A more maternal political force

Book aims to harness the power of moms to change public policy


Cindy Richards

THE MOTHERHOOD MANIFESTO, by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Nation Books, 2006; $14.95.

Add the word "manifesto" to just about any title and suddenly it sounds so, well, Communist. But then, the ideas espoused in The Motherhood Manifesto are more than a little bit lefty, at least by our American standards.

On the MOTHER manifesto, M is for maternity and paternity leave; O is for open, flexible work; T is for TV we choose and other afterschool options; H is for health care for all kids; E is for excellent childcare and R is for realistic and fair wages. Although a few of these ideas have made it to the political forefront in some states (All Kids health insurance in Illinois and paid maternity leave in California, for example), not one is even on the national agenda.

The two moms who wrote this book hope to change that. Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org, the political organization that has used the Web to organize 3 million progressives (the new, more palatable name for liberals), and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, an author and political consultant, wrote the book to serve as the cornerstone of a new political movement that harnesses the power of moms: MomsRising.

Real people's stories

A Web-based organization like MoveOn, MomsRising launched on Mother's Day and already claims more than 50,000 people have signed up for the free membership on the Web site.

Some 40,000 of them came from the ranks of MoveOn.org members who responded to an initial e-mail announcement. Doesn't that mean they're preaching to the choir? Perhaps, Blades says during an interview at the mom-friendly hour of 7 a.m., but at least it's a start.

"I haven't seen anybody taking these issues and really moving with it," Blades says. "If the progressives did it, that would be something."

Each chapter of the book is devoted to one of the points on the manifesto, jammed with the stories of real people and enough statistics to make you want to grab a sign and start picketing.

The book opens with the story of Kiki, a single mom who moves to a small town in Pennsylvania to give her kids a better life. When she tries to find a job, she finds life may not be better.

Each interview starts with two questions: Are you married? Do you have kids? By the 11th interview, she's getting angry and asks her would-be employer, a lawyer, what gives. He tells her that since she's a single mom he would have to pay her less because he also would be footing the bill for health insurance for her kids. "Is that legal?," she asks. "Yes," he says. Pennsylvania state law does not prohibit discrimination against moms.

Illinois doesn't either, but Cook County and Chicago have laws prohibiting "parental status" and "marital status" discrimination, according to Melissa Josephs, director of equal employment opportunity policy for Women Employed, a Chicago-based organization that advocates for the rights of working women.

Mom discrimination has lead to a huge pay gap between moms and non-moms, according to the book. Women without children make 90 cents for every dollar a man makes while moms make 73 cents and single moms make as little as 56 cents to a man's dollar. A 2005 study of high-wage jobs found women without children were offered $11,000 more than equally qualified mothers.

And that's if a mom gets the job. Another study shows mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than women without children for the same job, even with the same resume and experience.

Middle-class issues

Statistics such as that along with ones showing soaring medical costs are a leading cause of bankruptcy, give Blades hope for the movement. Because the problems are affecting middle class families.

"It used to be that middle-class people were fairly secure they could live middle-class lives and not have 'poverty spells,' " Blades says, referring to a study that shows the birth of a child is the cause of one-quarter of poverty spells or periods when a family's income slips below the level needed for basic living expenses.

"I never heard the term 'poverty spells' before. Now there is an increasing percentage of families who have poverty spells," Blades says.

America is one of only two industrialized countries that does not guarantee some paid time off for new moms and dads. (The other, Australia, requires up to one year unpaid leave while the United States mandates 12 weeks unpaid time off at companies with 50 or more employees).

Ultimately, this book argues, when so many of us are coping with childcare dilemmas, unaffordable health insurance, lack of paid leave options, too little afterschool care and other problems, it's time to stop thinking these are individual issues and begin to think of them as systemic problems in need of systematic solutions.

And, the authors argue, this will happen only if we moms make it happen.

To sign a petition, become a member or download the first chapter of the book, visit www.MomsRising.org


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