Friday, November 10, 2006

Media gives Working Moms the Shaft

Elizabeth Vargas, co-anchor of 20/20 and former co-anchor of ABC's World News, gave up her coveted, well respected seat at World News this summer when she went on maternity leave. Her decision was met with protests by working mothers who felt that Vargas was sending a bad message about mothers in the work force. Vargas defends her decision by saying
I loved my job at "World News," but the prospect of doing it well, and still finding time to be a good mother to 3-year-old Zachary and my new baby, Samuel, felt impossible.

The quote is taken from an article, written by Vargas herself, which introduces the topic of tonight's 20/20 special report: Can Working Mothers Have It All?

According to the article, the report is an investigation into why more hasn't been done to help working mothers. It discusses maternity/paternity leave, good/subsidized childcare, and workplace flexibility, all places where the US lags behind other industrialized countries.

But if all you knew about this report -- if all you heard in passing -- was its title, Can Working Mothers Have it All?... well, I don't know what you'd think, but I would think it was an attack on working mothers. Not an outright "get back in the kitchen and make me some pie!" attack, but the more lethal, subtle variety, the kind that makes it sound like it's in women's best interest to choose: children or career, ladies, you can't have them both. According to a recent report by the Center for Worklife Law, this characterization is common in news media. According to the report (pdf), women are often described as "opting out" of the workforce to become "full-time moms," when in fact they are being pushed out. Articles often describe a psychological or biological "pull" toward motherhood, when according to another study the Center for Worklife Law references, women most often cite problems like workplace inflexibility for their decision to leave (Ms. Magazine Newsbrief).

Then there's the Momtini crowd. According to a New York Times article called Cosmopolitan Moms (Stacy Lu, 11/9/06), moms across the country are sipping wine with friends at their children's playdates. I myself don't see anything terribly wrong with a woman having a drink with friends while their children play, and the article cites many women who feel that having a drink and some grown-up social time allows them to take back their adult life a little bit while still caring for the children. The article also points out the double-standard in drinking:
“In this culture there is a still a double standard,” said Dwight B. Heath, an anthropology professor at Brown University who has written extensively on alcohol attitudes. “It is more acceptable for men to drink, more often, and in greater quantities, and in public."

On the other hand, the article likens the Momtini crowd to bored, lonely 1950's housewives who turned to alcohol for consolation. Think Julianne Moore in The Hours:
“Is the drinking purely social or is this an underlying message that there is something missing?” Ms. Barash said. “This might be a happy event, but it certainly wasn’t for their predecessors. The drinking was just a coping mechanism for loneliness and unhappiness.”

Are a great number of home-working mothers unhappy? I have no idea. I wouldn't blame them if they were. A great number of many subcategories of people are unhappy. I guessI'd say that getting together with friends to share stories from the week (and maybe a drink) isn't a bad way of coping with unhappiness, though. There's something about this characterization of mothers that I object to.

In short: Dear Media, please stop making motherhood out to be a perpetual struggle. I'm all for lighting the way to better family policies in the US, but do we have to make moms look like hell along the way?

And if you're wondering what all of this has to do with sex, think of it this way: If the US gave mothers more support -- childcare options, maternity leave, tax breaks, etc -- becoming a mother might not be the life-altering, plan-changing, "dream-wrecking" event it is considered today. And if women didn't have to be afraid of what having a baby would do to their future, they would be less suceptible to terrorizing abstinence-only messages from the government, which would open the door to comprehensive sexuality education, and then... just think of all the awesome healthy sex you'd be having! As someone dear to my heart said recently, "It's a baby, not the plague."


So-Called Supermom said...

I couldnt have said it better. I am a working mom and that 20/20 show pissed me off!

cathy said...

haha im famous, .....kinda:]