I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed the post-pandemic workplace and juvenile justice reform:
How You Can Help Parents In Your Workplace Right Now
Many, many kids aren’t going to school next year, bringing a true crisis moment for working families across America. If you don’t have school-age children, telling parents whether we should send our kids back to school is as helpful as when you shared a color-coded chart of what we should do with our kids in the spring. Actually, though, we need serious support, and here are some tips to help you help the parents in your workplace:
Put your own neck out there: You be the one to bring up the question with HR and leadership. So, I’m sure you’ve noticed schools aren’t reopening. What policies as an organization are we implementing to make sure we give our parents what they need to keep their jobs? Are there any suggested steps I can take individually to help my parenting colleagues? When you’re the one to bring it up, you’re taking the burden off us. Truth is, many parents are terrified of losing our jobs right now. It helps to have you at our back.
Normalize conference calls instead of Zoom calls. Thank you to those of you who are gracious about seeing our kids running around. That’s kind of you. It’s still stressful even when colleagues are understanding. Regardless of the childcare crisis of the moment, most work meetings don’t need to take place by video.
Normalize men in opposite-sex couples doing domestic work. The current crisis for parents is crushing women in particular, with many opposite-sex couples relying upon women to do their jobs and educate their children, and statistical reporting during the pandemic bears that out. So, normalize men needing to take care of their kids during the workday. Also, non-parent men can help out here as well, by normalizing men doing house chores and making it clear you’re doing so by weaving it into your small talk.
Recognize that many of your parenting colleagues have been going through agony over the past few weeks, and cut us a break. If you’re not on the listservs and Facebook groups and getting the constant texts and the emails from other parents, much less not looking at your own child and wondering how they will get the education and programs they need and how you will keep your own sense of mental balance during this extreme crunch upon us, you probably don’t know. I can say from personal experience that, when my school district was still offering a decision of hybrid or distance learning (it’s all distance learning now because America gave bars and restaurants priority), I had the two most difficult weeks of my experience thus far during the pandemic.
Put pressure on your elected officials. As I’ve written before: In leaving out childcare, our COVID economic relief packages have been sexist as hell. What families are currently experiencing is a societal problem, and it demands societal solutions. Demand paid leave, emergency childcare relief, and food assistance to needy families.
Donate to food pantries serving children and families, no questions asked, and volunteer to help. Schools do many important things, including making sure children from low-income families have access to high-quality, nutritious food. If you have time and/or physical resources to do so, this is a great place to pitch in.
Stay home. The single most effective thing we can do to create an environment where schools can reopen is to bring infection rates down. Just stay home. As our nation continues to shatter records for daily infection rates, no restaurant should be offering indoor dining. Just because they are doesn’t mean you should go.
Why I Won’t Send My Child Back To School
I’m not sending my daughter back to school for second grade this fall. While this decision comes at considerable cost to her education and my ability to work, it is the right one for us.
My family lives in Arlington County, where the school system has presented a choice of a hybrid model that includes two days in school and three days of distance learning, or an all-virtual model. While I appreciate the impossible situation that is larger than our school board, both of these choices are, frankly, horrible for children my daughter’s age, who really depend upon in-person instruction and socialization in order to succeed. What’s more, these choices are particularly devastating for low-income children, children of color, children for whom English is a second language, and children with learning disabilities.
We should have, as a country, gotten it together when we closed down in the spring. We should have used this time to create plans for social distancing that work, to educate people about how to keep our communities safer, and develop plans for better testing and contract tracing abilities that would allow for greater reopening.
Instead, led with political pressure from a president most concerned about his re-election, states rushed to reopen their economies in the pursuit of short-term political gain. Now we are paying the price with spikes in coronavirus infections that appear to be out of control.
Making this choice was agonizing. My daughter is just beginning to read and write, and she needs to see teachers. She also needs to see other children, which is heightened by the fact that she is an only child. My ability to work has taken a huge hit since we began to shelter in place on March 13, and I wake up at 4 a.m. (or earlier) multiple days a week just so I can “juggle” the expectation that I do my job and serve as my daughter’s teacher and tech support.
But we can do hard things, and I believe, ethically, that we have to do this very hard thing for another year because it’s neither safe nor fair to throw teachers, school support staff, and our community into an epidemiological experiment that has been rushed along under political pressure. We’ve seen the results of rushing to reopen before the virus has been contained before, and it’s why the United States has been forced to use freezer trucks to store the bodies of people, disproportionately Black and brown, whose deaths could have been prevented.
While reducing the number of children in the building during the school day, the model of sending children to school for a few days a week on a staggered schedule creates a patchwork of childcare problems that facilitates community spread. It’s likely that students from multiple schools and districts will mix and mingle in childcare programs because of the odd school schedules happening throughout our region.
My school district has not yet made a decision about the fate of the extended day program our family relied upon in previous years, but I believe the writing is on the wall that, um, there won’t be an opportunity to send our children into the school to all play together in a gym with students from all grades starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. each day. At this time, I don’t see an option to send my daughter back to another form of childcare, either.
I do not begrudge parents who are ‘choosing’ the hybrid model of education in my district, and I hope the model works out. We are all doing the best we can in impossible circumstances, many of us with colleagues who do not have a grasp on what it’s really like to be a teacher and a camp counselor and a parent and an employee at the same time, with crying children struggling with mental and emotional stress, technology platforms that are complex for children and adults to navigate, and without a break since the beginning of March.
Having done the math, I think (hope) it will be less work for me to have my daughter at-home full-time where she can have live, virtual instruction for about three hours, four days each week than it is to have her in school two days and no live time with teachers for three. Still, I am expecting to spend 38 hours per week for the upcoming year serving as her teacher. This time is not counting interruptions I expect as I work because she is a young child and needs help, nor time serving as her playmate because she is an only child and needs someone to play with her. In the continuing absence of leadership from public officials, what we are witnessing in real-time is my generation of moms being pushed out of the workforce or downgraded in our careers – I say moms intentionally because while parenting is gender-neutral, who is being pushed out is not – if we don’t collapse from exhaustion first. Now you know why.
Have you heard the Secretary of Labor say anything about this? The Secretary of Education seems to have discovered in the past week that children are out of school, and all she is doing is shaming the impossible choices that parents have rather than creating pathways to actually support the damn kids who don’t have the option to go to school five days per week.
We’re staying home next year for the reason that our political leaders have completely failed all of us in containing this virus, botching it so bad that we have the worst infection rates in the world, with children unable to go to school and parents and teachers being forced to quit their jobs to deal with the untenable ‘choices’ forced upon us.
We had a choice: Open bars or open schools. Our country made a choice, and my daughter is now staying home from school for the upcoming year.
All These COVID-19 Economic Relief Packages Leave Out Childcare And Are Sexist As Hell
COVID-19 has destroyed the basic social compact working parents signed up for when we decided to have children. Now, we’re forced to do it all. At once. This is impossible. The other option is to lose our jobs like tens of millions of other Americans.
This is a childcare emergency.
There are no personal solutions to fix it.
Color-coded ‘schedule charts’ for the kids or sweet website recommendations for how to view the Louvre collection virtually, from a pogo stick, while the kids learn how to meditate following prompts in ancestral languages aren’t going to solve it.
Re-opening the tattoo parlors, barber shops, bowling alleys, and movie theaters? Also worthless.
We need to just say it out loud:
The federal government’s economic relief packages for COVID-19 are sexist as hell. In leaving the childcare crisis unaddressed, the whole response is sexist as hell.
Parenting and childcare are economic activities that are not being compensated. Guess why? This has always been considered women’s work, even when men and non-binary folks do it, and that’s why it’s been under-appreciated and underpaid.
I’m seeing lots of government aid packages and promises for businesses that promise not to lay off their workers. Where are the government aid packages and promises for businesses that:
- Reduce hours for caregivers on staff without reducing their pay
- Give caregivers on staff PAID LEAVES OF ABSENCE even if they theoretically can ‘work from home’ at 3 a.m. while the baby sleeps for 20 minutes
- Provide incentives for social-service organizations that are currently closed to innovate on safe provision of childcare for essential workers and also workers, period
Why are our legislators not talking about the childcare crisis facing working families in communities around the country?
Our schools, summer camps, and childcare providers are closed. It is critical that the *actual government* address this issue. Legislators, cabinet secretaries. All the schools have closed and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is doing what, having a manicure in Georgia? Have you heard anything from her since the coronavirus crisis began? How about Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia? Has he opened his mouth once about the extreme challenges faced by working parents ever (duh, childcare affordability has always been a crisis), much less now when we’re all tearing our hair out and struggling to breathe?
Where are the think tanks with papers about ways to climb out of this childcare crisis in a way that also offers protections for public health during a global pandemic?
The time for innovation is now. If ‘relief’ and ‘reopening’ ideas don’t prominently feature the needs of working families, they are not worth printing on paper.
Parenting In A Pandemic
March 13, 2020. That is the day our family entered lockdown in support of public health due to the coronavirus pandemic. Frustrated with the inaction of our school district, I woke up that morning and sent an email to my daughter’s teacher explaining that I was pulling her out of school. Later that day the district agreed, ending classes the following Monday.
Homeschooling and working full-time is not a joke. I have been known to work hard my whole life, and I have never been so exhausted. This is a beautiful, impossible situation.
The beauty is that love for each other, our neighbors, our community, our country, and our world is what keeps us home, doing these hard things. My daughter, who is six, and I have never been so close. In this room where I try to work and she works through tears and disappointments and joys and boredom we are seeing sides of one another that had been muted for the other by the school day or the workday, unseen and unknown.
What we are doing is much less hard than others: Neither her father nor I have lost our jobs. No one in our family has been sick with COVID-19. We do not work in medicine, we do not have to face the terrifying situations of first responders — and let’s be clear, that includes not just medical professionals but also people working in grocery stores, funeral parlors, and other essential services — who are exposed to large groups of people, many of them infected, and seeing the hardest times of people’s lives. We are not part of the Black community that is dying at alarming, disproportionate rates, a reflection of the racism that is always there and always making the worst things worse.
For us it is less dramatic but also hard, just as it’s hard for everyone else. Social distancing is exaggerating the pain points of our idiosyncrasies, creating deeply personal and widely divergent horrors. While I get up at 4 a.m. trying to make it all happen and end many days feeling exhausted, defeated, and depressed by the impossible expectations to work and homeschool a delightful and small only child of many urgent needs and feelings (it is cyclical, and I’ve learned to plan for it, accept and honor the feelings, and rise to try again), I recognize that what I am locked in is the exact opposite of others locked in by themselves, haunting to pass the time.
Of course we are inexorably changed, but no, perhaps this is who we are and always were. A mother and a daughter throwing socks at each other for an indoor snowball fight on Spring Break rather than going to Disneyland, frozen in the moment created by leaders who failed us and a horrible disease continuing to rob people of their ability to breathe and stealing jobs people depend on to put food on table. Parenting my daughter is the hardest and most unrealistic and absolutely best part of this pandemic. Because of her, there is no time for fear. Because of her, time that might be spent in sorrow is instead consumed with going off the never-attainable script provided by the school district and teaching her lessons about Chernobyl, because why not. I love her and now we, too, are living through the aftermath of self-absorbed, autocratic leaders who attempted to dismiss an invisible enemy as no big deal until insufficiently impeded scientific inevitabilities took over and showed everyone.
Amy Klobuchar, Or The Case Of The Workplace Bully
I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I wish I was more excited about this. I don’t know how to get past reporting in The New York Times titled, simply, “How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff.” If you live in the D.C. area and work in progressive circles, as I do, you are likely to know tons of stories that never have and never will be printed, shared first-hand with you by a variety of dedicated professionals who worked for her, people with no desires for notoriety and no axes to grind. The difficulty of working for her is common knowledge in this town.
Why I Want To Like Amy Klobuchar
It’s been time for a woman president since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, and I really want to like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The first woman senator from Minnesota — a dream I started phonebanking for in middle school, when Ann Wynia ran in 1994 — she gave the best campaign announcement of any Democrat running for president this cycle.
She launched her effort to defeat Trump in a literal snowstorm. The image of her smiling behind the podium, snow falling down, is epic to the point of worthy of a tattoo on other people’s shoulders.
She’s funny. She’s smart.
She maintained her dignity when Justice Brett Kavanaugh stepped far over the line with her during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, asking her if she had blacked out while drinking alcohol rather than answering the same important question she had posed to him, germane to the credible story presented by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her with a friend in the room while they were drinking at a high school party.
She was right when she pointed out that women candidates with Pete Buttigieg’s comparatively low level of political experience would not stand a chance in the Democratic presidential primary, and it was a feminist act to name that.
Why I Think Amy Klobuchar Will Be The Nominee
I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I have been saying this privately for months; now you are seeing it here, in the public forum of my personal blog. I believe this will happen because, regardless of my personal beliefs, policy priorities, and favored candidates (I am to the left of Sen. Klobuchar, and unapologetically so), I believe that Democratic primary voters will eventually coalesce around a centrist candidate who they believe is most likely to beat Donald Trump in a general election.
As a centrist from the upper Midwest, Klobuchar checks a lot of boxes.
I believe her ascent is inevitable because former Vice President Joe Biden is a weak frontrunner, which is convenient to blame on the fact that he is 77, but actually stems from the ageless truth that he has run in presidential primaries repeatedly over the decades and has never proved much good at it.
With fundraising prowess, surging poll numbers, and a sharp generational contrast, it may appear that Pete Buttigieg has the easiest path to surpassing Biden in the centrist lane, but as is true for high school and life, it’s critical not to peak too soon. As much as I believe in the leadership of young people and that Buttigieg has a promising future in politics, it seems likely that centrist voters will shift from Biden’s weakness as a candidate to Buttigieg’s lower experience level to eventually land upon Amy Klobuchar and her electability among white Midwestern voters, who Trump can’t win without.
(This is not to say I don’t think Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, doesn’t have real gaps with to fill with Black voters, and especially Black women voters, whom Democrats can’t win without; however they seem less insurmountable than Buttigieg’s failure to thwart police violence in his own community and wild card Michael Bloomberg’s racist stop and frisk policy as mayor of New York City, for which he has recently apologized.)
On Tough Bosses, Women Bosses, Workplace Bullying, And Amy Klobuchar’s Run For President
A tough boss can actually be a great boss. Tough can mean high standards that make staff work hard, grow, and achieve more than they thought possible. Tough can be challenging in the moment and a source of pride later, even when it seemed at the time like the difficulty could never be redeemed and the boss was just the worst. Workplace bullying is different.
I’m defining workplace bullying as repeated aggressive, degrading behavior in the workplace that serves to isolate and ridicule its targets, making life a living hell for them; in order for it to truly be workplace bullying, this behavior must be accompanied by power dynamics that make it impossible for its victims to free themselves from the behavior, short of leaving their jobs.
The stories about Amy Klobuchar seem to fit the pattern of workplace bullying, and that matters for her presidential run because workplace bullying indicates what I believe to be a serious failure of leadership. Leaders articulate a vision, and inspire others to work together to achieve that common purpose. If a political leader can’t inspire their own staff — who share their ideology and in the context of the dysfunctional capitol dome should in most circumstances be the easiest management issues on their plate — without psychologically beating them into submission, how can they be expected to lead the whole country?
Rigorous definitions are important. A colleague who disagrees with you is not necessarily a workplace bully. Nor is a woman in power who isn’t ‘likable.’ There are unfair standards for women leaders, and it’s true that people have all manner of irrational reactions to women in power, even feminists who claim they want to see women in power (you know, those hypothetical women in power who are more attractive leaders than the women actually doing the work now, although a large number of feminists seem to be pretty inspired by Elizabeth Warren, thank you very much).
I remember earlier in my career, a woman I worked with was frustrating to me. Our styles clashed and we often had different points of view. Once during a phone call she spat out, just because I’m disagreeing with you doesn’t mean I’m yelling at you. She was right. I appreciate this lesson, and actually remember her fondly today.
Our Country Needs Leadership — Desperately
Our country needs profound, courageous, principled leadership if we are to bounce back from the deep challenges to our democracy posed by structural inequality, ascendant white nationalism, and an authoritarian administration that has purposefully sown doubt in what is fact, undermined the free press, and used overt racism, support for gun manufacturers, and the magic carpet ride of anti-abortion extremists who will go along with literally anything to overturn Roe v. Wade. We will need to find ways to overcome conservative gerrymandering and social media echo chambers. The crisis of our democracy in 2020 is an urgent cry for leadership.
Cory Booker has a great message about leading with love, and I believe that our country desperately needs inspirational leadership skills and messages like his to draw people back together. While I could get very excited about a Booker candidacy, or a Warren candidacy, and I deeply, painfully miss the Harris and Castro campaigns, maybe the candidate we get will not be very exciting to me or to you.
If our first or second choice is not the nominee, we should choose to be grown-ups. Stopping Trump is indeed the most important thing. Tearing down every Democrat running is counterproductive, and every time I log into Twitter, where I follow mostly Democrats, I feel a little more demoralized to see how much energy is going into total, all-or-nothing shutdowns of Democratic candidates. No one deserves a total shutdown except Putin puppet Tulsi Gabbard (Kamala Harris was right about a number of things, including this!). Mostly, I’d like to see Democrats organize respectfully for our favorite candidates and chill.
So Amy Klobuchar will not get my vote in the primary. If she is indeed the candidate in the general election, I will lean into what I like about her, dig in for the work required to move her to more progressive positions, and do everything I can to get her elected. I will do this for any Democratic nominee who is not a known Putin puppet. If it is Klobuchar I’m certain I would ugly cry and joyfully scream to see a woman from Minnesota defeating Donald Trump. But I will not pretend now like workplace bullying does not give serious pause. It does. It should.
How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Sh*t
Working from home can be the easiest way to work. It can be the hardest. Sometimes it is both.
Currently I work from home, and it’s been more than four years since I’ve held a job with a physical office. I’ve spent several additional years of my life working from home. I’ve worked from home as an hourly consultant, contractor under lump sum, freelancer drumming up new business, half-time employee for someone else, full-time employee for someone else, and entrepreneur starting my own non-profit. During these years, I’ve had a boss, been my own boss, and been somebody’s boss. I’ve worked with fellow contractors with more authority. I’ve worked with employees inside the firm that hired me — and they had an office. I’ve held multiple contracts at once, multiple jobs at once, and held full-time, work-from-home-jobs while also attending full-time school in the evening. I’ve worked in someone else’s home, too. And, I’ve worked in several offices.
Frankly, I love working from home and don’t want to stop. But if I had an office tomorrow, I’d probably say I loved that and didn’t want to stop. There are positives and negatives for both working environments.
These are my best tips for working from home without losing your sh*t:
When you’re working, work. When you’re not working, don’t work.
The most important thing to do is to compartmentalize. Think of work as an on/off light switch. Not a round dimmer that lets you explore gradations of work and home life happening at the same time, an on/off light switch. This approach protects both procrastinators who delay their work as well as workaholics who can’t stop working. Be deliberate about your boundaries, and when you’re at home, go all-in on your work or all-in on your personal life.
*Note – Others take vastly different approaches and find it works for them. With this tip as with the ones that follow, take what works for you and ignore the rest.
Keep a timesheet.
Whether or not you have billable hours to report or a mandatory company timesheet, track the amount of time you are working. Keeping a timesheet is the next step of compartmentalizing your activity. It acts as both a safeguard to keep you aware of when you are working and not working, and also as a way to hold you accountable to actually working or not working (some of us have problems actually getting to work, others of us have problems actually having a life).
Work in a dedicated space.
Having a dedicated space, even a $20 Ikea chair on the floor of your otherwise barren studio apartment (been there) is another mental kickstart to getting in the work mode. Do not conduct conference calls from bed. You will begin to associate your bed — which should be your most sacred space — with work annoyances that should have been absorbed by a cubicle with a carpeted wall.
Take a shower and get dressed.
I wear nicer clothes on my working-from-home days than my weekend days (let’s be real, we’re talking about slightly nicer T-shirts with the same jeans, sneakers, and hoodies). Get ready. Brush your teeth. When you feel professional, it helps you to act professional.
Get out to coffee shops on occasion, but not as an excuse to delay your work.
I used to put so much energy into working from coffee shops. I had a circuit of coffee shops I went to daily (seriously, they would have been so upset if they knew I had other steady coffee shops). It feels good to get out of your house and be around other people sometimes. It’s human nature. But if you think you need to go to a coffee shop or a library in order to be able to focus, something is wrong with the way you are approaching your work at home. When you’re working, you need to work.
Put more emphasis on professional development, including attending educational and networking events.
I tend to have more interest in professional development, including attending educational and networking events, when I’m working from home. Even when you work from home with other colleagues, it’s simply not as natural to develop, learn, and network as when you’re in an office. So — sign up for some professional events, and go. It feels good and keeps you relevant.
If you work from home and have children, don’t pretend you can do both without childcare.
These days, one of the sweetest comments I get when people find out I have a child and work from home is the assumption that I can, oh, do both. Unless you’re working part-time and don’t have to be on a specific schedule or you can’t afford or secure childcare and are forced to never sleep yourself, you can’t. It is simply not sustainable to work from home and take care of young kids at the same time. I’ve worked from home with a nanny who came to us (best advice I have is to stay out of it, let the nanny take leadership, and act like you aren’t there) and these days our daughter goes to full-time daycare outside the home.
Take extra steps to be personal with your colleagues.
Just as small talk is just about the weather but profoundly important to a person’s ability to ramp into a focused conversation with someone they don’t know well already, so is bullshit time. Bullshit time is the time you spend in an office standing around a copier that can’t be fixed even though everyone has tried what the monitor says. During bullshit time you find out who people really are, and this develops trust and impacts our ability to communicate honestly with one another, and give and receive feedback. Sending a handwritten card in the mail to someone you work with virtually takes 10 minutes but makes you remarkable. Build in time to care about someone’s weekend or sick kid. No one is just a cog behind a screen.
Don’t construct a narrative about what your boss or client is thinking.
You ever watched a friend project the universe onto someone hot they found online? (Okay, I’ll woman up and confess to doing that myself.) Our brains are wired to fill in the gaps for others — undeservedly positive or negative. We can over-inflate how wonderful someone blah is, or construct a really hostile narrative against ourselves (like, literally, I have convinced myself that a previous boss who is in fact one of my greatest champions hated everything I did and was going to fire me). When you’re working from home, you’re missing body language, contact, and context that helps you to understand better what your boss or client really thinks. Get out of your head. Don’t think and theorize, talk. The exception is that if someone proves to you in a virtual space that they are toxic — as with real life — find a way to get the hell away from them, and never look back.
Most important: If you don’t love your job, don’t work from home. You will fail.
Almost all the problems of working from home really stem from not believing in what you do. If you think your job sucks, is boring, evil, under the direction of evil people, or you’re in a dead end, you won’t be motivated to work. In those instances, be honest with yourself and get out. I say this with the acknowledgement that it’s a great privilege to quit your job because it’s stupid, and one that most people can’t swing. But that doesn’t mean that if you hate working from home you should be reading tips on how to correct the situation. Just start looking for another job. Your problem might be working from home, but it’s more likely your job being the wrong fit.
On Motherhood And Employment
In our culture, pregnancy is viewed as something you did to yourself. Having a child comes with consequences you must be prepared to accept. This isn’t gender neutral; it’s no accident that women’s reproductive capacity is reduced to a supposedly objective decision-making matrix that sets up women as a class to fail.
On any given day, cultural and political leaders will portray children as punishments for casual sex; as luxuries for wealthy families; and at their most heinous, as ruses for public benefits or citizenship status.
The idea of pregnancy and children as consequences for which women must pay plays out in many sectors of our lives, including restrictions upon reproductive rights, and punitive attacks on the social safety net.
Here I will discuss some of the negative consequences for women in the workplace. I say women intentionally; although not all women are or will become mothers, it is often anticipated they will. So even a woman who has no intention of having children is often unfairly judged by her actual and prospective employers.
The United States does not guarantee paid parental leave. Today pregnant workers still face inadequate workplace protections, as made clear by the failure of Congress to pass a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that would simply clarify that employers must offer minor accommodations when necessary, such as increased bathroom breaks or lighter lifting duties. A year of day care costs more than a year in public college in 31 states.
These are not just women’s issues or family issues; these are massive economic problems that constrain our economy.
But, I’d argue, our cultural attitudes suck at least as much as our institutional failures to accommodate the reality of parents who work, a reality that resoundingly ends in undervaluing women in their personal lives and on the job.
I have a toddler. It has only been a few years since I was in my early thirties, single, and facing all sorts of biological clock-type questions about whether I wanted to have kids. Bluntly, this kind of pressure can destroy a dating life (if you want one) — I have watched it happen with friends and experienced variations of it myself. But even more, I wish that some of those people who wondered about me being single would have instead asked what I was reading, or working on, or thinking about current events.
If and when women do have children, the very real work they turn around and put into caring for those children is often portrayed as heroic (“the hardest job in the world”), which may be well-intentioned but is ultimately patronizing since caregiving for one’s own family is put on a pedestal but neither compensated nor respected in the marketplace. In portraying the motherly woman as idol, this false heroism also excuses men in heterosexual child-rearing relationships from stepping up to do their fair share.
And on the job? Mark Zuckerberg once said of Facebook having younger (i.e., childless) employees:
“Young people just have simpler lives. We may not have a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”
What’s important, apparently, is to be found in those corners of the office where working moms don’t hang out late at night.
You might think, “What the fuck, Zuck?!” and write it off, but I’ve heard versions of this riff in explicitly feminist settings. In one example, I heard a non-profit executive express resentment that women with children didn’t have to work as much as she did. In another, I heard a consultant express concern that a boss who worked standard business hours because of her kids didn’t understand her younger employees needs to come in later in the day.
The first case is frankly bullshit. There’s a cliche going around that if you want something done, you should give it to a mom — and that’s often true. I know motherhood has greatly increased my time management skills. If I need to get something done, I no longer plan to get it done later — that leaves too much margin for error when a toddler depends on me. Further, it’s unfair because many employees smoke and take smoke breaks, or go on long lunches with friends, or leave early to play recreational sports.
The second case greatly concerns me, because ultimately what concern over the supposed rigidity of a working mom’s office schedule says is that a woman with children isn’t fit to make decisions, and isn’t fit to judge how her team should work, including whether they should keep the same hours. In other words, that a mom isn’t fit to be the boss.
Yes, dads get some crap in the workplace, too, but rarely if ever will you hear it suggested that he’s not pulling his weight, or he’s not fit to be the boss, because he has kids. It’s assumed a woman will step up for him when junior throws up all over the classroom on presentation day.
My college thesis examined the failure of the feminist movement (at the time, so we’re talking 2002) to tackle the problem of child care in a visionary way and as a major rallying cry — specifically, why it costs so much, why quality is so varied, and why it is inaccessible to so many. The voices calling for universal child care, or Social Security contributions for caregivers, are too few and far between.
Ultimately the conclusion I reached is that liberal feminism is too invested in theories of bootstraps individualism, and that acknowledging caregiving as gendered, much less a societal obligation (it takes a village) rather than a personal lifestyle, could be seen as threatening to undermine the “long way” you’ve come, “baby.”
I still believe, to an extent, that’s true, but to another extent I would argue today that the failure to progress also sits largely in the friendly and willing cooptation of many feminist organizations by the Democratic Party, which throws bones to the ladies as a matter of electoral convenience and sometimes deeply felt principle, but never should be confused with a movement making radical demands for social change. Although it has been.
I believe these dynamics are at play when we consider why it is not equal to be a mother, or for that matter a woman, in the workplace.
Video: Thanksgiving Weekend November 2014 To The Contrary Appearance
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed fraternities and rape on campus, gender inequality in the workplace, and feminism and motherhood. You can watch a video of the show here:
Video: November 2014 To The Contrary Appearance
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the 2014 election results, paid parental leave and advancing women in the workplace, and women as peacemakers. You can watch a video of the show here: