Time Bound and Gagged
Story number one begins with Gwen, a mother in the town of Spotted Deer. She is anxiously dropping off her 4-year-old daughter, Cassie, at day care at 7:40 a.m. "Pleeese, can't you take me with you?" Cassie begs her mom. Gwen says no, hurrying guiltily out the door to her nine-hour-a-day job at a nearby company called Amerco. At the beginning of story number two, we meet 29-year-old Kristin Garris, mother of a 10-week-old daughter and a marketer for a Detroit auto manufacturer. She, too, is dropping her child off at day care and recalling the torrent of tears she cried the first time that she left her daughter there. "I know she gets attention when she's [at day care]," says the mom, before catching herself. "Or maybe that's just me rationalizing." Our third and final story opens with a "New York lawyer" and mother of a 6-year-old. She is in line with her son at the grocery store, watching him skid down the aisles. The babysitter usually takes the kids to the grocery store. Seeing her child act this way, however, persuades the mother to give up her full-time city job, move to the suburbs and work part-time. These three stories, all published within a month of each other in, respectively, The New York Times Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek, focus on The Time Bind , a new book about working parents by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. Like Hochschild's book, the three articles-the first an article by Hochschild, the other two news "trend" stories-discuss the difficulties of finding enough family time when two parents work outside the home. Unlike Hochschild's book, though, all three of these articles begin with the clichd story of a traumatized mother trapped between her work and her family. Hochschild's book, on the other hand, starts with a father dropping his child off at day care. And that's just one small example of the distortions to which The Time Bind has been subjected in its high-profile appearances. In a classic case of what journalist Susan Faludi calls the "backlash" mentality, an extra dose of mother-and-parent-blaming has been stirred in, and Hochschild's feminist analysis has been conveniently left out.For the record: Hochschild spent three summers interviewing 130 workers at an unknown Fortune 500 company she refers to as Amerco. She wanted to find out how well the company's family-friendly policies were working, and how they impacted on parents' lives. Hochschild found, to her surprise, that many parents never applied for parental leave or flex-time or part-time work. Instead, they spent more time at work than they claimed to want to- and less time with their families. Why? The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, and U.S. News would have their readers believe that selfish parents have decided to spend more time at work, where they are well-rewarded, than at home, where kids and chaos reign. Either they are deceiving themselves into thinking that their kids are fine (U.S. News), or they are overly ambitious yuppies (The New York Times Magazine), or they've been duped by experts who told them that "quality time" was as good as a stay-at-home mom (Newsweek). Hochschild does catchily claim that work and home have traded places for some parents, with work a haven from stress and home full of it. But she also makes several other claims-including pointing out the hypocrisy of "family-friendly" companies and the often understated sexism of the men charged with making companies "family-friendly"-that didn't make the pages of any newsmagazine: Women, says Hochschild, have discovered what men have known for a long time: that the rewards of paid work can outweigh those of unpaid work, and that spending time with intelligent adults can be more stimulating than spending time with 3-year-olds. But at the same time that women are working more, she points out, men are refusing to help out at home, just as they always have. Hence, exhausted mother, petulant father and tension in the home. This home-duty imbalance earned a mention in all three of the newsmagazines. What didn't get discussed were the ways in which that imbalance impacted women's attitudes toward work-nor the degree to which men's refusal to help out at home is at the root of this tension. Hochschild offers the example of Linda and Bill Avery, both of whom work at Amerco. When they leave work, Linda cleans the house and takes care of the kids while Bill "would nap and watch television." On weekends, Bill would load up his truck with fishing gear and a six-pack and leave Linda home to deal with the family. "Both Linda and Bill felt the need for time off," says Hochschild, "...but they had not agreed that it was Bill who needed a break more than Linda. Bill simply climbed in his truck and took his free time... Largely in response to her resentment [over Bill's actions], Linda grabbed what she also called 'free time'-at work." The same corporate culture that offers family-friendly policies actually punishes its workers for taking them, says Hochschild. Long hours are the measure of commitment, she writes, and it is long hours-not time with the kids-that get the promotions, regardless of rhetoric to the contrary. Though the magazines remarked upon the fact that family-friendly policies could serve as cover-ups for driven work cultures, they barely mentioned the ways in which women must absorb extra pressure on the job due to discrimination and harassment. For women, Hochschild says, the incentives to stay in the office are especially strong, given the fact that many men resent their presence in the first place. As always, women have more to prove, and managers expect that proof in the form of face-time. One Amerco worker who took unpaid maternity leave had to put up with snide comments from male co-workers: "It takes a lot more than paying the mortgage to make a house a home." Meanwhile, the men were making bets that she wouldn't return to work once she gave birth. "They took no time off for paternity leave," explains the female worker, "and they feel they've paid their dues to Amerco. So when I took time off, they used that as an excuse to say I wasn't paying my dues like they had..."This state of affairs, writes Hochschild, demonstrates that workers have internalized the long-hour, work-focused ethic of the company. Her solution, outlined in the final chapters of her book, is a "time movement," an organized grassroots movement that would join feminists with labor activists, professionals with factory workers, men with women. Hochschild proposes that the coalition begin by pushing companies to judge on merit rather than face time, to move to a 35-hour work week and to give workers across the board greater job security. "A time movement cannot stop at the company level, however," Hochschild writes. "In the long run, no work-family balance will ever fully take hold if the social conditions that might make it possible-men who are willing to share parenting and housework, communities that value work in the home as highly as work on the job, and policymakers and elected officials who are prepared to demand family-friendly reforms-remain out of reach." If the words "time movement" haven't become the buzzwords of the organizing season, it's no wonder. They don't appear in any of the major stories on Hochschild's book. Even The New York Times Magazine, which ran a several-thousand-word condensed verions of The Time Bind , neglects to mention Hochschild's proposal. U.S. News and Newsweek are similarly skewed. U.S. News titles its piece "Lies Parents Tell Themselves About Why They Work." One of the lies is that "Inflexible companies are the key problem." That's silly, says the magazine-it's the parents themselves who are to blame for too little time with the kids. It cites Hochschild's book as support for the fact that parents don't often use available family-friendly policies; it neglects to mention that Hochschild lays blame for that situation primarily at the feet of the corporations themselves. A second U.S. News lie is that "Dads would gladly stay home." The article points to the fact that most fathers don't help with the housework, even when their wives are the main breadwinner-only to turn around and blame that state of affairs on castrating women. "As much as some women say they wish their mates would take over the house and the kids, some may subconsciously wish that their husbands kept working to preserve the traditional roles. A few cutting comments about how the husband burps the baby improperly can make him want to turn the child back over to Mom... William S. Pollack, a Harvard Medical School psychologist and co-author of a book about notions of masculinity, says he often hears men complain that when they have tried to play a greater role taking care of the kids, their wives criticized them: "No matter how many women say, "I'd like to have a househusband," many would be sorely disappointed because he couldn't fulfill their view of what a masculine man is.'" Newsweek, which began its article with the woman lawyer who finally went to work part-time, regrets that "not every family can, or wants to, make a life change on that scale [emphasis added]." But every family ought to think about it, the story adds, though it might be difficult. "For parents who love their kids and also love their work, there's no more insistent wake-up call than Arlie Hochschild's new book, The Time Bind , just published and already hovering in the nightmares of anyone who has ever sung a lullaby over the phone." The article proceeds to address questions of gender inequality in housework, of a corporate culture that demands long hours, even of the wage gap between men and women-all relatively faithful to Hochschild's analysis, though the article draws on a variety of sources. The story veers far from Hochschild's point at the very end, though, concluding that while corporations could probably afford to change, parents must look to themselves for answers. The package even includes an accompanying article about how best to beat the "family time bind." "Family-friendly employers and changes in public policy can help ease the household-stress overload," reads the first sentence, "but individual ingenuity is still the critical survival skill for two-career families in the 1990s." A brief Newsweek review of her book a few weeks earlier had come to the same conclusion. "Although her book ends with a call for a 'time movement' in which workers would press for hard-hitting reforms in corporate life, she knows change must start closer to home." You can almost hear Hochschild weeping tears of despair.Hochschild did almost cry during an interview with The Boston Globe a few weeks ago and a few weeks after the publication of the U.S. News and Newsweek cover stories. She says that she has been wildly misinterpreted by both conservatives, who cite her book as justification for encouraging women to quit work, and liberals, who accuse her of adding fuel to the conservatives' fire. One Times letter-writer accused Hochschild of perpetrating "another thinly veiled condemnation of working mothers." Meanwhile, conservative women like Lisa Schiffren, a founder of the Independent Women's Forum, cheer that Hochschild is "dead on when she says women are disinvesting in the family, and it's no surprise." (Hochschild is on vacation and could not be reached for this article.) Political battles over provocative, new ideas, are run-of-the-mill. What's disturbing about the case of The Time Bind is that one side is starting so far ahead. Far more people will read one of the three major articles than will actually read Hochschild's book. The ideas presented in the stories will inevitably become the ones passed off at dinner parties and on radio talk shows as the speaker's own. Meanwhile, Hochschild's dream of sparking a new social movement that might transform corporate values seem to be going down in flames.