‘Family friendly’ policies such as maternity leave allow millions of women in the United States to take some time off when they give birth or adopt a child in order to spend time physically recuperating and/or initiating a bond with their children. However, many working mothers report facing stereotypes that either negatively impact their decision-making about claiming their rights under work/life balance policies, or cause them to be the specific targets of discrimination in their workplaces. This article, which draws upon in-depth interviews with 48 women from 2 types of work environments (the U.S. military and academia), identifies stereotypes that have developed in these institutions. These stereotypes establish the identity of a working mother as the antithesis of an ‘ideal worker’. I argue that the very policies that are aimed at easing the tension between work and family help to create and reinforce these stereotypes through discursive institutional processes.
This article is adapted from Chapter 5 of The Balance Gap: Working Mothers and the Limits of the Law (Stanford University Press 2017).
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