On sitting down to write my contribution to this Colloquy, I found myself pulled in many directions, as Joan Williams’s new book is rich with fascinating and provocative ideas. From the incredibly valuable documentation of how rigid masculine norms harm men who want to do right by their families, to the highlighting of deep tensions between “femmey” and “tomboy” feminists, to the courageous exploration of cultural and political tensions driven by class performance, there is much in Reshaping the Work-Family Debate to discuss.
One of the aspects of the book I deeply admire is Williams’s attempt to spur different groups to make nice—femmes and tomboys, working-class parents and upper-middle-class progressives. This is driven not by a Pollyannaish desire to see us all get along, but by an acknowledgement of political reality. Without collaboration among these currently divided groups, the progressive policies that Williams hopes will improve the lives and chances of many will never gain wide enough support.
I’m admittedly skeptical about coming together with femmes or working-class parents, particularly in the context of the work-family debate, because I’m skeptical that we really share enough common ground to create policies all these groups can get behind. But there’s no way that common ground, if it exists, could ever be discovered without confronting and examining our differences, and Williams is doing just that. Thus, this book is the only thing I’ve read in the past five years that even begins to mitigate my skepticism. Unwillingness to confront these differences is a major barrier that Williams is bravely breaking down. With that in mind, in this Essay I hope to explore some of my hesitations, in the hopes of making finding common ground more likely.
Gowri Ramachandran, Confronting Difference and Finding Common Ground, 34 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 725 (2011).