Resources and reporting for mothers and others who think about social change.
get active
about mmo
mmo blog
From the February 2004 edition:

Fast Company: Where Are the Women?

Where are the Women? According to the cover story for the February 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine, they are “Not in the corner office, even after all these years. Not now. Maybe not ever.” In a very balanced but dispiriting article, journalist Linda Tischler interviews high performing women who stepped off the CEO-track for a saner style of work. Part of the problem, Tischler concludes, is that women are less inclined to sacrifice the relational aspects of life to compete for the plumiest of plum jobs, while men are willing to do whatever it takes to get to the very top–a well-rounded life be damned. The author suggests our culture permits men and women to cultivate different visions of success, with high-achieving men favoring the trappings of wealth and power while their female counterparts aim for more richly textured lives.

Tischler quotes Catherine Hakim, a sociology professor at the London School of Economics, who claims gender differences, not workplace practices, are responsible for the dearth of women in corporate leadership. According to an online poll conducted by Fast Company, 45% of readers disagree, siding with the statement that “companies don’t accommodate family responsibilities”; 28% believe gender disparity in corporate leadership is due to men being more competitive than women.

Whether or not Tischler’s analysis is on the mark, it does seem strange that the mindset typically required of high-level corporate executives–a monomaniacal focus on gaining and retaining money, power and prestige–could easily be perceived as, well, sociopathic under slightly different circumstances. I also detected the rotten scent of that old villain, patriarchy, deep within the heart of Tischler’s article; America has not yet attained the level cultural evolution that will allow men and women to base their personal aspirations on the premise that the world will be incomplete as long as women are the only ones who pay attention to the “feeling” part of life. But reader responses to Tischler’s story suggest that more people may be waking up to the high cost of the “all or nothing” plan for corporate success.

The full text of Where are the Women? is available on the Fast Company Web site (www.fastcompany.com). There is also a special collection of reader responses, as well as the online poll and links to interviews with Professor Charles A. O'Reilly of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Catherine Hakim.

back to top

Caitlin Flanagan’s Nanny Problem

Caitlin Flanagan is an exquisitely talented essayist who, as a young girl growing up in Berkeley, California during the 1960s an ‘70s, wanted to be just like her mom— that is, she wanted to get married, have children, and concentrate her finer energies on caring for her family. But fate intervened, and Flanagan (who still describes herself as a stay-at-home mother) was offered a job at The Atlantic Monthly, where she specializes in an interesting blend of literary criticism, nostalgic retrospection and social commentary. Her most recent pieces– including her controversial cover story for the January/February issue, How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement– are flavored by Flanagan’s affectionate admiration for the life of her own housewife/activist mother and her conviction that feminism is not as good for women as it’s cracked up to be.

According to Flanagan’s latest critique, the Faustian bargain of the women’s movement was that the professional success of a few highly privileged, well educated women is only be made possible by the cheap care-giving labor of legions of economically marginalized, emotionally exploited women of color. Flanagan’s outrage is somewhat perplexing, of course, since she cops to hiring a nannyto care for her twins and deal with the grubbier housework when she started her job at The Atlantic (she’s also working on a book about “modern motherhood”). But what Flanagan seems to overlook is that in addition to the big winners (white, high-earning professional-class women) and the big losers (low-income women they hire to take over the “women’s work” in their households) of the women’s movement, there are millions upon millions of mothers falling somewhere in between who reaped the benefits of feminism—including white collar women and those employed in the service sector who now have legal protection from sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. As far as the upper classes exploiting the labor of underprivileged women, one might reasonably argue it's been ever thus. Historic precedent doesn't make it right, but it undermines Flanagan’s assertion that the continuing mistreatment of domestic workers is all feminism’s fault.

Flanagan holds the moral high ground by insisting that the unregulated employment of third world domestic workers is a serious social problem, and one that any feminist or mothers’ advocate worth his or her salt must actively address. She makes a valid point, especially since the domestic workforce is overwhelmingly female and many low-wage domestic workers are also mothers. The lamentable fact is that some nannies and housekeepers are required to work long, irregular hours, are paid less than a living wage, suffer extended separations from their own children and families, and experience poverty in old age when employers withhold the employment taxes required by law. But just how pervasive is this deplorable situation?

Not very, it turns out. According to 1999 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, just over 3 percent of all children under 5 with employed mothers were cared for by a non-relative in their own homes. That would be in comparison to the 50 percent of preschool children who were cared for by parents or relatives while their mothers worked, and another 18 percent who received center-based day care. Of preschool children whose employed mothers have four or more years of college, a mere 8 percent were cared for by nannies or in-home baby sitters. And we can assume that in at least some of these arrangements, nannies are treated fairly decently since their work is absolutely essential to the well-being of the families who employ them.

Flanagan’s real message is that professional mothers can’t expect to have their cake and eat it, too. She wants to make sure women know exactly what they’ve sacrificed to make it in a man’s world— which is, of course the perfect and unspoiled love of their children. Flanagan is in an excellent position to bring this to our attention, since apparently she's armed with paranormal sensitivity to the interior life of the child, as when she writes: “There isn't a nanny in the world who has not received a measure of love that a child would rather have bestowed on his mother.”

Given that children are entirely separate and self-contained beings, and are (based on close observation) in full possession of their own hearts and minds, it’s rather startling that Flanagan makes this sweeping pronouncement with utter confidence. Setting aside the fantastic idea that good mothers always know with unwavering certainty the precise nature of their children’s private worlds, how on earth do we rationalize such wild projections about the source of a child’s joy or longing? Is a child’s love a finite, non-renewable resource? Is there really only just so much of it to go around? How much of what we “know” about the intimate bond between mother and child is truth, and how much is fiction in service to a larger ideological agenda? Are we feeling guilty yet?

How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement
by Caitlin Flanagan (in HTML)

An interview with Caitlin Flanagan
on The Atlantic Monthly Web site (www.theatlantic.com)

Professionals Who Are Mothers Take a Hit (Again)
By Emily Bazelon, for Women’s eNews (www.womensenews.org)
Caitlin Flanagan's call for feminists to renew their commitment to social activism in this month's Atlantic Monthly strikes our commentator as worthy. But she flinches at the slamming of "professional-class" mothers.

On Slate (www.slate.com): Am I Abusing My Nanny?
A conversation in four parts with Caitlin Flanagan, Barbara Ehrenreich and Sara Mosle.

Wistful Thinking
a review of Caitlin Flanagan’s essay on an earlier generation of mothers writing about motherhood by MMO editor Judith Stadtman Tucker.

back to top

Bush marriage promotion program tells mothers to stay home

On February 5, 2004, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint against the federal government for funding a marriage promotion program for low-income, unmarried couples with children that offered employment services to fathers but not mothers. Under Title IX, any educational program funded by the government cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. According to NOW Legal Defense Vice President Jennifer K. Brown, “This reveals the true intent of so-called marriage promotion: help men find work, tell women to be dependent on them. Women not only often choose to have a job, but women in poverty need their own jobs to lift their family out of poverty.” The Bush Administration is currently seeking Congressional approval for over $1.4 billion for marriage promotion.

NOW Legal Defense Fund Press Release:
Federal Officials Charges with Sex Discrimination
in Allentown Marriage Promotion Program

The press release includes links to the legal complaint and appendix

back to top

Take Care Net
Presidential Candidate Survey Results Available

Take Care Net (www.takecarenet.org) -- a group of organizations, academic scholars, public policy experts, practitioners and others who believe it is critical that the U.S. address the challenges families face as they attempt to balance work and family – has released the findings of its Presidential Candidate Survey on early education and work/family issues. The survey encompassed the whole specter of caregiving issues – more funding for early education and child care, expanding access and affordability of family and medical leave, increasing support for family and paid caregivers, and limiting excessive hours of work. The survey summary and other presentations from TCN’s January 13 forum are available on the TCN Web site.

back to top

CPA Progressive Agenda Issue Briefs Available Online

The Center for Policy Alternatives (www.stateaction.org), the nation’s leading nonpartisan progressive public policy organization serving state legislators, has released the fourth edition of the Progressive Agenda. The 2004 edition covers 50 topics, includes 60 model bills, and lays out “more than 100 of the most innovative progressive solutions being debated and enacted in the states.” Topic summaries can be accessed as Web pages, including overviews of child care, domestic violence, elder care, dependent care tax credit, health care coverage, family leave benefits, flexible work, equal pay, TANF, Social Security and many other issues related to mothers’ well-being. The articles also include links to supplementary information where available.

The Center for Policy Alternatives 2004 Progressive Agenda Index

back to top

— MMO February 2004

Other past editions of MMO Noteworthy ...
Reuse of content for publication or compensation by permission only.
© 2003-2008 The Mothers Movement Online.


The Mothers Movement Online