women bosses be seen as caretakers, or “office moms.” She pointed out that the aloof men should learn from the sensitive women on how to read employees’ emotions to determine if they are disgruntled or how to more effectively get them to finish a project.

In somewhat related news, reporter Lisa Kogan wrote an article for Oprah magazine on how it takes a village to raise a child. (Amen!) She responded — in a witty manner — to this nasty e-mail:

Now, I’d gladly leave it at that, but I can’t very well talk about the village it takes to raise Julia without talking about the e-mail that came across my desk yesterday. You see, I recently wrote a column in which I mentioned that one of the things people need most is good, affordable day care for their kids. Here is the response I got from a 30-something Nebraska woman: “I have great news for Lisa Kogan — ‘safe, healthy, fun, warm-hearted day care for kids’ does exist. It’s called parents. By actually raising the children we choose to bring into the world, we can give our kids all this and more.”

Oh, Miss Nebraska, what am I going to do with you? The old me would’ve simply ignored your letter (if one considers consuming 33 mint Milano cookies, two Snapples, and a 6.6 ounce bag of those little Cheddar Goldfish “ignoring your letter”), but a funny thing happened on the way to turning 45: I took a deep breath and decided I’m much too old and way too tired to keep nursing my adolescent obsession with being loved. The need to please has at long last atrophied and set me free. So, lady, this one’s for you:

I will resist a smart-ass reply congratulating you on being one of the 11 remaining members of society who can get by on a single income, especially given the forecasts that 15 years from now (when my daughter is ready for college), four years at a public institution will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $129,788.

And should Julia be smart enough to get into an Ivy League university, we’re looking at roughly $279,760. Fortunately, she recently spent the better part of an hour with her little head stuck inside a shoebox, so affording Harvard may not be an issue.

Good for her! I have always thought our society has this warped view in that only a mom can care for her child; that partners, family, friends and/or paid caretakers cannot possibly be of use to mom or child. Whatever.

Kogan wrote about her own childhood being surrounded by extended family — who were Russian Jewish immigrants — and now her daughter being surrounded by immigrant caretakers. I agree with Kogan that these experiences can only be enriching for her and young daughter Julia.  


Career and Motherhood: At Last, a Balance

Finally, someone talking about women’s careers and families and not making it sound like an epic battle. In an article at Huffington Post, Emily Amick and Rosanna Hertz report on their survey of women from the Wellesley College classes of 2007, 2008 and 2009 “to find out their expectations for work and family.” What they discovered was a refreshing sense of balance:

To “have it all” these women are willing to sacrifice a little bit of everything. They envision a life plan in which they combine work and family while letting go of hardcore notions of success. They no longer feel forced to choose between becoming the top honcho and PTA mom of the year. . . .

While others may see them as “mommy tracked” or treading water when they leave the fast-track lanes, they are immune to being pigeonholed and labeled as less than competitive. They have chosen an alternative definition of success which includes remaining a member of their professions on their own terms.

Raised to believe they could be and do anything they want, the idea of choice has become the singular word that legitimizes anything and everything these young women do. . . . Feminism empowers them to make the decision they think is best for themselves. Hoping to be a stay at home mom or a working woman, both groups are simmering that they have to “make a choice” at all. . . .

This attitude (and I can’t believe it is exclusive to this group) portends greater social changes. These women want spouses or partners who will share household and childcare duties. They want parental leaves of six months to a year, so that a significant spell as a stay-at-home parent “might become a normal part of a work path rather than a terminating factor.” They also want better childcare and after-school programs so they don’t have to schedule and manage nannies: “These young women do not want to patch together care giving solutions. . . . Young women want their communities to play a significant role in meeting the demands of raising kids and continued employment. . . .”

Yes, they are worried about finding a happy balance. The outlook, however, seems less gloomy than when reported in the context of the media-hyped “mommy wars”:

These women are not willing to give up any part of their identity in deference of a success defined by someone else.  . . . To do this, many are willing to let go of unrealistic notions of perfection and the intensive pace that has escalated in both corner offices and playgrounds. In the end though, they are confident that they truly will be able to find a balance, and “have it all.”

Amen to that. Worth reading the full article.

(Full disclosure: I am a Wellesley alumna. I reviewed Hertz’s book, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice last fall. —Crossposted at Mombian.)