Mothers putting work aside Maternity leaves grow, guilt wanes

January 02, 1995|By New York Times News Service

Current television commercials for Levi's Jeans for Women show a Matisse-like stick figure with a shaped hangar as a face balancing on a seesaw and a silhouette escaping from a confining logo on a door, trading her dress for jeans and shattering the prison that encased her.

The ad campaign, created by FCB San Francisco, is somewhat unusual for its surreal style. But what really sets it apart is its attempt to speak to a statistically small but influential group of women: the "workpausals."

While now largely confined to the privileged set, workpausals represent the front line of an important emerging societal trend. New evidence suggests that perhaps as a reaction to the careerism of the 1980's, or because of a nostalgia for a more traditional life style, many mothers are yearning for a "time out." Some are actually taking it, becoming full-time mothers for a few years and then resuming their careers.

"Women have stopped apologizing for staying home," said Donny Deutsch, chief executive and executive creative director of Deutsch Inc. "Now it's a badge."

Susan Small Weil, a strategist with the Seiden Group, said today's mother at home is "a modern-day status symbol, a guiltless new traditionalist doing the responsible thing."

Television and publishers have recognized this group of women, portraying strong mothers in TV shows and producing new magazines like Family Fun. But most marketers have not addressed the group.

Advertisers have retired the image of the superwoman, who, as portrayed in the 1970s Enjoli perfume ads, brought home the bacon and fried it up in a pan.

"Marketers are just now catching on to the fact that people have stopped glorifying work as the be-all and end-all of life and that portraying that may not be the way to capture women's hearts," said Maryann Gormley, of Women at Home, a Virginia-based support group.

Barbara Feigin, executive vice president and director of strategic services at Grey Advertising, said that while shows like "Roseanne," and "Mad About You" show women "in contemporary ways, the commercials in them do not."

There are a few exceptions, like an ad for Dove soap -- that describes its rural protagonist as someone who's "always known what works for her" -- which was praised by Woman at Home.

Still, Ms. Feigen said, "Three out of four women think advertising is out of touch with where they are today."

Sheile Wellington, president of Catalyst, an organization that deals with women and work issues, said the number of working women was continuing to rise, adding that "women, just like men, work for a paycheck, not for pin money."

But recent surveys by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that fewer young mothers are working now than in 1987. Roper Starch Worldwide, a polling organization, says that while fewer than half of the women surveyed in 1985 wanted to stay at home, 53 percent of the same number surveyed recently said that they would like to do so.

Arlene Cardozo, author of "Sequencing," believes the time-out trend is already widespread. "What started with trailblazers, professional doctors and lawyers' wives and women with wealthy husbands is rapidly becoming a well-worn highway with wives of garage mechanics and factory workers extending maternity leaves to a few years," she said.

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