While it is positive our President has so enthusiastically engaged in the cause of women’s equality of late, his statement this week, “If Men Were Having Babies, We’d Have Different Policies” highlights one of the biggest problems holding women back: The flawed assumption that having babies is entirely a women’s domain. In my house, my husband would tell you that our children are as much his children as mine, that their interests are his top priority, and that his love for them dwarfs all else. He doesn’t “help” with the housework, he does what needs to be done. He doesn’t “babysit” our children, he shares in their care. He doesn’t look to me as the genetically-predisposed parenting expert, he consults reference materials and learns parenting skills through practice. And by going to work, he isn’t prioritizing his career over the family, he is earning a living while pursuing his purpose. Just like I do.
By conscribing the parenting role primarily to women, we perpetuate a society where women’s primary (and unpaid) job is in the home and if she wants to pursue her own métier, or passions, she may only do so after she takes care of job #1: The family. When she goes to work, she does so with a handicap men in the workplace just don’t have: Guilt and the feeling she should really be somewhere else. So of course, we talk about the need for flexibility at work, so she can scramble to take her children to their endless doctors appointments or after school activities all by herself. And we talk about the need for providing affordable daycare, because we compare the cost to her salary alone and find that in some cases, she is paying the daycare more than she makes. And we hesitate to give her a promotion, because she is already doing more than one person can possibly handle. In fact, she’s probably not even asking for it because she is so overwhelmed.
When we reframe the assumption- Men ARE having babies, too – now we can create a whole new conversation. Men will need just as much flexibility to take the baby to the doctor and the kids to soccer. They will need high quality, affordable daycare. And they will need a work lifestyle (hours, environment, and workload) that capitalizes on their available energy and time while still giving them space for life.
Mr. Obama is correct: Then policies WOULD change. School hours might more closely match the work day. Doctors offices might open evenings and weekends. And maybe the need for so much business travel might be reexamined.
As long as we keep buying into the flawed argument that says Mom is a more important parent than Dad, that parenting is genetic instead of a set of skills anyone can learn, and that Dad’s pursuit of a career is more important than Mom’s, gender inequality will remain. And women perpetuate the myth as much as men: It is tempting to grasp on to the untouchable shrine of motherhood as validation we are special. But if we want the workplace to be more hospitable, we need to help Dad be more of a working parent and thus demand as much work flexibility as we do.
© Kelly Watson 2014