I’m still thinking about the announcement that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is expecting twins. Pregnancy is a subject of special interest to me as I have spent much time writing about it (and I’ve been pregnant three times as well). I’ve been fascinated by pregnancy’s move from a private experience to a more public one, from the posting of fetal ultrasound pictures to even pregnancy pee stick photos. At the same time, pregnancy now has more public stages, such as elaborate baby showers or gender reveal parties.
However, aspects of pregnancy remain secret, like how the adoration of the mother abruptly stops after she has had her baby. When compared with other countries, moms and dads do not have much support post-pregnancy in the United States. Post-partum depression often continues to be a hidden infliction. Those who do not instantly bond and enjoy parenting often hide their ambivalent experiences. And, this country ranks last among 38 countries when it comes to governmental support for working parents. I acknowledge that someone like Mayer or myself has some degree of choice over how much we choose to work after the births of our children; for many women, there is little or no choice. With no universal paid parental leave policy in place, new mothers living paycheck-to-paycheck cannot afford to stay home with their babies.
These past few months, however, I’ve been hearing announcements like Netflix’s increased support for parental leave, then I read articles like the one written by Clair Cain Miller and David Streitfeld in the New York Times, which discusses how difficult it may be to convince people to take that leave. Thus, Mayer’s announcement leaves me with ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, I’m excited that a woman is at the top of a major corporation and can acknowledge her child-bearing without being fired for it. Yet, at the same time, Mayer has made a big deal about how she’s going to work right up to the birth and go back to work immediately after.
I did that, too. I went back to work six weeks after my first child, was actually in labor with my second child while giving a final exam, and taught several online classes the day after having my third child. Should I have, though? I have to say, I’m not sure of the progress women are making in this area.
This tendency highlights an utter devotion to work that makes me question how we are managing work-life balance in the 21st century. Angela McRobbie has written an interesting article about women, men, and work in academia. In it, she describes how men may thrive more within the professional demands of academia because they often have a woman at home handling their domestic life.
She ultimately raises interesting questions for me about how we define success and work. Certainly, a priority should be establishing paid leave for everyone; low-income families need this benefit the most. However, we also need to begin a public conversation about the role of work in the lives of families. Perhaps the discussion should shift from the Mommy Track (women needing to pause or take time off from work for family obligations) to a more inclusive concept of a Slow Work Movement. This is particularly important as we adapt more and more technologies that chain us to our virtual desks. This conversation can begin with people like Marissa Mayer.
Of course, Mayer is free to make personal decisions that work for her, but if she’s representing the successful woman archetype, which I think she does anytime she agrees to an interview or story about her success and promotion within her company, then I think she does owe people her acknowledgement of work-life balance issues and say it would be okay if she took a break after she gives birth to her twins.