Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance

Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance

Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance

Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance

Synopsis

In a much-publicized and much-maligned 2003 New York Times article, The Opt-Out Revolution, the journalist Lisa Belkin made the controversial argument that highly educated women who enter the workplace tend to leave upon marrying and having children. Women Who Opt Out is a collection of original essays by the leading scholars in the field of work and family research, which takes a multi-disciplinary approach in questioning the basic thesis of the opt-out revolution. The contributors illustrate that the desire to balance both work and family demands continues to be a point of unresolved concern for families and employers alike and women's equity within the workforce still falls behind. Ultimately, they persuasively make the case that most women who leave the workplace are being pushed out by a work environment that is hostile to women, hostile to children, and hostile to the demands of family caregiving, and that small changes in outdated workplace policies regarding scheduling, flexibility, telecommuting and mandatory overtime can lead to important benefits for workers and employers alike.

Excerpt

When Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she pulled a veil off the “merry homemaker” image ascribed to American women of the postwar era (Tyler May, 1988; Coontz, 2011). It was the problem that had “no name,” women who asked whether being a mother and housewife was all there was to life. These were college-educated women who were told that they should not use their education and training in the workplace. The consensus was that well-educated wives were assets to their husbands as long as they remained in the home, because housewifery meant “true feminine fulfillment.” Her book became a best-seller and rallying cry for women eager to escape the “gilded cage” of domesticity. She later became one of the founding members of the National Organization for Women. This new women’s rights movement was developing a visible presence and institutions dedicated to the political and legal aspects of the struggle for equality.

Friedan described the nascent movement: “For those of us who started the modern women’s movement … [t]he new paradigm was simply the ethos of American democracy—equality of opportunity … but applied to women in terms of concrete daily life as the theory and practice of democracy may never have been applied before. And how truly empowering it was, those first actions we took as an organized women’s movement, getting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act enforced against sex discrimination” (Friedan, 1997, 5). This was about women tackling the next step after suffrage had been won in the earlier part of the century: women’s economic citizenship (Kessler-Harris, 2001).

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