Naomi Wolf

(WOMENSENEWS)–Three prominent authors have decided to band together to create a new organization that would lobby Congress and otherwise push to end what they call the Mommy Tax.

The aptly named MOTHER–Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights–is the brainchild of authors Naomi Wolf, Ann Crittenden and Barbara Seaman. While still in the formative stage, the organization’s goal is to lobby Congress and presidential candidates on issues such as family-friendly workplace policies and improved government benefits. Wolf, the author of a new book on the economics of giving birth, envisions MOTHER as a national political lobby along the lines of the AARP, whose senior citizen members have become a powerful political force.

The organization will attempt to harness they believe to be the frustration of the 100 million U.S. mothers of children as well as fathers, Wolf explains.

"It will actually have a pro-mom agenda and it will have the political clout to force presidential candidates to give representatives of motherhood issues a seat at the table."

Authors Wish to Change Political Landscape

While the organization is still in its infancy–it doesn’t yet have a Web site or a phone number–the founders believe it has great potential to change the political landscape. After a recent tour to promote her recent book, "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood," Wolf collected more than 300 signatures and e-mail addresses from women eager to jump on board. Crittenden collected a similar number of e-mail addresses and business cards during her own book tour.

"We’ve both hit a nerve," Crittenden says. "I keep meeting people everywhere I go saying, ‘What can we do? Where can we go from here?’ I think there’s a hunger out there, a big grassroots interest in doing something to improve the situation of mothers."

Her own interests, Crittenden says, lay in figuring out how to improve the economic situation for mothers. In her new book, "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued," Crittenden argues that mothers are not just undervalued by society, but are actually penalized for parenting. A former New York Times economics reporter, Crittenden calculates that motherhood is now the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age.

Once they become mothers, Crittenden says, women are often compelled to either to quit their jobs, cut back their hours or take lower-paying part-time jobs. She says that this results in a wage gap between mothers and other workers that amounts to a "mommy tax."

Furthermore, Crittenden says, the mothers who leave the paid labor force or cut back on their earnings to devote more time to their families suffer even more financial losses because the unpaid labor is not recognized when states calculate unemployment benefits or workers’ compensation. In addition, the reduced earnings are reflected in lower Social Security benefits. The result, Crittenden says, is that mothers have smaller pensions than other workers and are twice as likely to be poor as men of the same age.

At the same time, mothers who have reduced earnings are disadvantaged in dissolving marriages, she points out. In all but three states, divorcing mothers are not entitled to half of the family’s economic assets if they did not make half the financial contribution. While single fathers face some of the same challenges and more men are taking take time off from their careers for child-rearing, women still represent the vast majority of primary caregivers in the United States.

"What is needed," Crittenden writes, "is across-the-board recognition–in the workplace, in the family, in the law, and in social policy–that someone has to do the necessary work of raising children and sustaining families, and that the reward for such vital work should not be professional marginalization, a loss of status and an increased risk of poverty."

Women have argued for more than 30 years for the need for a more flexible work environment, better access to and lower-cost child care, and more family-friendly policies. Wolf maintains the key to achieving those goals is for women to come together and act as a single-interest voting bloc.

Email May Permit More Parents to Participate

Looking back to the more than 200 years that U.S. women have pushed for full equality, "we’ve got to get it that the moral high ground doesn’t get us anything," Wolf says. "Pleading with powerful men never gets us what we need . . . Talking doesn’t do it. Being right doesn’t do it. Hardball politics does it . . . and a political strategy," Wolf adds.

Right now, legislators won’t authorize workplace and parental-leave benefits, Wolf argues, because it would "burn up too much capital with the business lobby." But if mothers band together as a political force, she says, Congress will have to listen.

Ann Crittenden

"Only an organization like this would have the clout to compel Congress to pass legislation, for instance, forcing the disclosure of cesarean section rates . . . or to put teeth in the Patient’s Bill of Rights," Wolf says.

MOTHER organizers believe e-mail make it possible for moms to leverage their collective political clout without taking much time out of their busy schedules.

"Nobody has to be an activist the way people had to be an activist in the days when we needed to go marching," Wolf says. "Right now, if your representative in Congress gets 100,000 e-mails about a subject with a strong message that we’re going to throw our vote to the opposition if you don’t act on this, that is like money in the bank. That is clout."

Still, Wolf and Crittenden acknowledge how difficult it is to build an organization from scratch, especially an organization that depends on overworked parents as its foundation.

"This may take a national convention, along the lines of the first women’s convention back in the mid-19th century, with all kinds of women who can come together and agree on some goals," Crittenden says.

One possible solution, says Seaman, author of the groundbreaking book, "The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill," originally published in 1969, and co-founder of the Women’s Health Network, is to organize grandmothers and grandfathers to lobby to help today’s moms get a better deal.

"They have a little more time," she says.

Seaman says that by watching her daughters struggle, she sees how difficult it is to balance the demands of career and family. Mothers seem to be juggling more now than when the women’s movement began, she added.

"In my experience, when something that is as long overdue as this has a chance to happen, it probably will," she says. "The right people seem to start showing up. You just have to hope that it will happen."

J. Trout Lowen a freelance writer and editor of the Minnesota Women’s Press.

For more information:

Those interested in helping get MOTHER off the ground can sign up on Crittenden’s Web site at:

Mothers and More
The Network for Sequencing Women:

The Caregiver Credit Campaign: