The Dollar Value of Parents
Dads are great. One of my earliest memories is going to the library with my dad to study. I sat under the table with picture books while he worked on his thesis. My dad was also instrumental in my feminism; he taught me to expect respect from others, and he simply expected that I would go to college and have a career someday. There isn’t one specific way to be a good dad anymore than there is one mold that moms come in. Unfortunately, our culture devalues fathers, which isn’t good for anyone, especially moms.
I’m sure that like me, for many of you having children is something that seems like a far away possibility. Despite the fact that I can’t imagine having kids anytime soon, parenting politics still play a role in my life. The biggest example of this is the gender wage gap. On average, women in the US make less money than their male colleagues. This should make you hopping mad, no matter what your gender. While there are a number of reasons for this, every single time the matter comes up, women are blamed for making less. The reason that I have heard most often is that we lady-folk like to have kids, which means that we can’t possibly earn as much as men.
This argument always perplexes me because most children in this country are conceived the natural way, by a man and a woman (of course this does not mean that other kinds of families are inferior in any way), so there are two parents who are legally responsible for their well-being. Despite the fact that fathers exist in most cases, only women are singled out as bearing the financial responsibility for the decision to have children. The financial impacts of childbearing, or even potential-someday-childbearing, are born unequally by women.
The ways that women are singled out as parents is not always clear or cut and dry. Much like inter-personal sexism, it’s hard to assign numbers to phenomena that occur without ever being blatant. An example of this is that some employers (academia is know for this) prefer to hire either men or women who have already had children, because they do not want to lose them as employees or have to deal with large periods of time off. Of course nobody ever comes out and tells you that you didn’t get hired because you might someday have kids, but the preference still exists.
It is also frequently pointed out that women are more apt to take positions that pay less but offer flexibility in things like hours, benefits, or the chance to work from home. In exchange for the ability to work outside of the traditional 9-5, women are paid less money. The most common reason cited for seeking flexibility is the desire to care for children.
In addition to the above listed reasons, female employees are often paid less than men for no apparent reason. Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire for almost 20 years when she discovered that she was being paid less than the other managers who were men. There was no reason for her to make less, and as a result, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. While legislation like this moves us forward, the fact remains that more is necessary because in many jobs women are paid less for no reason other than gender.
All of this is a symptom of the twisted gender roles that we all live with. Nobody benefits from them. Not mothers who are paid less and who are more likely to live in poverty as single parents, and not fathers whose roles as loving, nurturing parents are erased. By making mothers the Parents with a capital P, we are simultaneously covering up the amazing things that fathers do everyday. These expectations make it seem odd when a dad is the stay at home parent or when pops is the one to take the baby to the pediatrician. Parenting, like any other job, needs to be equal opportunity. Part of making that possible is changing how we view women in the work place and how we pay men and women for their employment. Tell your dad thanks for all he does this weekend, and remember all of the stuff that he does that isn’t shown on the TV sitcoms.