“The Opt-Out Myth” by E.J. Graff

Here's a very interesting article by E.J. Graff in the Columbia Journalism Review entitled "The Opt-Out Myth." It is partly a response to Lisa Belkin's article "The Opt Out Revolution" that came out in the New York Times magazine in 2003 and other similar articles that have been coming out on the topic (the Times, for instance, appears to feel compelled to publish such pieces every six months or so). "The Opt-Out Myth" highlights the problems with framing this topic in this way, and pushes back on some conventional wisdom that usually attends these discussions: "The moms-go-home story keeps coming back, in part, because it’s based on some kernels of truth. Women do feel forced to choose between work and family. Women do face a sharp conflict between cultural expectations and economic realities. The workplace is still demonstrably more hostile to mothers than to fathers. Faced with the “choice” of feeling that they’ve failed to be either good mothers or good workers, many women wish they could—or worry that they should—abandon the struggle and stay home with the kids. The problem is that the moms-go-home storyline presents all those issues as personal rather than public—and does so in misleading ways. The stories’ statistics are selective, their anecdotes about upper-echelon white women are misleading, and their “counterintuitive” narrative line parrots conventional ideas about gender roles. Thus they erase most American families’ real experiences and the resulting social policy needs from view." It also gets at the idea that these women really have a "choice": "Williams establishes that “choice” is emphasized in eighty-eight of the 119 articles she surveyed. But keep reading. Soon you find that staying home wasn’t these women’s first choice, or even their second. Rather, every other door slammed. For instance, Belkin’s prime example of someone who “chose” to stay home, Katherine Brokaw, was a high-flying lawyer until she had a child. Soon after her maternity leave, she exhausted herself working around the clock to prepare for a trial—a trial that, at the last minute, was canceled so the judge could go fishing. After her firm refused even to consider giving her “part-time” hours—forty hours now being considered part-time for high-end lawyers—she “chose” to quit." At any rate, it's definitely worth checking out. See also our other posts on this topic here, here, and here.



There is an interesting commentary on this article at Pandagon here. The author, Amanda Marcotte takes real issue with the idea that women have a “choice” and blames the political system for failing women in this country.  In a comment to her own post and in reply to non-believers’ comments Marcotte writes: <i>
“Agreed, em. In fact, that’s why I really liked the article. The lie that women “choose” to stay home is used to cover up the fact that our system doesn’t work.” </i>


so true! I thought of this (oddly enough) during my first session of Con Law V the other day (religion and the constitution) - we were discussing the meaning of “prohibit” and as you might suspect, the hypothetical was made about a man caught between a choice of testifying on his sabbath (and thus breaking a religious vow) or be condemned to death. A familiar hypothetical - yet it is worth repeating. Life is full of choices - it is undeniable. But those choices are a technicality rather than meaningful. And it is sad and absurd, I think, that the extreme nature of these “choices” persist and that the label “choice” is used as if it were a mask when in reality sometimes we just don’t want to look at what is really there. Some choices are forced upon us by time or nature - and we cannot alter their components. But other choices are of our own creation - and these, we should be allowed to modify, don’t you think? There is a difference between simply “lowering the bar” and “building a ladder” - many fail to see this.


The Juggle pointed me to a recent study that says that the Opt Out Revolution is a myth.  The stats show that professional (read: college-educated) women are staying in the work force now more than ever.  Check it out.

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