The question of whether people can “have it all” when it comes
to work and personal life has been asked and debated for many
years, but during their recent book research, University of
Wisconsin-Waukesha professors Ellyn Lem and Tim Dunn learned it
was a bad question.
What’s more important is to have realistic expectations and not
fall into the traps that media often sets by portraying women
and men doing it all easily, which can then result in guilty
feelings when real people can’t reach the same place as
fictional characters, Lem said.
Their book, “The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture:
Can Women and Men ‘Have it All?” addresses both genders
— whereas many efforts in the past have focused on women
— and also explores work-life balance for single people.
Lem, an English professor at UW-Waukesha, said she and
Dunn, an associated professor of philosophy at UWW, were
inspired by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president and CEO
of New America, a think tank and civic enterprise, and a
previous director of policy planning for the U.S.
Department of State. When Slaughter wrote a popular
article about the struggle to find the right balance
between work and life, Dunn and Lem were encouraged to
look into how popular culture plays into the topic.
During their research, Lem and Dunn observed some fairly
accurate portrayals of the struggles many families
experiences, such as an episode of “Roseanne” when some
of the characters are required to put in overtime and
are left scrambling to get babysitters. There is also
the opposite example of the mother on “The Cosby Show”
working a high-profile professional job, but then not
portraying how she was able to do it all so well.
Dunn said he believes media can do more and affect
change, such as it did with its representation of gay
and lesbian issues and same-sex marriage, which was
followed by legislative changes.
Work-life imbalance has costs
Pretty much every type of program illustrates the
struggle of finding the right work-life balance, such as
a cop show where the officer spends a lot of time at the
station and not with his family. The pressure to be the
family breadwinner can be stressful for the dad, Dunn
“The cost of spending so much time in the office is you
don’t have a family or anything to do when you retire,”
Change can also come from the worker and a company’s
Dunn and Lem said if people open their eyes to some of
the “injustices” they are experiencing, they can affect
Of late, more men have expressed a desire to have
paternity leave and flex time to spend time with their
Lem said a study showed that men who had paternity time
with their newborns continued to be more invested and
spend more time as an active parent throughout the
If a proposal is initiated to help families with
children achieve a healthier balance, modifications
could be made for single people or those without
children, Dunn said.
“We are living such busy lives, but to our detriment,”
Research shows that working mothers today are spending
as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers
were spending in the 1950s and 1960s.
Dunn said he was struck by the unilateral support for
“People across party lines are calling for greater
flexibility in the workplace,” he said.
Lem said she is seeing more companies advertising
themselves as “family friendly” and offering programs to
attract more workers, such as offering a place for
children to do homework after school.
While the “The Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture” is
an academic book, it is written in a style easily read
by everyone, Dunn said.
“We are all struggling. We feel a connection with other
people when we read this,” he said.
Helping workers achieve that healthier work-life
balance, Dunn said, is also a good business decision
because it can lead to more productive, happier and
Dunn and Lem’s book is available on
At a glance
What: Discussion of the book, “The
Work-Family Debate in Popular Culture: Can Women and Men ‘Have
When: 7 p.m. June 25
Where: Waukesha Public Library, 321 Wisconsin Ave.
Who: The book’s co-authors, University of
Wisconsin-Waukesha professors Ellyn Lem and Tim Dunn
www.waukesha.lib.wi.us or 262-524-3682.