Nothing like starting the day off with a bang. Ok, for you Eliot fans, it did actually start with a 5:45am whimper, but that wasn’t why I was working up a good rant well before breakfast.
It started with the text ding on Carl’s phone.
I routinely ask Carl about his text and phone conversations because I’m an addict, and I need to know everything that everyone thinks about everything (and everyone). Carl humors me because he’s cool like that. Also because privacy is a total waste of time in our home. We are both astoundingly uncreative when it comes to passwords and use a predictable set of variations on the same ones we’ve used since high school. Carl can sign into any of my accounts. Probably the majority of my family could too.
Turns out it was a coworker who’s apparently thinking about having a baby and was curious about maternity leave policies and thought that, since we’d just had a baby, maybe we’d know something she didn’t. Carl had to use sick days for paternity leave (which ended up also being medical leave, but whatever). I guess they don’t offer maternity leave, he said, reading another text.
That’s illegal, I said promptly.
And then it occurred to me that I didn’t really know exactly what was or wasn’t legal, and since I was nursing anyway and my iPod was handy, I decided I had nothing better to do than start reading about maternity laws.
Just rockin’ the cradle while rockin’ the world
That’s when I got irritated. Turns out that I was right, it is illegal to refuse a woman’s request for maternity leave (certain restrictions apply). But nobody said anything about paid maternity leave. That’s totally optional.
A woman has the right to keep her job while pregnant, and a woman has the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. (Some restrictions apply).
How very far we’ve come.
You have the right to not be fired.
According to Fit Pregnancy, “Out of 173 countries worldwide, the United States is one of only five that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to give birth and care for a newborn.” That’s right. We come in neck-and-neck with Papua New Guinea on this one.
Under no circumstances would this be ok, but it’s also fails the basic logic test. Take our situation. Carl was able to work enough from home to stay on salary, but he could have taken advantage of the short term disability offered by his place of employment if he’d needed it. They offer short term disability, but they don’t “have any policy” about maternity leave?
I understand we’re a country enamored of Atlas Shruggery, and I can hear all the usual soundbites about free rides and honest days’ work, but let’s do the math, shall we?
- Women represent less than half of the workforce
- The average American woman has 2-3 children
- The average American worker works a total of 5-15 different jobs
They spend more on birthday parties than they would ever spend on maternity leaves, I ranted as we pulled into the parking lot. Carl agreed. He said he already told his coworker that she could sign him up for any protest she cared to organize. I said I’d make picket signs and carry Iris around in the Baby Bjorn for extra oomph.
I think I discovered your next blog post, Carl said.
In my feminist utopian novel, I said, this would NEVER happen.
I am always threatening to write a feminist utopian novel, which I am, sadly, never actually writing. Although I do spend a fair amount of time mulling over the social structure necessary to make things run smoothly, and one of the primary rules of its social organization is this:
The bearing, rearing, and educating of children is one of the basic tasks any society must manage in order to survive.
Or, as I increasingly want to snap at the geniuses who run (or just wish they ran) our country:
Having babies is not actually a cute little hobby of mine.
That’s pretty much how our the majority of people seem to treat the issue. A hobby or personal enrichment course. That’s how people can pretend there’s a difference between short term disabilities and childbirth. Well, she chose to have children so she needs to be responsible for them. Basically, it ranks on the legitimacy scale somewhere between breaking your leg and liking to scrapbook.
For sure: having babies is a uniquely rewarding and totally natural part of a woman’s life cycle. Also for sure: those cute little babies will provide the labor (and tax revenue) that will sustain this country for the next 40 years.
Apologies in advance, but the more sentimental people wax about children and mothering instincts the more skeptical I get. Yes, I played with dolls when I was little, and, yes, I love being a mom, but there are plenty of boys who threw balls around when they were little who probably just LOVE being football players with multimillion dollar contracts now.
(I feel a poem coming on. I call it “The Angel in the Big House”).
“I make food!” “I make houses!” “I make taxpayers!”
Last time I checked “loving your work” meant you’d found the right career, not “you do not deserve to be paid.” So for all the natural crap you want to talk about my brain’s “wiring,” I’m going to have to go all Thomas Mann on this one.
Everything is political.
Unfortunately, I’m not particularly interested in politics, but IN MY FEMINIST UTOPIA, people with stressful and socially significant jobs will be trained appropriately for them and then compensated for doing them well. Women who love children, give birth to them, educate and raise them to adulthood will be financially compensated, not as welfare but because they earned it. I’m thinking a stipend per child (with a cap, obviously), something that works out to an average American income for a mom of three or four. If you’re concerned about all the money this would cost, don’t be. In my utopia all they’ve done is cut out the middlemen (or middle women, as the case may be). Instead of paying someone else to watch your kid in daycare and then paying a bunch of other people to educate her YOU will be equipped to care for and educate your own child. What a novel thought.
And for those who want to have children without investing quite that much into the project, I have another novel thought: shack up with someone who does.
The truth, of course, is that as long as we’re a wealthy society we will always pay more for entertainment than we will for things we make a point of taking for granted. (Surprise!) But if cutting out primary education and large chunks of secondary doesn’t free up enough cash (at a yearly budget of around 600 billion), what about tapping into the phenomenal and embarrassing amount of money that goes into our entertainment industry (an additional 700 billion)? If wealth redistribution is a problem for you, then we may have hit a sticky point because unfortunately that’s how government works. They take a portion of your money and give it to other people whose services they deem worthy. You can be mad about the amount they take or who they give it to, but wealth redistribution is just one of those civilization 101 things.
(But best of luck with your moon colony).
Clearly, this feminist utopia is right on track to exist nowhere except in my own mind, but I like to think it’s one of the rare social systems that would actually allow for gender equality.
Maybe someday when I’m not working 120 hour weeks for the sheer love of my work, I’ll even write a book about it.