I was talking about the gender wage gap with one of the professors in my Masters of Social work program last week between classes. To be there, I had arranged childcare, driven 45 minutes, paid a lot of money in tuition, and felt entirely rushed to return to my 2 and 4-year-old as soon as possible. So, every second must be extremely productive.
I’m not a great person to be friends with since I’m only on campus for class and then I dart home to help with dinner, bedtime, or begin to tackle loads of homework.
Back to the conversation with this professor: I was informing him of some reading I did on the impact of pornography on the sexualization of girls and women in society and how some argue that sexualization/ objectification is partly to blame for the gender wage gap. If you think about how women are portrayed predominantly as sex objects in all forms of media, then it makes sense that women wouldn’t be taken seriously in big decisions or for leadership roles. Objectification takes away person-hood and makes a person an object for another person’s pleasure. And nobody would make an object the CEO.
My professor said “meh. I don’t think that’s really the reason. I think the gender wage gap is a result of women taking the major responsibility in taking care of their kids.”
He continued, “I have a friend who is a great doctor and she chooses to work in urgent care so she can get the hours she needs to be able to take care of her kids. No doctor wants to work in Urgent Care. I don’t know a single man who has taken a lower job so he can be there for his kids”.
Ok, I didn’t say that, a man did, so don’t blame me. I know men who make choices to either provide financially or to spend more time with their families, my husband being one of them.
Feeling slightly pushed aside yet very intrigued by the professor’s comment, I ruminated on this thought and remembered presenting the same argument to my husband years ago. I said, “it’s true that the representation of women in top political offices is less than 20%, but a lot of women choose to stay home with their kids. And some would rather not take such a stressful leadership position because they want to be emotionally present for their families first.”
I see this everywhere now that I’m looking. Smart, talented, and kind women who worked crazy-hard in college and in their early career and then become stay-at-home moms. I was one of them, and my first year of staying home with my daughter my mind frequented the following thought “jeez, why did I work so hard for so many years to get ahead just to read the same board book one million times”. I am thankful to have the ability to stay home, but it was not what I expected. Many moms work part-time or low wage jobs so they have more control and flexibility over their schedules.
And now I’m back in grad school working hard, firing on all cylinders all the time, to be mom and student. I constantly pass up opportunities to make strategic connections, simply because I don’t have time. It is good for me to be gone for my sanity and invigorating to learn. But I miss my kids when I’m gone and the guilt is never very far away.
So here I am trying to make this expensive grad degree worth something but when deciding on the course of my studies and what to focus on, a most prominent concern is “will I be able to pick my kids up from school in this kind of career? What would I do if I have to work through the summer and my kids aren’t in school? It’s not like they go to kindergarten and then suddenly be ready to have a job and buy a house. They’ll need me a lot even if they aren’t at home all day and I WANT to be there for them.” I’m afraid that I’m doing it all over again. I’m going to school, working my butt off, to have a career only to have it dampened by my deep convictions of motherhood.
Mothering in this phase of life is like playing tug-o-war with oneself. I would give up my career one million times over if I had to choose between a career and kids. They add a richness that I would never ever want to be without. But as a human, I have ambitions and interests outside of being a mom and finding this work/life/motherhood balance takes a constant effort.
So, what’s the problem?
I’m forgetting that life has many seasons and there is time to both be there as a mother and to work. I’m forgetting that life isn’t a race. But I also think the problem is a societal one. That our culture (and my program that emphasis scholarly dedication) lacks integration of work and family. And more importantly, our society doesn’t give due value to caregivers.
There is a lack of recognition that caregivers, not always, but typically mothers, make these tough career decisions that show something amazing: Love that goes deeper than oneself, love that costs something, love that is a verb and not solely an emotion.
Whether mothers decide to work or not, we are all affected by the love we have for our little ones. Mothers are also regular people who want to achieve, make an impact, make a difference, or simply climb the ladder and be the boss because they are fabulous at what they do.
But we also have an extremely primal and deep longing to be there for our kids. We long to put them first while also somehow achieve goals outside of motherhood. Father’s do this too, but if we’re talking about the wage gap here, it’s generally fewer and culturally less acceptable.
This love should be celebrated, not diminished. When a woman chooses to prioritize her family, it should be seen as a gift to society and her skills and knowledge should still be inquired about. If she chooses to work full-time, I’m thankful for the example she sets for impressional girls that women are valuable in their work.
At the same time, employers should make strides toward flexible schedules and family friendly work environments because diversity makes us and the bottom line for companies, better. Maybe let parents bring their babies to work, or provide flexible hours, or stellar child care options at the workplace (see Patagonia). Maybe it means letting a mom work from 8 pm till midnight or providing equal maternity and paternity leave so women aren’t discriminated against for their potential to grow a new life.
I’m not letting gender discrimination or objectification of women and girls or patriarchal cultural norms of the hook here. They likely all play a factor. But personally, I see the space for this “mother induced wage gap” where we choose to make less so that we can raise our kids. And they are totally worth it.
Moms want to be there for their kids, but they also want to be there for the world because they want to make it a better place for their kids to one day live in independently.
Some women find the balance between working and raising their kids. Others will take it in seasons and work 20 years at home and 20 years working outside the home. However you choose to do it, I love what a mother’s love does for the world. Whether you’re making an impacting through pouring into one child at a time or leading the masses, being a mother is valuable, even though the payment is not in dollars. The time, energy, and love a caregiver pours into their little human is actually a gift to us all.