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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Women and the stories that sell

In my October 17 issue of The Nation, there was a column called, "Desperate Housewives of the Ivy League," responding to the New York Times page-one piece about Yale women who plan to put their careers on hold if/when they eventually have kids.

I know that people love to hear a happy ending--like the Yale women who will never struggle with their career or parenting choices because they have their lives all mapped out. (Although there is much debate over the methodology used for the Times' piece). But most of the time those happy endings aren't the norm. The Nation's Katha Pollitt wrote:
Cutting back to spend time with one's child shouldn't be equated with lack of commitment to one's profession. You would not know, either, that choices about how to combine work and motherhood are fluid and provisional and not made in a vacuum. The lack of good childcare and paid parental leave, horrendous work hours, inflexible career ladders, the still-conventional domestic expectations of far too many men and the industrial-size helpings of maternal guilt ladled out by the media are all part of it...Wouldn't you like to read a front-page story about that?

And my favorite line of the Nation piece is this: "What's painful about the way the Times frames work-family issues is partly its obsessive focus on the most privileged as bellwethers of American womanhood--you'd never know that most mothers who work need the money."

The Nation hit it spot on. But sadly, the media gets it wrong again and again:

Women don't ditch their careers because they are a lack of choice. They are simply bored. When asked glossy questions about themselves, women are "satisfied." Women do make more money than men--in "women's careers." Women lead in top jobs, if you don't count executive positions . Women don't make as much money as their male counterparts because they don't feel entitled. So really it's their own faults. The only way to career utopia is planning when you're young.

All of these stories do a huge disservice to the public. Why don't we hear more stories about the reality of motherhood and workforce? Why don't we hear stories about women whose jobs don't pay enough money to cover the cost of childcare? What about all the women who don't breastfeed their kids because their jobs don't have a comfy "mother's room" or flexible enough breaks to allow for pumping? Or that buying a $250 pump would be a financial hardship for many families.

The media is a powerful force. Now if only it would yield it's power for promoting more of the hard truths. It's only when we read about that stuff on page one will there be real change. We need to hear all the news, not just the happy endings.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this. I think these are all the right questions.

    Now we just need some solutions.