“We are true to our creed,” said President Obama in his Inaugural Address. “When a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”
Fifty years after the publication of “The Feminine Mystique,” we’re way past debate over whether or not women should hold paid employment (a debate that was never real for many women). Today two-thirds of employed women are either the primary or co-primary breadwinner for their families.
We need a new set of minimum standards that includes earned sick time and affordable family leave, and for more men to become caregivers.
And while we have made much progress, we are not yet true to our creed. Here’s a key reason: girls cannot be equal if as adults they’re fired for mothering a sick child, helping their father recover from a stroke or even taking care of themselves when they have the flu.
Some employers have brought their policies in line with the 21st century, but many still operate as if all employees were available 24/7, with stay-at-home spouses.
That puts huge obstacles in the way of women’s advancement — and for low-income women, of their ability simply to pay the bills.
Women, and disproportionately women of color, are the majority of the more than 40 million Americans who don’t earn a single paid sick day. That includes women who’ve been beaten or raped and can’t even get time to seek shelter or go to court, much less heal from their injuries.
Fully half of all mothers of newborns in the United States don’t receive any income during their “maternity leave.” According to Census numbers, a quarter have to return to work within eight weeks of giving birth; more than half a million, in four weeks or less.
We need a new set of minimum standards — like those in nearly every other country — that includes earned sick time and affordable family leave. We also need men to share in caregiving — and they’re more likely to do so if they’re not punished for it in the workplace.
Across the country, feminists are helping spearhead this fight and, with the support of broad coalitions, winning. But with the future of our families and our economy at stake, these issues should be high on the agenda of all rights groups, not just the feminist ones.
Ellen Bravo is the director of Family Values @ Work,. She is the author of “Taking on the Big Boys.”