Why You Should Stop Calling Powerful Women "Working Mothers"


Last week, an article on Jezebel denounced the “working woman” dilemma that’s assumed to consume most of today’s modern women.

Hopefully we can all agree that in 2013, focusing on the challenge of balancing work and home responsibilities is an absurdly fruitless activity.

Yet The New York Times did it in this recent article, glamorizing a mother who started working from home on Fridays in order to cope with her busy schedule.

The article, first in a series about work-life balance called “Balancing Act,” insists upon Sara Uttech’s identification with a label that, honestly, should have ceased to be discussed long ago: the working mother.

“Ms. Uttech, like many working mothers, is a married college graduate,” writes NYT author Catherine Rampell. Wow. Revelatory.

As a woman, Rampell could be more mindful of how casting her article’s subject in this way stigmatizes not only Uttech, but womankind as a whole. The focus must shift away from gender and toward issues that really matter — in this case, standards and policies in the workplace.

All workers, male, female and transgender alike, are affected by workplace standards and policies. And all family members, male, female and transgender alike, cope with common familial issues: being on time to their children’s events; getting housework done; setting aside time to relax with one another.

The NYT author writes that, “like dozens of other middle-class working mothers interviewed about their work and family lives,” Uttech wants to work for a flexible company.

Really? Who doesn’t? Because I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any of my friends, male or female, say, “Gee whiz, I’ll do anything to get a job, as long as it’s somewhere that doesn’t offer paid sick leave!”

Uttech’s ideal working environment isn’t restrained to one gender or the other. It’s an individual opinion, one that probably reflects a majority of the general population.

Like Jezebel author Tracie Egan Morrissey writes, the NYT didn’t refer to Uttech’s husband as a “working dad,” despite the fact that he, too, probably has a job and acts as a father to his children.

"The truth is that our cultural understanding of a 'working mom' is that of a personal chef, maid, nanny, tutor, and chauffeur all rolled into one frazzled superwoman who also happens to work outside of the home. That's because there are still undeniable innate gender essentialist biases regarding childcare and homemaking.

Our cultural understanding of fathers who work? They're just men. It doesn't seem fair."

No, it doesn’t. After all, don’t all parents share in the responsibility of caring for their kids, their pets, their homes?

Yep, that’s for sure — and they’ll do so regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. From what I’ve heard, parenting is an often hard and overwhelming, yet vastly rewarding experience. So is being an employee — in any field, anywhere. Again, that’s regardless of which gender you identify with.

The point is that it’s just not interesting to talk about anyone’s struggles, whether in the workplace or at home, if gender is the sole aspect we’re focusing on. What’s more interesting is the nature of the struggles themselves. Why are some companies unable to provide paid sick leave? How can company standards be improved upon and made more flexible? And how can we simplify the task of balancing housework?

As Steve Bogira, senior writer for the Chicago Readerwrites, Rampell failed to include any testimony from her subject’s husband, making him a complete mystery to the reader. Therefore, the article becomes little more than a long-winded feature story about one individual woman’s experience of the world.

And remind me again, how is her experience interesting or newsworthy? This story isn’t a real story. In order to turn it into one, the author would have had to delve deeper into the specific issues her subject spoke about — by interviewing her husband, her co-workers, her boss, even her kids.

I can only hope that the remainder of this NYT series will not be as one-sided and incomplete as this article was in its consideration of the familial work-life balance. It's 2013 ... let's move on from gender.