An Either/Or Decision: Forcing Women Into a False Choice

“My friends who stay home full-time with their kids aren’t happy, but the women I know who work full-time and put their kids in daycare aren’t happy either. I don’t know what the right answer is.”

That comment was made to me on Saturday night, as I sat in a pub drinking beer with a friend of mine who loves her job as a speech therapist, but feels like the ever-increasing demands of her career are infringing on her family’s time. While she readily admitted that there is no one ‘right answer’ that will be perfect for all mothers, she initially seemed surprised by my insistence that, despite our constant talk of ‘family values,’ as a society we make balancing family and work hard – particularly for women. Our expectations and our laws are structured in such a way that we tend to force parents into a false choice – work or family.

Take, for example, the myth of the 40-hour work week.


Since “women remain clustered in the lowest-paid occupations,” many women are working long hours, odd shifts, and multiple jobs – factors that can make motherhood seem like an impossible challenge. Yet, even for women who are privileged enough to find entrance into a corporate job, the regular schedule of the 40-hour week is a dream. Fewer and fewer salaried workers have the luxury of leaving as soon as their requisite eight hours are finished each day. In many corporations, the expectation is that those who are ‘serious about their careers’ will stay longer or take work home. This is, of course, problematic for anyone who has a family. Yet, as we still tend to saddle mothers with the majority of responsibility for the care of children, it is women who are routinely labeled ‘less dedicated’ – meaning that they simply can’t work longer than their contracted hours, since they need to pick up the kids from the babysitter or daycare. Of course, it is the workers who agree to take-on longer and longer hours, in the hopes of seeming better than others with whom they are in competition. The result, however, is a sort of tragedy of the commons – while each person makes a rational decision to try to out-stay everyone else (and correctly argues that time is a resource available to everyone), the result is worsening conditions in general. Well, worsening conditions for everyone except the share-holders, that is.

In the United States, the plight of mothers is also complicated by the fact that we are “…one of only five countries that does not provide or require employers to provide some form of paid maternity leave.” European nations generally guarantee mothers more paid maternity leave than the six weeks of unpaid leave our companies are required to offer, and most have laws ensuring some paid paternity leave to new fathers as well. Of course, even in countries where women are afforded decent maternity leave, there can still be a tendency to try to punish them for the decision to have a family – or even for being capable of having children. An article published by the BBC today, for example, warns that employers might be reluctant to hire women, since they do not want workers to take leave. The problem, of course, is that the article presents this dilemma as being caused by maternity leave laws, rather than as a remaining problem that still needs to be addressed.

The push to keep women from pursuing career and family seems to be well ingrained in our attitudes as well as our laws. Even in fields where sabbaticals are common, we frequently hear that there is a resistance to hiring any woman, because she might want to have children. And while countries like France, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Spain, and the UK all offer a year or more of unpaid leave to mothers of new babies, gaps in a resume due to time taken with small children often put women at a disadvantage in the United States.

Yet, the decision between family and career is a false one not just because we could have better laws and outlooks that would make choosing between career and family unnecessary, but also because the decision not to work is a luxury of the upper-class. Few women can actually afford not to work, and that is not a new reality. When I see revisionists try to blame feminism for the plight of women who must be workers and mothers, I can’t help but wonder what ‘good-old days of stay-home moms’ they’re remembering – certainly my mother worked (as a teacher), my grandmother worked (in a factory), and my great-grandmother worked (on a farm). So it isn’t that the problems facing women as they struggle to balance family and work are new, it’s that we aren’t making sufficient progress in resolving them.

The conversation with my friend in the pub on Saturday ended with her asking me where she could go to volunteer or work for an organization specifically aimed at protecting the rights of working women and mothers. She commented that she would be willing to work hard for the causes of equal pay, paid parental leave, and a guaranteed hiatus for new mothers so that they could return to their jobs after taking time off with newborn children. I have to admit – I was stumped. I replied that she could volunteer for Obama, who has been vocal in his support of these changes, but I could not think of an organization that was dedicated solely to advocating for the kind of changes that would lessen the challenges facing working mothers – the majority of mothers.

Does anyone have any recommendations for my friend? Also, if you are from a country where you feel like life is easier for working parents, what laws have given women more freedom to pursue family and careers?


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68 comments for “An Either/Or Decision: Forcing Women Into a False Choice

  1. Steven
    July 14, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    What about paternity leave?

  2. Em
    July 14, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    The only organization I can think of that specifically addresses employment inequity is Mom’s Rising (www.momsrising.org). It is connected to MoveOn.org, iirc, and has a lot of race and class privilege bias, but it’s out there lobbying.

    And while I’m at it – fabulous post.

  3. July 14, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    She could immigrate to Canada. :)
    If I were to have a child in Ontario I would have a combined pregnancy and maternity leave of 1 year. The parental (maternity/paternity) leave can be shared with the father if desired. There is also leave available for those who adopt children. There is some money doled out by the government to support the off-work parent, similar to welfare/employment insurance. If you’re lucky your employer will “top up” the government funding to bring you up to a higher percentage of your pre-leave income. Things may differ from province to province but I think it is all similar.

    I don’t know the actual dollar amounts/percentages since I’ve not been in this situation but it certainly helps for the first year of your child’s life. After that you’re tough out of luck unless you live in Quebec where they have $7 a day regulated day care. :)

  4. Soe
    July 14, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    While Germany does have those laws about paid maternity leave, it’s still very difficult here. Women are hired more reluctantly and those years off leave them worse off financially. Fathers staying at home are rare and often feel isolated.

    But recently our Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, who has seven kids herself, introduced a new measure. Paternal leave is either paid for for 12 months (if only one parent takes it) or 14 months but then both parents have to go on leave. You can then go for 12+2 or 7+7 or 5+9 or …
    So while only few men take the full paid paternity leave the number of men taking at least 2 months off, has been soaring. Even politicians from the very Catholic Bavarian CSU have started to do so.

    For now it’s just a small measure and not perfect but it’s certainly changing the way society looks at men taking care of their children and opening up new possibilities for working moms.

  5. July 14, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I recommend Moms Rising:
    http://momsrising.org/

  6. July 14, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Great post. The pressure to put in >40 hours does have a disproportionate impact on women for the reasons you cite. And even with better leave policies, as you say: “employers might be reluctant to hire women, since they do not want workers to take leave.” IMO, the best long term solution is for men to share the parenting so that women are not economic/professional second class citizens.

    As long as men are, on average, the higher earner, the pressure will be on the woman (in hetero relationships) to shoulder the parenting, even where both are working. As you point out, single-income families are a privileged and relatively rare group. I do not know whether men will voluntarily increase participation without increased leverage from women. OK, I liked, I pretty much DO know they won’t.

    Employer are capitalistic and with fewer women dropping well-paying careers, hiring will eventually even out. And with men and women taking equal advantage of leave policies, not only will those policies improve (the way any policies that affect men equally or more tend to do) but they won’t be held against women to handicap us.

    In the meantime? I think careers that emphasize pay for performance rather than hours tend to work best for women. Women tend to be better at multitasking, IMO, and don’t always need 40 hours to do the equivalent of a full-time week’s work. Careers that pay by percentage or commission tend to allow women a better chance at good pay and flexibility.

  7. July 14, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Opting out of the idea that money and career is above family has worked for us, at least for the baby years. We do without a lot, my husband working part time. It hasn’t been easy, and more help from my government (it’s not all that great in the great white) would go a long way. But it’s been worth the long days for both of us to put everything on the back burner for now. It’s been the least stressful option, for US. I know it wouldn’t work for everyone.

  8. July 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    This situation will not be resolved until we have some kind of socialized daycare or job sharing plan. Even more opportunities for women to work from home would go along way to reducing the stress that combining career and family life can bring. Though mechanization was supposed to bring all kinds of freedom and spare time for workers we are working harder today than we did in the 1970’s. It’s time to make technology work for us and wrest control from the ruling bourgeoisie.

  9. Kelsey
    July 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    http://www.Momsrising.org. Your friend should check that out. They probably have connections to local organizations that work for those issues.

  10. July 14, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    She could immigrate to Canada. :)

    I have to say I love Ontario’s policies compared to those in the States. My cousin, just recently finished up her full year mat leave which she never would have been able to afford if she lived across the border. There is still a big problem of companies and respecting the right to parental leave however. In another case my sister-in-law was given a very large severance package to basically “get lost” after she announced that she was going on maternity leave for a second time.

    I have long thought that the best way to solve this problem is to create an environment where both men and women are given the same rights when it comes to parental leave. Right now Ontario is on the right track but there are a few problems, such as parental leave “defaulting” to the mother and companies offering some percentage pay to women but not men.

  11. July 14, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Ditto on the recommendation of momsrising.org, it’s the only one I can think of that’s advocating for these rights.

    GREAT POST! This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I don’t want to have to make a choice, yet it seems that more and more that’s what it’s coming down to for a lot of the women I know. Even in nonprofits (where you’d think they might be more family-friendly) I have found that they’re resistant to flexible options.

  12. July 14, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Hypatia… there is definitely a looooong way to go in regards to supporting families. Since we’re on the right track here I hope we continue to make improvements. Everyday I thank my lucky stars that my boss feels family is FAR more important than work (he has 2 kids). I know as a woman in the corporate world I’m very lucky to have a boss with that outlook.

  13. July 14, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I stronly sympathize with working mothers AND stay-at-home mothers. Parenting seems SO difficult.

    I plan to never have kids nor care for them. I’m much happier without kids :-)

  14. July 14, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I strongly sympathize with working mothers AND stay-at-home mothers. Parenting seems SO difficult.

    I plan to never have kids nor care for them. I’m much happier without kids :-)

  15. July 14, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    @hypatia..While I think that 1 year paid maternity/paternity leave is wonderful especially when other countries do not get the same, it is still not enough support. As you know unemployment only pays a percentage of your pay and therefore at a time in life when your expenses drastically increase you end up taking home less money. For me it was a huge drop in pay There should be no penalty for having babies and I strong believe all companies should be made to pay for the shortfall in salary.

  16. July 14, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Renee – Full time government employees get a large percentage of their pay. Considering the pay cut I’d take (public sector, non-union, american owned company) I’ve even considered switching jobs in advance of having a baby.

    Not only do you lose out on money when you take that year off but I’d be surprised to get my annual performance raise once returning to work.

  17. July 14, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    As you know unemployment only pays a percentage of your pay and therefore at a time in life when your expenses drastically increase you end up taking home less money. For me it was a huge drop in pay

    Oh I definitely agree trust me. In my own little perfect world I would love it if the government paid one half, the company paid the other of the full salary and both parents actually got one year, not this, you can split it if you want to kind of deal.

    Sadly many women I know actually do better financially when they are off on maternity leave than when they return to their jobs simply because the costs of childcare are so high. They pay more for daycare than they do for their mortgage. Which is another issue that really needs to be addressed.

  18. July 14, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    I like the idea of one year paid leave, but I’m not sure if the economics make sense, esp without a guarantee of return or short tenure in the job, or a cap on number of times it can be used.

    I don’t think one can argue that one should get an annual performance raise for a year in which one was out.

    I keep coming back to the conclusion that the only way to really help women not face workplace inequities is to have men contribute equally to parenting. Let’s say a woman does get a paid year off. She’ll lose seniority and she’ll have been out of the market for a year. In most careers, that’s a lot to make up even if the pay’s all there. It’s a big hurdle.

    Finally, what about commission jobs? For example, I am an independent contractor and not an employee. Other women with sales/marketing jobs often have such a designation. There is nobody to pay our healthcare or salary when we have kids, since we don’t get healthcare or salary through our work. For women in such positions, what makes a difference is not anything the employer can do, but what a partner can do in sharing the burden.

  19. dananddanica
    July 14, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Octogalore,
    You bring a lot of the same questions I wonder about. How does one solve these? For my background, how does one make 1-year leave policies compatible with the military? How does this work for women, or men, new to a job, in a seasonal job, etc? Can a woman take 6 weeks of maternity leave then transfer the remainder of her 6-month or 1-year leave time to the father if applicable? Would this time off include job training for those who do not have a “career”? How to handle a year off in the corporate culture frowns on 1 week vacations? That one is touched on in the website posted above but I just cant draw a parrallel between the countries that already have these benefits and the US.

  20. james
    July 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    “IMO, the best long term solution is for men to share the parenting so that women are not economic/professional second class citizens… As long as men are, on average, the higher earner, the pressure will be on the woman (in hetero relationships) to shoulder the parenting”

    This won’t work. Men marry women younger than them (on average three years); or – to but it the other way around – women marry men older than them. That inevitably creates a significant pay gap between spouses just because of age differences.

    If a couple leave school at 18 and have their first child when the woman is 30 and the man 33, the woman will have 12 years work experience and the man 15. So he’ll have 25% more work experience than his wife which is huge and that will tell in terms of wages. You can do these sort of calaculations yourself, there’s no way you don’t end up with a substantial career advantage for the man.

    The only way to stop it is a basic realignment of partner choice in heterosexual relationships. But there’s very little chance of that happening.

  21. roses
    July 14, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    For women in such positions, what makes a difference is not anything the employer can do

    Well, in Canada it’s the government who does it (paid leave is paid through employment insurance not the employer, and health care is of course always paid through the government).

    It’s true that if I choose to take a full year’s maternity leave that will hurt my career advancement, but at least I have that option – I’m not being asked to choose between my job and taking some time to stay home with my baby. And the fact that it’s paid leave means that women who couldn’t afford to take a year off because they are single parents or need the second salary are also offered a choice to spend some time at home with the baby, which they wouldn’t have otherwise.

    Can a woman take 6 weeks of maternity leave then transfer the remainder of her 6-month or 1-year leave time to the father if applicable?

    Some countries have it set up that way (Canada does). There’s no reason the US couldn’t set it up that way as well.

  22. Betsy
    July 14, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    A saying I heard recently that really stuck with me – “Motherhood is not a class privilege.” Or at least, it sure as hell shouldn’t be. This country needs to do more.

  23. roses
    July 14, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    This won’t work.

    What won’t work? Women putting pressure on men to do their share of the parenting? Yes, the man is usually the higher earner (for a variety of reasons) but her putting her job second while he puts his first will guarantee that he will always be the higher earner and she will always be stuck in the position of having to make sacrifices. The only way to make it fair is for her to say: “I don’t care that you make more money, we are dividing up the sacrifices equally between us”.

  24. Butterflywings
    July 14, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    james – what roses said. It doesn’t matter if the man is the higher earner, he should have the same right to spend time with his child.
    Many men *don’t* feel they have that – my parents very much did the traditional 50s style parent thing, mom stayed at home, dad was at work before I got up and arrived home after I was in bed when I was a little kid. I only realised recently i.e. developing a relationship with my dad as an adult that he resented that, what he felt was an obligation to PROVIDE.

    Also – don’t agree that it’s “normal” for the man to be older. Maybe average, but there are a significant minority of couples where the man is younger (I have a friend who is 27 and getting married – fiancee is 25).
    Even if he is older – doesn’t follow he has progressed further – maybe man went to college and woman didn’t, but worked her way up quickly, or woman left college at 22 and got a job, man did PhD or travelled or tried to make it as an artist…etc. Or maybe she has a better-paying career, e.g. in finance when he is a professor. You can’t generalise to all couples.

  25. Butterflywings
    July 14, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    I should add that by resented, what I meant was that my dad felt he would have liked to spend more time with his kids – it was the obligation to climb the career ladder he resented.
    I have heard that from many men actually. They would love to spend more time with their family but feel that as on average they earn more, they are obligated to work work work. I am sympathetic, but I sometimes want to tell them to snap out of it. Money isn’t everything, although it is important when you have kids – but let’s face it, if a couple has the luxury of one parent staying home full time, they are not struggling. The kids do not have to have the latest toys, computer, piano lessons, Swahili class, skating, horse riding, 2 holidays a year, to be driven in an SUV…what they want and need is time with their parents.

  26. July 14, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Realistically, we should be discouraging both men and women from having children at all.

    There are simply too many people on Earth and unless we achieve negative population growth in the next generation, we’re going to find ourselves in serious trouble.

  27. AndersH
    July 14, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Sweden is moving towards changing our system to a forced 50/50 split, or more likely a three-way split in parental leave. Today there is 60 days (the sum total of parental leave is 390 days at the top level of compensation (which is something like 80% of the regular income)) that can’t be “shared” or given to the other parent. In practice, of course, this means that mothers that are in a couple will “lose” some of their days, as they get the majority of the shared days today (I fully support this change).

    Some consequences of the Swedish system that I find interesting:
    Women don’t lose much career-wise against other women for taking maternal leave, which is a good thing. However, statistics seem to show that this is because women are expected to have children when they’re hired, so the cost of women becoming pregnant is taken into account, at least in female-dominated jobs. A man thus has better career prospects, as they’re not expected to become a responsible parent like the mother is. However, if the man does start taking out paternal leave to any great extent, the negative effects on his career are massive. This means, of course, that for any single family, letting the woman take parental leave becomes the smart choice. This is in large part what we have to change, men should be as likely to become parents and thus take advantage of parental leave. This will definitely take a big attitude adjustment still, even if we’ve been going in that direction (sloooowly).

  28. Dave
    July 14, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Nice post. As a Union lawyer, the answer seems obvious to me. The tragedy of the commons is a result of a lack of class consciousness. Your friend is a wage earner, a worker and without banding together and acting in concert with other workers to either collectively bargain or vote, she’s not going to change her situation.

    Our weak laws are a reflection of our lack of consciousness. It existed at one time in this country and we have been reaping the diminishing benefits for two generations now. Time to wake up again if we are to demand real rights for our sisters to eliminate the “double bind.” Thoughtful post, hope this perspective added something. Peace.

  29. July 14, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Although I am in full agreement that most women have to work, I think people need to stop implying that women who have the choice to/luxury to stay home are upper class women (I will leave race out of this).

    The problem I have with this is that unless a couple does not get divorced (no guarantee and bad for women to stay in an unhappy or abusive marriage due to economic survival), a husband makes a huge amount of money, and a woman will not need a separate pension or social security benefits from her spouse, I don’t know how any woman can not work.

    My mother and her generation of boomers really are getting the shaft in terms of economic sustainability in retirement. Most did not work full-time or part-time until their kids were into their teens or out of the house and many are outliving their husbands and the benefits are cut in half or all together. For long term outlook women need to work to take care of themselves.

    As for fighting for equal parenting and a more fair workplace environment in terms of hours, it is usually the luxury upper class women (thinking suffragists) that had the time and money to devote to fighting for these things. Sadly, why should any of these women do so since they are labeled “selfish” in the media? The stupid mommy wars.

    The truth is everyone loses today because the leisure time afforded to working in men in the 1950s is out the window. A job turned into a career and a career turned into a prison in terms of how much time and energy someone has to work to, forget about move ahead, stay in a job. There were articles that Gen-Y would change the workplace with their change in priorities contrasted with the workaholic 80s and 90s. I was hopeful that this would change things for women even if it was not fought by them. Gen-x was pidgeon-holed as the slacker generation for stepping to a different beat.

  30. timothynakayama
    July 14, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I keep coming back to the conclusion that the only way to really help women not face workplace inequities is to have men contribute equally to parenting.

    I have to agree with octagalore; by focusing solely on providing only women more and more benefits in terms of maternal leave, this is not solving the underlying problem that women are handicapped by their decision to have babies in the workplace. True, you could offer more and more generous benefits, and while that may improve the financial bottom line of the mother, it does not improve society in terms of equal share in parenting nor is the most desirable result in the long term.

    Right now, employers may see women as less desirable employees for certain jobs (as the above comments have shown). Why ? Because if the employer knows that a woman is going to take maternal leave in the future, most employers would not see this as something favourable. Why hire a woman who is going to get pregnant and go on paid maternity leave when you can hire a man for the same job. Especially when you know that the man gets no (or perhaps a few days) paternity leave even if he was interested in having a family. I worked at one of the big Four Accounting companies a few years ago….the father gets to take THREE days off.

    I am no economics major, and I wouldn’t know how this would work on the grand economics level. But if BOTH men and women were given equal leave to take care of the child, then employers would be no discrimination against women or penalizing them for having a child. Afterall, if both men and women received equal leave for paternity/maternity care, there would be no difference in hiring a man or woman (in terms of paying for paternity/maternity leave) and employers would then factor in this equally-shared leave for all employees. Sure, you could say that this will only then penalize PEOPLE who want to start families, but since employers can’t legally ask you questions regarding whether you want a baby or not in the foreseeable future (I assume this is the case in US as well), they will then have to take the conservative estimate and assume that everyone DOES want to have a baby sometime in the future.

    Parents will still lose out, in terms of experience and promotions, because the problem of “working more = good” will not be solved. I have worked all over Asia, and this way of thinking has infected almost every medium to large sized to MNCs out there….everyone wants to work late to impress the bosses, because working late and more hours shows “dedication to the job”. It is sick and detrimental to true, authentic human living, but as long as we live in a society that focuses on consumerism and confected needs (where people think their wants are really needs), there will always be people out there willing to put in the “long (but not necessarily productive) hours” all in the chase for more money, and subsequently more goods to fulfill their materialistic needs.

  31. July 14, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Octogalore

    esp without a guarantee of return or short tenure in the job

    In Canada this really isn’t applicable because the government does require one to be working for a certain amount of hours over a certain period of time paying the applicable taxes. This unfortunately does create problems for people you describe yourself as being, an independent contractor or a freelancer as hours and pay are irregular and more difficult as far as the government is concerned to “prove”. To be honest though I can’t think of one aspect involving the bureaucracy that isn’t difficult when you are independent. My partner is a freelancer and everything from a mortgage to renting a car becomes a very big pain in the ass. That said though, women in those situations can still get their supplemental income if they make sure they have all their little ducks in a row.

    dananddanica

    How to handle a year off in the corporate culture frowns on 1 week vacations? That one is touched on in the website posted above but I just cant draw a parrallel between the countries that already have these benefits and the US.

    I don’t get what you are trying to say here. It’s not like these European countries and Canada don’t have corporations. I know the French look at Canadians and wonder why we are such workaholics. The only difference I can see is that the American worker has bought into the American Dream. “If I work harder I will be rewarded”, instead of realizing that the companies will just take advantage of them. Corporate “Canada” (hehehe) tries to make the same demands that Corporate America makes, but it’s the people who have the legislation behind them and not the companies.

    Butterflywings

    Also – don’t agree that it’s “normal” for the man to be older. Maybe average, but there are a significant minority of couples where the man is younger (I have a friend who is 27 and getting married – fiancee is 25)

    I agree, in my family I am actually the only female who is dating someone older than myself, the differences range from six months to seven years. I think the age issue used to held truer in the past and is reversing to become more and more equal. Also we are looking at a marriage statistic, which completely ignores the increasing numbers of people who are deciding to co-habitat instead.

    Even if he is older – doesn’t follow he has progressed further

    Also agreed, my older partner never finished a college program, meanwhile I’m working on my degree. He may be making more now, but my earning potential will far exceed his within a few years, even with his work experience.

    timothynakayama
    I have to agree with octagalore; by focusing solely on providing only women more and more benefits in terms of maternal leave, this is not solving the underlying problem that women are handicapped by their decision to have babies in the workplace.

    Are people actually saying that is this thread though? That only women need the benefits? I know I’m certainly not. Equal parental rights for all, so there will be no ‘safe’ choices for employers.

  32. July 14, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful post.

    I can’t tell you how many jobs I have had that were not compatible with feminism NOR mothering. Feminism does not mean women succeeding in the current, flawed, paternalistic fiasco of a work environment we have in the United States. it means making things better for women and their families. Better child care and better work place environments AND better options for moms who want to stay at home are key to feminism. Oh, and reproductive choice so we can choose when and if to parent. It can all tie together, not be mutually exclusive like many people want to treat it.

  33. July 14, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Great post.

    Wanted to tell you about the Assn. for Research on Mothering.

    Their website is http://www.yorku.ca/arm/

    They are primarily an academic group, but the publications are multicultural and intelligent, and they can might be able to link your friend to mom activists in her area.

    Another great website is http://www.literarymama.com

    This has wonderful writers who help all kinds of mothers feel less alone and more empowered to make a change.

    Good luck!

  34. July 14, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Years ago having family meant that you needed your job and therefore would be a loyal employee. I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against, single, childless or with family. However, has there been a major shift in the way companies treat men and women with kids. How do divorced men deal with having to work and visitation requirements? Some fathers do take responsibility in raising their children; does the workplace discriminate against them as well? I think that once men are being included in the discrimination in terms of family, maybe then things will change. If men were mandated to take leave and then experienced workplace bias and immobility, how would it play out?

  35. J.
    July 14, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    I’d also like to add – and I’m not sure if another respondent already suggested it – that part of the reason balancing work and home life is so hard for women is that many times their partners/spouses refuse to take on the traditionally female household duties like cleaning, leaving women STILL doing much of the housework and child-raising. One study (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23957393/ ) finds, for example, that being married translates into an extra seven hours of housework for a woman, while married men save one hour of housework compared to being single.

    Though I know men in general have gotten very much better about helping around the house and being devoted fathers, more need to step up and take on equal responsibility with their female partners.

  36. Rockit
    July 14, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Yep. No one factor affects the male/female pay gap as much as the spectre of maternity leave in the distance, and that’s only going to change once it’s as normal for men to take time off for a kid as it is for women. An equal split is a start, though if possible it should be up to the couple to choose. After all the mother may want to go back to work soon while the father stays home to be the primary caregiver for a while. Though it is just that, a start. Change will only occur once it becomes the normal state of affairs.

  37. July 14, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    james: re “This won’t work. Men marry women younger than them (on average three years); or – to but it the other way around – women marry men older than them.”

    Chicken and egg. This is a function of men trading on and women trading for security. What I’m suggesting is moving away from this. If we did, then we’d see more age equivalence. Especially since women live longer, it doesn’t make sense for the man to be older.

    “You can do these sort of calaculations yourself, there’s no way you don’t end up with a substantial career advantage for the man.”

    Well, there IS a way — plenty of women who are younger make substantially more over time than their spouses. People switch jobs three times on average in their 30s, which can throw off any kind of linear math. I’m 7 years younger than my husband, who’s an entertainment lawyer, and our situation flipped around in my mid-30s, a few years back. I had stopped being a lawyer at 30, switched into my current job at 32, and the benefits of the job change happened a couple of years after that. (Luckily, he took it in stride).

    “The only way to stop it is a basic realignment of partner choice in heterosexual relationships. But there’s very little chance of that happening.”

    I disagree.

    Hypatia — interesting contrasts re Canada, thanks. Re: “Are people actually saying that is this thread though? That only women need the benefits? I know I’m certainly not. Equal parental rights for all, so there will be no ’safe’ choices for employers.” I know nobody’s saying that, but with the current relationship dynamics, women are likely to be the predominant people availing themselves of the benefits, even if they are offered to men. I’m in the legal industry, and every time a guy takes the sometimes-fairly-generous parental leave offered, he gets a headline in the local legal press, it’s that unusual.

    I’m not saying the benefits are a bad idea, I just don’t think they’ll remedy the uneven playing field and subsequent economic gender imbalance.

  38. Jha
    July 14, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Are there any organizations in which men are vocal in asking for paternal leave? Is it too naive to think that if all (or as many as possible) parents started asking for parental leave, employers would have to take them seriously? Would the economy collapse then?

  39. Lyndsay
    July 14, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    I really agree with the equal parental leave suggestions. I also think trying to make the work world less stressful for all could be beneficial. That way you could get more people on board including childless people who also want less stress. Still, I have no idea how one could go about trying to reduce stress if there are always a few who don’t care and they will get the promotions. But from people I’ve spent time with lately, it looks like the father is stressed from 12 hour shifts that go from days and nights too often while the mother is stressed from working almost as much as him (with normal 8h shifts at least) but having many more parental responsibilities. I think in a perfect world only people who are professions such as doctors or nurses would have to work nights or long shifts. In a way I don’t blame her husband for not wanting to have as many parental responsibilities even though it is not fair to his wife. I just think there is too much emphasis on speed and profit and a lack of respect for people’s personal/family time. A job should not be a life.

  40. Lyndsay
    July 14, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    I also don’t like that I keep reading the decision to stay at home is a luxury of the upper class. Maybe this is true in areas with a high cost of living. I also know my family was lucky to find a small, very cheap fixer-upper. However, especially in the early years my family probably wouldn’t have gained much from my mom working since daycare is expensive and my mom had never completed post-secondary and wasn’t in any particular career. Because my mom stayed home, there were financial struggles and material sacrifices but it wasn’t impossible.

  41. timothynakayama
    July 15, 2008 at 1:31 am

    Some fathers do take responsibility in raising their children; does the workplace discriminate against them as well? I think that once men are being included in the discrimination in terms of family, maybe then things will change. If men were mandated to take leave and then experienced workplace bias and immobility, how would it play out?

    I would think that Men ARE already discriminated in the workplace if they decide to take time out, just like women are, and I would bet that the discrimination in the case of men is more severe, since we still in a society where men are expected to work their ass off to feed their family….then die. (I am unfamiliar with whether this is still the case in the US though).

    While a woman’s success in life might be seen by some as how she manages to balance all aspects of her life (family, work, love, etc), a man’s success is solely determined by how high he has managed to climb in his chosen profession. As the joke goes, Men can either work or go to jail.

    If he so much as takes time off to look after his family, it would be the same as if women took time off for just that purpose….management will say that he lacks ambition, is a family man, etc.

    That is why, as Octagalore has pointed out how a man taking time out to look after his family is such an oddity to us, worthy to be in the headlines even…that shows us that that is abnormal, outside the norm. And while it might seem like guys have it good when they appear to be giving even the slightest help in parenting….if he did decide to take on equal responsibilities rather than just “helping out”, he would be just as discriminated against, if not more so.

    I don’t see how two wrongs make a right, here. We all need a healthy environment to work, and that includes a environment where it is conducive for people to be parents if they want to, or have a social life (if they want to, of course). At the moment, most societies do not have such a healthy environment and punish people for having kids. Therefore, the only solution would be to find employers who really care about their staff’s welbeing first (which would then, most of the time, translate into lower staff turnover and better productivity).

  42. timothynakayama
    July 15, 2008 at 1:47 am

    That inevitably creates a significant pay gap between spouses just because of age differences.

    I would think age matters less than the chosen profession of husband and wife. If the husband is a translator, and the wife is a merchant banker, him having 3 years more experience will not mean anything, as her job is the one with the significantly higher pay.

  43. July 15, 2008 at 1:50 am

    timothy, re: “While a woman’s success in life might be seen by some as how she manages to balance all aspects of her life (family, work, love, etc), a man’s success is solely determined by how high he has managed to climb in his chosen profession.”

    I think this is to some degree true in the US, though less true than in, say, Japan (although I haven’t worked there for years, and this may have changed). But men’s lack of parenting has to be pretty severe to be noted as unworthy. Even just a small example from this weekend: my daughter was unwrapping 4th-birthday presents and a few people kept trying to hand me pads and pens to write down who gave the gifts. I pointed out that I don’t do thank you cards, and everyone looked shocked. I know it’s in really bad taste, but fuck it, I just don’t have the time. I usually make a mental note of anything really unique from folks I care about, and expect my husband to do the same. But he doesn’t have to fend off the pads and paper, or the guilt.

    My brother in law is viewed by people in the know — family members — as a neglectful parent, but in his case he spent about two hours a week home with family while awake, and usually missed family vacations. But even he is viewed as a decent father by people who see him out with his family at events. A mom in his shoes would’ve had custody removed a long time ago.

  44. July 15, 2008 at 5:33 am

    My wife went back to work after the third kid. I try to do my share or more. One interesting thing happened recently. After a two-week vacation staying at home with the kids, my wife said she’d be able to get her rest now that she’s back in the office. In other words, for her, full time with the kids and house is more stressful than commuting back and forth, dealing with work pressures during the day and household things in the evenings.

  45. dananddanica
    July 15, 2008 at 6:54 am

    How would maternity leave work in a career field in which a job change would be necessary upon becoming pregnant and what guarantees would that employee have after the pregnancy? I’m thinking of some mill workers and military personnel. You cant work in some parts of some mills while pregnant and you cant deploy while pregnant. When I was in the military women received 6-weeks maternity leave but sometimes had to change jobs upon becoming pregnant and if they were in a deployable billet they had to be taken out of it and another person put in it, would these changes to parental leave change this or the millworkers situation? How does that work in those other countries?

  46. July 15, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Reading through some of the stories from countries with far more enlightened policies than in Australia, it seems to me that family friendliness needs to be a rating in much the same way that “greenness” is becoming – albeit way slower than I would like. We are just barely starting to see the first teeny tiny glimpses of it here. Macquarie Bank (possibly one of the most evil companies occupying our fair shores) flaunts itself as one of the few companies which provides paid maternity leave. It also provides actually comfortable rooms for expressing breastmilk and similar things. I very much doubt its corporate culture has made the leap to understanding that people who keep life and work in balance are more productive in the long run. And that goes for those with and without families, men and women.

    There needs to be competition to provide sanity in the workplace – the Googles of this world should be shouting that they make people go home after 8 hours, rather than focussing on how cool it is to work for them. (Rare disasters and deadlines excluded)

    I’d like to see some studies that actually look at productivity across different work patterns over long periods of time. My gut and experience tell me that people who work sensible hours stay more productive longer than those who work too hard, but obviously some hard evidence has got to help.

  47. Sarah
    July 15, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Parental leave is not the same as the special considerations needed during pregnancy, I don’t see how changes to one would affect the other. Yes there are some jobs where continuing as normal would be dangerous or impossible while pregnant – as you say, some military and industrial roles, also working in a lab or in manufacturing with potentially harmful chemicals, probably many other examples. I believe in these situations it’s normal to be transferred to other roles for the duration of the pregnancy.

    Maternity/parental leave is paid (or sometimes unpaid) leave from work after the baby is born, so one or both parents can stay home to care for the child. With the exception of the initial period for the mother to recover from the birth before coming back to work (in the UK you may not come back to work for at least two weeks after giving birth) it’s more about childcare than the physical demands of pregnancy/birth.

  48. July 15, 2008 at 8:18 am

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned 9to5 as a resource—this is a feminist organization dedicated to all issues of women in the workplace. And……(drum roll please….and thanks, Dave)….join a labor union, if at all possible!

    Child care is a necessity. One of the discouraging aspects of these conversations for me is the (seeming) assumption that there aren’t any of us out here in need of child care who are in-between the comfortable middle-class and poor. I’m not poor, and thus don’t need subsidized child care, but I’m not rich either, which means as a single mother, I don’t have the luxury of part time or no work. The decimation of decent-paying, good-benefit working class jobs—-the re-institution of the two-class system in the U.S.—is reducing the number of child care spots available. It’s not a line of work where a big profit is going to be made. As fewer women are able to afford the cost of child care, more child care places close. It creates a cycle of unemployability for more women.

    Now, it’s fine and dandy to talk about how men need to step up to the plate, but the current system means that if a man takes the paternity-leave and/or part time route, all he is doing is adding to the net loss of family income—and permanently, as employers take a dim view of parenting from either sex.

    And do I really need to mention that the “don’t take shit from your man; make him contribute equally to teh parenting!” line doesn’t fit for all of us? How do you make a meth addict or alcoholic become a better parent? That’s not the majority of partners, of course, but we’re not exactly rare. Most of the single mothers in my neighborhood (whether previously married or not) are this way because of substance abuse or domestic violence in their past. Somehow, we couldn’t be Superwomen and through the Mystical Power of Womanhood wave our majic wands and make him clean, sober, and/or nonabusive.

    (no one here was saying that, or probably ever would—-but I mention that rant because it is a traditional trope—that if one was a Real Woman ™, then Your Man ™ wouldn’t have turned out the way he did.)

    Bottom line, unless childcare becomes more available, this situation isn’t going to change. And that means childcare with hours that match the workday, too. It’s not enough for the childcare centers to open at 8:00AM, when you have to be at work at 7:00AM.

    And Thomas—-fuck you. Really, just fuck you. This is a thread about the possiblities for alleviating problems that women and families are facing, and you jump up in here with what sounded to me like a “you women made your bed, now lie in it” comment. Screw you.

  49. Laura
    July 15, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Excellent post!

    I have a friend, that when he and his wife, who were both gainfully employed with satisfying careers decided to have children, they sat down and looked at their individual long-term earning potentials. They decided together that one parent should stay home with the children. Not surprisingly, it was the wife who made less (and would always do so–another topic to discuss elsewhere), so she quit her job to raise their children. They are both happy with this situation.

  50. BB
    July 15, 2008 at 9:11 am

    When I was a newly-minted science PhD, I made the choice to have a family and to wrk for big pharma. That way I could work a more normal week than if Iwere in academe, have paid maternity leave (made sure of bennies during interviews), etc. When little kiddies were off to school (disclosure- religious day school = longer day, obviating need for aftercare), I returned to academe. Yes my academic career has suffered. Glad I am that DH has been in academe all along so he had the lfexibility in time I lacked while at big pharma. But I regret not choosing the way to be the mother I wanted to be when I look at my now grown-up children. They are concerned, mature, caring young adults; the youngest is off to college next month at a top, top university. My scientific career wouldn’t mean a thing if I reared a couple of jerks.

  51. July 15, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I just read about a decision from an Alberta judge the limits the time that women will receive support payments from a spouse after a divorce. The comment section of course is disgusting. Even if women are in a financial situation due to marriage to stay home and raise their children it is a very risky decision to make. While I tend to support the choice the consequences if it does not work out can be terrible for a woman.

  52. SoE
    July 15, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    Sorry, my comment should have been about Parental leave… And just to clarify: Women are allowed 6 weeks before birth and 8 weeks after maternity leave, paid 100%, the following 14 months of parental leave will pay 67% of your wage but not more than 1.800 Euro/month. And then you can take a further 3 years of unpaid leave which many women take because of this ridiculous belief people here still cling to that a baby shouldn’t be separated from its mother more than 2-3 times a week and then only for a couple of minutes…

  53. July 15, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Hi LaLubu!

    “Now, it’s fine and dandy to talk about how men need to step up to the plate, but the current system means that if a man takes the paternity-leave and/or part time route, all he is doing is adding to the net loss of family income—and permanently, as employers take a dim view of parenting from either sex.”

    My thinking here is that the leave is shared. So both parents are taking less time off, and believe me, if more men did it as a rule, it would lose the stigma really quickly.

    I didn’t mean to ignore single parents, just that the tendency to put ones career second is not a luxury single moms can afford and therefore not a problem for them, although the lack of support creates other problems. I don’t think ANY of us are immune to having our spouses become afflicted with any kind of issue, whether it’s substance abuse or disease. Single moms aren’t part of the problem of men and women’s unequal earning power in any way that we as women can affect, IMO. Men being out of the picture is typically due to unforeseeable issues. That’s why I didn’t discuss that, because to my mind, once that kind of thing happens, the single mom typically is income-optimizing already and there aren’t many other strategic things I think she can do that she isn’t already doing.

    On site daycare is a good idea, and more subsidized private day care options for folks like me whose companies don’t pay this kind of thing. (Right now my private day care option is called “My Mom,” but I realize this is rare. The liabilities of having someone who not only criticizes my decisions for myself but also my decisions for my daughter are certainly offset by the confidence in having family around to provide care).

  54. July 15, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Single moms aren’t part of the problem of men and women’s unequal earning power in any way that we as women can affect, IMO. Men being out of the picture is typically due to unforeseeable issues. That’s why I didn’t discuss that, because to my mind, once that kind of thing happens, the single mom typically is income-optimizing already and there aren’t many other strategic things I think she can do that she isn’t already doing.

    And hello to you too, octo. (I’ve been AWOL due to housepainting. Gahh,will I be glad to get that done!)

    True, what you said….’specially about income-optimizing. But I see a big part of the difficulty is continuing to view child-raising as something that is strictly individual—that the community at large shouldn’t involve itself in any social question relating to children (except for crimes committed against them). It’s hard to agitate for more childcare options in the face of a well-oiled movement to privatize children’s schooling. It’s almost as if children are seen as another commodity, a luxury good, rather than as persons whose needs also require a certain commitment from the community at large.

    I often wonder why lack of access to childcare isn’t seen as a structural economic problem for the community at large, since the effect is to keep large numbers of wage earners (temporarily at least) out of work. That has a measureable effect on the economy—but has anyone even bothered to do a study on that? What the effect is from the large numbers of women who are unemployed or underemployed not by choice but nevertheless as a consequence of their motherhood? Y’know, kinda like, why isn’t domestic violence seen as a public health problem instead of a “women’s problem” (which can thus be effectively ignored).

  55. timothynakayama
    July 15, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    It’s almost as if children are seen as another commodity, a luxury good, rather than as persons whose needs also require a certain commitment from the community at large.

    I would say that children are indeed considered a commodity, but rather than a luxury good, they are considered a potential resource (after all, is it not called Human Resources?). The huge majority of societies in the world see children as future consumers, that’s why you send them to school, not really to learn and go after their own dreams and become a better person, but in order to equip them with skills and talents so they can hit the ground running as soon as they are old enough to work, thus providing more profit to the companies they work for and earning salaries which they would then use to spend on consumer goods, and once they get bored with the consumer goods they purchased, spend even more time at work to get more money to buy more expensive consumer goods…….ie. productive resources.

    On site daycare is a good idea, and more subsidized private day care options for folks like me whose companies don’t pay this kind of thing. (Right now my private day care option is called “My Mom,” but I realize this is rare. The liabilities of having someone who not only criticizes my decisions for myself but also my decisions for my daughter are certainly offset by the confidence in having family around to provide care).

    I was taken care of relatives from both sides of my family as a child and I do see this as a cultural difference. I’ve always wondered whether Americans do the same thing, ie. Get their parents/relatives to help them out with the kids (ie, more of a family caring thing, rather than using nannies or day cares), but it seems like this is not as common in the US. Is there some sort of stigma attached to having your parents/relatives looking after your babies/children?

  56. Julie
    July 15, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    I’m in a sort of similar situation La Labu- We make just a touch too much for subsidized child care, but daycare costs so much that it really kills us financially. We pay over 1000 dollars a month for two children to go to daycare, but I only bring home around 1400, so once you add in lunch and gas, it hardly seems like it’s worth it to work, but at the same time we can’t afford to not have me bringing in any income at all. It’s just such a frustrating cycle. What we’re doing starting in August is that I’m going to school full time for a degree that will have substantially more earning power than my current degree (I currently have a degree in psychology and work at a non-profit organization that helps individuals with developmental disabilities, I’m going to school for a second Bachelor’s in speech and language disabilities) so I will drop my hours at work even more (I currently work about 25-30 hours a week on top of my classes), which qualifies my kids for subsidized care at the college, which will only be 20 dollars a week. Not everyone is that lucky though, and right now when we can barely afford to live, the end of August seems very far away. And the childcare I have now is on-site (one of the programs my organization runs is an inclusive education pre-school) and one of the less expensive options in my town. Sigh. Affordable, high quality day care would be one of the best ways, IMO, to open doors for both men and women who want to find a balance between work and family life.

  57. July 16, 2008 at 7:34 am

    I was taken care of relatives from both sides of my family as a child and I do see this as a cultural difference. I’ve always wondered whether Americans do the same thing, ie. Get their parents/relatives to help them out with the kids (ie, more of a family caring thing, rather than using nannies or day cares), but it seems like this is not as common in the US. Is there some sort of stigma attached to having your parents/relatives looking after your babies/children?

    Not at all. It’s just that most people here live hundreds of miles away from family members who could help out. That, and if you have a child in your twenties, your parents are working, too. Having parents, grandparents or siblings look after your children isn’t stigmatized; it’s daycare centers that are stigmatized. But if you don’t have that physical proximity, family care is not an option. Moving closer to aging family members usually isn’t an option because you have to live where the jobs are (at least, that’s the way it works in “flyover country”—a derisive term for the Rust Belt and other areas long since left in the economic dust during and after the Reagan years).

  58. dananddanica
    July 16, 2008 at 8:29 am
  59. July 16, 2008 at 9:36 am

    dananddanica, that article is not a very accurate summary of what Nicola Brewer actually said. Her point was not that maternity benefits hurt women but rather the fact that because women get 12 weeks parental leave versus men’s two weeks parental leave, women are less attractive hires and get stuck doing the bulk of the primary parenting simply because it’s not possible for men to take on the bulk of those responsibilities when they have 1/6 the leave. It’s not the leave itself that’s detrimental to British women’s careers, but the legally sanctioned disparate nature of those benefits vis a vis their male partners. It’s not that woman need fewer maternity benefits but that men need more. My own caveat is that they also need to take them, not just have them theoretically avaialble.

    My favorite quote from this [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/textbased/news/article-1035191/Equality-lobby-calls-extended-paternity-leave-let-womens-careers-prosper.html] article: “Has policy on maternity leave made too many assumptions about the choices families will make and as a result entrenched the stereotype that it is women who do the caring and men who do the earning? We talk about the penalty for taking time out of work to raise children and the cost of motherhood, but are we forgetting about the other side of the coin? What cost are men paying by missing out on raising children?”

  60. sailorman
    July 16, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Affordable high quality daycare would be nice, but is nearly impossible to achieve.
    I have served on the board of a nursery school. We billed higher than most people wanted to pay, upwards of $5000 per year for non-full-time, school-year-only, service. And even when we were full, as in ‘most profitable’, we barely made a dime. And to accomplish this, we paid our teachers atrocious wages (but standard for the industry), under $20/hour for the top ones and closer to $10-12 for the bottom end.

    I know how brutal it is. My wife works at a lower paying job and for 40 hours a week takes home very little once you subtract daycare costs. It’s not as if I get a discount, even as an ex-board-member. I would freakin’ LOVE to find quality day care, full time, for $3,000/year. But i can tell you from the other side that there’s no money to spare.

    Incidentally, my costs reflect a nursery school, where 2 teachers can collectively supervise 18 or so kids. For infants and toddlers, that would legally require 3 teachers, I think, and it might even need 4. So costs go up dramatically for young ‘uns.

    So it seems that the only way it’s going to happen is with significantly higher taxes.

    An interesting economic issue is whether it makes sense for people to work at all. Say that Bob is qualified to either 1) parent his kids, or 2) work as a landscaper at $11/hour. It’s quite possible that we should NOT provide Bob with subsidized daycare, and should NOT encourage Bob to work outside the home, as he’s “worth more” as a parent than as a worker. When you add in commuting time (where Bob needs care for his kids) and subtract commuting costs, it probably costs more to care for Bob’s kids than Bob can ear, given Bob’s skill level and knowledge and ability.

    So if Bob knows that and doesn’t want to stay home, Bob should probably consider not having kids for a while.

  61. dananddanica
    July 16, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    thanks for the insight ff.

    I can see what youre saying about the disparity being the issue but is not the larger issue all parents, not just women? The issue being how small business cope with long paternal leaves that must be paid for/coped with and they dont really have a way to? How does one work around this without, as sailorman says, siginificantly increasing taxes to cover the cost of daycare? Is any parental leave at all other that medical recovery time for the mother a right? Who pays for it? I’m all for it but I cant wrap my head around how to pay for it and if the article is flawed, I can still see people in that situation, bosses of a small business, who would get killed if they had to pay for a replacement for up to a year. How to solve that?

  62. July 16, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Yet, despite the high cost of providing public education, we still manage to do that, and still manage to find that a worthwhile use of public funds. The reason the same isn’t thought of daycare is because preschoolers and infants are still seen as a female responsibility.

    So, references to “Bob” notwithstanding, realistically if “Bob” really were taking care of the children as often as “Bobbi”, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Flexible hours, onsite daycare, neighborhood daycare centers, job sharing, extended school hours, parental leave, etc. would already be the norm (as earlier posters alluded to—the necessity for men also to buck the current system, as we women already do. Not the relative handful of men who are doing so now, but a critical mass).

    If you’re waiting for people to forego having children until they reach some magical yearly income—well hell, might as well expect people to forego pair-bonding with one another. Being a parent is an inherently enjoyable, pleasurable, rewarding activity for those who desire parenthood. Far more rewarding than any job can be (again—for those who want to be parents, not for everyone). It all comes down to what kind of society you want to have. We’re still subsidizing paved roads, cars, utility and communication infrastructure, etc. Why do we have no problem subsidizing these efforts, yet resist subsidizing social infrastructure, that is no less important than any of the above?

    And I think you’ll see that a common thread is that whenever areas of the social infrastructure are seen as predominantly benefitting women (childcare, parental leave, elder care, etc.), it is deemed “too expensive” or “helping people who ought to be doing this for themselves”. Any time the social infrastructure is seen as benefitting men and women equally (police departments, fire departments, public libraries, etc.)—only then is it seen as a worthwhile expense.

  63. dananddanica
    July 16, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    i think one of the problems we resist subsidizing social infrastucture is many people dont look at the benefit in the same way or on a long enough timeline. A person who uses paved roads, cars, etc sees the use in paying for that and id bet could even see the point of a public education but doesnt see it the same way when it comes down to subsidizing somone “else’s” children.

    “Flexible hours, onsite daycare, neighborhood daycare centers, job sharing, extended school hours, parental leave, etc.” These exist in a scattered fashion in this country but in other countries. particularly scandinavian ones, they exist on a much larger level but those countries still have the problems we do. I get what youre saying but are you saying we add the costs for all those things on top of what we already spend or we cut out a lot of our current spending to do it? Also those things don’t exist for a lot of people, for the folks in my life who are sales people who work on commission, farmhands, and others, flexible hours, onsite daycare, job sharing, parental leave are pretty much nonstarters. Are you proposing that we take the millions of seasonal works with kids, tens of millions of part time workers with kids and other groups outside of the working for a mid-size companies and up set and set up a system which id imagine conservatively at the very least as much as we spend on defense on this issue? I see this in one way as an economic issue, just like big pharma, one of the reasons other countries are able to get drugs for so much less than us is because we subsidize the entire industry. Who is going to subsidize this new system of childcare for us? What if this system is so costly and cumbersome it lessens our productivity and output and we can no longer pay for it, as again a lot of those other western countries can only do what they do due to the economic boosts we’ve given them over the last 50 years. On the flip side doing this might increase productivity and output, I do not know either way but can see merits in both arguments.

    Your last paragraph makes a lot of sense but i also see a lot of things that hurt men that get a lot of spending, prisons come to mind, that whole fucked up system, very few people seem to have a problem with that and are much more inclined to lock up a 3 strike guy for life then give half the cost of that to a single parent. I guess it comes down to seeing the children as a resource or not and while i dont know what the % is, a lot of people choose to have children and demand those benefits, not the same to me as police/fire/military as no one chooses to have their house burn down or to be assaulted/robbed.

    As far as the “helping people who ought to be doing this for themselves”. It does get down to the kind of society we want to have, as you mentioned. One of the main reasons for all the wealth and resources we do have is the blending of private and public entities, private business intermingling with gov’t policy and mandate. Tinkering with this can have positive or negative results. I can see the merit and do support as an idea providing every kind of assistance a parent would need to raise their child but as mentioned in the previous paragraph, its hard for me to tell the person down the road who doesnt want to/cant have children that they must subsidize those who do and that the children are a resource and all that can be done must be done for children and parents paradigm is the only way to go.

  64. July 17, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Also those things don’t exist for a lot of people, for the folks in my life who are sales people who work on commission, farmhands, and others, flexible hours, onsite daycare, job sharing, parental leave are pretty much nonstarters.

    I understand. I am a single tradeswoman. Those options are nonstarters for me, too. That’s why I support a variety of options, including neighborhood daycare centers (no more scrambling across hell’s half acre finding daycare that accommodates nonstandard working hours—like a 7:00AM start time, standard for construction and hospitals), and extended school hours (which would accommodate children who have “aged out” of daycare—most daycares do not accept children over 7).

    In the United States, we still see having and raising children as an inherently individual decision. Why not instead see it as something that three-quarters of the population is going to do? As something that is going to impact society as a whole regardless of any one individual’s decision to have a child or not?

    Because the fact is, all of us are subsiding married people. Married people recieve spousal benefits that unmarried persons do not (social security, pension or health-care benefits if your workplace has those, FMLA, etc.). All of us are subsidizing homeowners. Homeowners receive tax benefits that renters do not—and let’s face it, owning a home is the major wealth-builder for people in the United States. In fact, homeowners receive benefits for home equity loans; someone who is well-off enough to take out a home equity loan can do so, buy a new car with the proceeds, and use those home equity loan payments as a tax break. People who merely take out a car loan can’t do that.

    ‘Nother words, the United States has no problem subsidizing policies and practices that are seen as benefiting men and women equally. It is only when something is seen as benefiting women primarily that it is seen as financially risky or as poor social policy. Welfare, child care, health care—-all are seen as predominantly female issues—think about “nanny state”. Who, pray tell, is the beneficiary of a nanny, hm?

    When construction projects are proposed, the headlines are about job creation. The impact on local economies as more money is pumped into them from well-paid construction workers and other professionals. Politicians and city council members leap at the chance to gain these added jobs. Why isn’t childcare thought of as a possible generator of jobs? Not only would more previously unemployed people find better paying work, but more previously unemployable people would be free to find and gain employment. I am especially mystified at the resistance to an extended school day that matches the workday, since the infrastructure is already there and would merely consist of hiring more staff.

    its hard for me to tell the person down the road who doesnt want to/cant have children that they must subsidize those who do

    Yes, that is a popular feeling, and it is especially voiced against public schools (“I don’t have any kids in school! Why should I pay for this shit? If parents can’t afford a private school for their kids, they shouldn’t have ’em!”). Yet still, we have public police departments, rather than requiring people to fund their own investigative team if a crime is committed against them. We have public fire departments (many of which are volunteer!), rather than tell people to break out their own hose. We have crews to shovel snow off the roads, rather than tell people that they are responsible for clearing a particular section of road themselves. There are municipal (publically-owned) electric companies that maintain and repair high voltage lines for the benefit of the community; the people of those communities aren’t required to climb the poles and attempt the work themselves, nor do they have to contract for private companies to do that for them. We still have public libraries for the benefit of communities, rather than tell people that if they want to read, they should go to the bookstore. Larger cities have public transportation for which riders pay a nominal fee—we don’t tell folks in major metropolitan areas that if they want to ride a bus or subway, that they should seek a privately-owned company, perhaps buy a club membership to access the subway. We have public water and sewer services, rather than require folks desiring clean water to dig wells (or privately contract for the digging) themselves. We subsidizize hospitals, farmers, universities, research, communications…..

    Why the exception for children?

    Why are public works projects, public health efforts, public safety institutions, etc., all thought of as valuable investments, with the individuals hired for those projects thought to be social contributors with valuable careers….

    ….yet any contribution towards children is considered of low value, and as marginally—if at all—benefiting the public at large? Why are careers that involve the care and education of children considered so worthless?

    Because for anyone who thinks this isn’t a gendered problem, I got this bridge down in Alton, Illinois for sale real cheap, and you could make a mint collecting tolls from all the people crossing back and forth to St. Louis to work…..

  65. July 17, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I can see what youre saying about the disparity being the issue but is not the larger issue all parents, not just women?

    Yes. I believe the quote I pulled says as much. As La Lubu says, this is obviously a gendered problem, but that doesn’t mean women are the only ones affected.

    The issue being how small business cope with long paternal leaves that must be paid for/coped with and they dont really have a way to? How does one work around this without, as sailorman says, siginificantly increasing taxes to cover the cost of daycare?

    That is an issue, but I see no reason why it should be the issue. Yup, it seriously sucks for small business owners. It also sucks for women, for families, for women who are stuck trying to plan their families, for women who have no plans to have kids but who may be discriminated against anyway out of fear they’ll pop one out like a jack-in-the-box vagina. Social problems are often sticky, that doesn’t excuse dealing with them. I haven’t done rigorous searching, but I haven’t seen anything indicating that FMLA in the states (which after all, provides no pay at all, just a guarantee that you won’t be fired for giving birth or taking leave for other medical reasons) is especially costly to employers. Sure, they may have to hire temps, but we all know what shit wages and benefits temps get–employers may save money using a temp for three months. The fact that some employers get so pissy about FMLA does make me suspicious of their every attempt to cry “oh woe is me” every time new job protections are mentioned by anyone anywhere. And why is the default not raising taxes? I mean, maybe that’s what it takes, maybe reallocation isn’t sufficient. So what. If 80% of the country is going to have a kid at some point in their lives, I’d say a program that ensures the family checkbook doesn’t go into the shitter in the aftermath is of substantial public benefit.

    Is any parental leave at all other that medical recovery time for the mother a right? Who pays for it?
    What do you mean by right? It’s not in the constitution, no. Few will die as a result. But I understand your question to mean “is leave beyond physical recovery from birth desirable enough to be subsidized.” One, I think it is. Two, that’s not really the issue, the issue is what is the social consequence of not subsidizing, and is it something we can live with. The frame you’re presenting reflects a bias. As for who pays for it, it’s a good question. There are a lot of different options–allocated taxes, specific taxes, some form of subsidized or unsubsidized short-term disability policies for employers. But your cart is keeping your horse from going anywhere, if you know what I mean.

  66. July 17, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    I just linked to this in a post on the California NOW blog: http://www.canow.org/canoworg/2008/07/it-seems-like-e.html

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