Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Progress We've Seen Since 1995

Letters to the Editor
January 14, 1995

Career Women Can Be Good Mothers

As a partner in one Connecticut's larger law firms and a mother of 20 years, I found Mona Charen's Dec. 23 op-ed page column describing why women who hold big jobs can't be good mothers to be not only offensive but ridiculous ["Women can't be good mothers--and hold big jobs"].

Her ideas are based on antiquated, negative stereotypes of women lawyers and executives and their spouses. She seems to base her column on three faulty assumptions: that womken who become corporate execdtuives or partners in law firms did not have flexible schedules when their children were young; that such women never have spouses with flexible schedules, and that such people do not need to work for a living.

My observation of female lawyers is that they typically coordinate their schedules with their spouses when children are young so that one or both of the parents is spending plenty of time with the children.

One of the spouses may work part time for a few years, or may be a student or a college professor or have another job with a flexible schedule. In fact, most lawyers have a flexible enough schedule so that they don't have to miss the children's school plays, doctors' appointments and other important events.

Finally, Charen seems to distinguish between women who hold big jobs and women who need to work for a living. In our American society, upward mobility is a reality, and many female attorneys or executives do not have rich families or rich spouses and are working to support their families just like everyone else. If they made the extra effort to struggle through night law school, or are paying back student loans, or both, why should such women also have to bear the burden of a negative stereotype?

Young women facing career decisions should not be discouraged from holding big jobs. Rather, theose women (and their employers) should be encouraged to pursue all of their goals, including both the goal of being a good mother and the goal of finding career satisfaction.

Fillis W. Stober
Newington, CT


That letter was written by my mother-in-law, which the newspaper ran accompanied by the drawing above (my mother-in-law did not choose the drawing). It's the archetypal "woman with a briefcase and a baby" before it became a stock photo!

Fillis has read every word of this blog, and we often discuss work-life balance and all of the accompanying issues. I asked her permission to share this because it's just so similar to the things I've been writing in the fifteen-plus years since. Ironically, it looks like Mona Charen hasn't followed the advice she gave in her original article, as she's had a very successful career as a writer, and is married with three children.

I can't help but wonder what effect Charen's words had on her readers though. If I'd read Charen's piece in 1995, when I was a junior in high school hoping to be a doctor and obsessing over college choices, it might have given me pause. I don't have the original article, so I don't know for certain, my guess is that it was a bigger deal than Fillis's response was. Sure, it's the same controversy we see all the time today, it sells newspapers (drives pageviews). But there are real people on the other side of this: young women thinking they can't be good enough, either at career or home life, and men who agree and maybe even subconsciously hold back the women in their lives.

It's been 18 years since then--basically an entire generation--and now it's me that trying to be high-level executive and manage family life in an involved, present way. Often, I've felt alone in this journey, and maybe that's because some women along the way were susceptible to portraits like these. Fillis tried to stem the tide, and I'm hoping to do the same. I'm a good mom and a good employee. It's possible to do both.

And I know Fillis did it well too. My husband, her son, is busy cooking our family dinner, right now.


  1. Two comments:
    1. To clarify, my mom didn't pick the drawing, that was just the newpaper's stock art.
    2. It's not about being a high-level executive in most cases. The C-level opt-outer sells more newspapers. But we're really talking about people early in the middle of their careers who are still wondering if their going to earn the next promotion. So it's a more nuanced decision.

    1. I edited the post to clarify that she didn't choose the drawing.

      And yes, I agree that it's not just the c-level positions, but I wonder if some people think, "if I can't reach the pinnacle of success, why even try?" I wish the definition of success was broader than just those in the very top echelons.

  2. I really wish this conversation could have a broader framework. As long as we (and I mean the general we as in society, not anyone person specifically) continue to frame this as a motherhood problem/debate then we will never move forward. It is bigger than women in high powered careers, bigger than poor, single working mothers, bigger than motherhood itself. Until we start talking about families instead of mothers we won't make progress. The culture of work and corporate America are what need changing.