oops, I mean because I stay at home with my kids. Turns out, you probably don’t. My good friend in DC, known here as AADC, sent along this op-ed from the Washington Post which argues that the Mommy Wars are a media creation and do not reflect how women feel or what they do. Let’s take a look.
According to the author, E.J. Graff, a senior researcher at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism:
Since 2000, the percentage of working mothers with infants has held steady at 53.5 percent, according to a February report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So about half of us are home with the little ones and half of us are are at work. Sounds like a fair fight.
But then, there’s this:
When they can afford it, married women with infants take maternity leaves of a year or so, but then head steadily back to work: 75 percent of mothers with school-age children are on the job. Most work because they have to. And most of their stay-at-home peers don’t hold it against them.
Hmm, maybe we’re not so angry after all. So why all the hullabaloo?
The Mommy Wars sell newspapers, magazines, TV shows and radio broadcasts, as mothers everywhere seize on the subject and agonize, in spite of themselves. “Every other week there’s an article saying that if you don’t work, you’re in trouble financially, and if you do work, your child is at risk,” a single mother of three who works part time told me.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Anxiety. We women seem to have oodles of it. And this issue lets all that angst fly.
Tell women that working will damage their marriages, harm their health and ruin their children, and they will buy your magazine, click on your Web site, blog about your episode and write endless letters to the editor. They may do so out of fury, anxiety, scorn or an earnest desire to correct your statistical errors — but if your goal is to increase your hit rate or impress your editor, producer or publisher with something that’s widely discussed, where’s the downside?
Well for one, it’s divisive. And not especially useful to anyone. Instead of making women feel bad about whatever decisions we’ve made, we’d all be better served if the media would apply pressure to making work and family life more compatible.
“We don’t live in a society that has a mindset that workers get pregnant and have babies,” says Judith Stadtman Tucker, editor of the Web magazine Mothers Movement Online. She points out that mothers’ march into the workforce started to plateau in the 1980s — just as childcare costs started rising sharply. At the same time, the workplace has become steadily more demanding, with mandatory overtime for many who have jobs. Meanwhile, the United States notoriously lags behind all other developed nations on such policies as paid maternity leave, family sick leave or health care that’s not tied to that one all-consuming job. Nor has the culture relinquished the idea that caring for children — or for anyone in need — is women’s responsibility, with men “helping” occasionally, if asked.
A battle to end the tyranny of long work hours, expensive child care, and hellacious health care costs? Now that would be a war worth fighting.