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Katherine Lewis

Working Moms Reach New Acceptance, Research Finds

By March 6, 2012

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For any working mom who's ever slipped into the classroom late for a school event, here's some welcome news: 75 percent of Americans approve of your life choices. I realize that may not be the 100 percent we overachievers would prefer, but it's a pleasant change from 1977, when the majority of our fellow citizens believed mothers harmed their children simply by working outside the home.

A series of papers released today by the Council on Contemporary Families paints a fascinating picture of changing gender roles in America and modern views about working women, including this factoid. The keynote paper documents how far we've come since the 1950s, but concludes that progress toward an egalitarian society has stalled. Other papers address differences by racial group, the impact in the managerial ranks, changing attitudes of men and the sexual revolution.

While we may enjoy the idea of ever-faster progress toward a nirvana of equality, it's important to be realistic. It makes sense that the pace of change is faster at the beginning of a revolution, and now the progress is slower as we -- as a society -- struggle with the very real challenges that come with changes in longstanding gender roles.

It's possible "we have already picked the low-hanging fruit by abolishing the most blatantly discriminatory laws. This leaves us with more complex problems in tackling the remaining inequality," wrote Stephanie Coontz, history professor at the Evergreen State College and co-chair of the council. "Much of the economic discrimination women still suffer is now filtered through the constrained (but not legally imposed) choices that people make in organizing parenthood. The way forward seems less clear to many."

What is your take on the gender revolution -- how far we've come and what distance remains to travel? I'd love to hear what things are like in your part of this big country.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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March 6, 2012 at 11:36 am
(1) Rachel says:

The more success I achieve, the greater I push/rely on my spouse to help and take on various roles. My feeling is as more and more women achieve greater success, more and more dads will take on care taking roles with the family — this will be the new way the gap closes. In my opinion of course.

March 23, 2012 at 7:31 am
(2) Nicki says:

I went on stress leave (walking out of the classroom of students I was teaching) and have not returned since mid-2010. The reality for me was that my husband’s work was not getting less (but more) busy and all that was happening was that my own responsibilities of home and work created a permanent feeling of tension and anxiety at being unable to offer ‘my best’ to each of those roles. My health started to suffer (panic attacks and palpitations) and I was often ‘flying off the handle’ at the smallest things which my children did that annoyed me.

I have come to the realisation in my time out of the classroom that while we are now just barely keeping head above water financially (with 4 growing children), the level of calm that has been restored in our household is beyond price. Perhaps we women can do everything but I dare say it doesn’t mean we should. Yet it is a difficult thing to choose to give up an income (if you call going on stress leave a choice). I am a mother by choice and know that I am now cherishing this precious window of opportunity to be a part of their lives while they still need me, as teenagers more than ever. Once they’re gone, the career world is there for me for the taking. In the meantime, I keep my mind intellectually challenged through a long term voluntary teaching role, which boosts my self-esteem and allows me to make a positive contribution, not only by being there within my own family, but within our wider community.

My kids are the most important job I have. As a wise colleague once told me: The kids I teach can have any teacher, but my own kids only have one mother”. While gender equality is very important for those choosing or needing to work, I feel the need to express strongly that full-time mothers’ work does not bring income, but contributes immeasurably to the fabric of a society that yearns for stability and predictability and secure love in an ever changing world….

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