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

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

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

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674064492
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/07/2012
Series: The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization Series , #16
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 699,575
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor of Law, 1066 Foundation Chair, and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Opt Out or Pushed Out? 12

2 One Sick Child Away from Being Fired 12

3 Masculine Norms at Work 42

4 Reconstructive Feminism and Feminist Theory 77

5 The Class Culture Gap 151

6 Culture Wars as Class Conflict 187

Conclusion: Sarah Palin as Formula and Fantasy 215

Notes 221

Acknowledgments 281

Index 285

What People are Saying About This

Heather Boushey

An incisive analysis that is both a joy to read and a must read. Williams shows that work-family conflict is not just an issue for women's magazines; it is at the core of what ails America. Changing the way we think about gender in the workplace is the first step toward a more politically potent progressive agenda, and this book illuminates the path forward.

Heather Boushey, Senior Economist, Center for American Progress

Joan Blades

At last, a book that leaps past the current work-family debate. It is time to free women and men to nurture their children and support their families. Brilliant!
Joan Blades, co-founder of and

Robin Ely

This refreshing, empirically based book offers solutions for a wide-ranging audience: business leaders, diversity professionals, and executive coaches; and for men and women struggling to understand why equal sharing is so hard to achieve at home, and work-family balance is so hard to achieve at work.

Robin Ely, Harvard Business School

Michael Kimmel

In this sensible and erudite book, Williams exposes the myths that have dominated work and family policy discussions and argues for the inclusion of men's activities and differences by class. By adding these crucial dimensions, she points the way toward simpler, smarter, and more sober analyses.

Michael Kimmel, author of Manhood in America: A Cultural History

James T. Kloppenberg

Reshaping the Work-Family Debate cements the position of Williams as one of the most imaginative and influential legal theorists and activists of her generation. Every American citizen--female and male, rich and poor--who is part of a family or a workplace will benefit from wrestling with the ideas of this visionary realist.

James T. Kloppenberg, Harvard University

Cecilia Ridgeway

This ambitious book is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the recycled atmosphere of debates about work-family conflicts and the stalling of the gender revolution.

Cecilia Ridgeway, Stanford University

Naomi Cahn

This book will transform how we think about work and family issues as it shows how gender traditionalism and recent culture wars are fueled by the hidden injuries of class. Long a leader in the work-family field, Williams guides us to solutions that make sense in today's world.

Naomi Cahn, co-author of Red Families v. Blue Families

Sharon Hays

A very important book. Skillfully cracking popular myths about the 'average family,' Williams offers a fascinating analysis of the importance of workplace culture, the code of masculinity, and class blindness in perpetuating widespread work-family tensions.

Sharon Hays, author of Flat Broke with Children

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