About 10 days ago, the AP ran a piece with the very titillating headline of “An Inconvenient Pregnancy” – so naturally I read it. What wasn’t clear to me once I finished reading it, however, was who considered the pregnancy inconvenient? The pregnant women never said that? So her employer? Women’s groups who want women to behave in certain ways in the workforce after they have children? Who, exactly, is this pregnancy, inconvenient for?
Allow me to elaborate.
The jist of the piece is this – many women become pregnant as they are reaching a high point in their careers – and so the question is – should they take a long maternity leave or will that jeoporadize their career too much?
Two high profile examples are given – Spain’s Defense Minister Carme Chacon, who is nearing the end of her pregnancy and Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News, who left her high profile job as the co-anchor of the evening news after having her second child. The AP piece includes snippets of people wondering if Spain’s Defense Minister should really take all of the 16 weeks given to her for maternity leave (how generous of that country to be able to “afford” to fund the lazy needs of a new mother and her maternity leave). Some question if she should be absent for that long and can the Defense Ministry carry-on without her? (Give me a freaking break, is what I say. Let this woman go have her maternity leave and love her baby and let her body heal in peace and quiet.)
Then others are quoted regarding Vargas’ decision to leave her high-profile career at ABC to stay home with children, wondering if ABC pushed her out, despite her own statements that this was her decision because she wanted and needed to spend more time with her children. Why is that so hard for people to believe? Why must everyone be so cynical that a woman can reach the peak of her career – and still – on her own volition – decide that at home with her children is where she wants to be?
Though some of the undercurrents of this piece frustrated me – feeding into this notion of mommy guilt and worse – this idea that we can do it all (and part of that includes cutting maternity leave short to prove that you can do it all) – this piece underscores many important issues.
First, this quote on the reality of how managing motherhood with a career is treated in this country:
“There’s a clear penalty to motherhood and caregiving in this country,” says Eileen Appelbaum, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University. “Basically we’ve said to women, if you can conduct yourself in the workplace as if you were a man, without any other responsibilities, being available day and night, then (and only then) will your pay and opportunities will be similar.”
I am quite confident that many KT fans can attest to this reality. But the truth is – this isn’t how life works when you are a parent – because life happens. Children get sick, they need their parents, something happens at school, whatever the case may be – a line has to be drawn and something’s got to give. The question I am constantly left wondering is when will the workplace mentality catch up to the technological revolution? No one works just from 9-5pm when they are in the office, we have laptops, blackberries and cell phones – and so when can we all laugh and say “Face time is so 2004, virtual me is the new 2008.”
Because it’s happening anyway. But even though it’s happening, it doesn’t change the brand identity of the woman who leaves every day at 5pm. Face it, we’re a brand. It’s called Mommy Tracked. No matter the reason you leave precisely on time every day at work, no matter how much more efficiently you work now that you have the honed time-management skills of a new mom, it doesn’t matter – what matters is that you leave on time every day. I’m still thinking over what we can do to overcome the Mommy Tracked brand identity problem – because every brand can be remade and rebuilt – it just takes time, so I’ll get back to you on that.
Until then, we’re back to one of our favorite hot button issues here on KT – the nerve of us to demand and ask for PAID MATERNITY LEAVE.
I’ve said it before, I will say it again and guess what, I will KEEP SAYING IT – it is a disgrace that the United States does not mandate paid maternity leave. According to the AP, “The United States is one of a handful of countries with no guaranteed paid maternity leave policy, along with Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho and Liberia, researchers found last year.”
Lesotho is news to me – but again – odds are most of you don’t even know where Lesotho is – and yet, we’re in good company with them on this one, aren’t we? We have so much in common, us and Lesotho. Don’t we?
Again, we are the only economic power, out of 173 countries studied by Harvard and McGill Unversities last year – that fail to provide women with paid maternity leave. And as it turns out, 40 percent of the workforce is ineligible for the paltry 12 weeks time off UNPAID mandated under FMLA, because they work for companies with fewer than 50 employees. Also, the employee has to work there for at least a year to qualify for FMLA.
I think that is a really important distinction to also make because what does it do – it paralyzes pregnant women from moving to a new job. I’d call that discrimination too, wouldn’t you? Yes, I know plenty of pregnant women get hired for new jobs and are able to negotiate maternity leave and job security, but those options are most likely there for the most educated of women out there. What about the rest of women who might be working in hostile enviroments for abusive bosses but they are forced to stay in the job they have because to switch jobs as a pregnant woman gives them no protection or job security?
More to come on this topic kittens. I’m thinking of learning a bit more about the other four countries that we are in bed with, in this whole no paid maternity leave debacle, and seeing what else we have in common with Swaziland, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Liberia – that would be quite interesting, don’t you think?
Here’s a link to the AP Piece:
And for the record, my pregnancy was never inconvenient…the only thing inconvenient about pregnancy and balancing motherhood with a career is inflexible work environments and unpaid maternity leave.