Lessons from the Baby Boon: "Family-Friendly" Policies and the Ethics of Justice and Care

By Hayden, Sara | Women's Studies in Communication, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Lessons from the Baby Boon: "Family-Friendly" Policies and the Ethics of Justice and Care


Hayden, Sara, Women's Studies in Communication


Over the past three decades, feminist activists have promoted a wide range of "family-friendly" policies in workplaces and in the public sector. In The Baby Boon, Elinor Burkett appeals to feminist principles to challenge these efforts. I argue that the debate can be explained through an examination of the ethical stances underlying the differing claims, concluding that to create workplaces and public policies that are both fair and humane, we must bring justice and care into dialogue.

Keywords childfree, childless, ethic of care, ethic of justice, family-friendly, work-life

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Maternity leave, publicly financed day care, flexible work schedules--feminist scholars and activists typically extol the value of such benefits. Indeed, "family-friendly" polices often are presented and discussed as unquestioned feminist "goods" (Buzzanell, 2003; Buzzanell & Liu, 2007; Dow, 2008; Liu & Buzzanell, 2004; Rosen, 2007). They are central, it is argued, in the ongoing battle against sexism and the struggle to create a more just and humane society. In contrast to feminists' claims that family-friendly policies serve to abate ongoing discrimination, a growing number of people have begun to argue that such policies themselves are discriminatory. Connecting through groups such as No Kidding! and Internet sites including www.childfree.net, www.overpopulation.org, childfree resource network, childfreebychoice.com, and childfree and happy, advocates for the "childfree" argue that "family-friendly" policies discriminate against people without children. (1) Elinor Burkett (2000) offers one of the most complete statements of the childfree argument in The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless. (2) Given that Burkett argues against policies grounded in feminist philosophies and supported by major feminist organizations, it is somewhat surprising to note that Burkett identifies herself as a feminist throughout her book.

Of course, it is possible to present oneself as a feminist while making antifeminist claims. Among others, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (1996), Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge (1994), Katie Roiphe (1993), and Christina Hoff Sommers (1994) have engaged in this slight of feminist hand. Numerous scholars have debunked the arguments put forth by these "faux-feminists," (3) noting that they frequently use anecdotal arguments, ad hominem attacks, and hyperbole often presented with a strong dose of sarcasm--in order to misrepresent feminist ideas and proposals (e.g., see Faludi, 1995; hooks, 1994; Pollitt, 1994; Wood, 1996). Pollitt (1994), for example, characterizes the tone of Katie Roiphe's The Morning After: Sex, Fear. and Feminism as "unpleasantly smug" (p. 159), and Faludi (1995)challenges Roiphe's use of evidence:

   Roiphe never reviews the statistics on rape, never interviews any
   rape researchers, never talks to a single woman who has been raped.
   The only "evidence" she marshals to disprove the statistic that one
   in four college women experience a rape or an attempted rape is her
   astonishing remark that, as far as she knows, none of her college
   girlfriends has ever been raped. (p. 37)

Like the authors mentioned above, Burkett's tone is frequently sarcastic. Thus she characterizes nineteenth century feminists as "ga-ga over motherhood" (p. 151), and she portrays former Representative Patricia Schroeder's 1988 five-state tour promoting family-friendly policies as "'the kind of high concept some wet-behind-the-ears screenwriter pitches for a made-for-television movie" (p. 118). Additionally, like her faux-feminist predecessors, Burkett's arguments are sometimes suspect. She is prone to presenting exceptional cases as if they are the norm and then using those cases to challenge the legitimacy of public policies. For example, she questions the value of then-pending H.R. 3531, the New Mothers' Breastfeeding Promotion and Protection Act, through reference to the story of Emma Cuevas, an army helicopter pilot. …

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