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Maternity Leave

Alison Asks: Is This Story Sexist?

Day 8: I was reading an article in the Sunday New York Times about public radio trying to energize its listenership. As a working woman, soon to be working mother, one paragraph grabbed me, for all the wrong reasons.

"The [Bryant Park Project] had a tough start. One host, Luke Burbank, quit just before the first day, Oct. 1, although he didn't leave until mid-December. The remaining host, Alison Stewart, is on maternity leave. "

Do we still live in a time when maternity leave is seen as a negative, a problem, a hurdle — something that creates a "tough" situation for co-workers? I've heard of women who hide their pregnancies or don't tell their bosses. When I read this piece, it struck me this paragraph fed into the idea that having a baby is a liability for women in the workplace. Didn't the governor of Alaska just give birth?

I have to admit I was initially kind of nervous to tell my bosses that Bill and I had been overachievers in the baby making department. We were shooting for post-election — TMI, I know.

For the record NPR has been nothing short of AWESOME about the first BPP baby. My exec producer and BPPeeps are incredibly supportive and frankly, if I can reach around and pat myself on the back, more than once I did the show shortly after barfing in the bathroom 10 minutes before airtime.

So a tough start for us because of a pregnancy and maternity leave? Was that a sexist paragraph in the Times or a grim reality? Just curious what our BPP community thinks. Disagreeing is heartily welcomed.



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It doesn't read as sexist to me, but rather expresses a sentiment I share.

I really like BPP, but the lack of consistency in the host chairs makes it feel a bit unsettled. Kind of like Weekend Update on SNL. DIfferent hosts have different chemistry and listeners are drawn to different pairs of (or solo) hosts. When you tune in each week to what feels like a different show, it is tough to stick with it.

So, I think the issue of pregnancy and maternity leave was raised only because it is causing one of the hosts of this young show to be away from it. "Tough start" would be an appropriate phrase in any circumstance that causes any host to be away from the show.

Basically what I'm saying is come back soon :)

Sent by Mark | 2:04 PM | 4-28-2008

It's tough...

Who is going to be with the kid after maternity leave is over? The leave itself isn't the problem. The problem is the idea of working women all together.

I'm not saying I'm against working mothers. My mother worked and sent me to a sitter as a kid, and I'm fine. She, however, didn't work until I was 3 or so. So, sitters can be fine in general, but many people have very bad experiences with sitters, or they just need to have their parents.

That's yee problem. It's a tough situation, and I think a problem that humanity has is that we're always looking for a final answer. What can we say about working mothers? Some want to work. Fine. Others dont. Fine. You want to make a law on the matter?

Sent by Danny Brothers | 2:32 PM | 4-28-2008

I wouldn't call it sexist but I don't care for the tone. I didn't read the entire article (and perhaps I should) but the author could have prefaced the maternity leave fact with some positive or congratulatory remark.

I definitely think that the fact exists that some women are hiding their pregnancies from their bosses indicates there is, at the very least, a fear of some kind of retribution. That is definitely sexist and any behavior of that kind should be exposed and deplored.

Hope you're doing well, Alison!

Sent by Caleb | 2:33 PM | 4-28-2008

@Alison "Was that a sexist paragraph in the Times or a grim reality?"

They might have included a detail that wasn't necessary, but I don't view this as sexist. I doesn't matter whether you are giving birth, donating a kidney, or trying to scale the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro. Either way it means a lack of continuity of the show during it's first year of existence. This might make it harder to get the BPP established. I don't think so, but I don't write for the Times.

This raises two questions of interest to me. How is the BPP doing (with regards to whatever metrics NPR finds important)? So what is Rachel now, the NPR hat rack? Mark is reading the news (doing a bang-up job, by the way) and Mike is guest host. Is NPR ever going to bow to reality, not to mention listener opinion, and just call her a host already?!

Sent by Dave Wiley | 2:43 PM | 4-28-2008

Any instance when an employee is absent for an extended period of time, be it for vacation, illness, or maternity leave, creates some sort of burden for the remaining employees. Because childbirth and motherhood is beautiful and wonderful, are you any less "gone" from the office? Do you work from home while on maternity leave vs not working at all while on sick leave? (You're blogging, so maybe you ARE working part time...this is more of a rhetorical question.) I also think that the BPP presents a special case scenario. The anchors of a radio show are essential to building an audience following. Listeners tune in because they like Alison Stewart: like her voice, like the way she handles the news, like her personality, etc etc. Loose that voice, and you risk turning off your audience; people don't react well to change, after all. I think that is what the NYT was getting's unfortunate to have a lot of shake ups and changes to the "Voice" of the BPP so early in the program's life. Don't misunderstand...I don't think having babies is bad and evil and the world should be divided into "career women" vs. "mommies." I love the BPP and I think it's awesome that Alison is having a baby. I hope to be a working mom myself someday. However, I think employers and expectant parents should be honest about the impact that an absent employee has on the office.

Sent by Jessica | 2:53 PM | 4-28-2008

No, I don't think that paragraph conveys any sexism. It speaks more to the choppiness, if you will, of the BPP's cast of hosts. I really love the BPP, but I have felt two major blows to the heart in the short time you guys have been on the air -- i was really bummed out when I learned that Luke was leaving, and was doubly saddened when I discovered that you were 9 months pregnant, alison. If the NY Times' "tough start" is a reference to the reaction of the BPP fans, I have to agree. I do love Rachel Martin and the rest of the cast, but the magic and chemistry the BPP consistently captured in the beginning of your show's tenure has been lost to a certain degree with all the changes, and with your and Luke's absense. So yeah, I guess what i'm saying here, too, is hurry back Alison!

On a related note, I am entertaining the strong possibility of changing jobs, and my potential future boss would most likely not consider me if he knew I was hoping to start a family in the next 2-3 years. All other things being equal, I'd bet he'd rather hire a 29-year-old man..

Sent by beth | 2:53 PM | 4-28-2008


First, I am excited for the baby.

Second, ditto what Dave Wiley asked: "How is the BPP doing (with regards to whatever metrics NPR finds important)?"

Third, I would like to echo many of the previous commenters. The article didn't read as sexist to me, but I can see how it seems a bit awkward.

To fully explain the state of public radio morning shows, Elizabeth Jensen had to include the BPP.

How's the BPP doing? It's doing great but is in a flux. Why? Luke Burbank left abruptly. Could she leave it at that? No. So what's another reason why the show is in flux? Well, the other original host -- you -- is out on maternity leave. To present the entire picture of the story, Jensen just couldn't ignore the fact that you're not hosting for a while, and not mentioning why would have been even worse.

Finally, I'm for promoting Rachel to host. You two make a great team.


Sent by Steve Petersen | 3:18 PM | 4-28-2008

Oh, by the way, has the BPP sent The Takeaway flowers yet?

Sent by Steve Petersen | 3:20 PM | 4-28-2008

Thanks for the comments everybody--and all the kind words and wishes. I tend to think y'all are right about the author referring to host consistency. I wish it was just written that way. The intimation still leaves me shaking my head and I hate the idea of fueling ideas about maternity leave as a bad thing. I guess it is the 'tone' as Caleb wrote. Fortunately, morning show hours are are really good for I'll be back soon. And I am blogging and pitching stories. I do believe highly in the charms and skills of Rachel and Mike. They will take good care of you.
Still more opinions welcome....I love reading all the points of view!

Sent by Alison Stewart-NPR | 3:26 PM | 4-28-2008

re-ditto Dave: "This raises two questions of interest to me. How is the BPP doing (with regards to whatever metrics NPR finds important)? So what is Rachel now, the NPR hat rack? Mark is reading the news (doing a bang-up job, by the way) and Mike is guest host. Is NPR ever going to bow to reality, not to mention listener opinion, and just call her a host already?!"

This is something I want to hear from BPP: what were your targets? Are you reaching them? Where do you want to go? Is there a reason there has been no official replacement of the Lukes?

For me, I'm happy with Rachel. I'm a Pesca fan from way back, but Rachel+Alison are fine too, as long as yu don't make Rachel do double duty. Or rotate with different combos of the three...

Still early days for Mark Garrison.

Sent by Marc Naimark | 3:34 PM | 4-28-2008

Hey everyone -- thanks for the comments. And it's great to see that everyone has become so attached to the show that you really feel it when a host leaves. That said, Alison will be back! We promise.

We have lots of exciting stuff planned in the next few months, and even more exciting things are afoot for the return of Alison. We'll keep you updated as we go along -- but that's all I can say for now. I know, that's a total tease. (And it's meant to be!)

Sent by Matt Martinez-NPR | 4:25 PM | 4-28-2008

@Alison - This article tagged you as the "remaining host." As a big BPP fan, I took offense to that term, because you and Rachel make up the greatest duo on morning radio we have had in a long time! Like NPR was short on candidates for this show? I find that hard to believe. Mike is doing a great job too - props to him for carrying the first sans-Alison show solo. I love hearing the updates from Mr. Alison Stewart. You and the team take radio to where it belongs, striking a balance between the social and the intellectual. We in the nation's capital and in the big apple feel that the BPP crew and cast is speaking our language. Keep up the great work.

Sent by Liam | 4:31 PM | 4-28-2008

When I went on maternity leave no one thought I would return. However, I find it very fulfilling to work and be a single mom. It is hard, but I'd never give up my child or my identity I choose to have at work. Much will change when you are gone. Some may put you on a pedestal in your absence, but you won't be the same person when you return. It's one of those times the universe shoves you in the direction of change. I applaud you in doing what you want with your career and family and your life- especially if it looks differently than a 1950's sitcom. :)

Sent by Maiken Huntsman | 4:55 PM | 4-28-2008

The paragraph is a brief mention of the challenges the BPP is going through as you try to build an audience. I simply don't see any negative connotation inferred by mentioning Alison's maternity leave. Here's the deal: As great as the show can be, one host leaving permanently followed by the other leaving temporarily results in turbulence. Fortunately Rachel and Mike are both familiar to the BPP audience, and this seems a much smoother transition than a few months ago when there were different guest hosts every other day.

One thing in the article caught my eye and I think ought to be mentioned: "Online listening is growing, and with few broadcast stations carrying the program, a plan to go Internet-only has been discussed. Ms. Weiss said that would not happen but declined to discuss coming changes."

What's the deal, folks? I felt mixed while reading this portion of the NYT article. Being broadcast on traditional terrestrial radio suggests stability and greater standing within NPR. However I almost always podcast the program every morning and listen all the way through... Ah, technology.

Sent by Dan M | 5:07 PM | 4-28-2008

The paragraph is indeed tonally weird, but I agree with the general consensus that the issue at hand is the lack of consistency with the hosts.

It's a broadcasting truism that what morning radio listeners and morning TV viewers crave is consistency. That's why it's always a big story when, say, Meredith Viera replaces Katie Couric. People don't like it when their morning routine is messed with! And I include myself in this -- I was so discombobulated when Bob Edwards left Morning Edition that I eventually just stopped listening to the show. It felt wrong, and I didn't like it.

It's true, I was bummed when Luke left -- heck, I got irritated when the theme song was changed! (For the record, I *still* like the old theme better.) But on the other hand, it turns out that Too Beautiful To Live is actually a way better use of his particular skill set as a radio host than the BPP ever was, so there you go.

I do agree with some others, incidentally, that Alison and Rachel are my favorite of the host teams, overall. I did like David Greene, though: his campaign trail piece about knowing that the Giuliani campaign was toast because of how pathetic their campaign stops had gotten (and also the fact that they had someone like HIM covering the campaign!) was terrific, and showed a sensibility in perfect sync with the overall BPP aesthetic.

Sent by Stewart | 5:35 PM | 4-28-2008

I'm not a radio expert, but the WNYC et al morning show is coming soon. There's just not enough bandwidth on broadcast public radio for Morning Edition, BPP, and this new show. BPP's broadcasting seems quite limited (is this a problem for NPR?), so it makes sense to concentrate on internet. More can be done to meld the capacities of internet and radio. Can BPP be a leader in mainstream media melding??

Sent by Marc Naimark | 5:41 PM | 4-28-2008

I first started listening to the BPP in mind January and, at the time, it seemed like there was a guest host two or three times a week. I thought it was a radio show that just had on a lot of guest hosts and that was pretty neat. As I kept listening I came to find that the guest host is actually a rarity. I liked that the BPP was different in both hosting style and the spread of stories that were -and are- covered and without that, I might not have come back day after day. As it stands, I doubt the revolving host system is adversely affecting the listenership.

Good luck with the wolff cub :)

Sent by Sarah Lee | 5:59 PM | 4-28-2008

Hey Guys, love the show! I have been listening since the very first podcast. I know that it has to be tough to get the BPP on the air. Morning Edition is so entrenched (and so good) I still listen to it as I get ready each day. I listen to the BPP in the car on my IPOD.

I think we all want to know what is going on with the BPP. For a while there were guests hosts, then that stopped. I have enjoyed the show with just Allison and Rachel, they do a great job. Is this how the show is going to stay? I think it works. Is the BPP meeting expectations? I imagine if it isn't you really don't want to say so.

Is the comment sexist? I don't think so. It is factual. We miss you Allison. (Personally I like the show better since Luke left, can I say that?).

Sent by Jim Trenton | 6:06 PM | 4-28-2008

i must say that the present mix of young bpp staffers is really wonderful and you all seem to play together so nicely!!! the tricia/matt team is superb...i love the most and i also think people could interchange (host) roles easily and add interest to the continuing development and context of the show. listeners probably need to feel a familiar connection with the various personalities and you've got some great ones...i think the public is becoming very attached to the bpp whether it's on the air or internet...either way i think there's a following so have a fine baby, stay positive and maybe the bpp needs a few more baby topics...
women and careers..etc.etc...just decide where you want to go...keep it going and get there!!!

Sent by jan | 8:57 PM | 4-28-2008

I agree with whomever said Too Beautiful to Live is a better vehicle for Luke. He just doesn't seem to cut it on a national show, a local program will help him tone up his abilities.

As for Allison. Christ, quit your bitching. No one likes a whiny public radio dandy. For now we've been able to avoid that on BPP but I can already see the NPR fancy lad mindset taking back over. Just shoot me now. Time to tune back over to Howard Stern.

Sent by Arlan Lansin | 11:19 PM | 4-28-2008

@Stewart: "For the record, I *still* like the old theme better."

Me, too! I caught some BPP promo videos on Youtube recently and was reminded how much I missed the original theme.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 11:47 PM | 4-28-2008

Alison! I totally read that paragraph as leaning sexist or perhaps a stitch condescending. Maybe that is due to being a ripe nine months pregnant myself (read: excessively hormonal, sleep deprived, hugely uncomfortable, and on the verge of maternity leave). Also, I find it interesting that many people posting are stating that factual statements and sexist intonations are mutually exclusive. More interesting observations: most of these posters observing the statement as purely factual seem to be men, and the article in question was written by a woman. To me, the fact that the author did not flesh out her thesis: i.e. host inconsistency, completely allows you to interpret her comment as a slight. You should definitely take that irritation to the birthing room! You might be able to use it as a focal point for pain management :) Best of luck!

Sent by Anna (baby due on May 6th) | 11:17 AM | 4-29-2008

The thing about sexism is that it isn't always overt or intended to cause harm. That being said: yes, this article is sexist. As a woman in academia, I see sexism every day, from the difference in student perceptions of male v female TAs to the opportunities that my male (but not female) colleagues are offered. The fact that after a year of grad school I have yet to be in a graduate seminar taught by a female professor is telling.

Discrimination doesn't have to be obvious or overt, and normally it isn't. But does this article imply that women who have children are less desirable employees than men? Yes. That is a serious obstacle on the road to workplace equality for men and women, which leads to different treatment and consideration of men and women in the job market.

Sent by Rebecca | 12:21 PM | 4-29-2008

Alison, we really miss you!

Sent by Julie V | 12:35 PM | 4-29-2008

Rebecca writes: "Discrimination doesn't have to be obvious or overt, and normally it isn't. But does this article imply that women who have children are less desirable employees than men? Yes."

No. It is talking about the difficulties of launching BPP. Between the two wrenches in the works, I think most people would think that Luke's resignation is (perhaps) bad and unprofessional behavior, while most people will simply say, best wishes to Alison. Pregnancy is part of life for most couples, period.

Far more sexist was the comment earlier from Danny Brothers: "Who is going to be with the kid after maternity leave is over? The leave itself isn't the problem. The problem is the idea of working women all together."

Oh Danny! I seem to have heard that there's this Bill guy involved in the deal. I'm going to assume that he was a party to this decision, as the Alikid could not exist without his active participation. So please ask him how he intends to care for his progeny and stop pre-guilting Alison. As for me, I'm going to say that the childcare choices of the couple are their business, not ours.

Sent by Marc Naimark | 12:43 PM | 4-29-2008

FYI: Old intro music is a song called "Lex" by Ratatat.

Sent by Dan M | 1:57 PM | 4-29-2008

As a gay male who fully intends to raise children in the future, I often ponder what will happen when I decide to have children of my own, as it relates to my career. I wonder what the implications would be if a male radio host (gay or straight; single or married) were to take a paternity leave? What if it were society's norm for males to assume the post-birth responsibilities? I wonder if people would look at the absence as much as 'problem', 'issue', 'concern'? I have a hunch that people would be less likely to question the practice and less likely to put unfair pressure on such fathers.

It seems unfortunate that Alison feel so compelled to please others by reminding them that she'll be back soon and that morning radio works well for parents. I think it's too convenient to say 'well, sexism aside, she IS taking off x amount of months from work, and anyway you slice it, there's some inconsistency there.' It's not as if the realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and rearing are new to human life. Newer to the work place, yes, but come on.

Alison has been working her butt off for how many years now in the public eye? She's helped make history in the 90's votes with her huge MTV influence and has continued to provide the world with quality news reporting since then. I think she's proven that she can work, and that in all likelihood, she will be able to carry the hit BPP, once she has taken care of herself and her family.

Congrats Alison and best of luck! We miss you and can't wait to have you back when you and your family are good and ready!

Sent by Michael Wood | 4:27 PM | 4-29-2008

@Michael Wood, I don't know how they'd respond to a gay man's adoption, but I know one thing: they'd still call it "maternity leave." That should tell you something right there and then.

When I went on family leave (the PC term for it) for the birth of my son, the supervisors and co-workers, be they male or female, asked me, "When are you going on maternity leave?" They said it with no degree of condescension or mockery; it just seeemed to them that that was the appropriate term. When I told them it is biologically impossible for me to go on "maternity leave," they apologized, of course, but that's the societal attitude. When it comes to children and family, it's a woman's world.

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 10:51 PM | 4-29-2008

I had a discussion a few weeks ago about how, at an unnamed Fortune 500 company, it was rare for a woman to be promoted during the review period in which she gave birth and took family leave. Is this sexism? It's unclear, because we think it's also rare for a man to be promoted following his taking family leave.

This is a challenge - if one has committed to delivering X,Y,Z during the next year, and then one takes 2-3 months off for family leave, how does that impact the ability to deliver X,Y,Z - maybe only X & Y happen. Does one scale expectations for family leave? Are there other reasons? How does it affect the company's bottom line if the person taking leave is very senior? Or, in this case, what if the person taking leave is on-air talent that's part of the show's branding?

Reaction to family leave certainly can be sexist, but it doesn't have to be, but I think there's a fundamental imbalance between Work and Life that we as a society haven't figured out yet.

Good luck Alison! And I think the BPP is one of the best things on the radio, too!

Sent by Ken | 2:19 PM | 4-30-2008

I think the article just tried to describe the inconsistency as a result of host switches. A "tough start" is probably not the most appropriate sounds more negative than the factual situation is.

That being said, I wish the BPP would settle for a male/female host duo. This is not to say the Alison/Rachel combo is a bad thing. I just think a female/female duo at times misses both a bit of chemistry and balance and the same would go for a male/male duo. I loved Luke and I think Mike is doing a great job too, but I would be less happy if they would've been put together to make the show.

Whatever is going to happen to the show, keep up the good work. Satellite radio pulled me away from NPR on my way to work and back home (no Morning Edition/All Things Considered on Sirius), but the BPP brought NPR back to my morning drive.
You're hitting the right balance between entertainment, interactivity and responsible journalism.

Sent by Ronald van der Putte | 8:13 AM | 5-1-2008