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March 16, 2007


Cathy Arnst

"Professional Women Who Choose to Stay Home" is one of the media's favorite trend stories, but an analysis of the facts on (the Columbia Journalism Review's web site), shows it just ain't so. The Opt-Out Myth, by E.J. Graff starts out by citing a Times magazine story from 2003 by Lisa Belkin, The Opt-Out Revolution, much discussed at the time, that described some of Belkin's fellow Princeton alums who decided to stay home. Graff places the story in context:

Belkin’s “revolution”—the idea that well-educated women are fleeing their careers and choosing instead to stay home with their babies—has been touted many times before. As Joan C. Williams notes in her meticulously researched report, “?‘Opt Out’ or Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict,” released in October 2006 by the University of California Hastings Center for WorkLife Law, where she is the director, The New York Times alone has highlighted this “trend” repeatedly over the last fifty years: in 1953 ("Case History of an Ex-Working Mother"), 1961 ("Career Women Discover Satisfactions in the Home"), 1980 ("Many Young Women Now Say They’d Pick Family Over Career"), 1998 ("The Stay-At-Home Mother"), and 2005 ("Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood").

And yet during the same years, the U.S. has seen steady upticks in the numbers and percentages of women, including mothers, who work for wages... The vast majority of contemporary families cannot get by without women’s income—especially now, when upwards of 70 percent of American families with children have all adults in the work force.

Graff's makes the point that the media's continual recycling of the argument about whether or not mothers should be home with their children avoids the larger issue of how workplaces need to be restructured to accomodate working parents. As the article says:

By offering a steady diet of common myths and ignoring the relevant facts, newspapers have helped maintain the cultural temperature for what Williams calls “the most family-hostile public policy in the Western world.” On a variety of basic policies—including parental leave, family sick leave, early childhood education, national childcare standards, afterschool programs, and health care that’s not tied to a single all-consuming job—the U.S. lags behind almost every developed nation. How far behind? Out of 168 countries surveyed by Jody Heymann, who teaches at both the Harvard School of Public Health and McGill University, the U.S. is one of only five without mandatory paid maternity leave—along with Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. And any parent could tell you that it makes no sense to keep running schools on nineteenth century agricultural schedules, taking kids in at 7 a.m. and letting them out at 3 p.m. to milk the cows, when their parents now work until 5 or 6 p.m. Why can’t twenty-first century school schedules match the twenty-first century workday?

I couldn't agree more.

11:23 AM


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Public media has always had a tendency to alter the truth as it deems necessary. The mere personification of media as a speaking condemning entity speaks to the excessive and needless admiration of the products of papers and television. If now that media is considered ‘alive’ it has the ability to judge people, to impact peoples lives in positive and negative manners, and to not be ignored as what it is; a collection of information created by those who thought it necessary to publish –not necessarily true, but written (a common misconstruction).

The current trend is a “family hostile public policy.” Rather than promote the image of a family unit, our leaders delegate for the passing of laws that disallow any family that doesn’t fit an antiquated parenthood norm; they attempt to pass laws forbidding loving individuals from marrying one another, calling it a “threat to heterosexual marriage” based on an interpretation of religious text –in this, church and state separate so called ‘land of the free’. The policies of these very leaders have left us lagging behind other developed nations in the most basic of guidelines regarding families. Our supervisors seem to think of children as an excuse to get out of work –maybe they think that if the nation required paid maternal leave, everyone would start having babies just to reap the oh-so-abundant benefits.

In response to the school hours I must also agree. I recall several mornings in Durham waking up before the sun, just to get out to the bus stop in time for school, and having to stay at the school for a few extra hours so that the ice on the road had time to thaw in the heat of the sun –all before I started high school. Most schools in North Carolina, at least, have after-school programs during which children spend the time between school and their parents getting off work doing physical activity, artwork, and other things they should be doing in school anyway. Instead of incorporating such programs in the school day of each and every student, now the school-boards debate the necessity of the arts programs and P.E. altogether. If not the after-school program, parents have to shell out dollar after dollar to local children to have their children watched by other neighborhood kids, if not the expensive private daycare programs scattered about the city at which there’s little guarantee of adequate and safe care. Instead of pursuing a compromise between the two systems, schools make it a disadvantage to have parents who work, and occupations make it a problem to be a working father or mother.

Posted by: Corey at March 28, 2007 08:40 AM

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