The uncomfortable question powerful women should answer

"Until I see a male writer asked this question, I'm going to respectfully decline to answer it."That was accla...

Posted: Jul 30, 2018 10:21 AM
Updated: Jul 30, 2018 10:21 AM

"Until I see a male writer asked this question, I'm going to respectfully decline to answer it."

That was acclaimed novelist Lauren Groff's response to an interview question about work-family balance, which promptly went viral.

Groff was interviewed by the Harvard Gazette (she's a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard) and was asked a question that noted that she was "a mother of two," who had produced "three novels and two short-story collections." The interviewer asked Groff to talk about her process, and how she manages "work and family."

Her reply sent social media into a praise hands emoji-induced meltdown.

Screengrabs of the exchange lit up Twitter. "Good for @legroff," tweeted Ann Marie Lipinski, the former editor of the Chicago Tribune. With her response, Groff had become "an exemplar of how to have this conversation as a feminist," wrote Quartz journalist Jenni Avins. "Perfect answer to a sexist question," tweeted historian Nick Kapur.

But here's the thing. While I share Groff's frustration at being stereotyped by her gender, and applaud her erudite, badass answer, I still wish she had answered the question. I even hope that women, particularly ones in the public eye, continue to be quizzed similarly.

Why? Because the answer to "How do you manage your work/life balance?" for a vast number of America's working mothers -- who, right now, are living in one of the four countries in the world with no federally mandated paid maternity leave (the others are the developing nations of Papua New Guinea, Lesotho and Swaziland) -- is something along the lines of, and I'm paraphrasing here, "WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY. BALANCE ISN'T EVEN THE RIGHT WORD. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO SOMETHING."

Groff's understandable objection to the question is that, when asked solely to women, this query implies intrinsically that a family is the woman's job. And I hear that complaint entirely. Not to mention the fact that by refusing to answer the question, she's arguably drawn attention to the issue, sparking conversations that could lead to change.

But more broadly, I'd argue, whether we like it or not (and, on the off chance that this somehow isn't clear yet, I don't) current circumstances do make this a woman's question. It's an indisputable fact that it's the ladies, not the gents, who have to endure the physical onslaught that is pregnancy, birth and postpartum recovery. And queries about work/family balance couldn't be more relevant in the USA, a country that continues to offer women the shortest maternity leaves in the developed world, despite studies that show that every additional month of leave is associated with a 13% reduction in infant mortality.

America is a society where one in four mothers returns to work two weeks after giving birth. Once women do go back to work, too many lack the support from their employers and their government to access affordable child care and work schedules that allow them to parent. How do we balance motherhood and work in America? Let me suppress my side-eye to reply: We don't.

For many women like me, who are not yet mothers, but who would one day like to be, that question is one that I desperately want to have a better answer for. Preferably answers with a solution quicker and easier to achieve than "make Congress pass a national paid family leave program" (not to mention any leads on a Brooklyn day care center that costs less than $1,800 a month).

About that Congress thing. Steps have been made to try to institute a national paid leave program, notably by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who, since being elected in 2009, has introduced a universal paid family leave law bill every year for the last five years, though it has yet to find bipartisan support in the Senate. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has also proposed legislation, though his plan has drawn criticism for its model of allowing parents to draw from their Social Security funds. In the meantime, statistics from Pew show that 80% of Americans think new mothers should receive paid leave, though when and how it will happen remains to be seen.

There are four states that have active publicly funded paid maternity leave programs: California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. But in total, just 14% of civilian workers in the United States have access to paid family leave. Take a moment with that.

And still, against the odds, working mothers continue to keep their jobs and have their babies. According to the US Department of Labor, 70% of mothers with children under 18 are in the labor force, with over 75% of them employed full time. Mothers are the primary earners in 40% of those households.

But the suffering many endure is well documented. Studies show that the 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided to some women (not all are eligible) by the Family and Medical Leave Act is too short, putting women at an increased risk of postnatal depression. Research has even found that children were more that 25% and 22% more likely to get their measles and polio vaccines, respectively, when their mother had access to paid maternity leave.

It's safe to say that American mothers live in crisis. Yet your average working mother is rarely asked how she balances work and family. She just has to figure it out.

And that's precisely why Groff's refusal to answer troubled me so much. The sort of women who are publicly asked about what it's like to be a working mother in the United States are almost always the ones more likely to have more resources to address the myriad challenges every working woman in America faces. But whoever is asking, and to whomever the query is directed, that question is also always an opportunity to speak out about the injustices confronting all working mothers. It's a chance to fight apathy over a national dilemma.

Answering the question whenever it's asked, before it's asked, is an important element to raising the appropriate level of hell about the systemic injustice working mothers face. It's time to come to terms with the "how do you balance family and work" question and its variants, in the earnest hope that radical honesty could help the effort to bring about radical change.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 87807

Reported Deaths: 2002
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin25454917
Ramsey10349316
Dakota6995125
Anoka5596132
Stearns367023
Washington349255
Scott236632
Olmsted225327
Nobles192016
Blue Earth15566
Wright14937
Carver13197
Rice12908
St. Louis128229
Mower12614
Clay121340
Sherburne106313
Kandiyohi9112
Winona82818
Lyon6344
Steele5132
Freeborn5043
Nicollet49516
Watonwan4954
Benton4923
Todd4722
Le Sueur4413
McLeod4382
Waseca4228
Chisago4211
Crow Wing41018
Otter Tail3734
Beltrami3654
Goodhue3219
Martin2909
Itasca26413
Polk2624
Becker2372
Pine2360
Isanti2340
Carlton2311
Douglas2291
Cottonwood2140
Pipestone2089
Morrison1901
Dodge1880
Chippewa1851
Sibley1693
Meeker1662
Wabasha1660
Unassigned16552
Brown1642
Murray1492
Rock1450
Yellow Medicine1442
Mille Lacs1363
Faribault1290
Jackson1251
Cass1233
Renville1206
Roseau1090
Pennington1081
Fillmore1050
Houston1040
Swift1041
Kanabec1008
Koochiching1003
Lincoln950
Redwood930
Stevens901
Pope820
Hubbard710
Aitkin691
Big Stone660
Wadena610
Grant574
Wilkin553
Norman510
Lake480
Marshall481
Mahnomen451
Lac qui Parle410
Red Lake370
Traverse290
Clearwater240
Lake of the Woods201
Kittson130
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 78552

Reported Deaths: 1255
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk15133256
Johnson496227
Woodbury486561
Black Hawk431686
Linn3722105
Story326317
Scott271227
Dubuque266140
Dallas265338
Pottawattamie195137
Buena Vista193312
Marshall175634
Sioux12753
Wapello124357
Webster118414
Muscatine105452
Clinton104618
Plymouth100120
Cerro Gordo98621
Crawford9804
Warren9226
Jasper74232
Des Moines7247
Marion7014
Tama68531
Carroll6275
Henry5974
Lee5857
Wright5571
Dickinson4756
Bremer4597
Boone4557
Washington42711
Louisa41915
Franklin33117
Mahaska32619
Delaware3183
Hamilton3143
Jackson2923
Floyd2913
Winneshiek2835
Benton2781
Clay2773
Hardin2731
Winnebago26211
Butler2572
Clarke2533
Emmet24810
Shelby2411
Jones2393
Allamakee2375
Poweshiek2368
Lyon2323
Buchanan2291
Clayton2273
Cedar2171
Guthrie2115
Kossuth2090
Chickasaw2030
Grundy2002
Madison1992
Sac1980
Cherokee1792
Howard1795
Iowa1791
Fayette1781
Mitchell1750
Hancock1712
Harrison1692
Humboldt1693
Calhoun1672
Mills1621
Palo Alto1560
Pocahontas1502
Monroe14410
Page1410
Lucas1386
Jefferson1321
Cass1282
Monona1281
Osceola1210
Appanoose1193
Taylor1191
Union1193
Davis1134
Van Buren1081
Worth1000
Keokuk891
Montgomery855
Ida840
Greene820
Fremont790
Wayne792
Adair621
Decatur580
Audubon551
Ringgold412
Adams270
Unassigned150
Rochester
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 56°
Mason City
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 54°
Albert Lea
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 57°
Austin
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 55°
Charles City
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 54°
Warmer Weather Ahead
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Saturday Weather

Image

What are the benefits of bringing football back to Minnesota this fall?

Image

Candlelight vigil for Prisoners of War

Image

MC Masters National Championship Regatta

Image

Early voting begins in Minnesota

Image

Dooley's Pub closes due to health hazards

Image

Area athletic directors prep to welcome back sports

Image

Early voting begins in Minnesota

Image

TikTok Ban to Begin This Weekend

Image

Sara's Evening Forecast - Friday

Community Events