Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It

Synopsis

In Unbending Gender, Joan Williams takes a hard look at the state of feminism in America. Concerned by what she finds--young women who flatly refuse to identify themselves as feminists and working-class and minority women who feel the movement hasn't addressed the issues that dominate their daily lives--she outlines a new vision of feminism that calls for workplaces focused on the needs of families and, in divorce cases, recognition of the value of family work and its impact on women's earning power. Williams notes that good jobs in America are designed for the ideal employee, who works full-time and often overtime, with no career interruptions. Even today, most American mothers do not meet this ideal: a majority do not work full-time, and only a small fraction work overtime. Williams points out that women will never achieve equality until mothers do: she argues that employers need to implement parent-supportive policies--or face liability for sex discrimination. She also maintains that ideal-worker fathers are supported by a flow of family work from mothers, yet divorce courts treat the family wage as owned solely by the ideal worker. The result is the impoverishment of women and children, who comprise the bulk of the poor in the United States. Unbending Gender questions the idea that women simply choose between staying at home with their children or going to work. Given the limited options that contemporary American culture allows them, mothers are forced to make compromises. Joan Williams' solution is an inclusive, family-friendly feminism that supports both mothers and fathers as caregivers and as workers.