Are we ready for progressive parental leave policies?

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A recent New York Times article about the progress being made to advance women faculty at MIT is making the rounds. It discusses the “gains” and “drawbacks” of the efforts that have been made over the past 12 years. There was the usual hand-wringing about Affirmative Action-style “reverse discrimination” that is inevitable with any effort to advance a minority in the workplace, but what caught my eye was a statement about MIT’s progressive parental leave policy and how it’s actually playing out for working parents:

While women on the tenure track 12 years ago feared that having a child would derail their careers, today’s generous policies have made families the norm: the university provides a yearlong pause in the tenure clock, and everyone gets a term-long leave after the arrival of a child. There is day care on campus and subsidies for child care while traveling on business.

Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor Sive said, “Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.”

Administrators say some men use family leave to do outside work, instead of to be their children’s primary care giver — creating more professional inequity.

I was thrilled to see that MIT gives a year of parental leave to both parents, but heartbroken to learn that some men (we don’t know how many) don’t actually use this time to provide childcare, but instead use it as “time off” to work on side-projects and further their careers. Equal parental leave policies seemed like the right next step to me, but now I wonder, are we really ready for them? Are they worth pushing if we aren’t ready to split childcare equally between the genders?

It drives home the fact that true gender equality (or feminism) is about more than just employment policy. It’s a socio-cultural shift that needs to happen in all aspects of our consciousness. In order to achieve this shift, we need to see things like commercials for household cleaning products and children’s toys marketed to husbands and dads, as well as wives and mothers. We need to see men equally represented on PTA committees, on playgrounds, and driving the carpool.  We need to STOP seeing commercials that paint husbands as fun-loving dudes constantly being nagged by their wives to help out around the house.

We’re doing a great job of creating gender equality in education and in the workforce, but fighting for equality in our kitchens and living rooms is a bit more complicated because it’s not about policy; it’s about culture. Until our culture values gender equality in domesticity and child-rearing, and we see those values reflected in commercials and other pop culture minutia, equal parental leave policies will not be the solution.

2 thoughts on “Are we ready for progressive parental leave policies?

  1. Agreed. As a man who uses the household cleaning products more than my significant other, I’d appreciate if the manufacturers recognized my position. Also, shame on professors who abuse their parental leave. Why would you give them a reason to take it away?!

  2. its amazing in ireland women get 42 weeks maternity leave 26 weeks you are paid 80% of your salary by the government I can only imagine how amazing this would be if it was in america it would help single mother’s hugely but also extra financial security for the mother and the child.I hope one day women in america get this benefit because it looks like farther’s treat childcare in alot of cases more a label then a a responsibility

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