We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Motherhood Manifesto & Wollstonecraft's _The Rights of Woman_ · 5 May 06

Dear Anne,

Though the term embarrasses me, I’ve just become a member of Momsrising. I read an excerpt from their Motherhood Manifesto:

"On a hot, humid August day, at an interview for a legal secretary position in a one-story brick building, Kiki sat down in a hard wooden chair to face a middle-aged attorney ensconced behind a mahogany desk. His framed diplomas lined the walls, and legal books filled the shelves behind him. Kiki remembers the attorney clearly, even his general height at 5’10" and the color of his light brown hair. The interaction was significant enough to remain seared in her mind’s eye a decade later. "The first question the attorney asked me when I came in for the interview was, ‘Are you married?’ The second was, ‘Do you have children?’"

It was the eleventh job interview in which she’d been asked the very same questions since moving to Pennsylvania. After answering eleven times that she wasn’t married, and that yes indeed, she was a mother of two, Kiki began to understand why her job search was taking so long.

She decided to address the issue head on this time. "I asked him how those questions were relevant to the job, and he said my hourly wage would be determined by my marital and motherhood status." Kiki then asked the next obvious question: "How do you figure out an hourly wage based on these questions?"

His response was as candid as it was horrifying. "He said if you don’t have a husband and have children, then I pay less per hour because I have to pay benefits for the entire family." The attorney noted that a married woman’s husband usually had health insurance to cover the kids, and since Kiki didn’t have a husband, he "didn’t want to get stuck with the bill for my children’s health coverage."

It was the first time Kiki pushed for an explanation, and she was appalled by the answer. "I said to him, ‘You mean to tell me that if I am doing the exact same work, typing the same exact subpoena as a coworker, you’re going to pay me less because I have no husband and have kids?’ And he very smugly told me, ‘Yes, absolutely.’"

He couldn’t do that, it was illegal, Kiki wondered, wasn’t it? The attorney countered that it was perfectly legal—and as an attorney, he ought to know. He invited Kiki to check out the law herself and then ushered her out the door (without a job, of course).

Furious, Kiki went straight home and called the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. She found out that the lawyer was right. The questions were legal, as was paying a single mother less than other applicants. Pennsylvania, like scores of states, does not have state employment laws that protect mothers.

Recent Cornell University research by Dr. Shelley Correll confirmed what many American women are finding: Mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than non-mothers who have the same resume, experience, and qualifications; and mothers are offered significantly lower starting pay. Study participants offered non-mothers an average of $11,000 more than mothers for the same high salaried job as equally qualified non-mothers … "

These are their manifesto points:

M = Maternity/Paternity Leave: Paid family leave for all parents after a new child comes into the family.

O = Open Flexible Work: Give parents the ability to structure their work hours and careers in a way that allows them to meet both business and family needs. This includes flexible work hours and locations, part-time work options, as well as the ability to move in and out of the labor force to raise young children without penalties.

T = TV We Choose & Other After School Programs: Give families safe, educational opportunities for children after the school doors close for the day, including: Create a clear and independent universal television rating system for parents with technology that allows them to choose what is showing in their own homes; support quality educational programming for kids; increase access to, and funding, for after school programs.

H = Healthcare for All Kids: Provide quality, universal healthcare to all children.

E = Excellent Childcare: Quality, affordable childcare should be available to all parents who need it. Child care providers should be paid at least a living wage and healthcare benefits.

R = Realistic and Fair Wages: Two full-time working parents should be able to earn enough to adequately care for their family. In addition, working mothers must receive equal pay for equal work.

By tackling these interconnected problems together (rather than in isolation) we create a powerful system of support for families. No mother should have to choose between caring for her infant and buying food for her children. Working together, we can improve the quality of our lives. And we can make sure our children inherit a world in which they will thrive as adults and future parents. The Motherhood Manifesto is a call to action, summoning all Americans (mothers, and all who have mothers) to
start a revolution to make motherhood compatible with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Joining such a group and supporting them seems to me a good way to remember Mother’s Day.

I hope you received the copy I sent you of Miss Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Perhaps I should say Mrs Godwin? The author argues the power women gain over men through their sexuality is debasing and ephemeral. While she writes about adult sexuality pessimistically and from a proscriptive standpoint, her warnings, disdain for co-opted, complicit and complacent women, and her openly depressive stance are not meant to deprive women of pleasure; rather she seeks to protect them because she is convinced that her experience of powerlessness against violence and of sexuality and motherhood as abject and alienated is common.

It would seem we have not made much progress since she wrote her famous book.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. Dear Anne,

    An addendum:

    There’s an excellent blog which comments on "Motherhood Manifesto:"


    chava    May 7, 3:43pm    #

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