16 March 2013

Erin Matson: Maternity Policies That Suit Women’s Individual Needs

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle.

By Erin Matson

We've heard a lot about Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer in the context of being a new mom, little of it flattering. She was bashed for taking a short maternity leave, and now she's bashed for creating a nursery next to her executive suite.

As a feminist, I was flabbergasted by the idea that because she's a woman in the spotlight, she had a duty to society to take a long maternity leave. Simply the idea that any woman's consideration of what's best for her and her family should come second to what society thinks is best for her or society twists on outdated "women are public property" ways of thinking.

I'm also irked we aren't intimately familiar with names of the 95.8 percent of men leading Fortune 500 companies, and the gyms they've built and the cars they've customized and the planes and private retreats set to their exact specifications. With few exceptions, the media refrains from picking apart your big money and big perks if you're a CEO -- and a man. Although I'm willing to bet if a man CEO built a nursery next to his office, he'd be cast as a hero, not a villain.

As a pregnant woman trying to navigate parental leave for the first time, I want to scream: Why do we act like a working woman, or her newborn baby, must disappear?

This isn't about personal preference. It's about policy. The United States is the only industrialized country without mandatory paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act, which mandates unpaid leave, does not even cover employees of small businesses. Pregnant women, new parents and families are thrown to the wolves.

Working women of all socioeconomic classes are in the workforce. Our children aren't going away. And working fathers need to be included equally in this discussion.

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