Originally Posted by mambera
Regarding the lack of support for childrearing in the US: Yeah this is a huge problem, but I don't think it's an issue of *discrimination* per se. Women with children make less money than those without because (overall, over the population) they spend less time working overall than women without children. Which is fine. While we certainly need better supports for working women with children (like a reasonable maternity leave policy and some better day care options), we shouldn't be shooting for a benchmark of *no difference in earnings* between women with children and women without, because there will always be women (many women - even most women?) who actively choose to reduce their hours in the paid workforce order to spend more time on child care. It would be cool if men had the freedom to make those same life choices. But what wouldn't be cool is if we pretended that childrearing does not (or worse, should not!) divert parental resources away from other endeavors (such as participation in the paid workforce).
These are really good points. It has certainly been my experience that by making the choice to become a mom (and for me that was a very hard fought choice), I have had less to give to my career. The physical demands of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and parenting an infant (and now a small child) are real. If I've discovered anything about myself as I've navigated being a working mom, it's that I'm not a "force of nature." I have only so much energy, and I have to prioritize how I use it. And my kid comes first; that's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned.
If we frame the conversation solely in terms of women making a "personal choice" to place parenting ahead of career advancement, however, we risk underestimating the very real systemic and structural obstacles that women face in the workforce. And we lose the opportunity to find collective solutions that support women both as employees and as workers. I'm talking about things like decent paid maternity and paternity leaves, high quality affordable day care, support for breastfeeding women at work. In the USA we leave those things to luck and to individual ingenuity, and so most women are forced to make really tough choices (a decent life for my child vs. full commitment to my work).
I am a reasonably intelligent, energetic & capable person who likes my work, wants to serve my community & wants to bring value to my organization. I didn't intend to give any of that up when I became a parent, nor did I want to choose to advance at work at my child's expense. So I've made a whole series of compromises. I had only been in my current job for 3 months when I got pregnant, so I felt a need to work like a dog through pregnancy to show that the organization hadn't made a mistake in hiring me. I worked literally almost up to the moment my labor began. I went back to work 8 weeks after my DD was born because I had used up all my paid maternity leave. I was still recovering from the labor from hell, a c-section, and a raging breast infection. I was getting 5 hours of sleep a night on a good night. I had spent my maternity leave totally stressed out trying to navigate childcare options, none of which were ideal and all of which were too expensive. Somehow I figured it out and got my butt to work every day. I gave what I had at work, because I felt like I had no choice. I probably should have used FMLA to take more time off, but it would have been unpaid time, which I couldn't afford, in part because I would have had to pay my health care premiums ($700 a month).
At my performance review 9 months after DD's birth, the basic message was, "You're doing good work, but we wish you weren't in such a bad mood all the time. It's great that you're a new mom and all, but we don't want to see any evidence of it here." And this was from a boss whom I would say was more supportive than most!
Here's what I think: if my maternity leave options had been slightly more generous, if I'd been able to take 12 weeks, say, instead of only 8, I might have chosen to leave work a week before the baby came. I might not have had quite such a harrowing labor, and maybe would have even avoided a c-section. I would have had time to deal with the breast infection, figure out child care without feeling as much pressure, and get the sleep situation a little better under control. I would have returned to work feeling more ready to work. Yes, I would have been gone for 12 weeks instead of 8. But would my organization have really lost anything? I would have returned a happier and more productive person. As it was, they got me back after 8 weeks, but I was a crazy, exhausted mess. No wonder I got the review that I did.
I'm sure I'm not alone in this kind of experience. I'm sure there are lots of women who've been through worse.
Are individual women responsible? To some degree, yes. But I would say that as individuals our choices are only as good as the systems in which we live. And unless we can collectively work together for changes that benefit all women, families and children, we'll just keep struggling with our own impossible situations.