Archive for the ‘Magazines and Newspapers’ Category

Linda and Leslie

Monday, June 19th, 2006

So, Linda Hirshman has a book out, and the Washington Post gave her op-ed space over the weekend.  I’ll take a look at the book if either of my local libraries gets a copy, but so far, I haven’t heard her saying anything that wasn’t covered in her original American Prospect essay or responding to any of the substantive criticisms that I and others made at the time.  (I do feel compelled to point out that Julia’s post in which she says that she’s not a capital F Feminist is a precise illustration of the point that I made about the dangers of litmus test feminism.)

I’m somewhat amused by Hirshman’s defensive reaction to the criticism the article got in the blogosphere — and her implicit assumption that "mommybloggers" are all stay-at-home moms.  And I really don’t understand why she’s so hung up on Miriam Peskowitz’s roof.  (And yes, it’s a sign that I spend way too much time on blogs that I knew exactly who Hirshman was referring to, even though she didn’t mention her by name.)

Via RebelDad, I read this post by Jeremy at Daddy Dialectic in which he criticizes Leslie Morgan Steiner, editor of Mommy Wars, and author of a blog on the Washington Post website.  He begins:

"To my way of thinking, the Washington Post’s Leslie Morgan Steiner represents everything that’s wrong with the way the mainstream corporate media cover children and parenting: she’s shallow, blind to anything that falls outside her cultural and economic comfort zone…"

As I mentioned yesterday, I got a chance to have dinner two weeks ago with Steiner, Devra Renner and a group of working moms as part of a Women’s Information Network event.  While I share many of Jeremy’s frustrations with Steiner’s blog, and the "mom v. mom" framing of her book, she charmed me.  She was gracious, listened as well as talked, and was quite funny about the way her personal life gets dissected by the posters on her blog on a regular basis.  Moreover, she seemed to get the fact that professional-class parents enjoy a huge amount more flexibility and freedom than lower-income families, and argued that those of us with time and influence should be working to benefit all families, not just our own. 

So why doesn’t she push this harder in her writing?  Steiner claimed that the "Mommy Wars" framing was pushed on her by the publisher.  And she also pointed out that that day’s post, in which she talked about the huge settlement that Verizon had made in its class-action pregnancy bias lawsuit, got fewer comments than almost any post she’s made.


Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Sometime last year, I gave up my daily newspaper subscription.  It was piling up unread, and was adding to my sense of being always behind, and T was unhappy about the mess.  (My mother has huge piles of newspapers in her apartment, and I think he’s afraid the trait is genetic.)  I was suprised at how little I missed it — I still caught up on the headlines on the web, and I devoted my metro reading time to books and magazines instead.

But last month, the Post offered us one of their special deals where it only costs about $0.35 a week more to get the daily paper delivered than to get just the Sunday paper (which we had never dropped).  And so I signed up, and it started last week.

From an economic point of view, it’s definitely worthwhile — there was a $4 off coupon this week from CVS that pays for the subscription for several months.  From an environmental point of view, I feel guilty about the dead trees.  I read a somewhat wider range of stories with the paper in front of me than I do on the web, which has its pluses and minuses.

Do you read a daily paper?  Which one?

Judith Warner’s back… and I agree with her

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

Judith Warner’s back blogging in the New York Times, and this week she takes on Caitlin Flanagan:

"The Caitlin Flanagan interview turned into a knock-down-drag-out fight. I had entirely misunderstood her book, which is, in large part, a paean to traditional wife- and motherhood, and which I had read as an extended metaphor, given that — as Flanagan makes exceedingly clear — she is a modern working mother who does no housework whatsoever."

"I’d taken her book — which begins and ends with chapters about Flanagan’s mother’s death and the author’s own bout with breast cancer — to be about love and yearning and identity and desire and memory, when, in fact, it is about cooking and cleaning and sex and child-rearing (sometimes a pressure cooker is just a pressure cooker)."

And she concludes:

"I will start by saying: I disagree with Caitlin Flanagan. I believe that the enormous investment we bring to things like “home” and “motherhood” — as to things like birthday parties and profiteroles — is metaphorical. It’s about ideas, not reality, and those ideas can’t be taken at face value. Our lives are material. We have to mine that material for the deeper truths it can reveal about ourselves and the world around us. And we have to have a sense of humor about it. For the other way, madness lies."

I didn’t think I’d ever find myself agreeing 100% with anything Warner wrote, but this comes pretty close.

I really appreciated the thoughtful comments that people left on the post about the MotherTalk event.  I don’t think Flannagan makes a serious argument that any of us should feel compelled to respond to.  (And if you’re really looking for a book about the satisfactions of ironed sheets and vacuumed floors, I recommend Cheryl Mendolson’s Home Comforts. )  Hirshman at least makes a case, although I think she’s fundamentally wrong in her claim that women who succeed by following traditionally male career paths are necessarily going to be better for women’s rights than their male counterparts.

Blogs and the MSM

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

I’ve been getting a bunch of hits today from people searching for "Annette Lareau" or "Unequal Childhoods" because David Brooks wrote about the book today in his NYTimes column.  Time to break out the "I blogged about that last year" bumper stickers

The Washington Post has a new work-and-family blog, by Leslie Morgan Steiner, of course  It’s frustrating that they’ve got this huge built-in audience and are covering so much of the tired old mommy wars ground.  (On a technical note, like the NYTimes, the Post blogs allow comments, but don’t let you link to your own blog.  Kudos to the Business Week bloggers for acting like a real part of the blog community.)

The April Working Mother magazine has an article by Arianna Huffington that lauds the advantages of blogging as a career that lets you work from home.  Yeah right, if you’re already a celebrity, or started blogging before 2003 (cf. Dooce).  I emailed off a letter to the editor, telling them that they missed the point.  If you’re looking for a way to quit your day job, blogging probably offers only slightly better odds than a lottery ticket.  But if you’re looking for ideas, laughter, and comraderie, and you can only do it when the kids have gone to bed, I don’t think there’s a better place to look.

Can we have a cease-fire?

Monday, March 6th, 2006

I can’t decide if I’m more pleased with all the recent attention that work-family issues have been getting in the mainstream media these days or frustrated that so much of the coverage is stuck on the same old groove, setting working (for pay) moms against at-home moms, and ignoring dads completely.

I love RebelDad’s suggestion that we should googlebomb the term "mommy wars" to refer to Miriam Peskowitz’s excellent book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars.  It’s a much more productive contribution to the discussion than the new book by Leslie Morgan Steiner that’s been getting a bunch of attention.  (See also Miriam’s blog, where she’s had some interesting posts this week about the NYTimes article on trends in women’s labor force participation.)

RebelDad’s ready to write off the Steiner book because of her stupid comments about dads in the interview with her posted on the Business Week working parents blog.  (He also points out this strong piece from Time online called "Bring on the Daddy Wars.")  I agree, if she can only find men "whose lives haven’t changed as much dramatically" it’s because she hasn’t been looking.  (She also said she couldn’t find any interesting blogs that talk about work-family issues — I posted some of my favorites in the comments section there.)

And yet, I don’t want to dismiss the book entirely, both because I want to take advantage of the big Random House publicity machine’s efforts to get these topics aired, and because Steiner gets some things exactly right.  In the Business Week interview, she says:

"I thought the battle was between stay-at-home and working moms. But women don’t fall into these neat categories. Most women see it as a continuum. A mom who left a hard-driving job may be at home now, but she plans on being back at work two years from now."

Yup.  And in the Post article she makes the point that the biggest mommy war is often internal, and tells a sweet story about the lift she got when her daughter’s preschool teacher complimented her:

"Did anyone ever tell you how beautiful you are?" Mrs. Rahim whispered so that the swirling crowd of stay-at-home moms, lingering by the school door, couldn’t hear. "You are a happy mom. Your face glows with it. That’s what matters most to your kids. I think you should have 10 more children. Now go to work."

So, it’s hard to know what to expect from the book.  One taste is provided by the excerpt from one of the essays published in Newsweek.  It’s by a woman who suggests that her children’s overall meltdown was due to her not being home to meet the school bus (even though she did in fact work from home two weeks a month, and her husband was home the rest of the time).

As I’ve said before, I’m generally sceptical about the degree to which you can draw a straight line from parental choices to children’s outcomes.  But even setting that aside, my reading of the essay is that, to the extent that Hingston contributed to her kids’ problems, it’s not because she was working, but because she felt so guilty about working that she had trouble setting limits, even when her son’s therapist and teachers all agreed that they were badly needed.  I’m quite curious whether Hingston draws the same conclusion in the full version of her essay.

Magazine musings

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

This week, the new issue of Parenting magazine showed up at our door, addressed to my husband.  Our best guess is that the subscription is a gift from T’s parents, replacing the Money magazine that they’ve given us for several years.  T’s reaction is somewhat mixed.  On the one hand, as RebelDad has been complaining for ages, Parenting clearly doesn’t see fathers as a real part of their audience — the subtitle is "what really matters to moms".  On the other hand, it’s kind of nice to have his parents acknowledge that parenting is the biggest piece of what he’s doing with his life right now, and he takes it seriously.

The funny thing is that I think I’m going to continue the Money subscription. The first year we got it, it helped me catch a major mistake in our taxes that would have cost us several thousand dollars. It hasn’t saved us anything like that since, but it’s generally interesting and reminds me to think about things that I’d otherwise avoid.

Money is also consistently progressive on family issues.  The current issue includes an article on how a same-sex couple can best protect each other and their young daughter, given that Maryland doesn’t recognize their civil union.  In the February issue, a feature on Fix Our Mix helped one of the featured families "save enough so that Mom or Dad can stay home with the kids."  (I see that I pointed out a similar article last year.) In an article on spouses who travel separately, the authors acknowleged that "very few couples earn equal paychecks" and went on to say:

"Frankly, that shouldn’t matter. If one spouse is the sole or majority earner, does that mean he or she should be able to dine on steak and caviar with the gang while the other orders takeout with a friend? Of course not."

What I’m most impressed about is the matter of fact tone in which these issues are discussed.

I also wanted to point out Business Week’s new Working Parents blog, which I also found via RebelDad.  They’re still getting their blogging legs, and the posts are somewhat uneven, but I’m encouraged that they’re giving it a try.  The most recent post is about one of the writers’ battles with their insurance company over her son’s medical bills.  One thing that I hadn’t thought about until I read it was that one of the advantages of employer-based health insurance is that it offers some means of leverage in claims disputes. 

On that note, I do want to point out that Annika’s donations page is now up and running.  It’s through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), which makes contributions tax-deductible, and assures that they’ll be spent on medical expenses. (See this post for background.) 

Work and family, European style

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

I’m surprised that the blogs I read haven’t lit up yet with discussion of the Newsweek International Edition cover story on how the generous European family benefits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  The headline is "Stuck in Place: The Myth of Women’s Equality in Europe" over a photo of a woman’s legs with skirt, high heels and ankle chains.

The article makes a reasonably strong case (heavily drawing on this OECD report) that the generous paid leaves that American women drool over come at a cost to women’s professional accomplishments.  As in the United States, women who take several years off of work find it hard to get back on to the fast track.  Many wind up returning to work on a part-time basis, in jobs that are less prestigious and pay less per hour than full-time work.   (As Jennifer pointed out in her comment on my post about part-time work, national health insurance doesn’t make the problems with part-time work go away.)  And employers blatently discriminate against women of childbearing age — even those who plan to return to work quickly, or not to have children — for fear of having to carry them during extended leaves.

The Newsweek article includes a recommendation that European countries should shorten paid maternity leaves to 6 months to a year.  I’m not entirely convinced this would change things dramatically, but even if it would, it raises some interesting distributional issues.  All women, not even all mothers, don’t have monolithic interests; what’s best for some isn’t what’s best for others.  It it reasonable to ask women who don’t have any ambition to have a "career" rather than a "job" to give up some of their benefits in order to improve things for the elite who do? 

I’m more intrigued by some of the proposals that would make a portion of the parental leave only available to fathers.   I do think that even short periods of full-time childcare both dramatically increase dads’ confidence in their parenting skills, and give them a better appreciation for the work that’s involved.  And they might even the professional playing field a little bit.

Welcome NYTimes readers

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

As Landismom was kind enough to point out, this blog was mentioned in the New York Times this morning, in Patricia Cohen’s article about Hirshman and "choice feminism."   (No, I hadn’t seen it — leisurely reading of the Sunday paper is one of the things that went out the window for me when I had kids.)

If you’re looking for my reaction to the Hirshman article, the post that Cohen quoted is this one — The domestic glass ceiling.  I also wrote several posts about other aspects of the article, focusing on Hirshman’s Rules and Litmus test feminism.

Gender and domesticity is definitely one of the recurring themes of this blog, and I recently made a list of the posts from last year where I discussed it.

And if you’re wondering where the title of the blog comes from, as I explained in my very first post, it’s from the subtitle of a terrific book called Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World by Peggy Orenstein.  And my thanks to Orenstein, who was very gracious when I emailed her to ask permission to use it.

Welcome, and I hope you’ll continue the conversation.

Books of the year

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

I read Zadie Smith’s On Beauty last week (yes, the boys were good enough that I was able to read on the airplane), and enjoyed it, but don’t have a whole lot to say about it.  As with her debut novel, White Teeth, I think Smith is better at creating characters than building a plot, but the characters are interesting enough that I’m willing to go along for the ride.   I’ve never read Howard’s End, which it riffs off of, so I probably missed some of her cleverness.  (I’m sure I saw the movie, but can’t remember any of the plot.)  In general, I think it’s hard to write a really good novel about academics.  Wonder Boys was disappointing and Moo was clever but nothing more.

The NY Times published its list of 100 Notable Books of the Year, so I thought I’d report on the ones I’ve read:

  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, JK Rowling  A great improvement over the last one in the series.  I’m glad I just read it though, rather than making the huge time investment in reading it out loud with T.
  • The March, EL Doctorow.  I’m in the middle of this, and liking it very much.  Not to be confused with March, by Geraldine Brooks, which is also set in the Civil War.
  • Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I really didn’t get why this one got such good reviews.  I just didn’t care about any of the characters, or what happened to them.  I actually didn’t finish the book, just skimmed the last chapter to see what the big surprise was.  If any of you read it and liked it, I’d love to hear why.
  • On Beauty, Zadie Smith.  See above.
  • Saturday, by Ian McEwan.  This one pulled me in neither by force of plot nor by likable characters, but by sheer brilliance of language.  McEwan captures individual moments absolutely perfectly, and also tips his hat to Mrs. Dalloway.
  • Shalimar the Clown, by Salmon Rushdie.  I don’t know if this one should make my list, since I only read about 10 pages of it before realizing that there was absolutely zero chance of my finishing it before it was due back to the library, so I stopped.  Midnight’s Children is the only Rushdie book that I’ve really liked, but I liked it so much that I keep giving him more chances.
  • COLLAPSE, by Jared Diamond.  Another one that I started but didn’t get very far into.
  • Freakonomics, by Leavitt and Dubner.  Some interesting ideas, but if you’ve read an article about it, you’ve heard most of them.

Hirshman’s Rules

Monday, November 28th, 2005

The blogosphere (or at least the corner of it where I hang out) is lighting up over the American Prospect piece by Linda Hirshman where she argues that the "Opt-Out Revolution" among elite women is real and that we should care about it "because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times."  I found the article incredibly irritating and off-base, even though Hirshman cites one of my favorite books about work-family choices, Kidding Ourselves.

Let’s look at Hirshman’s claims in order.  She says that staying home is bad for the women who do it because:

"Finally, these choices are bad for women individually. A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world."

I think "classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way" is Hirshman’s convoluted version of the discussion we had here a few weeks ago about whether SAHPing is compatible with an intellectual life.  I’ve said all I had to say on the topic then, but I will note that even Amy, who never backed down from her original position that it’s not, agreed that not all paid employment is compatible with an intellectual life either.

I agree that "having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life" is important.  I think that Hirshman is right that women often make choices that make sense at the time, but that cut off future options and reduce their bargaining power in the process.  But I think that Hirshman is wildly off base in interpreting "autonomy" solely in terms of increased earnings capacity.  She’s equally scornful of women who choose "indentured servitude in social-service jobs" as she is of stay-at-home moms, assuming that this makes them less autonomous than the big firm lawyer working 80 hours a week at a job he hates.  (Ironically, at the same time that Hirshman is saying that feminism failed by not making women more career-minded, David Gelernter is whining that feminism is the reason his students are excessively career focused.)

As far as "doing more good than harm in the world," this could score as a point in either direction.  Hirshman makes no case for why she thinks this is an argument against at-home parenting.

Turning to "bad for society," Hirshman writes:

"As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes — the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference. "

I agree with this, more or less.  BUT, I think it’s true precisely because women often have different life experiences than the men who are making decisions.  To the extent that women can only become part of the decision-making class by being what Joan Williams calls the "ideal worker" — fully available, without household responsibilities — they will tend have the same perspective that the men do. 

My fundamental issue with Hirshman is that she assumes that there’s essentially only two options — full-time continuous commitment to the labor force in a job that pays as much as possible — and anything else, including at-home parenting, part-time work, and any job that pays less than the maximum wage the worker could conceivably get.  And instead of arguing for more and better options — meaningful part-time work, on-ramps as well as off-ramps — she hands women a list of cookie-cutter rules to follow.  Hirshman dismisses those better options as "utopian dreams" but when Fortune magazine has a cover story on work/life balance — one not framed as a women’s issue moreover — maybe they’re not so utopian.