The real rank and file of the "mommy wars"

Have we forgotten about working women who are not Meredith Vieira?

Published August 16, 2006 3:11PM (EDT)

A nicely written editorial in the Oregonian provides a sobering and necessary counterbalance to the news stories about the Meredith Vieiras of the world, whose array of work/family options -- whatever one makes of them -- is largely unavailable, even unimaginable, to women who don't get paid millions to be on TV. Or who simply can't afford to quit, or even negotiate. While the debate goes on about demands for flextime and job sharing, rare is the acknowledgment that you can't telecommute to an assembly line.

"Surely the nation has reached its quota on books and articles about highly educated, professional women and their struggle to self-actualize after having children," writes Oregonian associate editor Susan Nielsen. "At a certain point, the media will have profiled every angst-ridden professional woman in the country. Every lawyer torn between Barney and billable. Every corporate executive with spit-up on her suit. Every stay-at-home mom with a career on hold and a doctorate in explaining herself."

Nielsen quotes a recent report in the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy that confirms an obvious but not always stated point: The media show a "disproportionate interest in the travails of professional women." Of course, that's partly because many of those who create -- and consume -- the media are "professional women," but still. Nielsen also sees something a bit more sinister: "Readers love these stories. They're the perfect morality tale for a society that's ambivalent about powerful women -- and wary of mothers who act too much like fathers."

The Duke article, written by Michael Selmi and Naomi Cahn, offers specific work-family solutions that would address the needs and realities of, you know, actual working families: publicly financed day care, attention to the effects of domestic violence on employees, mandated paternal leave (!) and more. "Most women are not in a position to diminish their workplace lives, and thus, what is necessary is a greater societal commitment to easing the burden of working parents," write Selmi and Cahn. Along with, perhaps, a greater journalistic commitment to their stories.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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