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Books: Reshaping the Work-Family Debate

December 5, 2010 | Books,Devra Renner,Economics,Education,Ethics,Family,Getting sick,Journalism,Leslie Bennetts,Linda Hirshman,Motherhood,Norway,Parenting,Politics,PR,Research,Sarah Palin,U.S. government,Vacation,Work,Working Mother

“Writ small, this book is about reframing debates about work and family. … Writ large, this book is about reframing American politics. Work-family issues have not been placed at the center of an analysis of U.S. politics, but it is time to rethink the assumption that they do not belong there.”

Wow. Joan C. Williams knows how to start off a book. She knows how to end it and fill the middle, too. But I’ll let you find that out by reading Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter. (I highly recommend reading it. Williams is brilliant.)

It’s what she said in a Wilson Center discussion with Barbara Ehrenreich in September, though, that really gets to the heart of the matter of this book:

Litigation has accomplished a lot, but federal employment law cannot give us social subsidies or workers’ rights. The only way we can get those things is through legislation. The only way we can get that legislation is by very significantly shifting the political culture in the United States.

The only way to shift the political culture is to start a national conversation about gender pressures on men, she said. Until we do that, we won’t see much progress for women.

Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, authors of Mommy Guilt, will understand this book. Even though their book is about mothers, most of the work they do is about parenting. They spend a lot of time reminding others that parenting is something both mothers and fathers do.

Statistics show that both mothers and fathers in the United States feel the scales overwhelmingly tip in favor of work and short-change their family lives.

When asked, American parents — 90% of American mothers and 95% of American fathers — say that they wish they had more time with their children. These levels are sharply lower in Europe. (p. 2, Introduction)

Why are these levels lower in Europe? Because European countries structure workplaces around their workforces, recognizing that everyone has a right to a personal life.

They have a saying in Norway, “We don’t live to work, we work to live.” It’s just the opposite in America, a Norwegian might say, as he straps his baby on his back for a mountain hike — one of many during his nine weeks of “pappa leave.” When the leave is over, he will return to his 35-hour workweek, which enables him to pick up his child from daycare in the afternoon and still have several hours of family time before bedtime. Every day.

A Swedish father wrote a guest post for me about his experience as a parent in Sweden. He asked three years ago, regarding non-existent benefits in the United States, “… how do we change the system to make it easier to combine children, family and work?”

He’s not the only one who’s been asking that question. Many have been asking how to get family-friendly legislation passed. Williams looks at why we haven’t been able to get it. To answer the first question, we must first have an answer to the second question.

For one, there’s a class culture gap that polarizes employees and keeps them from coming together on specific issues.

For another — and Williams doesn’t discuss this in her book — companies don’t want legislation. They want to handle “family-friendly benefits” on their own. That means offering very little with a big splash of advertising and PR to make some magazine’s “best companies” list.

In reality, most companies on that list don’t want to offer comprehensive benefits or even one guaranteed sick day for each employee, based on lobbying efforts on their behalf by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As the largest lobbying organiztion in the United States, the Chamber spent $91.7 million on lobbying in 2008 and $144.5 million in 2009. It — along with the companies it respresents — opposes any efforts to expand Family and Medical Leave Act leave or to mandate paid sick leave. It opposed a bill that would give employees seven paid sick days a year. It opposed SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and the Employee Free Choice Act. It aggressively opposes union-backed proposals to increase minimum wage.

Some of these “listed” companies are multinational corporations with offices not only in the United States but also in Norway and Sweden. Benefits for white-collar American workers at these companies might be better than most: six weeks of paid maternity leave (and maybe up to a week of paternity leave for fathers), lactation rooms and maybe they can even buy vacation time. (Yes, that was touted as a “benefit.”)

Their employees in Norway and Sweden, however, get paid family leave of one to three years, the option of part-time work, shorter workweeks, paid sick leave and paid vacation. Why? Because all of that is legally required in those countries.

In Europe, … paid leaves are financed through social insurance, which leaves European employers more competitive than U.S. employers, for two reasons. First, European businesses do not have to pay the steep 30% ‘benefits load’ — the cost of a benefits package as a percentage of a worker’s salary — that many U.S. businesses pay. Second, because European employers are not responsible for covering the cost of paid leave themselves, they can afford to replace the worker on leave. In contrast, when U.S. employers pay the wages of workers on leave, often they simply heap leave-takers’ responsibilities onto their remaining workers, with no compensating increase in pay. This practice fuels workplace resentment. (p. 35)

In the United States, “The notion that having a child is a private frolic that does not deserve community support is implausible. There is no reason to expect that society should be able to privatize the costs of raising the next generation of citizens — from which all society will benefit — onto the backs of the women who bear them. This habit impoverishes women economically and men emotionally.” (p. 107)

Williams finally, finally, finally asks (and answers) the same question I’ve been asking for years. It’s not, “What’s wrong with women?” as Leslie Bennetts, Linda Hirshman and several others have asked. It’s, “What’s wrong with the workplace?”

Somewhat “coming full circle,” Williams starts with Lisa Belkin’s 2003 article, The Opt-Out Revolution, and I learned about Williams’ new book from Belkin’s more recent article, Calling Mr. Mom? and blog post of the same name.

In the first chapter, Williams expands on work she did in 2006 on a paper called “Opt Out” or Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict, The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce, which debunked the “opt-out revolution” myth perpetuated by media reports.

Even better for me, at that time, was a journalist debunking the myth — which had been perpetuated by journalists — for an audience of journalists when E.J. Graff wrote The Opt-Out Myth essay for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2007.

Graff explained: “Here’s why this matters: if journalism repeatedly frames the wrong problem, then the folks who make public policy may very well deliver the wrong solution. If women are happily choosing to stay home with their babies, that’s a private decision. But it’s a public policy issue if most women (and men) need to work to support their families, and if the economy needs women’s skills to remain competitive. It’s a public policy issue if schools, jobs, and other American institutions are structured in ways that make it frustratingly difficult, and sometimes impossible, for parents to manage both their jobs and family responsibilities.”

And how are American institutions structured? With masculine workplace norms.

… although work-family conflict traditionally is associated with women, a prime mover of work-family conflict is masculinity. Inflexible workplaces have proved so hard to change, in significant part, because of the intertwining of masculinity with work schedules and current understandings of work commitment. (p. 33)

What do masculine workplace norms get us? No paid family leave. Long hours. Unequal pay. And motherhood as the strongest trigger for gender bias.

As a culture, we need to stop lying to ourselves, stop pretending that the ‘choices’ thrust on us by outmoded norms are actually choices made of free will. We need to stop ignoring the fact that the available choices are dismally inadequate. (p. 40)

I couldn’t help thinking of the movie 9 to 5 when reading this book. Didn’t Judy, Violet and Doralee take care of flexible work schedules and job sharing 30 years ago? Sure, they had to poison, hogtie and hold captive their sexist boss. But, hey, they got the job done, right?

Well, OK. Real life is much harsher. Many employees are “one sick child away from being fired.” They are often forced to make the impossible decision to choose between work or their children. When they pick their children (because they’re sick and daycare or school won’t take them or, worse, they’re headed to the emergency room), employees are often fired.

This is not just a working-mother issue. It affects fathers, too. Current research shows that this kind of inflexibility is not just an issue for women:

“Roughly 55% of the arbitration that WorkLife Law studied involved men.” (p. 56)

But it’s time to realize that the workplace is a “gender factory” constructed for “ideal workers” without family responsibilities.

Let’s begin with pregnancy. The only reason pregnancy represents a problem for employed women is because the ideal-worker norm is designed around someone with a man’s body (no time off for childbearing) and men’s traditional life patterns (no time off for child rearing or other care work). Once again, the issue is not whether men and women are really different; the issue is why this particular difference matters in this context. As Martha Minow pointed out long ago, men are as different from women as women are from men. What gives women’s difference salience in the workplace is the weight of unstated masculine norms. (p. 129)

“The ideal-worker standard and norm of work devotion push mothers to the margins of economic life. And a society that marginalizes its mothers impoverishes its children. That is why the paradigmatic poor family in the United States is a single mother and her child.” (p. 103) Emphasis added.

Williams does a great job of breaking down the differences between classes and explaining the need to bridge those gaps and rebuild an alliance between progressives and “the Missing Middle.”

“The most refined fuel for class resentments is the culture of casual insults leveled by progressives toward the white working class. Changing U.S. politics will require an embargo on such insults.” (p. 152)

“As Theda Skocpol pointed out nearly a decade ago, progressives tend to focus so intently on poverty that they miss Americans in the middle of the income distribution. Skocpol finds it ‘puzzling’ that ‘our policy debates deal so little with the fate of working families of modest means.’ She recommended ‘a new family-oriented populism’ that offers supoprt for working families on the type that exists in Europe, namely, universal programs, rather than means-tested programs that are limited to the poor. Her analysis has been largely ignored.” (p. 161)

Maybe it’s time to stop ignoring this.

Williams challenges cultural fantasies about feminism (especially Sarah Palin‘s version of it — the five pages she spends deconstructing Palin alone is worth the price of the book), and she says she wants to start a national conversation about gender issues.

A conversation.

Is that enough? Who participates? Then what?

Posted by Becky @ 7:50 pm | 8 Comments  

She’s right here behind the glass, and you’re gonna like her ’cause she’s got class

November 2, 2009 | Advertising,BlogHer,Ethics,Parenting

“Your Dove purchase helps build self-esteem,” says the Dove ad on BlogHer‘s site.

No, it doesn’t.

“My Dove purchase” helps build Dove’s profits. Period. Dove (or its parent company, multinational corporation Unilever) doesn’t care about little girls. It’s a corporation. It’s incapable of having feelings. Its sole purpose is to earn a profit.

Have you seen Unilever’s Bom Chicka Wah Wahs and V.I.X.E.N.S. (Very Interactive Xtremely Entertaining Naughty Supermodels)?

No matter what else I see from Unilever, I can’t get the Axe women out of my head. Unilever portrays women like that on one hand and professes to care about girls’ self-esteem on the other. It’s hypocritical and impossible to take seriously.

“Cause” marketing works profitable wonders for corporations. For example, Campbell’s Soup turns its cans pink “for breast cancer awareness” in October, doubling its sales. While it earns millions from its pink cans, it sends a mere $250,000 to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Unilever earns millions through its Dove self-esteem “cause” marketing campaign. It sends $500,000 to an IRS-qualified non-profit organization, and it gets to claim that amount and all associated costs as deductible advertising expenses.

Instead of entering a UPC code to get Dove to send $1 to Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs or Girls Inc., if 500,000 people (Dove’s donation limit is $500,000, total) each sent a $5 check directly to each of the organizations, that would add up to $2.5 million for each, a total of $7.5 million — way more than Unilever/Dove would ever claim as a tax writeoff “donate.”

As much as I try to see good in a “positive message” that tells girls they’re beautiful, I can’t help but consider the source. I can’t erase the Axe women from my brain.

That freshly scrubbed, apple-cheeked beautiful redhead in the “viral” video about the beauty industry?

This one.

In five or 10 years, Unilever wouldn’t even blink. It would offer her money to don spiked heels and lingerie to gyrate her excessively thin body on screen … to sell deodorant.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Related posts
Dove’s “real beauty”
Unilever’s “research”

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 5 Comments  

Michelle Obama speaks in whose voice?

May 8, 2009 | Advertising,Barack Obama,Benefits,Bright Horizons,Corporate Voices for Working Families,Economics,Ethics,Journalism,Michelle Obama,Parenting,PNC,Politics,PR,Procter & Gamble,Research,Work,Working Mother

Michelle Obama spoke at the Corporate Voices for Working Families annual meeting Thursday at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. CVWF also released its report, Innovative Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers, which claims to show “that flexibility for lower wage hourly and nonexempt workers is being used effectively in a variety of business settings.”

Obama “praised the organization for its research,” though it’s unclear if she read any of the research or looked beyond a press release. If she had, she would have found layers upon layers of conflict of interest and even direct opposition to her husband’s policies.

Companies participating in the CVWF study were Bright Horizons, Marriott, PNC, Procter & Gamble and another company that remained anonymous. Bright Horizons and Marriott sit on the CVWF board of trustees. They and PNC are corporate partners, and Marriott is also a funding partner with CVWF.

Obama also said that “some 22 million working women don’t have one paid sick day.”

Many of the CVWF members would keep it that way through lobbying efforts on their behalf by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with which they are affiliated through local chambers. The Chamber opposes any efforts to expand Family and Medical Leave Act leave or mandate paid sick leave. It opposed a bill that would give employees seven paid sick days a year. It opposed SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and the Employee Free Choice Act.

Posted by Becky @ 6:25 pm | 2 Comments  

Books: Hold on to Your Kids

December 22, 2008 | Books,Family,Parenting

I recently read Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Maté, M.D.

I picked it up because Izzy mentioned it. She said Christina recommended it to her.

Good book.

Posted by Becky @ 8:57 pm | 1 Comment  

Books: Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated by Carolyn B. Maloney

August 7, 2008 | Advertising,Books,Breast cancer,Colbert Report,Colin Powell,Economics,Ethics,Family,Health,Media,Movies,MSM,Music,Parenting,Pink,Politics,PR,Race,Research,SLBTM,Statistics,Television,U.S. government,Verizon,Work,Working Mother

I just finished reading Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting any Easier and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y. I received a review copy from the publisher, Modern Times, an imprint of Rodale, Inc.

As I was getting ready to write something about the book, I ran across Maloney’s July 29, 2008, appearance on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. At first, I thought I would just include it with other links, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a District – New York’s 14th – Carolyn Maloney
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

Is it really funny that women get fired for lactating?

Here’s a quote from Maloney’s book.

I also heard numerous stories about difficulties in the workplace, including one woman whose male colleagues mooed outside the door as she expressed milk to take home and another woman being banished to do so in her car across the street from her office.

I didn’t laugh once while reading her book, but maybe I missed something. Exactly which issue that she wrote about was funny? Rape? Domestic violence? Burkas? Breast cancer? Or maybe prostitution? That link goes to a 2007 feature in Prism magazine, which Maloney reprinted on page 246 of her book and said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.

Depictions of prostitution in the media and popular culture (including the movie Pretty Woman) can be grossly misleading, even glamorous. In fact, street prostitutes are typically trafficked, exploited, battered, and often force-fed drugs by slavemaster pimps. This series of mugshots of street prostitutes, which documents their first arrest to their eighth, illustrates the reality of life on the street, which more closely resembles a descent into hell than a Hollywood movie.

Is that funny? If not, I’m confused about why one of the first places she went to discuss her book was Comedy Central.

The blurbs on the back of her book are written by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Pat Schroeder, Ellie Smeal and Arianna Huffington. (Geraldine Ferraro was also included in the online “praise” section for the book.) Were they slapping their knees and giggling at the sight of Colbert using a breast pump while Maloney smiled and kept her cool? If not, does that mean they just can’t take a joke?

I’ve written about the blurred lines between celebrity and politics. It’s as if something has shifted. Instead of looking back as former government officials (elected or not), they now have to prove they don’t take themselves too seriously while they’re in office, no matter how “serious” the positions they hold. They have to prove that they get the joke. Hey, they’re even in on the joke because so many things that happen in Washington are, well, a joke. Is that it?

Maybe I just don’t get the whole Inside the Beltway atmosphere. Is it really just a non-stop college kegger where everyone has to hit the beer bong and slam shots until they puke their guts out to prove they can keep up?


Maloney’s book is a fairly comprehensive list of women’s issues — what’s been done, what’s been undone and what still needs to be done. For those who regularly keep up on these issues, not much of the information is new, but it’s interesting to read about the issues from Maloney’s perspective as a policymaker.

She put a “take-action guide” at the end of each chapter, providing contact information for some of the groups and organizations working on specific issues. Her goal is to convince readers to do something, anything: “I hope to persuade you that any action in support of your beliefs matters, whether it is large or small, brief or time-consuming, successful or unsuccessful.”

She included women’s personal stories as well as her own story and a wealth of information from other sources.

She draws upon the work of Martha Burk (Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It), Ann Crittenden (The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued), Jody Heymann (The Work, Family, and Equity Index: Where Does the United States Stand Globally?), MomsRising (The Motherhood Manifesto: What America’s Moms Want – and What To Do About It), Evelyn Murphy and E.J. Graff (Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men–And What to Do About It), Joan Williams (Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It), Marie Wilson (Closing the Leadership Gap: Add Women, Change Everything), among many others.

She also included some of her own research and highlighted inconsistencies between cultural myth and everyday reality.

Maloney mentioned Morgan Stanley, which settled a class-action sex-discrimination case for $54 million and then another one for $46 million, yet it consistently appears on Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers list, a topic I have written about many times.

You might think that Morgan Stanley would work especially hard to eradicate sex discrimination after so costly [$54 million] an episode. But the firm settled another class action sex discrimination suit in 2007 for $46 million — bringing its overall sex discrimination price tag to an even $100 million. That sounds like a lot, but it only amounts to a few good days of trading.

Despite these incidents, Morgan Stanley has been cited numerous times by Working Mother magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers. That makes me wonder how bad things are at other companies.

While she pointed out the inconsistency of the companies that appear in Working Mother with their employment track record, she listed in the take-action guide the National Association for Female Executives, which might be a perfectly fine organization. But it falls under the umbrella of Working Mother Media, which publishes Working Mother magazine, whose 100 Best list is — well, let’s just say I’m highly skeptical of the whole thing.

She also gave this example.

If you drive your Mitsubishi to the airport after filling its tank at Sunoco, board a Boeing-built plane for a United Airlines flight, use your Verizon cell phone service to call your spouse before you take off, and then bite into a Krispy Kreme doughnut, you’ve just enriched six household-name companies that have settled or lost sex discrimination cases and lawsuits in recent years.

Right. At least one of those companies — Verizon — makes Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers list year after year.

In the take-action guide at the end of the “Health Care That’s Always There” chapter, she recommended (among others) Dove’s Campain for Real Beauty as a way to “start health education early by teaching our young and teenaged girls about issues that affect them.” If you scratch the surface of Dove, you’ll find a wee bit of image manipulation of its own.

Unilever is the maker of Dove products (and major “research” funder), which are the basis for the Campaign for Real Beauty and its self-esteem education for young girls. Unilever also makes and markets Axe products, which exist in a parallel universe where the V.I.X.E.N.S. (Very Interactive Xtremely Entertaining Naughty Supermodels) and Bom Chicka Wah Wahs don’t have “real beauty” or self-esteem issues.

In “The Pretty Woman Myth” chapter, Maloney wrote about misleading portrayals of prostitution in popular culture and mentioned that the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2006 went to ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,'” whose lyrics include:

Wait I got a snow bunny, and a black girl too
You pay the right price and they’ll both do you
That’s the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin
Gotta have my hustle tight, makin change off these women, yeah

I remember when that happened, thinking, what?!? There was George Clooney, smugly patting himself on the back for Hollywood being “out of touch” for “giving Hattie McDaniel an Oscar when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.” That was in 1939. Just how long was it, dear George, until the next black person was so honored? That would be 1948, then 1964, then 1982, then 2002. And just how far has Hollywood come, George, by glorifying “the black man” … as a pimp, not to mention portraying women of all colors as simply a venue for making money? Hollywood’s out of touch, George. Ya think?

Which brings me back around to the Comedy Central appearance.

If it’s a matter of reaching a younger audience? C’mon, they deserve more credit than that. It’s not only “the kids” watching Comedy Central, and “the younger audience” is watching much more than just Comedy Central. And there are tons of young, vibrant, intelligent voices on the Internet. Dust off the mouse and start clicking.

Besides, there’s not a damn thing that’s funny about this book. Just like the issues Maloney discusses in the book — the media and popular-culture myths that harm the efforts to improve the lives of real people — Maloney’s Comedy Central appearance did nothing but belittle and mock some very serious societal issues. The people behind the stories about sex discrimination, prostitution and unacceptably high infant-mortality rates (to name just a few) deserve much more than to become the butt of a comedian’s joke.

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What Working Mother magazine won’t tell you, part 1
Will you let Working Mother magazine speak for you?
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Posted by Becky @ 4:10 pm | 18 Comments  

Gentlemanly Conduct

January 2, 2008 | Daddy bloggers,Ethics,Family,Guest blogger,Guest post,Opinion,Parenting,Politics,Quotes

(Guest Post by Todd, The Bullshit Observer. How I know Becky: I’m just another blog-mirer.) New Years day, My 5 year old and I took a break from watching college football to play wiffle baseball in the back yard. At one point he had a little tantrum and threw his bat. As is my fatherly duty, I scolded him. “OK, not cool. You don’t throw your bat when you’re upset, Nick,” He picked up the bat and hit a few. Then he threw his bat again and I immediately barked, “Nick, that is unsportsman-like conduct,” somehow expecting him to know what that means.  “What does that mean?” he asked.  “It means that it’s….not cool….and….not how you are supposed to behave when you play baseball,” I said, somewhat feebly. “It’s not respectful of the game or your fellow players,” I added.  Then I thought, “Well, what the hell does that mean?”  Then I started thinking. Where has the idea of sportsmanlike conduct gone anyway? I just watched at least a half-dozen college football players get busted for late hits, pushing opponents, and celebrating in their opponent’s face. That kind of behavior seemed normal. Even routine. Then it occurred to me that the ideal of gentlemanly conduct (which “Sportmenship” is based upon and which can be defined as acting with an acute sense of respect and propriety), is one that is in dire need of a revival.When I pledged a fraternity in college, the active members made us “poopies” (pledges) memorize a poem by John Walter Waylen entitled, “The True Gentelman.” It goes like this: 

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.     

The idea of this passage was clearly too good for the fellows that made me memorize it in the back of a station-wagon at 80 miles per hour with a hood over my head and then recite it while a match burned down to the tips of my fingers. Oh precious irony. Oh precious Neosporin.  As we hop back into our lives this January 2nd, let us take a moment to absorb this ideal. Ladies too, for this is surely a gender generic idea with a gender specific name. Unlikely though it may seem, especially during an election cycle, it is possible for this true gentleman/gentlewoman ideal to make a comeback. Let us resolve ourselves to expect nothing less that this. Because if we start expecting dirty, underhanded behavior from those around us, above us or in the spotlight, then we will have accepted it and we will have succumbed to it and then the new ideal will more closely resemble Machiavelli’s The Prince. In a sense, that’s really what this blog, Deep Muck Big Rake, is all about. Isn’t it?

Posted by Todd @ 2:43 pm | 3 Comments  

Paternity Leave Heaven

December 22, 2007 | Benefits,Family,Guest blogger,Guest post,Parenting

Hi there, I’m AdventureDad and you might know me from my site or The Blogfathers.  Becky has graciously asked me to do a guest post and during her Norwegian adventure.  Poor Becky, she’s over in Norway freezing her butt off  and seeing absolutely no sunshine for  a few weeks while people like me ruin her blog. I’m actually not  far away from Becky since I live in Sweden, Norway’s neighbor, since a few years back.

The Scandinavian countries are known for many things but since I’ve travelled around the world quite a bit, and lived in U.S. for 15 years,  I think priority on families and children really stand out.  Something I’m very grateful for since I have two young children. The greatest example in Sweden is the  very generous maternity/paternity leave that all parents have a right to.  I’m just going back to work after six months of paid paternity leave which some people find completely normal while others can hardly believe it.

Reactions to a father staying home for six months with his children vary but can generally be divided into three  groups.  The Swedes think it’s great and simply ask how long I’m staying home.  The Americans are shocked and impressed, especially that fathers have the same possibilities, at our long paid leave and ask lots of good questions.  And finally the South Americans, especially fathers, who are too shocked or uninterested to ask anything at all.  The Latin fathers simply can’t believe why any father would voluntarily stay at home with his children, a job clearly meant for women only.

If you’re a father and wonder if it’s a nice vacation to stay home with two kids I can quickly tell you it’s not.  I have the most stressful Wall Street job imaginable but being at home with my children is twice as tough. It’s a real challenge.

How come so few countries  pay parents so they can give their infants, and of course also the family, a good start in life?  I don’t know but having seen the difference I’m convinced parental leave is one of the best investments ever for a society.  I’m sure problems later in life, like disease, crime, finances, and family stuff, become far less of an issue since parents get a relaxed start and have time to build a very close relationship with their kids (and spouse).  Not having to worry about finances, health care, or work does make an incredibly difference.  While many say Sweden offers so many family benefits because of our social democratic system I’m sure it’s actually a clever plan which in the long run drastically decreases the expenses for the government.   It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

For every child the Swedes are allowed to stay home 480 working days. Mother and father can split the time any way they want. The compensation is roughly 90% of your salary up to a cap which is equal to an average salary.  Some companies, like my employer, even make up the difference for higher salaries so the compensation will be 90% regardless if one is making $25k or $300k a year.

While it would be easy to rip other countries, like the U.S., for  virtually nonexistent benefits I think a better idea would be for those  countries to learn from other systems which work well.  For many who have experienced the different approaches to parenthood it’s obvious that the extra expense paid early on yields an amazing payback down the line.  The question is, how do we change the system to make it easier to combine children, family, and work?

For me personally, paternity leave has been fantastic and I really wish more fathers had this possibility.  It’s great for the children and stepping into the “traditional motherhood role”  is more educational than you can imagine. I stayed home 5 months with our now 4-year old son and 6 months with our now 16-month old daughter.  I can clearly notice my relationship being very different from fathers who have not spend 24/7 with their kids for an extended amount of time.  Although that is very nice now when my kids are young I expect to see the greatest benefits in 10-15 years.  Those teenage years are apparently not always easy but a great bond with my kids will hopefully help.

Posted by AdventureDad @ 12:07 pm | 1 Comment  

Mother dies after having triplets

December 14, 2007 | Family,Parenting,Triplets


A 40-year-old woman, Debra Smith, died two days after giving birth to triplets in Tucson, Ariz. The story about her husband, Andrue, first ran on KVOA News 4 with its story and video. CNN picked up the video. Now the Tucson Citizen has an article.

Posted by Becky @ 12:00 pm | 2 Comments  

Are you free for lunch Nov. 15?

November 5, 2007 | Audience participation,Blogland games,Books,Ethics,Family,Parenting,PR,Work,Working Mother



Here’s what you do.

  • 1) Register for the teleconference. (It’s free.)
  • 2) Leave a comment or e-mail me so I can add you to the list.
  • 3) Call on Nov. 15.
  • 4) Blog your reaction, and send me the link. (If you don’t have a blog, you can guest post here.)
  • 5) Win the book! (I’ll draw a name at random.)

Join us, won’t you?

Corporate Voices for Working Families says it focuses on “Five Pillars of Work,” 1) Afterschool Care and Early Childhood Education, 2) Youth Transitions, 3) Mature Workforce, 4) Flexibility and 5) Lower Wage Work.

Members of Corporate Voices are companies affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce through their local chambers. The Chamber, which ranks first in lobbying spending ($72.7 million in 2006), holds this position on labor and workforce:

Oppose expanding workplace laws and craft alternatives when necessary. Aggressively oppose union-backed proposals to increase the minimum wage and abolish secret ballot elections in favor of card check majorities for union recognition. Oppose any efforts to expand Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave or mandate paid sick leave. Block attempts to increase penalties for criminal violations of OSHA. Continue to expose unreasonable union organization tactics such as salting and corporate campaigns. Protect the use of binding arbitration in employment. Aggressively advocate for pro-employer provisions in priority international labor and employment policy proposals. Continue to push for a reasonable application of the revised Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines.

The U.S. Chamber believes NCLB is one of the critical tools needed to transform U.S. education so that all students graduate academically prepared for college, citizenship, and the 21st century workplace.

  • The Chamber supported the presidential veto of SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program).
  • The Chamber opposes a bill that would give employees seven paid sick days each year. More here.

What will they say about you? Tune in and find out.

Posted by Becky @ 7:16 pm | 14 Comments  

SLBTM: Unilever/Dove’s ‘real beauty’***

October 14, 2007 | Advertising,Ethics,Parenting,PR,SLBTM


You’ve probably seen this advertisement, brought to you by good global citizen Unilever, maker of Dove products and mastermind behind the Campaign for Real Beauty, which launched in September 2004. Not only did ads show not-size-2 models to inspire positive self-image in women, they were supposed to “support a wider definition of beauty.” The campaign started a program with the Girl Scouts of the USA to “foster self-esteem among girls ages 8 to 17.” And, oh yeah, the ads were supposed to sell skin-firming cream. Hence, the slogan, “Stand Firm and Celebrate Your Curves.” Stand firm. Get it?

Then came the viral video Evolution that Unilever placed on YouTube. Then there was Pro-age. Now we have Onslaught, which warns, “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.” Yeah. Or before Unilever does. Watch Onslaught carefully. It will look familiar in a minute.

Unilever has your cake and eats it too

Apparently for boys ages 8 to 17 (and beyond), however, Unilever uses the “Axe Effect” — complete with V.I.X.E.N.S. (Very Interactive Xtremely Entertaining Naughty Supermodels). After watching the introduction by the naughty maid, who spanked herself with a spatula for being bad (oh, and I can make her spank herself again … and again … and again …), I tried to download the interactive video game, which comes with voice recognition so you can “command” the V.I.X.E.N.S. to do what you want. Either they can tell I’m not a 12-year-old boy or every 12-year-old boy in the world is trying to download it at the same time.

I moan

I did get to the point of getting the application on my computer, when “Naomi” and friends chatted with me for a bit.

“Hi, I’m Naomi. And you know what that spells backwards.” (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

But to make up for not getting the video game, I was able to enjoy the Bom Chicka Wah Wahs, who don’t need no stinkin’ self-affirming firming cream because they’re already a size 2. They don’t need no stinkin’ Campaign for Real Beauty because they’ve already perfected the “O” face while pole dancing, shaking the tassels on their lingerie and crawling like cats. Meow.


Hat tip: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

***SLBTM = Smells Like Bullshit To Me

Updated to add: Bob Garfield wrote a review in the Oct. 8, 2007, Advertising Age, “‘Onslaught’ is a triumph — if you don’t count the hypocrisy.” That’s the headline in the magazine. Online it’s “Dove’s New ‘Onslaught’ Ad a Triumph.” He sings the praises of the ad, saying that it “should get an Oscar,” and “Standing ovation here.”

A worthy cause, a brilliant strategy, a flawless video. It all amounts to something very close to perfection. So, yes, absolutely, four stars.

Just when I started squirming, he dropped this bomb.

Damn, if it just weren’t for the nagging hypocrisy of it all.

He went on to explain that Dove is a brand from Unilever, which also manufactures and markets the Axe/Lynx brand and Slim-Fast. As for the public-relations firm that produced the video, Ogilvy & Mather, “in a bit of horrifying/delicious irony,” he said, is the U.S. agency for the Barbie doll (Mattel).

(Originally posted Oct. 11, 2007)

Posted by Becky @ 3:00 pm | 3 Comments  

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