Motherhood and the Pay Gap

Studies show that, even in family~friendly countries like Sweden, the main reason for the gender pay gap is motherhood.  In other words, if a woman wants to keep up with men in the work world, she shouldn’t have children.

It’s illegal for an interviewer to ask women if they have children, but that doesn’t stop employers from assuming that they do. Even if a woman is childless, if she’s of child-bearing age, the mere possibility that she could have a child makes employees skittish about hiring or promoting her. The underlying (and insulting) assumption is that being a mother makes a woman a bad employee. She’s going to take off more time to care for sick children than a man will. She can’t work long hours because she has to pick the children up from day care. Her mind isn’t exclusively on her job (as if she can’t think about children and work at the same time). She’s not going to be as motivated to succeed because she puts her children first.

Employers don’t have the same assumptions about men who have children. Why not? Because we have all been socialized to expect that women are going to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to child care.

Before you start accusing me of being a “typical” feminist (meaning that I’m out to undermine the family), let me say that I know that many women intentionally stay out of the work force or put their careers on hold when they have children. Many women believe that a woman’s primary role in life is to bear and care for children. But does that mean that all women, mothers and non-mothers alike, should be penalized when they try to join or advance in the work world?

Conservatives scoff at working women’s complaints about the pay gap  because they contend that statistics show that mothers are less productive than non-mothers. But they stop short of asking themselves why that is or what could be done about it. They feel no obligation to accommodate workers who have children. “After all, having children was their choice; it has nothing to do with me.”  They refuse to look at the broader picture: our future depends on these children. Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to make sure they are cared for, raised in safety and security, and educated adequately?

The current administration has made noises about addressing some of these problems, but so far has done nothing. And knowing its  supposed disdain for government  intervention, I doubt that it ever will. Republicans are more concerned about tax and immigration reform and abolishing Obamacare than about the plight of working parents. In fact, I can’t think of one legislator who has made reforms like maternity and paternity leave, flex-time, job-sharing and affordable quality child care a priority. That’s why I’m a feminist: someone needs to be looking out for women in the work force.  And looking out for working mothers ensures that our nation’s children will be taken care of as well.

 

 

Our Society’s Treatment of Mothers

On page 134 of the latest issue of The  New Yorker magazine, there’s a cartoon which illustrates one of the main themes of feminism. A woman with a baby in her arms and a little girl by her side is saying to her husband who is sitting in his easy chair in front of the television, remote control in hand: “I know we’re married, but I’d still like to work out a shared-custody arrangement. ”

I can relate to that. I can’t count how many times my husband woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that the baby was crying. Or gave me the third degree every time I left the house alone because he was so concerned that he might have to do something for the kids. (Are they fed/bathed/ready for bed? Are there enough diapers? Do they have clean pajamas?) FindLaw has a check list to help determine which parent is the primary caregiver for purposes of assigning custody. Out of 61 items, the only thing my husband did consistently was help plan our family vacations (i.e., decide where we were going to go).

Most divorced mothers, if they’re honest, would agree that one of the perks of divorce is that their ex-husbands take the kids off their hands every once in a while. But I’m convinced that one reason some divorced fathers don’t fight for sole custody is because they know better. Why would they take on full-time responsibility for the kids when they can just pay child support and have someone else do it? (That doesn’t stop them from bitching about the child support, mind you, but some men are willing to pay it rather than have custody.)

In response to one of my posts, “Danni” wrote that she works full-time, cleans the house and is primary caregiver for her child. “Others may see it as a sacrifice. I do not,” she said. “I see it as [a woman] making the choice that her children and family are more important to her than a career.”

But frankly, it doesn’t always feel like a choice. Our society tells women that they’re not good mothers unless they do take on the role of primary caregiver for the children, even if they also have full-time jobs outside of the home. Even with all the strides made by the feminist movement in the last fifty years, this belief has remained unshaken.

I don’t think there’s a woman alive who hasn’t resented the fact that she has to do everything for the children. And that includes women who have freely chosen to be the primary caregiver. It just feels like too much at times. Children are so needy that it can be a full-time job just to take care of them. Never mind that over 60-70% of women with minor children work outside of the home. [Source.]

Even when women want to stay home with their kids, the economy makes it impossible. In fact, even more women have entered the work force since the economy ran off the tracks in 2008, partly because of high unemployment among men. Does that mean that men are shouldering more of the household burden? I couldn’t find statistics on that, but my guess would be, not so much. That’s how ingrained it is in our society that women are supposed to be in charge of housekeeping and child care.

Whether you’re a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) or a “working” mom, it can get awfully old when you’re not appreciated for what you do for the family. Men are held up as paragons of virtue if they work and help out at home. But women—well, it’s what they do, right?

Feminists aren’t so good about championing the cause of mothers, and that needs to change. Older feminists worked harder to change how women were treated in the workplace than in the home. Younger feminists haven’t been mothers yet, or long enough, for it to hit them how important this issue really is.

All I’m saying is that if we’re going to continue to see mothers as primary caregivers, then they deserve all the support we can give them, physically, emotionally, politically and legally. Because the bottom line is, if we take care of mothers, we’re making this a better society for our children.

And who wouldn’t want that?

“Bad” Mothers Are Working Mothers

Germans have a special word for bad mothers: “Rabenmutter” (literally, “raven mother”). For a developed country, especially a Western one, Germany is surprisingly backwards when it comes to how it views and treats working mothers. The long-held ideal is the mother in the home. Germany is so dedicated to this ideal that the majority of school days end at lunch time, because it is expected that mothers are home to take care of their children for the rest of the day. This makes it hard for German women to have children and work outside of the home.

Something has to give. Sometimes that something is child-bearing: Germany has one of the lowest fertility rates in the Western world: 1.38 children per woman (as compared to America’s 2.06). It also affects women’s participation in the workplace:  “Today, 66 percent of German women work. But for those with children under 3, that figure plunges to 32 percent. Only 14 percent of women with one child resume full-time work and only 6 percent of those with two.” In contrast, look at these figures for the U.S.:

“In 2003, 63 percent of mothers with preschool-aged children (younger than 6 years) were in the labor force (either employed or looking for work), and 58 percent were actually employed. Of those mothers, 70 percent worked full-time and 30 percent worked part-time. Of women with children ages 6-17, 78 percent were in the labor force in 2003 and nearly all of those were actually employed. Among these employed mothers, 77 percent worked full-time and 23 percent worked part-time.” [Source]

One thing that Germany does have that the U.S. doesn’t is paid parental leave. This, too, is a reflection of the stay-at-home-mother model. But it gives German women a break that American mothers don’t have. The U.S. just doesn’t accommodate working mothers, period, even though so many of them are in the work force. Americans don’t call working mothers Rabenmuetter, but they might as well. Conservatives are well-known for blaming all of society’s ills on the fact that mothers are out of the home working instead of staying home and taking care of their children. (And they blame feminism for this “trend.”)

Continue reading ““Bad” Mothers Are Working Mothers”