July 23 2012;Why aren't we asking "Can men have it all?" or better yet, why don't we support all American workers and their families?
Recently I have noticed an increase in conversations about women in the workplace. Most of these have focused on the question of whether women can be good mothers and good workers. I must admit that I have been surprised by some of the conversations that are happening. In fact, when I turned on the radio last week and caught a "news" story about Marissa Mayer being named the new Chief Executive at Yahoo in which the emphasis was on whether Mayer could possibly handle being a new executive AND a new mother I wondered if I had woken up in the 1950's. The entire story was dedicated to the fact that Mayer is six months pregnant, not on her credentials or her plans for the company. Follow up stories have titles like "Can Mayer raise Yahoo’s stock and a kid?" and obsess about how much coverage the news media should dedicate to the fact that Mayer is pregnant. As Jon Friedman points out "we [the media] wouldn’t dream of asking a first-time father who runs a large company whether he believed he could have it all" and warns that "if journalists press too hard on the motherhood angle, we run the risk of looking like insensitive sexist creeps." Because it IS sexist. It is sexist to presume that women can not handle being mothers and executives, but men can be fathers and CEOs. Why doesn't the media ask about the ability of young male executives to balance work and family? Likely because they assume that being a father does not require the time commitment that being a mother demands. And the reality in American society today is that women still do the majority of the childcare and housework--whether or not they work outside the home. The media doesn't ask whether men can have it all because they assume that men have it all (a family and work life) without having to DO it all. Unfortunately, this assumption prevents many men from engaging in childcare/ housework, despite the fact that research has demonstrated many benefits for men who co-parent (and for their relationships with their partners!)
The Mayer/Executive news comes after debate about a recent article in the Atlantic, in which former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter discussed the challenges she faced balancing a high powered career and a family life. Some have concluded that Slaughter argues women can't "have it all"--presumably meaning having children and a vibrant career. What many people have missed is that Slaughter asserts it is possible for everyone (women and men) to have children and a career, but "not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured." And I agree. Most American workers would love to have a 40-hour work week and many employers assume that more time spent on the job= more productivity. This way of thinking is not backed up by the research which demonstrates that people need time away from work in order to be creative and productive. The emphasis on spending every waking hour on work also makes it difficult to put time into other things. Anyone who has helped with the care of young children (whether their own, or the children of their friends/ family) knows the amount of time and energy required for such endeavors. How did we get to the point where "having it all" for women means doing all of the childcare and working full time (or more)? Some media outlets blame feminism for selling a myth to young women-- but feminism never argued that women should do everything. The problem with our society is not that women are not capable of being superhuman (who is, really?). The problem is that we EXPECT women to be superhuman--then belittle them when they can't be. But it doesn't have to be this way. If men and women were expected to share the childcare/housework and our social institutions supported work/family balance for everyone these questions would be moot.
Other countries have realized the importance of supporting families and provide national healthcare for all, quality and free (or inexpensive) childcare, paid maternity and paternity leave, shorter workweeks and more hours of vacation-- not to mention a living wage (instead of our pathetic "minimum wage"). American conservatives may tout "family values" but ultimately they mostly value the bottom line. There are so many policies that corporate America and local, state and federal government agencies could enate to support families but they cost money. Ultimately it is much easier to blame women or try to pit them against each other (working mom vs stay-at-home mom vs. women who choose not to parent) than to enact real social and structural changes. Most American families (whether gay or straight, married or not, with children or without) are struggling to make ends meet. Instead of asking whether a top executive can hack it because she has a uterus, we should be asking why CEOs are making hundreds of times more money than their employees, why bankers continue to be allowed to break laws and swindle away American's money, why the super wealthy pay less in taxes than most middle income Americans. The super rich are hiding behind these old sexist arguments, laughing at our expense. Let's not let them get away with it. It's time to band together and make sure everyone can have it all.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.