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Work-Life Double Standards Force Women to Choose Between Their Careers and Motherhood

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The flawed institution strikes again as in the midst of a global pandemic and a battle for human rights, another issue has risen to the surface: whether or not women are entitled to paid family leave. Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow was unfortunately faced with this ultimatum when she gave birth to her child in February, becoming the second woman in her state’s Senate to give birth during her term. Risking one’s work to care for a child reflects the disparity in our institutions to implement policies that provide all individuals an equal opportunity to work in a particular position.

This is no new phenomenon. Even with the rise of women in elected official positions across the country over the past several decades, they are still faced with the impediment of a system interlaced with sexism that doesn’t provide mothers with adequate support both during and beyond maternity leave. Such exclusionary policies have disadvantaged women across multiple planes — with women already having to uphold the burdensome double standard of tending to both professional and domestic agendas, women have disproportionately lost their jobs during the COVID-19 economic turmoil.

On top of that, the question of whether one is socioeconomically privileged enough to afford maternity leave highlights the need for more attention towards women in the workforce. The inability to guarantee women paid maternity leave can potentially be detrimental to the mother’s physical, mental and emotional health, her child’s well-being as well as her financial stability. Furthermore, women are expected to seamlessly carry out this work balance, and even when they do, they are criticized for not fully committing to motherhood or their employer.

In a Facebook post, state Sen. McMorrow recounts a dismaying interaction with one of her constituents, who refused to vote for McMorrow after learning about her plan to have children while in office. It is incredibly heartbreaking to see that women continue to be discriminated against based on an archaic stereotype that holds women to a higher standard than their spouses.

Additionally, it is appalling to realize that this plagues women’s lives across the country. The lack of guaranteed family leave for expecting mothers implies that our society’s work environments turn a blind eye and refuse to take action to alleviate these burdens on women. At the same time, enforcing that a woman must choose between her career and motherhood thus delineates the idea that women are more dispensable than their male counterparts because their jobs and careers are threatened and placed on the line for the exchange of a natural phenomenon.

It’s also incredibly ironic how McMorrow’s own state is unable to provide for her. With the United States being one of the few countries that have yet to guarantee paid family leave, there is an incredible amount of work to be done to ensure that the workplace is one that ensures security and support for all individuals and their needs.   

Furthermore, the Senator accentuates how her time caring for her child at home comes as an inevitable detriment to her political career: from taking any time off during her term, she is subject to constituent and opponent criticism on the basis of her gender. For this reason, it’s incredibly significant to fight to ensure that women are regarded as individuals; anything less would be taking advantage of a woman’s human rights. To place this double standard on women while expecting that women would be physically ready to return to work is not only tone-deaf but also celebrates the toxic work culture that exists in our society.

This brings up the serious question regarding what must be done to ensure equality and equity for women in all planes of the workforce. Sen. McMorrow’s criticism about how she does not receive such benefits because her legislator position does not qualify her as a state employee forces us to consider not only what flaws exist in the system, but also to ponder what initiatives must be taken to ensure that women are regarded and supported.

The absence of progressive policies implemented to support women — as well as the backlash that has stirred because women continue to push for a change in the institution — emphasizes how our systems were intentionally built to exclude women, and that even high-profile individuals like Sen. McMorrow are examples of it in action.

This is a problem as it undermines women through a collection of rules that purposefully disadvantage and overshadow them. It is not a just system if women are forced to work even harder to achieve the same recognition and benefits as their male counterparts. If this call goes unanswered, it will only further the acceptance of workplace discrimination and gender inequality in all aspects of our society.

Andy Ketsiri is a Staff Writer for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at aketsiri@uci.edu.