My current students think I am some sort of crazy feminist, which cracks me up. After a decade of teaching, declaring my personal interest in furthering equal rights for both genders still labels me as a crazy feminist AND a man hater. Obviously, since I am happily married to a MAN and have a SON.
Consequently, I was delighted to read Stephanie Coontz’ article “Why Gender Equality Stalled” in the Sunday Review a few days ago. With a map that smacks readers in the face with America’s leave policy (or lack thereof) in comparison to the rest of the world, readers anticipate another diatribe about how women should receive more leave or some form of pay for maternity leave. Instead, she says, very nicely I might add, what should be obvious: Nothing will change until we see the problem of early childhood care holistically. We must understand and support the notion that child care is a societal issue – not a female issue.
This idea is also fleshed out, from a UK perspective, in Rebecca Asher’s excellent book “Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality .” (This is also yet another example of a woman who has taken an idea that has been germinating in my head for a decade and placed it between two slabs of cardboard before I had the chance – damn her! – though you can read about my initial attempt in my blog post a few months back.)
Essentially, much like Stephanie Coontz, “Shattered” advocates EQUAL RIGHTS – meaning men and women should BOTH receive paid time off to raise a family. She cites the example of Iceland, who have provided equal time off for men and women – with the proviso that leave cannot be transferred from one parent to the other. If men decide not to take the leave, it’s just gone. This has meant, of course, that men ARE taking leave, and their society is actually changing. As men come to understand the challenges of childrearing on a nationwide level, issues which have previously rested solely on women’s shoulders are becoming, rightly, issues for FAMILIES, and not just women. This is true progress.
Though Americans will giggle at Asher’s indignation over the UK’s poor treatment of mothers (considering they can take a year off, mainly paid, to raise their child if they want) – you must push past this for the main message: Whatever change we make, we must first think of families as a whole, rather than boy versus girl. (Which, by the way, is also more inclusive for families that may not be ‘traditional,’ whatever that means.)
So, where do we even start?
Baby steps, obviously. On Wednesday (tomorrow!), I will be taking a day trip to Olympia to attend a hearing for Senate Bill 5292, regarding the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program – and hopefully testifying (I think that’s the word). I will also be meeting with supporting WA state Senator Karen Keiser as well as my own WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles. I tried to get a meeting with WA state Senator Janea Holmquist Newbry, a Republican who supports SB 5159, which REPEALS support promised for families in 2015. I’d love to know how a person – and I hate to say it, but a woman in particular – could NOT support the possibility of paid leave (or just leave in general) for families. Alas, I have not heard back.
I know, all you conservative budget people are saying in your head, “We just don’t have the money, PLP! What’s wrong with you??” To that, I direct you back to the top of this post, where there’s a map showing how most of the world is currently affording this most basic of all supports for our next generation. We absolutely, 100% can afford it. We are just not prioritizing it.
I best sign off – I need to do a bit of research so I don’t feel like a complete n00b tomorrow. Wish me luck, everyone!