...or Why access to quality childcare is a feminist issue (whether or not you plan to have kids)
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I grew up believing I could have it all. I mean, my mom came pretty close to it. She had a career (as a children's librarian) and raised 5 kids. I don't think I ever once considered the possibility that I would NOT have a career. I always assumed, too, that I would have kids. Though obviously there is some sort of problem with this scenario, I have always assumed the solution would be a quality daycare.
I'm 27. Married. My husband and I get knocked up (intentionally)... We start looking for daycare. Let me tell you a bit about what we found:
1. Most places don't even take infants. The age that kids can start varies, but many places don't accept kids till they're over the age of 1. Some don't accept kids until they're 2. Okay, so that narrows down the options.
2. Places that do accept infants have ridiculously long "waiting lists." These waiting lists are not on a first come, first served basis per se. They operate at the discretion of the daycare (they usually take the baby that happens to have a convenient birthday... thus minimizing any empty slots in the infant room). We got on the waiting list at several places, and never (even now!) got a call to say that there were spots available for the Bean. It has been a year and a half since we signed up for these waiting lists. So getting a spot in an infant room is basically like winning the lottery. And just because you do your research, doesn't mean you actually get to choose where you send your child.
3. The in-home daycares we visited were of poor quality. That is NOT to say that all in-home daycares are of poor quality. But we had a difficult time locating an in-home daycare that was anything other than custodial care (i.e. we'll try to make sure your kid doesn't kill herself while you're gone, but other than that we can't make any promises). One of the places we visited, they didn't even turn off the TV while we were visiting. Again, this is not to say that all in-home daycares are terrible, but simply that a good situation is hard to find.
4. As in real estate, location is everything. Anything close to work was at least $400 more per month. The only daycares we were able to afford were out in the boonies... "luckily" we live in the boonies...
After a lot of looking, Husband and I were able to find someplace that we absolutely LOVE. Thank goodness for it too. Because going back to work was exponentially harder than I ever could have anticipated in my naive youth. And if we didn't LOVE the place that we take the Bean every day, if she didn't LOVE it, I couldn't have gone back to work.
Now all of this is well and good, you might be thinking, but how is daycare a feminist issue?
As I said, if we didn't love Bean's daycare, and if she didn't love it, I wouldn't have been able to bring myself to go back to work. The daycare dilemma is one that nearly every working mother faces.
In the absence of quality childcare, women will drop out of the workforce in disproportionate numbers. Because even in relatively enlightened households (like mine), women remain the primary caretakers. And when faced with undesirable options for childcare, women will choose to care for their children at the expense of their careers.
I truly believe that this is the true heart of why there remain fewer women at the highest levels of nearly all careers. Women who reaped the benefits of the women's movement, who trained and studied, who really bought in to everything the women's movement had promised... they are dropping out of the rat race. Some of them leave their careers altogether, some of them simply veer off the most demanding career tracks in favor of a more balanced work life, some of them will take a few years out of the workforce while their children are young only to find that reentry is next to impossible.
What does this mean? It means that in the absence of quality childcare, primary caretakers (women) will continue to be underrepresented in the highest levels of our judicial system, in the most highly paid jobs in the private sector, and in the most powerful positions in the government. And in a very real sense, their interests will also be underrepresented.
What do I mean by quality childcare? I mean specifically a developmental, rather than custodial approach to caring for young children. Such care should be available to anyone who wants it. Not just those who can afford ridiculous premiums, or who happen to win the child care lottery (like we did).
Universal early education, and subsidies for early childhood care, is a feminist issue.
P.S. Why should the government, and therefore the (sometimes childless) taxpayers pay for early education and childcare subsidies?
1. By increasing the availability of quality developmental childcare, you enable women to remain in the workforce. This is not only an issue of equality (and dare I say human rights?), but actually creates a stronger richer workforce.
2. Mounting evidence shows that early childhood education programs create more successful, emotionally mature, productive citizens. This not only creates quality human capital for the next generation, but also decreases likelihood of dependence on social support programs.