Paid Family Leave a Big Deal, Even for Writers

In her terrific essay for TNR on the need for paid family leave, Rebecca Traister provides a number of personal anecdotes from her recent pregnancy and childbirth experience. And she weaves this into the recent saga of TNR itself:

In the weeks before I gave birth, The New Republic underwent some widely reported editorial turmoil. Its current owner, an online entrepreneur, hired a CEO from the tech world, who said some things that appeared to threaten the legacyof the magazine. The bosses who hired me and the majority of my beloved, brilliant colleagues—the very people who had helped my editor negotiate her 2013 leave—departed, leaving those of us who stayed bereft.

There were several reasons that I was not inclined to quit my job, but among them was the fact of my upcoming leave. Even had I wanted to, I couldn’t have quit. Despite the fact that I was staying on for a variety of reasons—because of an optimism about the future and less of an attachment to The New Republic’s past than some of my longer-serving colleagues—the easiest explanation of my actions turned on the fact of my late-stage pregnancy. My body and its condition defined my professional situation.

And then my new boss announced changes to The New Republic’s leave policy. Women and men at the company will now each receive 16 weeks paid leave after the birth or adoption of a new baby. These are lush—er, humane—Silicon Valley-style benefits, accompanying the Silicon Valley-style language that—reasonably— alarmed The New Republic’s former editorial team. This is the kind of policy that would allow a pregnant woman to take some time off before the baby is born, if she needed to.

I am immensely grateful for these benefits. Does my gratitude make me complicit in the decline of an American institution, or does it make me a lucky beneficiary of that institution’s progressive evolution? Do these expansive new benefits work as a carrot to draw new employees and then to keep them around? Is it such a bad thing to attract workers by offering them more equitable conditions, by considering that some number of them—male and female—might be producing children in the same years that they are producing content?

And then the perfect kicker:

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. And, in the end, I’m not sure I can afford to care. I’m a woman who’s just had a baby. My choices are limited.

I don’t know if Traister intended her essay to serve in part as a riposte to Leon Wieseltier’s recent op-ed at the New York Times describing TechWorld’s acquisition of journalistic properties as more or less a disaster for civilization itself. But it works pretty well.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.