Women on the home front: Debate over work-life balance continues

Jones_FRONT-1Here is an excerpt from an article written by Bernie D. Jones for From the Square, the official blog of NYU Press, an academic book publisher based one block south of Union Square, NYC. “With a focus on sharing the ideas and opinions of our authors, From the Square also features news, updates, and all things digital from the NYU Press community. We encourage you to join the conversation with us and our authors by commenting on our posts!”

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It has been fifty years since Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystiquein 1963—and twenty years since the Family Medical Leave Actwas signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. Thus, the month of February saw several notable events in the world of work-family balance: those two anniversaries, plus the announcement by Marissa Mayer, a mother and the CEO of Yahoo, Inc., of a new ban against employees working from home. This policy change only reinforced the significance of the two anniversaries.

The Feminine Mystique has been credited with spearheading the modern feminist movement that pushed more women to seek highly paid jobs and professional careers, where before they had been forced by traditional conventions to remain at home. Articulating “the problem that had no name,” Friedan explained that highly educated wives were consumed by the drudgery of housework while their skills remained unused.

Yet, the question remained, once women went into the workplace, either because of personal preference or because of economic necessity, how would they manage their responsibilities at home? The answer came twenty years later in the form of unpaid family medical leave that would become available to working parents, men and women who gained up to twelve months unpaid leave for the birth of a child.

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Bernie D. Jones is Associate Professor of Law at the Suffolk University Law School and editor of Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance (NYU Press, 2013).

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