Deep Thoughts Thursday: Feminism and Paid Parental Leave

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I remember a time in my not-too-distant past when I said I wasn’t a feminist. When, to me, “feminism” meant being angry, overly opinionated, and alienating to those around her. Stereotypes, for sure, but a younger me bought into all the sitcom jokes. Besides that, though, was my false understanding of what “equal rights” means. I know I am not as physically strong as most men (though I have not become a mother yet, so maybe my perception of my own strength will change). Since men and women are not the same, I thought it was silly that women should be treated the same as men. I had some insane “separate but equal” idea of men and women regarding their legal rights, but we all know separate but equal isn’t actually equal.
I grew up.
I became aware of the inequality between the genders. I noticed how the genders are portrayed in TV, movies, music, books, ads, everywhere. I noticed the differences in social pressures, and how women are more closely scrutinized for physical features than their male counterparts. Every Equal Pay Day, the day every year where women have finally earned the same amount of money as men in the same jobs did the year before, stings. Women have to be told to “lean in”, while men have been doing so all along. Women have to be told it’s okay to negotiate for higher raises at work, and have to learn to be assertive.
This issue is a huge rabbit hole for me, with every story, article, and law bringing me deeper and deeper into a pit I don’t know how to get out of, or if I even can. As difficult as it is to talk about photoshop, rape culture, and the idea that the “work-life balance” seems to be something only women need to be concerned about, at least we’re finally talking about it.
One issue, which affects both men and women, that I am glad we’re finally talking about is paid maternity/paternity leave in the United States. Or, the lack thereof. According to this Fortune article, there are only three countries the UN labor agency named as not providing monetary benefits to women during maternity leave: Oman, the United States, and Papua New Guinea. In the U.S., the best most people get is 12 weeks unpaid leave provided in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). There are many issues with this law however, including that people only qualify if they work for a company with at least 50 people and has been there at least a year. A person must also be a full-time salaried employee. So, that disqualifies about 40% of the American workforce. Also, since it’s an unpaid leave, many people can’t afford to take the full 12 weeks provided to them. Employers can offer paid leave, but many don’t. About 48% of employees who take leave get full pay, and another 17% get partial pay. Some states are also passing their own laws providing paid leave to new parents, which is wonderful, but slow moving. These programs have actually been rather popular in states like California.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that the average amount of paid parental leave around the world is 5-6 months, with some offering more, like Estonia, which provides 2 years of paid leave. In addition to paid leave, many countries also offer an extended leave, where an employee would be unpaid, but protected against losing their job. Many countries, like France and Germany, offer 3+ years of protected leave.
On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he covered this issue a few weeks ago. Many of the women in the U.S. who have children must take their leave to recover and bond with their new baby unpaid, use vacation time and sick leave in order to be paid, or put everything on a credit card, which is just sad. The people who are against providing paid leave feel that mandates on businesses are scary, and that the laws are “anti-business”, though there has been some evidence that shows that providing leave actually makes workers happier, which in turn makes companies more profitable.
I am not a mom yet, but as I look to that option in my future, I can’t help but think about how my husband and I can afford to take time off of work. Saving money in advance will be helpful, but it’s an advantage not everyone has. At this point, paid parental leave is almost viewed as an extraordinary perk, and is something I seek when looking at companies I would like to work for. I feel that if family is really a value that Americans hold dear, providing time to care for the family, without worrying about finances, would be a logical policy to have. Like many “women’s issues”, paid parental leave does not just affect women, and is something everyone should see as a benefit.
I didn’t always think I was a feminist, but I do now. Hopefully the issues I find important will soon be seen as priorities to the majority of Americans in the near future.

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One thought on “Deep Thoughts Thursday: Feminism and Paid Parental Leave

  1. Ally B. Jones

    I really enjoyed your perspective. Feminism is getting painted so black these days….its Still discouraging…

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