“Womenomics” Authors Say Working Mothers Should Just Say “No” To More Work

“No means no” is a phrase feminists have successfully integrated into the lexicon to use in halting unwanted sexual advances. And now some feminists are arguing the next terrain for “no means no” should be for cutting back on above-the-call-of-duty hours spent in the workplace.

So says the new book “Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules For Success,” by Claire Shipman, senior national correspondent for ABC News’ “Good Morning America” and mom of two, and Katty Kay, Washington correspondent and anchor for “BBC World News America” and mom of four. Their argument, as described by Salon:

[The authors] call for women to say no to 60-plus-hour work weeks and overly demanding jobs that yank them away from their families. Instead, they urge working women to use their clout in the workplace to demand fewer hours at the office, turn down non-family-friendly assignments, and take control of their time by working from home more, checking e-mail less and avoiding meetings whenever possible.

I haven’t read Womenomics yet, but I read the Salon interview and I couldn’t agree with the writers more: Working moms and their allies have a responsibility to try to change their workplaces from the inside. After all, corporate America has never and will never come up to you and say, “Hello, dear, what can we do to make YOUR life easier?”

Before I go any further, I want to say that I know I’m privileged. I’m a white woman with a higher education and an upper-middle class upbringing. But philosophically, regardless of her class or education level, I believe women should be able to say “no.” I believe it’s more empowering for women to be assertive and to fight any consequences that may follow than it is for women juggle half a dozen balls at once, eroding their physical and psychological health.

There’s nothing empowering or feminist about working 60 hours a week, not seeing your children as much as you would like, and being unhappy about your life. Books like Courtney E. Martin’s Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters and Liz Funk’s Supergirls Speak Out have chronicled how women of our generation were told, “You can be anything!” but we heard “You have to be everything!” I think women—whether they’re the boss, middle managers or the lowest on the totem pole—would be surprised to find they could leave the office after eight hours if they just said the word “no” more often. “No, I don’t want that promotion that will pay more but will mean I have to stay here till 8 every night.” “No, I can’t go out after work for drinks with the interns.” “No, it’s too last minute for me to find a babysitter to leave town for that business trip—I need to hear about these plans in advance.”

If saying “no” sounds too harsh or negative, at the very least working mothers should be able to tell their bosses specifically what it is that they need to make parenting and money-making jive. For examples and inspiration, I highly suggest reading Deborah Copaken Kogan’s memoir, Shutterbabe, about how she struggled to get flex-time at her TV producer job.

All right, I want my bosses to stop reading this post right here. OK? Don’t read on. No, I’m serious. Stop reading.

OK, now that they’re gone, [HA! — Editor] I will be honest: I actually don’t think that only working moms should say “no” more often—everyone should, age or family-status be damned. I, personally, don’t really want to work over 40 hours a week. Even if I made twice as much money, I wouldn’t want to work twice as many hours. I like working for part of the day and then going home and having a life: taking yoga classes, talking on the phone to my best friend, cooking dinner. All that makes me happy. When I’m happy, my mind focuses primarily on my work, ideas flow more freely, and I’m more creative.

And whenever I have kids I’ll only feel this way more strongly. What the hell is the point of going through labor and paying all the expenses associated with children if I’m going to work 70 hours a week and never see them? Just so we can all wear J.Crew? Have a house with an extra bathroom? Go on annual ski trips? Those are wants, but we don’t need those things.

Of course, I realize that there’s labor abuse, especially of immigrants, and widespread poverty in this country. A 40-hour workweek is actually a luxury for some people. And I also realize that lawyers, doctors and other high-earning occasionally work 80+ or 100+ hours a week because that’s just the way their jobs are set up.

But I think Claire Shipman and Katty Kay are onto something: it’s not wrong to insist your life has balance, if balance is what you value.