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Working Mothers or Working Parents - Language is Powerful

By Yvette Vignando - 19th March 2013

A UK personality and businessperson - Hilary Devey - is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: 

“I can’t get any women on my board because women generally put their partner and children first." and "There are lots of myths about why women are under-represented in the boardroom, but the excuse about a 'glass ceiling' is the worst. I am living proof there’s no such thing.”

In my opinion, both of those latter statements are utter nonsense.

We talked about this briefly on Channel 9 show Mornings today and the question was put: “Are working women their own worst enemies?” The flaw in the “worst enemies” question and the flaw in Ms Devey’s remarks is that the questions and statements are applied only to women.

Are men who put their children and partners first their own worst enemies? In our culture, those men would be celebrated for their care, their love of their children and their determination to prioritise what is most important to them in their lives.

There is a glass ceiling and the statistics and experiences of women and men prove it. Our Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Liz Broderick, has made significant impacts on the experience of working women in Australia but also acknowledges there is a long road ahead. If you want to read the statistics and understand why it is important to have more women in leadership positions, take a look here at the Australian Human Rights Commission Women in Leadership article.

Today I read a persuasive piece by the Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, Kathleen McCartney. Here is the start of the piece and you can read the full version on the CNN website. I recommend it. Let’s stop using the term ‘working mothers’ unless we are only talking about an issue relevant to women, and start using the term ‘working parents’ – words are powerful and this piece tells you why:

In the summer of 1985, I lived a dual life.

In my scholarly work, I argued that traditional gender roles - the stay-at-home mother, the bread-winning father - were recent cultural constructs. Throughout human history, women engaged in productive labor alongside men. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that men began to work outside the home, tethering women to household responsibilities and child rearing.

My thesis was that attitudes toward motherhood changed as the care of children became the exclusive responsibility of mothers. Modern motherhood is a cultural invention, I argued, not biological destiny.

When I wasn’t writing academic papers, I was caring for my baby daughter, working hard to be her primary attachment figure. When she cried out in the night, I wanted her to call for Mommy, not Daddy. I recognized my desire was based on my gender, and I appreciated the irony of this. Nevertheless, I had internalized the values of my culture, and my own scholarship could not help me override this.

Read the full piece at CNN  

What do you think? Does language play a part in progress towards equality for working parents?

Also recommended reading: by a dad- his opinion on felxible work practices, putting kids first and more He Hasn't Had It All Either in the New York Times

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