I've been thinking a lot (obviously) about women who choose to become mothers and the decision to go back to work or not.
It's a very touchy subject. And one on which everyone has an opinion (that they will happily share ). I can remember being something like 8 months pregnant, and the shuttle driver was asking me if I would return to work after the baby was born. I told him I had three months maternity leave, and then I'd be back at the bench. "But who will comfort her when she's teething?" he asked. "A baby needs her mama."
Thank you, childless person with no knowledge of my personal situation, for making me feel even guiltier about returning to work. I never realized that children need parents.
I worked hard in school. I studied and did well. I was consistently at the top of every single science and math class I took. I got a degree in the hard sciences. I went on to get my PhD. I stood on the shoulders of the women who paved the way for me. Hooray! Victory for women, right? I've done all my feminist predecessors proud.
The women's movement has given women innumerable oportunities outside of the home. But I think the women's movement has, to date, largely ignored the fact that many women still want to spend at least the early years of their childrens' lives at home with them. The question is treated as dichotomous. You can either A) be a good little feminist and stay in the workforce, or B) throw away all your potential, stay at home and be "just a housewife." Choosing the role of mother/housewife is looked at as domestic servitude to the patriarchy... I'm personally sick of the way that feminists have amputated and cauterized the nurturing women who want to spend a significant amount of their time and energy on raising their children.
I remember reading once that Gloria Steinham was criticized for getting married, treated as a traitor to the feminist cause. Her response was that feminism was always about giving women choices.
So why is it that women who choose to stay home to raise their children are viewed by men as lazy, and by working women as traitors?
For me, there has never been a question that I wanted to have children. I know some women who struggle with the decision to have kids or not, I know other women who aren't interested whatsoever. But for me, I always knew that being a mom would be one of my greatest joys.
I want to find a better balance between work and raising my child(ren). There is a dearth of flexible work situations in science. And it makes me sad that while the women's movement has made great strides in getting women into the workforce, there aren't very good options for the significant number of women who choose to have children. Choosing to have a child is almost always a handicap for women in their careers. But since raising a child is considered a selfish choice, mothers are left to fend for themselves.
In the not too distant future, I will find myself a more flexible work situation. It will probably be at the expense of my career overall. It's very difficult to find any kind of part time position at the bench, and taking years away from the bench is even more of a black mark on your record than time spent in industry. But I have to do what's right for me and my family. I can deal with the consequences as they come.
In the meantime, until our capitalist economy stops penalizing motherhood, the workforce is going to continue hemorraging its educated, well-trained, talented women.
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