Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

What Opt-Out Revolution?

by Tracy McGinnis
[1]We all remember playing tug of war in gym glass right? The objective was to pull hard enough to push the other team’s flag over the goal line, often causing its members to fall to the ground.

That’s the image I sometimes get when I start reading stories about women trying to make it both at work and at home – at some point one side falls down.

Over the past few years there have been hundreds of articles written about women pulling themselves out of the workplace once kids came into the picture, or as New York Times columnist Lisa Belkin termed it in 2003 “The Opt Out Revolution [2].”

Recently one hundred of these “opt-out” themed articles were reviewed and published in a report by Joan C. Williams at UC Hastings College of Law entitled, “Opt Out or Pushed Out? How the Press Cover Work/Family Conflict – The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce.”

The report suggests that most “opt-out” pieces have done a great disservice to women by not providing them with all of the details; suggesting many of them have been pushed out of work by factors such as inflexible workplaces, lack of family support, and a bias against mothers in the workplace, among others.

What’s Missing in Opt-Out Stories?

• A misrepresentation of women - only 5% of articles studied mentioned African American women, and even fewer Latina’s.

• Women in opt-out pieces were interviewed either after they had already dropped out of work or before they were divorced. (Only 2 out of 119 stories featured divorced women. With a 50% divorce rate “opt-out” stories failed to include the economic vulnerability of women who stop working and get divorced.)

• Women in typical “opt-out” pieces tend to focus solely on the short term – cutting back on home costs or rationalizing that child care will take most of their earnings anyway. Omitting long term effects, such as not contributing to a 401K or social security, can put women in vulnerable situations later in life. (Particularly in a country where 2 out of 3 elderly poor are women.)

• 32% of retired women have pensions compared to 55% of men (Munnell, 2004), a women’s average benefit is half that of men’s, and in 41% of couples, the husband’s private pension is not left to his wife upon his death (Ibid), all relevant data the study feels “opt-out” stories should include in order to paint a more accurate picture of what is means for women to drop out of the workforce.

• The study points out failures in the workplace that push women out including gender bias and a “maternal wall.”

A significant portion of the study examines the need for change in U.S. policy in order to accommodate today’s “traditional” family including alternative and flexible work schedules, universal kindergarten, preschool, after school programs, and quality child. These recommendations would help create alternatives and more options with work and family – potentially eliminating the “all or nothing” mindset that exists about work today.

And while it can be argued that women are more negatively affected by weak work policies, looking at these issues through only a mother’s eyes ignores other stages in life that also require flexibility and attention. To read the report in its entirety click here [3].   

Tracy B. McGinnis is a regular contributing writer for Mommy Track'd.  She has published hundreds of articles on women's issues, parenting, and business, among other topics. Her work has appeared in national print and trade magazines including PINK, Women's Health and Fitness, and American Baby, among others. She has written dozens of features on-line for popular and award wining sites like Babyzone.com, iParenting Media Group, and SheKnows, to name few. Tracy lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two boys, ages 4 and 14 months.

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