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Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday madness of varying degrees

Been a crazy, hectic week filled with deadlines, travel, parent meetings, practices and the delivery of one new dryer. That's right, the old one finally went to that great laundry junkyard after I learned that while I was gone last week it had run continuously for two days before anyone noticed. of a few minutes ago, I now have a brand-spanking new dryer that runs quieter than the old one (that can be good or bad) and a light inside to help you find those errant socks. I'll be testing its drying ability shortly since I've got a week's worth of laundry for five overflowing from the laundry room.

Press regularly and wrongly frames mommy madness
I recommend reading E.J. Graff's essay in CJR this month titled "The Opt-Out Myth." I start all such stories holding my breath and ready to rage at one turn of phrase. But then I read this:
The moms-go-home story keeps coming back, in part, because it’s based on some kernels of truth. Women do feel forced to choose between work and family. Women do face a sharp conflict between cultural expectations and economic realities. The workplace is still demonstrably more hostile to mothers than to fathers. Faced with the “choice” of feeling that they’ve failed to be either good mothers or good workers, many women wish they could—or worry that they should—abandon the struggle and stay home with the kids.

The problem is that the moms-go-home storyline presents all those issues as personal rather than public—and does so in misleading ways. The stories’ statistics are selective, their anecdotes about upper-echelon white women are misleading, and their “counterintuitive” narrative line parrots conventional ideas about gender roles. Thus they erase most American families’ real experiences and the resulting social policy needs from view.

He suggests that Joan Williams study, "Opt Out Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict," should be recommended reading on every news, business and feature editor's desk. You can download a PDF of the report here.

The reason? "If journalism repeatedly frames the wrong problem, then folks who make public policy may very well deliver the wrong solution."
If women are happily choosing to stay home with their babies, that’s a private decision. But it’s a public policy issue if most women (and men) need to work to support their families, and if the economy needs women’s skills to remain competitive. It’s a public policy issue if schools, jobs, and other American institutions are structured in ways that make it frustratingly difficult, and sometimes impossible, for parents to manage both their jobs and family responsibilities.


Jill and I have been singing this tune for several years now, but it bears repeating. The Judith Warners of the world focus their "research" on such a narrow segment of the female population — namely the less than 10 percent of white, highly educated, well-paid professional women. This includes journalists who "increasingly come from and socialize in this class."

And so we read anecdotes from their "personal rearview mirrors" in a number of influential pubs — The Atlantic, Newsweek, Time, etc.

I suppose I also am guilty of the "my-friends-and-me" approach to this subject, but I come from a lesser privileged class. I know plenty of women who stay at home because their husbands have careers that afford them that luxury. I know many more who work in some capacity to make ends meet, some who do so because they want the financial and professional security and others who simply have no choice.

But I know an increasing number of women who used to live a life of privilege, who have gone through painful divorce and who have failed to maintain their professional skills prohibiting them from entering the workplace at a professional level. It's incredibly painful to watch smart, educated women anxious about their skills and ability to do a job that may have evolved exponentially since they were last employed and yet having no choice but to dive into the waters.

Aside from the fact that census numbers do not support such trend stories, the basic fact is that the word "choice" in these circumstances is rarely the reality.
Williams establishes that “choice” is emphasized in eighty-eight of the 119 articles she surveyed. But keep reading. Soon you find that staying home wasn’t these women’s first choice, or even their second. Rather, every other door slammed.

Where does that leave us? With stupid bosses who ask when we reveal we are pregnant whether or not we can still handle working on an investigative series. And it gets worse because it also blocks meaningful public policy.
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.

I'm still waiting for mainstream article that takes a realistic approach to this issue. Or, hell, maybe I just need to write it myself.

Bragg beauties
I had not read Rick Bragg's "All Over but the Shoutin'" until this past weekend. He signed it: "For Wendy, Here at home, Rick Bragg." I am so sorry I hadn't picked it up sooner. He is a beautiful writer and so firmly rooted in his family. This was a book I constantly read aloud to my family, to anyone within earshot, including the dog. Some of my favorite lines and phrases were:

"I had about as much business at Harvard as a hog in a cocktail dress..." on applying for a Nieman Fellowship with less than six months of college education.

"There was a young man Alex Wright, a tall, thin guitar picker from California, cool as the other side of your pillow." Writing for St. Pete Times about the homeless in Miami.

"I don't buy all of it or even most of it, what those preachers said. I don't think you have to do anything to get into heaven except to do right. If you have ever pushed a wheelchair for somebody and nobody paid you, then you might get in. If you ever peeked inside an old person's screen door and cracked open their loneliness with a simple 'hello,' you might get in. My momma will. That, I know. Even with her hands pressed to the dusty top of a dully glowing electric box, she was closer to God than most people will ever get. I take my peace from that." On how his mother was ashamed to go out to church in public, but prayed with Oral Roberts.

"I cannot fix everything that is wrong, flawed or broken in my past, in her past. I cannot recast those years in smooth, cool marble, and believe that my meddling will make things all better again. The name of the child is etched into her head, her heart, her soul." On wanting a new grave that marked the name of his baby brother who died during birth.

"I had grown up in a house in which there were only two books, the King James Bible and the spring seed catalog … He had bought most of them at a yard sale, by the box or pound, and some at a flea market. He did not even know what he was giving me, did not recognize most of the writers. 'Your momma said you still liked to read,' he said." On the gift of two boxes of books his father gave him just before he died.

"One by one, the editors of the New York Times came by to pay my mother homage, to tell her what a fine son she had raised, and how proud they were of me, and for her. Joe Lelyveld just said, 'I know who this is,' and smiled. Gene Roberts came up and talked Southern to her, and others came up to say kind things, welcoming things." With his mother at the Pulitzer luncheon.

"I had seen my mother cry from pain and grief and misery, when I was a child. I had never seen her cry from happiness until they called out my name and I walked up to get that prize, then handed it to her." On receiving his 1996 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

Where are the sports?
Chuckled at Harry Jaffe's Washingtonian column pondering the absence of Washington Post sports columnists. That Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser are missing is not so surprising. I'm sure it must take gobs of time to come up with the witticisms and criticisms they hurl daily on PTI (that's Pardon the Interruption on ESPN for the uninitiated). Last week Michael, my 8-year-old, complained that they never talk about sports on PTI. I can't stand the volume and hysteria of the show. I much prefer to READ them then listen and watch them.

My March Madness picks
I've got the Georgetown Hoyas winning it all.


Jill said...

Hoyas winning it all?!?!? MAJOR WOOHOO!!!! I'll take your whole FAMILY out to dinner if that happens!! (and not just on 5/12 - teehee)

Honey - you know you need to write that article - I need you to write it just so we can get it out of our system! I'd even help if you let me. :).

It is STUNNING and stunningly sad that it hasn't been written yet. But the outing of the MSM as much as has been happening lately as the fomenter of this crap is a great start. Thanks so much for posting about the situation.

I loved All Over But the Shouting. What a great book.

You have an awesome weekend sweetie.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks, my friend. You know I'd turn first to you for help with such an article.

You have a great weekend and thanks for the very kind sentiments regarding Sunday.

Go Hoyas!

Kelly Boyer Sagert said...

This, all by itself, is appalling:

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.

Good grief . . .

Wendy Hoke said...

Pathetic indeed.