Time marches on.
Rupert Murdoch has just renamed his company 21st Century Fox. The latest movie adaptation of the Jazz Age novel “The Great Gatsby” includes music by Jay-Z. Society’s Infamous Person of the Moment designation has been rapidly turning from Tamerlan Tsarnaev to Jodi Arias to Ariel Castro.
And sometimes to step forward we step back. JCP has returned to JCPenney.
As we celebrate our mothers today, we find that nothing has changed more in recent years in this country than the role and expectations of motherhood. Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s July 2012 essay in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” takes head-on current social and corporate expectations of professional women in the workplace.
“I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured,” Slaughter wrote. “My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged — and quickly changed.”
Read the whole essay and you’ll find several of those “uncomfortable facts” she refers to that need altering. After I read it, I found it amazing how women are still trying the “have it all” route; most men I know wouldn’t even attempt it.
I know young women who carried their college diplomas and remarkable professional talents briskly into the workplace, then fall in love, marry and bear children in quick succession — situations they never talked about, or talked about doing some years later; it just happened, of course. And so they scaled back their professional plans accordingly, never to go after those professional goals.
Slaughter is right that the work world needs to make changes. It should not look on a woman — or a man, for that matter — with disdain because she has to absent herself from a big meeting or key conference to care for a sick child or tend to a troubled teen.
My mother was the first in her family to achieve professional status, becoming a registered nurse at the age of 20. She would go off to work second shifts, after my father came home from work, after I and my younger brother were born. When we had both reached school age, she became a full-time private-school nurse so our schedules would relatively match and we would not be latchkey children.
Mom had it all, in a manner of speaking, and she and women like her are to be commended for it. But Mom picked a job whose work hours were set: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays during the school year.
And if one of her own children was sick, she was allowed to bring him to the school health center to rest in bed along with the others. There were few times she needed to go home and be with a child who was throwing up or who sprained an ankle. There was never a late meeting or client emergency or any number of things many other professional women who are mothers faced then and now.
Some change is in the offing already. Right now there are rather significantly more women enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities than men. Ultimately, the gender gap in compensation will narrow and ultimately, with more qualified professionals who are female, more women will be earning more than men.
At that moment, the dynamics of the who-stays-home-with-the-kids argument will change. Get ready, fellows.
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s well-known decision to eliminate many work-from-home positions notwithstanding, technology will enable parents and the rest of us to do more, not less, remotely soon enough. The technology that can create an actual working model of Dick Tracy’s wristband TV is near, enabling quality visual and audio communication while one is looking in on a recovering youngster asleep in her own room.
But as much as technology is changing, as Slaughter writes, attitudes need to change, too. We honor our mothers today for all they have done for us and the great and small sacrifices involved. Yet it is more than letting one of us have the last piece of pie she really wanted herself. It’s more than to thank her for unsung heroics such as fashioning a last-minute valentine mailbox out of a shoebox, aluminum foil and fast-cut red construction paper hearts at 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 14 because Junior forgot to bring home the flier two weeks ago (yes, this was me).
But it’s to acknowledge that any woman who chooses that world, especially today when she could quite easily and understandably opt out of it at the start, is worth our amazed admiration.
And at least that last piece of pie.
Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here each weekend. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.