Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Women and work

Just read an interesting piece on women and work on In response to a New York Times magazine article last year and a subsequent Time magazine story on women who leave high-powered jobs to stay home and take care of their children, the author, Neil Gilbert, writes that the situation is more complicated than the magazine writers would have us believe. Gilbert makes a persuasive case, outlining four "types" of women in society today: those who have no children, those who have three children or more, and those who have one or two. He then shows the reader several charts that show the decline of fertility rates in European countries relative to the increases in the percentage of women in the workplace, the amount of money spent on family services, and that amount relative to GDP of a nation.

A few thoughts: The discussion of how a woman balances home life with work is far older than these articles. In the film "Woman of the Year," Katharine Hepburn portrayed a woman who was a brilliant success as a journalist, but whose home life, such as it was, failed. In the 1970s and 1980s, this issue was explored by cultural critics who thought women's involvement in the workplace was a positive development (Betty Friedan) or a negative one (Phyllis Schlafly). The feminist movement has provided women, in general, with more choices regarding what the Founders called "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Our lack of child care in this country might be seen as hampering more women from staying in the workforce. Yet is child care an entirely good thing? I would argue that it distances mothers from their children and should be used in moderation. I would also point out that our conception of "childhood" is a modern one and that the lifestyles that children have now, whether cared for by a stay-at-home parent or by a child-care staffer, are far better than the lives many children, especially poor children, endured in past centuries. Witness the child-labor laws this country had to enact in the 19th century; also, the resistance this country met from impoverished immigrants who needed the income their children would bring home. Gilbert's article touches on an intriguing and important subject. But it, too, is only a beginning.


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