Is the media selling you “Mommy Wars”?


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So you’re contemplating whether to head back into the workplace, having taken your allotted maternity leave. This is an age-old question with an infinite number of push-pull factors. And despite women now constituting a significant part of the global labor force, and despite the changes in perceptions and attitudes towards women, hardly any mother can avoid feeling conflicted, in terms of their domestic and professional roles.

Recently, the question of whether women can manage both parenting and the demands of corporate culture has resurfaced into the spotlight, what with the announcement of certain tech companiesthat they would offer company insurance coverage to women seeking to freeze their eggs. Perhaps it’s a way for companies like Facebook and Apple to signal to women that they understand the struggles that they must confront, in such situations. Or perhaps it’s part of the whole narrative of the ‘Mommy Wars’, a concept that Caryl Rivers discusses in her book Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women.

Indeed, Rivers’ fundamental point that the media coverage on working mothers has detrimental consequences on such women, engendering anxiety and self-doubt, seems to be a valid one, or at least worth thinking about. It is part of a broader debate on media bias, the existing patriarchal framework of society, and general news coverage of social issues. There are undeniably instances of media coverage which could cause one to believe that day care ruins one’s childhood or that men are not attracted to intelligent, career-driven women. Much of this ‘media buzz’ is based on questionable scientific findings. According to Rivers, there is an assumption within the media that working mothers who leave the workforce to become housewives are invariably upper middle-class and that their decisions are triggered by some gender-oriented reasoning, rather than by similar economic forces which have also reduced men’s labor force rates.

If you’re looking for an insightful read, this book most definitely highlights how bad data can be utilized to become captivating news stories among journalists. In a competitive, headline-desperate market, journalists can quickly allow anecdotes to be considered trends, correlation to become causation, and unrepresentative samples to seem convincing. Those who suffer are the women who benefit little from this profit-driven news media landscape.

Whether or not you believe that the news media is selling you guilt and fear, it is vital to ensure that your decision to resume work, or to seek more flexible working-arrangements, or to assume full-time care of your children and other family members is completely your own decision. Assess the needs of your family and your children, and don’t let your friends’ judgment or opinions affect your ownership of this decision. Both society and employers are grappling with the problems of redefining motherhood within our dynamic, fast-paced, sometimes cut-throat society; however, nothing is a foregone conclusion. And it’s up to you to influence your child’s cognitive development and to make things work for you. So the last thing you need is to factor in media perceptions of working mothers when you are considering your next step in your professional and personal life.

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