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The Myth of Work-Life Balance



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“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch once said. “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Sounds shocking to the naked ear, doesn’t it? That’s because it flies in the face of everything American women have been taught to believe. The concept of balance is the Holy Grail of modern motherhood. 

Don’t misunderstand. I appreciate the concept of balance, and I suspect my life looks very much like a stereotypical modern woman’s: I have a little bit of this — part-time, home-based self-employment — and a little bit of that: two school-aged children. But my life is not representative of the kind of balance we hear so much about in the media. Flip through any woman’s magazine, or tune in to any popular talk show, and you’ll quickly learn that balance means one thing only: pursuing full-time work with baby and toddler in tow. 

This concept was put to the test two weeks ago when Judge Loretta A. Preska presided over a class-action lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Bloomberg LP. The plaintiffs argued that Bloomberg discriminates against mothers who take pregnancy leave; but Preska ruled that Bloomberg, in fact, did not illegally discriminate against women. “The law does not mandate ‘work-life balance,’” she said, “however unhealthy that may be for family life.” 

You can guess the feminist response: “I don’t know if it’s too harsh to call the judge ignorant,” said Sonia Ossorio, executive director of the New York chapter of the National Organization of Women, “but she certainly has a fundamental misunderstanding of how discrimination plays out for working mothers. She hardly hides her contempt for women with kids who have ambition and want top-paying jobs.” 

For years feminists have insisted that the answer to The Problem — the ongoing conflict between young children and demanding careers — is for husbands and employers to take the blame. Raising babies while being effective employees is perfectly doable, they say, if husbands share half the housework and child care (or do what’s called a “double shift,” or “second shift,” like working mothers supposedly do) and if employers rearrange the way they do business in order to accommodate this new system in which employees are only semi-invested in their jobs. Voila! The Problem is solved!

No it’s not.

What we never talk about is where this feminist utopia leaves employers. Employers can not — they must not — be responsible for helping parents manage their family lives. If employers can afford to offer part-time employment, fine. If they can afford to allow their employees to take off an endless string of days and still make money in the meantime, more power to ’em. But come on: such businesses are few and far between. Employers are in business to make money. They may be sympathetic to the The Problem, but they cannot solve it. 

What the last two class-action discrimination suits — the most recent one against Bloomberg LP and the earlier one against Wal-Mart — have proven is that feminists have created a mess in the marketplace. It’s a silent disaster that millions of employers and employees deal with every day.

— Suzanne Venker is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of The Flipside of Feminism



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