Monday, January 31, 2011

Feminist Apology

As a modern, educated, self-proclaimed feminist, I’m sorry for leaving my career, leaving the workforce, and leaving the rest of the women in the working world to fight for equality. This is where my apology ends. Because while I believe that my mother and grandmothers fought their way into the paid workforce, they did so on men’s terms.

That is why even now in these modern times, having a baby qualifies as a disability. Let me know spell that out again in case anyone hasn’t grasped the absurdity. A woman doing something so natural as carrying a child and giving birth to that child, qualifies for leave time only because it is considered a “disability”. Then, only if you’re luck and have an employer who provides paid leave or live in one of the few states the provide paid family leave, are you at all compensated during your “disability”. Then, once you’ve had the child and exhausted your twelve weeks of partial paid or unpaid leave, you must return to workforce. Once you’ve returned, you are on your own to try and negotiate with your employer for accommodations as a new working mother, whether that be a room with a door to allow for pumping, an alternative or reduced schedule or even just additional breaks to allow you to continue breastfeeding. All the while, you must keep up the appearance that you are putting in as much time and effort as your work colleagues.

Women gave up something crucial when we entered the workforce on men’s terms. We didn’t demand to be treated as women—women who become mothers and shoulder the sole responsibility for pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. I don’t place blame at the feet of those who marched before me. Who can argue with the civil and social rights that women have gained over the past century and a half. We now make up half the work force, and if forecasts are accurate, we’ll be the more educated, skilled half of the workforce in the coming years. It is time to right the injustice, for women to claim and elevate their roles as not just women, employees, but also as mothers, wives and the caregivers of our society.

One could argue that I’m running away instead of staying and fighting for paid family leave, flexible work schedules, regulation to require employers to provide pumping rooms, on-site daycare, et cetera. I like to think of it as non-conformance. I am striking from the workforce until working mothers receive equitable treatment. I’ll still be fighting from the sidelines.

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