Women’s History Month is drawing to a close, but there’s time to sneak in a few comments before we wake up and find it’s April already.
In recent weeks, two notable women have died. Elizabeth Taylor left as her legacy decades of activism and outspoken advocacy, saying what many in politics were too afraid to say about HIV/AIDS. Geraldine Ferraro left a marker for women’s political participation. For many, her passing provokes dismay and despair that a woman still has not been elected President. Both of them made us see the world differently, as a better, healthier, more equitable place.
The budget battles on the Hill, alas, are totally lacking in that spirit of promise and possibility. While many are without work, health care, and dignity, banks and corporate interests are once again profitable, some paying employees jaw-dropping bonuses. They are in this position because the American taxpayer, through Congress, helped them through a very rough time. Instead of returning the favor, some in Congress propose a budget in which public funding for nutrition, medical care, education, and child care is gutted. They are coming after Social Security too, targeting retirees, surviving spouses and orphans. It is not much of a stretch to say that political and economic security belongs to a few, and being paid for by many who watch as state services are diminished, state workers laid off, classrooms get more crowded, food and child care subsidies disappear, and community medical clinics are closed. Mothers, especially those mothers parenting alone, have a great deal to worry about, on top of the chronic crises of no sick days, no paid family leave, totally inadquate representation in state and federal government, and a 25% gender pay gap.
Against this bleak picture, is there anything to be cheerful about? I think so. I’ve noticed a definite uptick in the amount of media attention devoted to work/family and mothering issues. Articles that even 5 years ago editors would have nixed due to “lack of general interest” now are deemed worthy of publication. Look at this piece from the Boston Globe about the havoc created by a sick child home from school when both parents are employed outside the home. It references the recent ground-breaking White House “Women in America” report, and frankly acknowledges the cultural pressure for the mother to stay home, and the accompanying potential damage to her career prospects once she does. The American Prospect, a progressive policy periodical, recently featured “The Student Parent Trap” about how inadequate on-campus child care threatens the success of 25% of undergraduates who are parents of young children. The Wall Street Journal regularly devotes column inches to maternal employment online and in its print edition, where you can find such terms as “mommy track” (which, personally I loathe), how the term “stay at home mother” covers an evolving range of activities, and “tiger moms” and “panda dads”. The point here is not whether the view of a particular piece is right or wrong, (whatever that would mean), but now the subject is broached for purposes of public discussion. This did not used to be the case. Now it is, and that is progress.
About 71% of mothers with young children are in the paid workforce. The debate about whether or not they should be there is largely over (except, perhaps, for Phyllis Schlafly, 86, who sounds positively quaint in this recent radio interview.) The debate about how both families and the workplace will change is well underway. And finally, editors and programmers around the country have begun to notice.
What have you found in your paper, read on the web or heard on your radio about mothers this week? Send it to me, I’d really like to know.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington