Stop Rehashing Debate over Mothers in the Workplace

The Pew Research Center released a comprehensive project on American working women and found that 40 percent of these women are now the breadwinners of their families.

Given that most Americans are comfortable with mothers in the workforce, you might have thought this report could spark a thoughtful discussion on the needs of families.

Um, no.

Most of Americans learned about the new Pew survey on working mothers thanks to Fox Business News. It was awful.

Instead, many Americans learned about the “40 percent” thanks to a quartet of conservative male pundits at Fox Business News who spent several minutes screaming over the notion of working mothers and the subsequent evils befalling America. It was awful.

So awful, it was hilarious.

Thus the video went viral, thanks to Red State’s Erick Erickson, who declared that defenders of working moms are an insult to science:

I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend [working moms] and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology, when you look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.

Things got more viral when Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (pictured above between Lou Dobbs, left, and Erickson) got so heated in attacking the commentators, particularly Erickson, she wound up praising President Obama and his mom.

And after getting smacked on her show, what did Erickson do? He declared that Jesus was on his way back to earth and he would tell all the scientists and women he was right!

As fun as all this is, no one is discussing the actual details of the report. Instead, we are getting a lot of useless re-litigating over the desirability of moms going to work.

We aren’t discussing how the 23 percent of married women in the workforce who make more than their husbands are worried over the availability of daycare or after-school programs—or even if they are getting paid the same as men.

Nor are we discussing the fact that 41 percent of unmarried women lack a high school diploma and are raising children on an average income of $17,400.

Instead, we’re parsing the 40 percent factoid. For the moment, let’s forget about that.

We are not discussing the actual troubling details of the report.

Women constitute the majority of our population and a majority of voters (despite being denied the right to vote for the first 140 years of the Republic) and are far more likely than men to support (with dollars and sweat) civic and charitable organizations. Yet women hold just over 18 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress and just under 25 percent of the offices in state legislatures.

Why is this?

I’m not a cynic by nature but academic research and life experience suggest that for most lawmakers, women’s issues rate no more than those of special-interest groups. As a result, women’s issues are resolved by the the throw-’em-a-bone style of policymaking.

I came to that conclusion nearly 30 years ago when I worked on Capitol Hill during the genesis of the Violence Against Women Act, which had been stalled for a couple of years until panicky Republicans, worried about their poll standings after their savage treatment of attorney Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings, finally let the bill come up.

Given that women are the overwhelming victims of sexual assault, and given that some estimate more than 90 percent of assaults go unreported or unsolved, you’d have thought this little bill to protect women would have been a no brainer. Yet Republican leaders recently tried to kill its reauthorization, then called for $20 million in cuts to this “wasteful” program, while at the same time declaring that the $18 billion we’re spending to enforce irrational immigration laws is insufficient and must be increased.

So while I’d love to talk about what’s in the report and not the “40 percent of breadwinners” that made all the headlines, I’m not holding my breath.


Peter Lindstrom is a political consultant and researcher. He lives in Washington, D.C.


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