Many corporations now strive for a veneer of family friendliness, so it’s not likely a woman will get the stink-eye for leaving early to catch her kid’s soccer game. Which is a feminist victory. But if a childless employee cops to the fact that she’s ducking out for a yoga class? It’s seen as downright indulgent and may even show up on a performance review. In interviews, Mayer has suggested that the professionally ambitious woman pick one thing — one thing! — that helps them unwind, and do it every week. (In other words, it’s okay to go to yoga, but only yoga.) I want all working women to have opportunities — and all working men to have life balance, too — but have caught myself thinking, why is it easier to ask me to work during my three-day weekend than it is to demand my co-worker check e-mail while on vacation with her kids? “Work-life balance” has become synonymous with “upper-class working moms,” and that’s a problem for everyone.
Systemic solutions like more flexible family-leave policies and subsidized childcare would be game-changers for mommy warriors. But, ironically, when such policy solutions are on the table, the people on the front lines agitating for them aren’t professional-track mothers. They’re usually low-wage workers of all genders. Case in point: New York City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn is single-handedly blocking a bill that would ensure paid sick days for all workers in the city. This news item, which should be at the heart of the work-life balance conversation, has rarely been noted as we huff and puff about Sandberg’s circles and Mayer’s nursery. “While we all worry about the glass ceiling, there are millions of women standing in the basement,” British feminist Laurie Penny once wrote, “and the basement is flooding.” Have you read much about the domestic workers’ strike in California, much less participated in a Twitter debate about it? Me neither. The “mommy wars” is like a discourse borg that manages to absorb and distort all conversations about women and work.