More on gender and parenting

So if you’ve been following my story you have probably noticed that Mr. Nishkanu and I want to share parenting equally. At our workplace we each have the right to several months of parental leave (where “parental leave” = full-time pay for half-time work). We decided we would do our leave sequentially, mine will be in the spring, his in the fall, so that each of us would have a period of primary responsibility for the little one (we will have daycare for half-days 3x a week, the other 2 days the non-leave parent will stay home for the afternoon – thank god for flextime).

My higher-ups have been extremely supportive of my leave plans. Mr. Nishkanu’s? Not so much. Partly this may be due to Mr. Nishkanu’s boss’s bad parental luck. In a ~40-person group there are now 7 people who are going to be on parental leave for parts of the next year, and she has a major juggling act to cover everything that needs to get done because of that. But Mr. Nishkanu came home the other day saying that both his boss and another senior colleague (both of whom had been activists to get the parental leave program started) had said that they didn’t think that men should be able to take parental leave, it should only be for women. His boss has already given him a heavy, onerous work assignment scheduled to start just after his leave and asked him yesterday to take on another one which will happen during his leave. It is hard not to see this as punishment for the “nerve” he had to ask for parental leave.

Mr. Nishkanu is not the paranoid type. If he is complaining about this there is really something going on. And I started thinking about some things that I had noticed… one of my male colleagues (who is a parent), when I mentioned that Mr. Nishnaku was taking parental leave, said “Now I’m not saying that you’re doing this but…” and started telling me stories about men who “took advantage” of parental leave to avoid onerous assignments at work but still worked 40+ hours a week while on leave (only in an insane workplace like mine would people think that someone was “taking advantage” of paid leave if they came in and worked anyway, but that is another story). Another one of my male colleagues who recently took parental leave was told by his boss that she had granted him parental leave out of the kindness of her heart, and so he owed her one and had to work harder (note: in our workplace parental leave is an official right, it has nothing to do with whether your boss is willing to grant it or not).

Now obviously if you have the idea that you want to share equal parenting than you really need equal leave to make it work. But you don’t have to have that attitude to see what’s wrong with this picture. The people in question (Mr. Nishkanu’s boss, the senior colleague who told Mr. Nishkanu she thought he should have to take a paycut while on leave, my colleague’s boss) are female and strong supporters of maternity leave and champions of women in the workplace in general. If this is the case, why can’t they see that making parental leave onerous for men while attractive for women puts women into a double bind? If it is easy for a woman to take leave and hard for a man, then many families are going to decide that only the woman will be able to take a leave. And studies show quite clearly that if women have leave and men don’t, then women become the primary caretakers, and that stays true basically forever. How is that supposed to be championing women in the workplace?



1 Comment »

  1. Ana said

    Wow, that sucks, given that its an “official policy” at your workplace. That being said, your workplace sounds much more advanced on this topic than most. My husband gets nothing—just take your vacation if you want to be around for the few days after the birth. I think you make an excellent point—if we are trying to achieve equality for women, generous maternity leave policies aren’t the full picture, the focus needs to be on taking the burden of primary caretaker off the women’s shoulders and sharing it equally with the men—many of whom, these days, are happy & eager to take on the task.

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