Finally, a not-completely-horrible article about women blending work and family. There’s no shaming or guilting of women, which is a welcome step. But there is the usual focus on a narrow slice of woman-dom.
Kelly represents a new generation of American mothers who are rejecting the “superwoman” image from the 1980s as well as the “soccer mom” stereotype of the 1990s. Mothers today are more likely to negotiate flexible schedules at work and demand fuller participation of fathers in child raising than previous generations did, giving them more time to pursue their own careers and interests. Some so-called mompreneurs start their own businesses. Nearly 26 percent of working women with children under 18 work flexible schedules, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 14 percent in 1991.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago, women in suits and sneakers…were playing by the traditional rules of the game, trying to live in a man’s world. Now women are saying, ‘Screw the rules—the rules didn’t work,’” says Kellyanne Conway, president of the Polling Co., a research firm. Conway, 40, the mother of twins who are almost 3 years old, started her business in 1995, allowing her to set her own hours and occasionally work from home.
The article doesn’t hand-wring over the “impossibility” of having it all, but it does point out that employers remain hostile to change:
Not that it’s always easy. Heidi Leigh, 34, a former theater sales manager and mother of a 1-year-old in South Plainfield, N.J., tried to shift her schedule a half-hour earlier in the day so she could get home in time to pick up her son from day care and make dinner. Her boss said no. “He wouldn’t allow it, because he didn’t want other people to do the same thing,” she says.
“More and more companies are hip to [flexibility], but it’s still not the norm,” cautions Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube.
My major problem with the article is that it comes from a very privileged place — the Average American Woman isn’t a highly-valued employee in a professional office who, if need be, can drop everything and start her own business. Self-employment is great, but most people don’t have the start-up capital to open their own family-friendly bakery.
It’s easy for someone like me to look at these issues with blinders on — after all, I’m entering the legal profession, and these work-life issues are much-discussed aspects of law firm culture. Firms boast about their family leave policies when they recruit new attorneys. There are entire collectives within the American Bar Association focused on strategizing ways to deal with these issues. The “working woman,” in my mind, goes to work wearing a business suit.
But that isn’t reality. The reality is that women dominate the low-wage pink-collar workforce, and “opting out” isn’t an option for lots of these women. For a lot of women, even adequate paid maternity leave is a pipe dream; the right to a flexible schedule in order to be home for dinner is a joke if you’re working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. My own mother was able to balance raising kids with a job she loves by working part-time, and by being married to a full-time breadwinner. Her mother, a single mom raising five kids in the 1950s, worked as a waitress in two restaurants and as a crossing guard — an article like this would be entirely irrelevant to her life.
So I’m glad to see that the most privileged women are making small changes to the traditional work rules. They’re in the best position to do it, and we’re all pretty fucked when it comes to work-life policies, so it’s great that they’re seeing some successes. I just hope that it doesn’t stop with the professional class. And I hope journalists start representing the diverse realities of working women.