The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture

Ellyn A. Lem and Timothy J. Dunn Edwin Mellen Press, 210 pages, $39.95

Ellyn A. Lem and Timothy J. Dunn, faculty colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, don't solve the work-life balance problem in their book "The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture." But in calm, clear prose, they outline the issues, address the obstacles and consider possible solutions through analyzing how popular culture depicts the struggles of women and men to have satisfying work and family lives.

The two discuss the issues in Anne-Marie Slaughter's article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," which appeared in Atlantic magazine in 2012, and Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" (2013). They then ask, shrewdly, "Maybe a better question than why can't women have it all would be why is it is so hard for men and women to have both a rewarding career and a satisfying family life?" While work-family balance questions are often framed as a women's discussion, the authors also consider the struggles and responsibilities of men, rightly seeing couples and families as systems.

Lem and Dunn find examples of women artfully balancing family and work in some surprising places, such as Helen, aka Elastagirl, in "The Incredibles" (2004) — while noting the irony that her superpower is extreme flexibility. They also hold up "Roseanne" for its groundbreaking commitment to telling it like it is, including a story line about the struggles Roseanne's family faced when she had to work mandatory overtime.