Sunday, January 30, 2005

Pink, Reprise

My best friend Laura is among the characters in the book. She's an eccentric soul, and among the sweetest, smartest and most generous people I know. In the book, she's at her day job, a feminist theorist/professor who helps us think about what "choice" really means.

Laura's other brilliance, her afternoon job, if you will, is that she's an extraordinarily talented second hand shopper. My closets are full of her finds. If you read down below to "Pink," she's the friend who sends me a pink cashmere sweater, hounded from Bargain Thrift, to help me sort through the gender ambivalence of pink. Laura's also a one-woman PR machine. She's been guiding her friends to my blog. One of them emailed her and said she particularly liked the "Pink" entry. Hearing that, Laura shifted into gear, figured the last pink cashmere was five years back. She showed up at my house tonight with a second cozy pink cashmere, of course, from our favorite junk store. It was especially poignant since Laura's leaving town for four months, and I'll miss her. L--this entry's for you!

More tomorrow on:
my first (pre)-book appearance;
and the weekend's media on motherhood, including, how can one NYT reporter willfully get mom blogs so wrong;

Finally, kudo's to Lisa Belkin's NYTimes column on how parents want day-to-day flexibility and we also want career path flexibility, and an end to the rigid professional paths that don't excuse time off for childraising.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The book is up on Amazon!

Exciting book news:

The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars is available for preorders on and on In real life, the book will be out in April, once these snows are behind us and the daffodils are in bloom!

Things Need to Change More Quickly than This....

A big thank you to Martin Kafka, who read through the whole blog, and took the time to email and update me on whether conditions for parents at the university I had worked at have changed in the six years since I quit in disgust.

And the answer is: NO!

There is a committee of the faculty senate that has suggested some changes, like undertaking a study to see what other universities provide for family leave, clarifying the options available, consider more creative uses of "leave time" etc, things that sound very abstract, especially since most universities and colleges have been hesitant to offer specific helpful aids to parents. Here, I must say that although academics are always sounding the alarm about how corporate universities are becoming, this is one instance where some lessons from the corporate world would be more helpful. Some large companies are lifetimes ahead of universities in paying attention to family leave and family responsibilities.

There are some more specific things that the report suggested, like providing emergency back up childcare. I heard an NPR report recently in which a representative from Lands End was talking about the back up childcare center they built, in which workers can use, perhaps 21 days a year, or some number decently close to that. They also suggest that the university should expand it's commitment to oncampus childcare.

(To link to the report, click this entry's title.)

So, in short, nothing has changed. Six years. Thanks Martin, for the bad news!

Friday, January 21, 2005


Yesterday one of my students dropped by for some help on an exam. He and his partner just had a baby. He's an exhausted new father.

He tells me he's appalled at the pink clothes everyone is sending for his infant daughter. "What about me makes them think that I want my daughter clothed in pink?" he asks.

I admit, I've come to terms with pink. I grew up, like many, knowing that pink is evil. Pink is the antichrist of gender equality. All of our problems derive from, or are encoded

So, yes. I too, at the beginning, was appalled by the ubiquity of pink, at baby shops divided by a sea of blue and pink, by the difficult search for, oh, green, yellow, anything not pastel. I was horrified by the frills. Someone sent us a satiny pink dress, even, with a peter pan collar that ended in lace, and matching satin baby slippers. We opened the package, and wondered what they were thinking.

I slowly got over it. I realized pink is not the enemy. Pink is cute. And on my daughter's darker coloring, certain pinks look great. My best friend Laura even sent me a pink cashmere sweater she found at a second hand shop in Germantown. She told me to put it on, that I had to get over pink. The problems are out there, but don't blame pink.

I've tried to come to terms with pink, aesthetically, anyway. I have to admit, the culture of pink still scares me. I worry about our girls, about the messages they receive. I worry that not enough has changed, that their futures will be limited. I'm not doctrinaire, actually, and I have come to love what pink does. I love not having to shun such a delightful color, to wear it happily. Bu still, I worry, and I don't know whether I worry about this one too much, or too little.

When my daughter was in pre-K, for Halloween all the girls dressed in versions of pink. Ballerinas. Fairy Princesses. Ruling Princesses. Fairies. Butterflies. I have several years of preschool pictures and parties in which 8 girl toddlers are all wearing pink.

How does this happen. These kids all have progressive parents who hate pink, who know about the pink problem.

Is it the return of the pink repressed? The 70's ban on fairy princess costumes, coming back to haunt? What is that propels groups of girls to run in pink?

I could end this by damning pink. Except I can't.

Halloween 2003. Kindergarten. The girls are still wearing pink, or at least, versions of princessdom. My daughter is Belle, clothed in billowing yellow. As I watch the kids in their parade, I start up a conversation with the mom and dad of a fifth grader. I make a joke about all the pink. It's a progressive school. Everyone knows the code of pink. But exactly what is that? Am I 20 years out of date? If I bum too much about pink and other symbols, I might lose sight of the real problems, like is my daughter being taught Math well enough, and why do the boys in her class play chess in the morning while the girls color? The recent cultural debates about females, innate sex differences and math talents (see below) haunt me as I watch my daughter learn math.

"Don't worry about it," the mom said. "Look."

I look. The PreK had passed. The kindergarten and first grade had passed. In front of our eyes were the second graders, and the third, and then, the fourth.

The other mom was absolutely right. The color had changed. Dramatically. No more pink. All of a sudden, it's black. After second grade, the girls, nearly all of them were wearing black. The lower school kids all march with their partners from the middle school. The middle school kids are too cool for costumes, and they wear their usual shades of dark. The palette moves quickly from perky princess pink to deep black. In my daughter's class, the girls are now versions of vampires, vantessas, black cats and witches. As with the pink phase, all the types overlap. Don't ask me to point out the vantessas (a new word to me) from the witches, that's a whole other comment on the culture of six-and-seven year old best friend girls.

I'm still concerned about the gender culture our girls are growing up into. I'm focused on how well they are being taught, and on how to help my daughter sort out the different messages on Princess Diaries 2. But after seeing how quickly it's overtaken by neo-goth black, I'm no longer scared by little girl pink.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It's Not about Biology

We moms and women have been getting it from all directions lately, and the hit we're taking is biology. Suddenly, all over the media, it's the return of biology as the arbiter of women's and mothers' destinies.

Last Thursday it was Maureen Dowd's column Men Just Want Mommy that inexplicitly let stand a statement that powerful men marry less powerful women because of an evolutionary demand. Instead of dealing with complex issues, biology comes to the rescue. She shoud come visit my neighborhood, where every married woman I knew is married to a similarly smart man. Also, women live with each other. Men live with each other. That seems more evolutionary to me, in the best sense.

Score: D on explanation, D on sociology.

Then Saturday it was David Brooks' column, Empty Nests, and Hearts. Women should marry and have babies in their twenties when our bodies are most up for it, and think about our careers later. Now, the government can help by offering tax credits and tuition credits for mothers who have done this, and now are ready to go to graduate school and start a profession. Excellent marks for making the link beween motherhood and public policy. This doesn't happen often enough. However, poor grade on telling us that we should have babies to help the nation.

Score: A on public policy link, D on sociology.

Then there's the Lawrence Sumners debate at Harvard. The reason that women haven't succeeded in careers in math, science and engineering is due to innate sex differences. Biology again. It's not about sexism, it's not about men in those fields keeping women out. It's biology. Gender bias has nothing to do with it. And then there's those 80 hour work weeks. I interviewed a woman for my book who quit her engineering job when they refused to let her pump, after her first baby. She wanted to work, they wouldn't accommodate, she was the only woman in the firm. So much for biology, sounds like old-fashioned sexism to me.

Score: D, all round.

Miriam's non-biological answer: It's as if folks are tired of dealing with all the real social issues involved, all the patterns, all the inequities. So they just resort to biology as a quick and dirty explanation of why we can't make life better for all of us.

Friday, January 14, 2005


Friends, I begin the new year with a promise to blog more often, much more often, and here goes.

One of the many things I do in the book is write about people and organizations who are trying to make life easier for mothers, fathers and families. This morning I had coffee with Dana Barron, who directs the Alice Paul Center for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Pennsylvania. Among the many hats she wears, Dana researches work-family issues for women of different classes: poor women, affluent women, middle-class women. She's concerned about how these issues work out across America's very diverse communities. Dana strongly believes that academic life should be linked with communal life, and has made connections between her research center and local organizations like the Third Path Institute. They're at

Third Path is pushing 'shared care' as one response to the struggles many of us face about work, family and time. For this group, shared care describes families in which parents are the primary caretakers of their kids, and they also are actively engaged in other work. It's about creating a life that doesn't have to be split between the either/or of work and family.

I visited their website for a while. I'll tell you what I liked. It has a vision. When you read the book you'll know that I'm big into visions about how we're getting out of the work-family mess. The usual, magazine-type banter on balancing work and family usually focuses on the family side of it all. We moms get household tips and are advised on how best to manage our time and direct our families so that we're as efficient as possible. Now, I love household tips, too, especially those promises to accomplish the impossible, like getting rid of the piles of paper that live on my kitchen counters.

But honing our households can never be enough. It can never fully solve the real problems, and we know that.

Third Path emphasizes that workplaces need to change, yes, but untill they do, we--families, moms, dads--can be as creative as possible. We can take what control we have to create what we can. Their vision is hopeful. They want to support families in figuring out our visions of family life. What do we want? Are we working enough? Working too much? Are there parts of work that might be more flexible? How do we get the support we need from family and friends?

What I found most reassuring was this: They believe we have agency, even in this most fraught and often overwhelming area of work-family life. So check them out.

And for any lawyers reading, their first annual conference was last May: Having a Life: Creating Work-Life Balance in the Law, May 2004. The conference site contains lots of stories about and strategies for dealing with family life and a legal career more creatively. Pass it on, because like many professions, law has been hard on lawyer-parents who want to parent more actively, moms especially.