The Pushmipullyu of the Life-Work Conflict

The Pushmipullyu of the Life-Work Conflict


Illustration: Randall Enos

Illustration: Randall Enos

WRITING for a newspaper is like putting your child on the kindergarten bus. You send your words out into the world where they have their own adventures, make their own impressions, then report back, or not, come day’s end.

Some articles have longer (and bumpier) rides than others. Of everything I have written, an article called “The Opt-Out Revolution,” which ran three years ago in The New York Times Magazine, has had the most interesting journey. Not a week goes by that I am not asked about that article, which explored why highly educated, accomplished women were leaving their fast-track careers. Now the UC Hastings College of the Law has released a 67-page study titled “ ‘Opt Out’ or Pushed Out?: How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict.”

It begins: “Coined in 2003 by New York Times journalist Lisa Belkin, the so-called ‘Opt-Out Revolution’ attempts to explain many women’s decisions to leave the paid work force for full-time care of their children.” It then goes on to explain how I (among others) was wrong.

The author, Joan C. Williams, is someone I deeply respect. I interviewed her for the original “Opt Out” article, and I have spoken with her over the years about her concerns about press coverage of this subject. In our most recent conversation, last week, she was careful to say that her study is not about just my report, but rather “a content analysis of 119 print news stories that discuss women leaving the workplace, published between 1980 and 2006.” READ MORE