I will start off this essay saying that I am a stay-at-home mom. Some might think that I don’t have a dog in this fight because I’m not currently in the 9-5 world. But whether you like it or not, I am a woman who just doesn’t care if you think that I have no standing to say what I’m going to say. I’m writing for all the women out there who are just too darn busy working, cleaning, commuting, and raising the future generation (who will pay your Social Security check, BTW) to voice their concerns. So pay attention! I’m not gonna say this twice!
Most of us know that the bulk of the child care will fall on us women because we are mothers. Most of us embrace this work because we love our children. You change diapers because you love your child, not because you love to clean poop. You get up at 2 AM for your crying child because you love them, not because you enjoy having your sleep interrupted to the point of utter confusion and sometimes tears. But this love and dedication does not negate the love and dedication you may have for your career. Or your education. Or your professionalism.
However, many times the male-dominated business world does not see it that way. In a world where you are expected to be 100% committed to your job, anything that appears to interfere with that makes you a less than ideal worker. And because women do the bulk of the child care, that love and dedication you have for your children becomes a liability. Are you taking the full 12 weeks of FMLA that you are entitled to by law? Your male workers think you are on vacation. Have to leave the office an hour early to pick up a sick kid? You are hanging your coworkers out to dry on that big deadline. Even though you came in early and you answer emails late at night. You ask to have a flexible schedule or work from home so that you can be more present for your kids? No one in the office will actually think that you are working while you are at home. Because how can you work when you are mother?
What is even worse is that every little decision can be nitpicked and judged in the blink of an eye in our internet-centered culture. You stopped breast feeding because you had to go back to work and your office doesn’t have a place to pump? You must be a bad mother that obviously doesn’t want to feed your child the “best” food possible. You put your child in daycare because you need to keep your job in order to pay bills and eat? You are just letting day care providers raise your child instead of actually doing it yourself. You quit your job to stay at home because child care expenses would completely eat up your paycheck? You are just throwing all your education and potential in the trash. Women have made huge strides in the workplace, but obviously not in the hearts and minds of the business powers-that-be.
As much as we think that women gained equal rights in the 60’s and 70’s, our modern life is demonstrating that the world is still constrained by old ways of thinking in regards to women in the workplace. I recently read an article published on Glamour written by President Barack Obama. Titled “This is What A Feminist Looks Like,” he spoke about his experiences growing up being raised by a single mother and how that experience shaped him when he was raising his own two daughters with his wife, Michelle.
I was really struck when he acknowledged that while he was working away from home in the state legislature he “helped out” with child care, but “it was usually on my schedule and on my terms. The burden disproportionately and unfairly fell on Michelle.” He also added that Michelle “Like many working mothers, she worried about the expectations and judgments of how she should handle the trade-offs, knowing that few people would question my choices.”
I think that the President hit the nail on the head when it comes to the fears and insecurities that many women have once they decide to have children after establishing their careers. It seems like women can never win. We are expected to parent like we don’t work and work like we don’t have to parent. And because men don’t have to deal with this sort of criticism and the discrimination that goes with it, they get to advance in the workplace and reap all the rewards. Our society allows this because even though our laws have evolved regarding the place of women in the working world, our hearts and minds have clearly not evolved at the same pace.
So, I was impressed when the President of the United States of America acknowledged that women have the societal burden of childcare put on them and are judged harshly for every single situation they make. The most powerful man in the world acknowledged that women can get the short end of the stick. To quote a much more eloquent speaker than myself:
“…We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs. We need to keep changing the attitude that permits the routine harassment of women, whether they’re walking down the street or daring to go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that teaches men to feel threatened by the presence and success of women.”
I think at this point, changing hearts and minds is what is going to help launch women forward in the 21st century. I hope to add to that effort here on my blog. Because to quote President Obama, “when everybody is equal, we are all more free.”