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"Having it All?" The Wrong Question for Most Women

The media seem intent on pitting women against each other in a "Having it All" debate about work inside and outside the home.

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When researchers find that nearly one in four workers has been fired or threatened with firing for taking time to care for themselves or a sick family member, newspapers should be covering this as an urgent economic problem facing our country. And when 95 percent of school nurses who participated in an online poll by the National Association of School Nurses in 2009 say a parent has told them they couldn’t pick up a sick child for fear of losing a job, there should be an outcry from political commentators on the right, left and center about the way our economy fails to uphold American family values.

Anne-Marie Slaughter writes that it’s time to “revalue family values.” I agree. It’s high time to bring workplaces into the twenty-first century, where more than 60 percent of mothers in our country are the primary bread-winners or co-breadwinners for their families.

That requires new workforce standards so that all women and men can be good family members without being punished for it at work.

I don’t think we have to wait for “a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart,” as Slaughter suggested. Our economy needs these changes now—to keep people employed, to strengthen the economy and businesses and families.

Fortunately, women at Walmart and other retail jobs are organizing to win the changes they need, as are nannies and home care workers and domestic workers,restaurant workers and teachers and others.

The more feminist bloggers and mainstream media highlight these campaigns, the more likely we are to win. That should matter to all of us, because raising the floor and supporting a greater voice for the majority of women is what will most help change the culture for everyone.

Ellen Bravo is an activist and author. She serves as executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of 15 state coalitions working for paid sick days and paid family leave ( The former director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, her most recent book is Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the Nation. She is a WMC Progressive Women’s Voices alumna.