By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President
As a young woman who has battled it out in workplaces that in no way resemble the National NOW Action Center, I believe strongly that discrimination against mothers in the workplace results in discrimination against all women in the workplace. It seems that because it’s illegal for an employer to ask a woman whether she wishes to have a family, instead many employers assume that a woman will have a family and dock her pay and promotion accordingly. I have watched it happen to my friends. I have wondered if it has affected me. This isn’t an academic exercise. It can be pretty revolting to learn what men in your workplace are getting paid and then look at your own paycheck.
It’s a paradox that does not make sense: There is a widely held assumption that women will pour their energies into caregiving rather than the marketplace (which seems to imply an acknowledgement that caregiving takes energy and time), and yet this country has some of the most unfriendly leave policies in the world. Here in the U.S. the Family and Medical Leave Act only covers women who work for employers of 50 or more (which doesn’t cover most of us), and it gives us only twelve weeks of unpaid leave, whereas most industrialized nations provide about three months of paid leave. It’s as if the public and private sector here endorses Senator Lindsey Graham’s unconscionable concept of “dropping a baby,” equating childbearing with a casual, willful intent to secure benefits.
Our entire society would fall apart without the unpaid, unrecognized caregiving work performed primarily by women. It could be argued that the women who do so are “serving their country” on an equal level as those who serve in the military, and I do argue that. Without unpaid caregivers, there is no future workforce, and there is an expanded need for social support. So why no paid leave? And why so much pay discrimination against women? And why no standard and quality early childhood education available in all neighborhoods? And why no Social Security benefits for time spent caregiving?