Read Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter by Joan C. Williams Online


The United States has the most family-hostile public policy in the developed world. Despite what is often reported, new mothers don t opt out of work. They are pushed out by discriminating and inflexible workplaces. Today s workplaces continue to idealize the worker who has someone other than parents caring for their children.Conventional wisdom attributes women s decisionThe United States has the most family-hostile public policy in the developed world. Despite what is often reported, new mothers don t opt out of work. They are pushed out by discriminating and inflexible workplaces. Today s workplaces continue to idealize the worker who has someone other than parents caring for their children.Conventional wisdom attributes women s decision to leave work to their maternal traits and desires. In this thought-provoking book, Joan Williams shows why that view is misguided and how workplace practice disadvantages men both those who seek to avoid the breadwinner role and those who embrace it as well as women. Faced with masculine norms that define the workplace, women must play the tomboy or the femme. Both paths result in a gender bias that is exacerbated when the two groups end up pitted against each other. And although work-family issues long have been seen strictly through a gender lens, we ignore class at our peril. The dysfunctional relationship between the professional-managerial class and the white working class must be addressed before real reform can take root.Contesting the idea that women need to negotiate better within the family, and redefining the notion of success in the workplace, Williams reinvigorates the work-family debate and offers the first steps to making life manageable for all American families."...

Title : Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780674055674
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 293 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter Reviews

  • Molly Westerman
    2019-03-01 16:06

    In Reshaping the Work-Family Debate, law professor Joan Williams writes as a progressive feminist for an audience of progressive elites. Her dual purpose is to reframe A) conversations about work/family 'balance,' caregiving, related public policy, and gender and B) progressive elites' perceptions of working class people and self-perceptions, which Williams sees as impeding a politically-effective coalition that could change the game in US politics for the better. Roughly speaking, the first 3 chapters do A; chapter 4 steps back to stake a claim for a particular type of feminist theory and analysis (what she calls "reconstructive feminism"), and the final 2 chapters do B.Chapters 1-3 are absolutely excellent. Here, Williams looks at US cultures of work through the lens of the separate spheres ideology, by which women are natural homemakers and nurturers while men are naturally-competitive public beings and breadwinners. (She doesn't go into this, but this logic of separate spheres doesn't just produce notions of dramatic & inherent sex-based difference + problematic/limiting gender stereotypes for both men and women--it also feeds the notion of complementarism, the idea that every man needs a woman and vice versa and that children need a mother and a father, which is to say ... heteronormativity and generalized nastiness.) These chapters use close analysis, anecdotes, and statistical data effectively and are very engaging. They deal with work/family policies (which are absolute crap in the US) in the larger context of workplace culture, parenting culture, and our gender system (with as much if not more attention to masculinity as to femininity)--all with a careful sensitivity to the different implications of all these systems along lines of class and race. Good business!Chapter 4 strikes me as more problematic (and also more poorly edited: after the first three chapters, the whole book feels more thrown-together, with more proofreading-level errors and a less compelling sense of direction/purpose/coherence). This is the 'theory' chapter, which deals with various feminist traditions and advocates for a particular one; its big-picture idea is that feminist analysis needs to happen along several distinct axes (work/family, sex/violence, queer theory, and perhaps others) rather than trying to use one "tool" for these jobs. Williams raises useful points, especially in advocating for a feminism that strives to illuminate gender rather than "women" and in breaking down the easy distinction between "sameness feminism" and "difference feminism." But I don't think it's quite true that "retheoriz[ing] the work-family axis [...] has significant implications for the other two axes but is best analyzed apart from them" (113): particularly, queer theory has a lot to offer on the dynamics that are central to Williams' analysis of paid labor and caregiving as gendered arenas. I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of reconstructive (or any kind of) feminism as "a 'queer eye for the straight guy' (and girl)" (142). And I have absolutely no idea why she believes that "intersectionality as a metaphor itself reinforces white privilege and heteronormativity, by erasing the fact that women of color are no more and no less at the intersection of race and gender than are white women, and gay women are no more and no less at the intersection of sexuality and gender than are straight women" (145)--for me, intersectionality has been a way to think and teach about how all our identities are complicated nexuses of identities that carry interacting strains of privilege and disadvantage.Finally, chapters 5-6 just seem to lose the focus and purposefulness of the earlier chapters. In turning to progressive politics more broadly, Williams sometimes seems to use work/family issues as a recurring example rather than as the point. The issues addressed here are so important: working class culture, professional-managerial culture, how we all see each other and ourselves, and how coalition-building could work better to improve all our lives. But they're also HUGE. And I think that hugeness contributes to a great deal of overgeneralization. Williams sensibly avoids the much-contested and (in a US context) basically meaningless term "middle class." But lumping together everybody but the poor and the wealthy as "working class" makes it hard to talk, as she does, about class cultures: there's a great deal of diversity in there. And of course, unavoidably, the studies she cites use wildly differing definitions of the various classes, using different proxies for class (income, education, etc.) as well as different cutoff points for each class status/culture. So that's messy, though not the author's fault.One last concern: building coalitions shouldn't mean abandoning basic moral values or throwing groups of real human beings under buses. Williams writes: "The uncomfortable reality is that progressives, gay and straight, need to come to terms with the fact that if the goal is to build a coalition around economic issues--including health insurance--crucial coalition partners may feel differently about gay marriage and other equality issues. If coalition building is considered an important goal, progressives will have to give our leaders the room to maneuver as they attempt to defuse cultural issues as a key political force. This includes issues we hold near and dear. For me, as a feminist, to acknowledge that abortion rights fuel class conflict is upsetting. That does not mean I will give up my own deeply held commitments, but it does mean that I talk about them differently and will go out of my way to signal respect for those who disagree with me in arenas where they and I can find common ground" (205). And later: "[...] Democrats need to do something much deeper than relabel our chosen positions on abortion, gay rights, and so forth as 'family values'" (213)--as though anti-racism, women's control over our own bodies, and the equal rights of LGBTQ people/families are somehow unloaded 'choices' and as though the language we use to describe them is not really very important. I do agree with Williams that we need to think strategically, and also that progressive elites need to take working class people (but not just the white straight male ones!) and working class cultures (but not just the white straight masculine ones!) seriously. But I think the balance here is tipping over in potentially-scary ways.There's a more detailed review at my feminist parenting and books blog, First the Egg.

  • Sivananthi T
    2019-03-24 14:51

    This is a must-read. Williams offers an incisive analysis on how class and gender are critical lenses to frame the work-family issue. Whilst inflexible workplaces often push women out, they are equally detrimental to men. The workplace has often been determined as the site which produces and reproduces the class struggle, however Williams points out aptly that class is learned at the knee of the family. The gender aspect of separate spheres also reproduces class, as much as gender. The insight that Williams brings is applicable not only to the US, but also to other countries.

  • Brian Stout
    2019-03-12 12:12

    This book should be mandatory reading for any liberal still struggling to understand what happened on November 8, 2016. Great guidance - and a needed dose of humility - for those struggling to understand the "white working class". And finally, an exquisitely written and incisive treatise that takes on the elephant in America's room: masculinity. This election cycle saw some discussion of "toxic masculinity", mostly in the context of sexual assault. And that discussion is important, but misses the broader point: masculinity is also about defining the social and professional norms that govern American behavior... of everyone. Not just the creeps who embody toxic masculinity.This book, written in 2010, is far better than Lean In, though admittedly I wish the font were a bit bigger (am I getting old?) It feels denser and academic, even though it reads quickly and is interspersed with anecdotes to drive home the broader theoretical points. The whole thing is worth reading, but a couple sections in particular are brilliant. "Masculine norms at work" rebuts the commonly held assumption that the home is the locus of masculine/feminine dynamics, and persuasively argues that men are equally bound by rigid and damaging gender norms.The two sections on class "The class culture gap" and "Culture wars as class conflict" speak precisely to the phenomenon of elite scorn and working class resentment that gave us Donald Trump. And Williams does a great job of broadening her analysis to include people of color and the LGBT community, a welcome intentionality that enriches the feminist analysis. Williams is a gift. She is the sharpest thinker in the country right now on this particular set of issues (the relationship between masculinity, class, and politics). Now if she could only do a Ted Talk or something so her wisdom doesn't languish on the shelf.A few choice quotes:"Masculinity holds the key to understanding why the gender revolution has stalled.""The question is not whether physical, social, and psychological differences between men and women exist. It is why these particular differences become salient in a particular context and then are used to create and justify women's continuing economic disadvantage.""The good news is that men can be quite happy with family caregiving, as long as they feel their masculinity is secure. The bad news is that many non-elite men do feel their masculinity threatened, by jobs that are insecure of are (they feel) beneath their dignity."

  • Elizabeth
    2019-03-19 16:56

    This book has really been inspiring and eye opening and thought-provoking. I've thought that the concept of women 'opting out' of the workforce was an accepted norm belief-- even though it felt incorrect in some deep-seated way. But I've never really thought about what another explanation could be. Joan Williams brings forward some very interesting hypothesis, based on significant interviews and studies and data, which state that women are actually being forced out of the workforce due to lack of workplace flexibility and options that allow them to both be a mother and be a successful worker/professional. This really resonates with me, as I also struggle with trying to maintain a level of balance between work and life. I don't want to be stay at home, but I also struggle with being a good mom who is there for my daughter and not spending every moment doing work. The book is broken into subjects: starting with the challenges of working professional women, then blue/pink collar workers, then men in the workforce (a brilliant chapter that every father should read and internalize), and then she goes into some feminist theory which breaks down how the discussion about work/life topic and the needs of women really needs to be reframed: the discussion isn't about how women take a stand within the workforce to manage work and children; the topic really needs to be how EVERY parent creates balance, and how the workplace must change in order to create a different culture and expectation- because every parent has these issues and needs and that the inflexible expectations of work are not logical or even necessary.I think that every parent, male or female, stay at home or working, should take some time to read this book. While they may not want to spend extensive time on the feminist theory, the concepts and challenges that she puts forth are brilliant and completely spot on.

  • Meredith Watts
    2019-02-24 16:57

    This book was revelatory. Professor Williams makes a very strong case that both men and women, employers and employees, will benefit from workplaces that make accommodations to the requirements of family life. Her review of grievance proceedings shows that men as often as women suffer adverse employment decisions when a crisis strikes and they must leave to take care of family emergencies. She makes a very strong case for the importance of upper middle class people taking the time and effort to understand the different values of working class families. An excellent book about the stalled women's movement. We have not solved the work/family problem and in fact have lost ground.

  • Lori
    2019-03-09 13:02

    I enjoyed this read by Joan C. Williams. I read it for my social science seminar. There is a lot of valid information without overwhelming the reader. I liked the academic yet conversational style of the book.

  • Becky
    2019-03-26 13:06

    Joan Williams is brilliant. I wrote about it here:

  • Elizabeth
    2019-03-23 19:51

    As heard on Tell Me More.