Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On going back to work, Part 7 of infinity

I just wanted a chance to respond to a couple of the excellent comments on a previous post (Part 5 of infinity)...

Hypoglycemiagirl and Expat_Mama point out that while accessibility of quality childcare is a key ingredient in creating equality for women, changing the attitude of women as the default primary caregiver is just as important.

I couldn't agree more. And it's definitely a chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon.

Mothers in the U.S., and perhaps in most Western cultures, are currently the de facto primary caregiver. I think this is a holdover from cultural stereotypes that women are the caregivers and men are the breadwinners. The 50's era traditional family roles are often practiced even in households where women "should know better". In part, I think, this stems from our tendency to model our households, whether consciously or subconsciously, on the households we grew up in.

I grew up in a household where, for most of my childhood, my mother worked part-time. She also did basically 100% of the child-rearing, household management, bill paying, cooking and cleaning. Even when I was a teenager and my mother went back to work full-time, there was no redistribution of the labor... my mother continued to do 100% of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. And while my parents probably constitute a pretty extreme example of homelife inequity, I don't think they were terribly far outside of the norm.

How can men get away with this? How can women stand it? How can we change it?

I think a large part of the inequity stems from the fact that women tend to make a smaller paycheck, and therefore their careers are deemed less important. In my (humble) opinion, one of the ways mothers can start achieving equal status both at home and in the workplace is if it is easier to combine work and motherhood.

What do women need in order to successfully combine work and motherhood?

-Paid maternity leave. The United States currently has one of the worst policies for maternity leave in the industrialized world. (For anyone who isn't familiar... currently in the U.S., federal law simply says that a person can have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave . But this only applies to companies with 50 or more employees. And if both mother and father work for the same company, they have to SPLIT those 12 weeks!)

-The legal RIGHT to a flexible schedule while their children are young. In Sweden, both parents are guaranteed the right to work an 80% schedule while there is a child under the age of 8 in the household. Unsurprisingly, Sweden has one of the highest rates of female participation in the labor market.

-Available, affordable quality childcare. Including infant and toddler care.

-Legal protection against maternal profiling.

-Equal pay for equal work. Go here to sign the MomsRising petition.

Obviously I think there are a lot of things that need to change in order to help make gender equality a reality. But I think one huge step will be increasing the participation of women in the workforce. And to that end, childcare IS and remains a feminist issue.


arduous said...

I'm really glad you brought this up. The woman-as-primary-caretaker stereotype is a dangerous one especially if you're like me and very likely to be the higher bread winner in the family.

Statistically, I think it's now 1/3of marriages where the woman earns more than a man?

Anyway, the point is, there are a lot of women who DO have to support their families. And it's problematic when the assumption is made that a woman does not need to support a family. For example, a few years ago I witnessed a scenario where a woman was finally promoted after about 3 years. Six months later, a guy was promoted in very very short time because, well he had a wife and a child. He had to be promoted because he had to support a family! What if the woman had to support her family too?

EcoGeoFemme said...

This has been a great series of posts. Thanks.

Amanda said...

I've enjoyed reading these posts. Especially as Dr. Man and I are considering getting knocked up in the next couple of years.

ScienceGirl said...

Thanks for doing these series, they are very informative to those of us who are not parents yet, but are looking at our options.