Thursday, November 17, 2005

Motherhood and Professional life revisited

The Feminists:

I have never been a feminist, not because I didn't agree with equal rights, but because I never really identified with the people that were feminists.

Even though I think women's rights are important, I never really felt the women's movement was working for me. Rather, for some women off there in New York who were intellectuals in their 40's or 60's. They seemed to identify as important things that, well, already seemed obvious.

But getting a child made me wonder, what the hell do those females at NOW do anyway, while all us here are trying to make things work on the child rearing/work angle, it seems they are too busy trying to do what? I am not sure what...get equal pay for equal work? That's such a no brainer, it's almost pointless. What lawmaker would disagree with that?

BUT, what if I don't want to work and I want to give 5 years of my professional life to raising children? I guess feminists either don't do that, or they don't really care about that. There seems to be this total void to the value of being a mother in the political realm. One is instantly diminished to "little woman" status or something. Women who choose to do this remain almost completely without a voice, without status, without consideration in the politcal realm.

The family:

Really, a family is a person's first education, is it not? Our communities, schools and places of work are enormously impacted by the homes that the people come from.

Child rearing is an incredibly important and powerful job, but for employers it seems it is more of a nuisance. Why do employers not offer childcare or benefits for it? Do they think people will stop having children? Do they not comprehend that they reap the benefits of good parenting?

Mothers who are taken care of better mothers than those who are frantic, worried about money, low on sleep and have to work full time. Women shoulder a large burden for communities when they rear children and have to work at the same time. Communities which ultimately are made of the children they rear...if mom did a good job, if mom was stressed trying to make ends meet, if mom was too busy working all the time, all that comes out in child rearing. And these children fill our schools, our colleges, our workplaces, populate our markets and can this not be a relevant issue?

The mom's I meet, when I tell them I am part time, and or I got 5 months off I hear "Wooooow," they say how lucky I am, how they have to work, how they only got 1 or 2 or 3 months unpaid. For some, it's so bothersome they stare at me and shake their heads "How'd you do it?" (of course these ladies drive SUV's, have cell phones and wear expensive shoes)

As Jeff and I start to do the math of this child caring, rearing and having thing, I start to wonder, why is it that more politicians aren't interested in how tricky this is for families? Why isn't this an issue? Why isn't this important? How is it that this is not considered relevant?

Does anyone even know that childcare costs about 800 a month? Talk about a chunk of change. It most certainly will fluctuate by a couple hundred or so (or more), but how can working full time really be worth it, when you have to pay that would have to net at least 2500-3000 a month to make working worthwhile. That's about 45-50 k a year, a nice job...but how many really even make that much?

My experience:

When I told my boss I wanted to go part time, first he asked if I was probationary. Fortunately, I was not because I assume it would mean he could can me. Then, he told me in no uncertain terms (in fact he told me for 45 minutes) that part timers were bad for the students, made less contribution and he wanted to word to go out that he discouraged it. So I let the word go out.

Now I am part time because luckily the decision wasn't solely in his hands. However, I am pretty aware that as a part timer I am viewed as somehow being "lesser". By and large, I do not pay much attention, but when it comes to be evaluated or in engendering credibility with my bosses, I wonder if I am outta luck.

When I left to have my daughter, by all accounts, I got a sweet deal. More chalked up to timing and having saved up my sick days plus summer vacation, I had 5 months before I had to go back. But this was an exception to the rule which was 6 weeks unpaid. But I paid for my having been gone, I had to move classrooms and in that they took all my equipment that I had aquired (via grant work) and "reappropriated" it. In doing that, the whole of my technology end of my curriculum pretty much was gone. Plus I spend 45 minutes of my teaching day doing administrative/secretarial tasks for the school.

Mom, Balancing:

Almost every woman I know that has a kid deals with this issue of work and the child. They work up till the time they are about to pop so they can stay more time at home with the kid to do the nursing thing, which is what is recommended by doctors to be the best way to feed a little baby.

Then when they have to go back, it is an truly very difficult transition. My child's nutrition or the rent? hmm. Not to mention that formula costs at least 50 to 75 a month, another consideration.

Remember the days when women stayed at home and fought fo the right to work? In the world I see, women are forced back to work, often times also to wean long before it is really recommended. Or if they own a ($250) pump, they get to try to make that work out, which means pumping at lunch, if you can find a place to do it. I say "forced" because in nearly every case, the woman wasn't really ready to go back. But it was that or lose your job. Six weeks unpaid leave. Is this the best that can be done in one of the richest countries in the world?

What about the nursing thing? Who can do that and work? How many employers are encouraged or try to make an environment where mom's are taken care of and valued for the humungous role they play in communities? Has anyone ever even heard of this concept? Ever heard of a workplace that considers making a space for women who have children and need to pump? I haven't. The restroom? Mmm, that sounds great, I'll just sit on the pot here and fire this sucker up...oh wait, where can I plug it in?

How many times have I listened to my friends, colleagues other moms talk about how their husband was scared of the newborn and didn't really know how to take care of the child? Or at least the prospect of caring for the child was daunting until the kid could at least crawl? For those first several months, often times the mom plays the main role in the care of the child. And even after that, dad may carry some weight and in every house it is different, but as long as that mom is nursing, she and her child are fairly well glued to each other, as well it should be. No one else can do what she does. The struggle of early child care in the working household can be a substantial burden on even the healthiest of marraiges.

And where is the advocacy for this within the women's rights movement? Women carry a heavier burden throughout the early family years when they have to work and take care of babies, why are they not given a nod of acknowledgement besides 6 weeks unpaid leave?

Meanwhile the women's rights movement only seems to acknowledge the rights that would make them equal to men....huh? Something has gotten lost in translation for me, thats like trying to make apples equal to oranges. May they both cost the same per pound, but women are not the same as men--we make and raise children and we can work.

Where did you go Mother Jones? We need you.


M said...

In Quebec, you get 60% of your salary up to $50,000 or something when you're on maternity leave. Between the mother and the father, you get a year, so the mother can, for example, take 9 months off and the father can take 3, coincidental or not.
It's a pretty sweet deal.
I'm not much of a feminist either, only in the light that women should be able to CHOOSE if they want to be a stay-at-home mom or a career woman, or both, and the world should be appreciative of the fact that sometimes, family is just plain more important.

J. Star said...

Looks like moving to Canada might be a good gig. :)

One really cool thing about my workplace is that when we redesigned our office, they built a "mommy room" with a nice chair in it and access to an outlet. Our company has a disproportionate number of nursing moms, and the room gets used a lot. Sadly it does not have a sink in it, so the women who use it almost always wash out their stuff in the kitchen sink.

But, anyway, I agree with what you're saying here--it seems we do make it very difficult on families trying to raise kids in this culture. Maybe you can start some legislation to get that fixed...:)

Fitèna said...

You know, I find it .... uh, don't know but its just that I could see myself writing this post, thinking and feeling the way you do. I never could relate myself to Feminists either. This has absolutely nothing to do with my eing african. African women just KNOW that men and women are DIFFERENT. I think this is what Feminist don't get, the fact that its not an equality issue; its just that we ARE DIFFERENT. Whether you want to stay home or not is a CHOICE you have to make though. Not something to be imposed on you.
I was reading a french study about the evolution in men/women relationships. All the men interviewed said they do not dare to be nice or be gentelmen anymore. They have no wish to be sued for harrassment. No more holding the door for you, no more "after you please", no more "you are looking beautiful today", no more even "goodmornings sometimes. Sad, really!


Neil said...

The way I see it, the feminist movement didn't totally succeed because it focused on changing women in isolation of changing men as well. If women became more like "men," men needed to become more like "women" for the system to work. Then men would put more stock and respect into child-rearing, just like women have always done. Now, as women have focused on career just like men, you have both sexes sneering a bit at stay-at-home moms, rather than making caring for the family a viable choice for either a female or male.