Mothers and Good Girls

September 7, 2012

I didn't hear the whole of Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention the other night, but I was there for the 'mom-in-chief' comment. I sighed but didn't think too much of it (exasperation explainer: as a non-mother, I often feel totally left out of society's concerns/interests, while motherhood is seen as the most important thing any woman can ever do). But the First Lady's emphasis on her maternal role has spurred a lot of comment on blogs and listserves as women go back and forth over whether Obama should have played up her past as a professional woman, including one who was originally her husband's boss. This piece on WNYC's Money Talking discusses the controversy and the current state of affairs for working women.

Also on the topic of motherhood, this Economist story irked me slightly, even though I see their larger point. It states that the main reason so few women make it to top positions at work comes down to motherhood. I have resisted weighing in on my home page about motherhood's role in women's (relative) lack of advancement because I think it's one of many factors that contribute to this, albeit a big one [since writing this I have changed the text on the homepage]. Still, approxmiately 20 percent of women in their early forties and above don't have children. Surely, this being the case, there should be a susbstantial number of non-mothers running companies or making partner at law firms. But there isn't. There are so many other reasons why women aren't well represented in leadership roles, from lack of confidence to wanting a sane, balanced life regardless of whether or not they have kids. Also, the Economist piece totally ignores the father's role in raising children. It has a somewhat condescending tone, making me, at the risk of being sexist, suspect the author is a man. (Then again, virtually all Economist articles sound like they're written by smug, middle-aged, white British males!)

Earlier today I interviewed author and journalist Lynn Povich about her new book, 'The Good Girls Revolt'. It's a rollicking tale of the Mad Men work era and the first female-led class action lawsuit, brought by Povich and others against her then-employer, Newsweek, in 1970. Newsweek had a tradition of having men as writers, women as researchers, a tradition the magazine was happy to honor until Povich and her colleagues took their (white) gloves off and filed their suit. Although much of the story looks back at a particular point in the history of the women's movement, it also asks how much has changed for women in the workplace since then. I'll release 'The Good Girls Revolt' episode of The Broad Experience early next week (update: it's out now).