Some recent discussions on women’s issues – the non-child-bearing kind – have made me a little bit uncomfortable. While I applaud efforts to talk about women’s issues in a broader sense (and I think Miss Hermi is quite the awesome blogging monktress for organizing these discussions), I couldn’t help but notice some animosity towards the topic of
family babies. A few of the commenters even suggested that they avoided seminars/meetings about women’s issues because this topic might come up. Maybe I’m extra sensitive right now because a female grad student recently asked why I got an “entire office” to myself to pump in. (I mean, are you kidding me? Was I supposed to share the office with several other [male] postdocs and grad students? Or was I to be relegated to the broom closet for my milk-making duties? Perhaps the barn out back?) Whether or not this female grad student ever chooses to have kids, did it occur to her that my having an office to pump in ensured that she also would be treated fairly when her own issues, female or otherwise, arose? So I had to write something up on this topic to clear my head. (If you’re not quite on board yet, just bear with me a few paragraphs before clubbing me in the comments.
Let’s face it – men didn’t decide thousands of years ago to disenfranchise females just for the fun of it.* Women had a hard time keeping up because they were weighed down (literally) by their wombs and womb-products. At some later point in human history, the idea surfaced that women were only good for two things: making baby boys who will grow up to be men and do real stuff, and making baby girls who will eventually be able to make more baby boys. Fast forward a few thousand years – past the advent of women’s suffrage, fair hiring practices, a myriad of birth control options – and the baby issue remains. Whether or not they plan to have children, women are often viewed as the ones who could get themselves preggos. We’re soft and fuzzy and nurturing, so we can’t possibly be as hard-core as our male counterparts. We’re bitchy when we assert ourselves instead of smiling and curtseying. We’re subjected to harassment in the workplace because we’re viewed as sex objects rather than intelligent human beings. We’re told we can’t pursue careers in STEM fields and have a family.** Women’s issues, in one way or another, revolve around the uterus and it’s baby-making abilities.
But, then again, maybe the animosity is due to the manner in which women’s issues are dealt. I was told countless times before having the Monkey that I would want/need tons of time off. More surprisingly, these comments often came from men, as well as women who had NOT had children. Did it ever occur to these people that I didn’t WANT tons of time off? Sure, I wanted to be able to heal, and I’m currently working fewer hours than I did before having kids. But hellooooo – why the hell does it have to be the woman doing all the child-rearing work? Hubby has taken off almost as much time as I to care for Monkey, including three weeks after I went back to work full-time. Daycare has helped tremendously – not only allowing Hubby and I to both return to work, but also with resolving some of the Monkey’s sleep issues (our daycare workers are worth their weight in GOOOOLD). And I have a breast pump (and office) so that Monkey can get the best nutrition possible when I’m not physically with him.
Of course, this all centers around the fact that my husband, his place of employment, and my mentor all valued and protected our decision to start a family. If we had chosen to adopt, if we left to care for ailing parents, if we took extended leave due to medical issues, the same level of consideration would have been provided.*** So maybe the better discussion, above and beyond pure women’s issues, is how to de-k3rn science (and work in general) so that we all have time for family. Let’s talk about men taking more time off to care for their children. Let’s find ways for women who have children to stay as productive as their male counterparts when they NEED to take more time off. And let’s talk about this in the framework of giving ALL workers the ability to stay productive while also having a life that doesn’t revolve around work.
Maybe it’s pie in the sky, but I genuinely believe that once women are not just SEEN as equals in the workplace, but actually ARE equals, many of these other issues will dissipate.
*Or maybe they did, but I’m thinking the uterus probably had something to do with it.
**This happens for many, if not all, young women in some form or fashion. Instead, we should be telling them they can do whatever they put their minds to, just like I was told while growing up.
***Due to the Family Medical Leave Act