Since I was a teenager I have been wondering, can I have a career and a family? Is there any way to raise kids AND be successful in the workplace? I hardly manage to pack my own lunch and make it to school on time now – where would I ever find the energy to get myself and my kids out the door each morning? And after a long day at the office, what would it take to feed, bath, and interact with them every night? Who would watch them if school was cancelled for a snow day or they caught the chicken pox? There are so many uncertainties, that I have often felt I would eventually have to pick either kids or career – or become superwoman.
Now I’m 25, and I still want both! And after reading Susan Moller Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family, I am starting to think the problem has less to do with my inability to be “super” enough and more to do with a society that was organized without the needs of ALL of its citizens in mind.
Traditionally, men ruled the workforce, while women were left to take care of domestic responsibilities. Although that has changed today, employers still seem to have the notion that EVERY worker has a “wife” at home – someone taking care of the kids, cooking, and cleaning, doing all of the invisible and unpaid work that makes it possible for an individual to work long, uninterrupted hours. Of course, for many this is not the case! Many modern households are headed by single parents or partnerships in which both parents are wage earners. While constructions of family and workplace practice have changed, the notion of what makes an ideal employee has not.
Another thing that has not changed are traditional ideas of “women’s work.” While there are certainly many partnerships in which the responsibilities of child-rearing and housework are divided equally, there are many more in which women are expected to the primary caregivers and keepers of the house – even if they work part or full-time! I can’t imagine being with a mate who did not pitch in equally, but for many Americans, the idea that women are “naturally more adept” in domestic matters still exists. In all truthfulness, we are not better at it – we’ve just had far more practice. If women have been able to master high pressure jobs that were once said to be only for men, such as roles in government, business, and the military, I am sure that men can learn how to skillfully do the family’s laundry or cook dinner. Tom Selleck is proof of this fact.
While increases in technology have allowed some the ability to work from home or set their own hours, this is not the case for the majority of the workforce, especially those in labor or service sectors. I once knew a single mom whose finances were better when on government programs such as WIC, food stamps, and Medicare than once she established employment in a department store and enrolled her young daughter in daycare. Even though the costs of child care and gas left her with very little income each month, she made “too much money” to continue receiving government assistance. Clearly a system in which this young mother was discouraged from working and moving ahead requires modifications.
But where to begin? I think one important place to start lies in changing society’s consciousness about what constitutes women’s versus men’s roles within the family, as well as the type of schedule that employers demand from workers. There needs to be flexibility for those with children that does not result in failure to receive promotions or raises.
I also believe employers who offer free daycare should become the norm rather than the exception. While some big name companies such as Patagonia and Google do offer such services, they are not available to the majority of society. Certainly not all businesses would be able to meet this need financially, but I think that if even just a space was offered, that parents would combine resources to staff it and donate all needed materials. Working parents already pay for this anyway – why not pool their funds and have their kids nearby? If something went wrong, they would be there. If they wanted to eat with their kids on lunch break, they totally could.
These are just a few ideas and definitely not comprehensive enough to fix the problem in its enterity. Have you ever felt your career or aspirations limited by your gender? How did you respond? What do you think needs to be done to make the workforce and family unit fair and equitable for all?