A lot of people—rightfully—are offended by Mitt Romney’s insinuation that he couldn’t find qualified female workers for his cabinet in Massachusetts without looking through binders brought to him by women’s groups, as if we’re catalog items who don’t come out of the woodwork unless we’re presented like mail order brides. It was disgusting. I don’t think that the memes that have erupted as a result are even remotely funny, and I don’t think that we should brush off his comment as a joke, an out-of-touch white man’s folly. Because it echoes of the inherent misogyny that still is very much present in our society, one in which both Romney and Obama are very much entrenched, whether they like it or not.
While Romney’s answer, along with his demeanor the entire evening, scared the shit out of me—I kept feeling like I was watching a television show, which at any point would switch to a scene in which the wife of one of Romney’s enemies was being raped by someone hired by him, à la Sons Of Anarchy—I don’t really think that Obama handled the question, posed to him by Katherine Fenton, very well either. In case you didn’t watch the debate, the question was this:
“In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”
Obama then went on to wax poetic about his own experience being raised by a single mother. It was the sort of bullshit personal anecdote that the candidates have been using all season, to pander to voters as if we’re all fucking idiots. Anyone who doesn’t know that Obama was raised by a single mother at this point probably also still thinks he’s a Muslim, and won’t vote for him anyway. In other words, pandering to idiots is like spitting into a filthy void.
Then he had a lay-up moment, when he brought up the first bill he signed into law, the “Lily Ledbetter Act,” which doesn’t actually address the pay discrepancy that exists in the workplace. Rather, it just allows women to bring suit from the moment that the employer makes the initial discriminatory wage decision, instead of from the most recent paycheck. In other words, if you and a man with the exact same job position got paid different salaries 10 years ago, you can sue for the money retroactively. I think. You might want to consult with a lawyer about this one.
What it doesn’t address, however, is why the pay discrepancy exists, and how it can be fixed. The solution isn’t prescriptive. It requires overhauling the entire work place environment, which was created for men, by men, and has no place for women.
Now, I am no expert on the subject, and I have no statistics on hand to back up my arguments. I’ve read quite a number of books and articles on the matter, none of which I have on hand to quote, and many of which, at this point, are probably outdated.
But what I can say is that a large part of the reason why women get paid less—and why they also don’t hold as many leadership positions in companies—is no doubt because of misogyny. The inherent belief that a woman’s work isn’t worth as much, either because gender roles still hold pretty firm—men are the breadwinners, and need to make more money—or because a woman is perceived as being a ticking mommy bomb, who might leave at any time because she meets a rich man, or wants to have children.
And it’s true, once women have children, they drop out of the workforce. When they return, sometimes years later, not only is it more difficult to find a job, but women find themselves light years behind men with the same qualifications.
But dropping out of the workforce after having a child strikes me as more of a necessity than a cop-out. After watching some of my close friends start having babies, I am in awe of the pure physical impossibility of summoning the energy to work in an office when your child is an infant. Pregnancy is exhausting; birthing a child is gory, involving torn skin, and hemorrhoids, and stiches, and leaking fluids, and excrement. It takes months to recover from it. But the worst thing is when you bring that child home, and all of your family members leave, and you’re left alone with it.
The child needs to eat every few hours, and you are the only person who can feed it. (Unless, of course, you give it formula, in which case you’re still getting up throughout the night to give the baby a bottle). Once it stops being a feeding machine, it moves around CONSTANTLY. It never rests. It never really sleeps long enough for you to get anything done. Those days when you were able to recover from a tough work week by sleeping late on a Saturday are finished. You never get to sleep late. You never get to take a day off. You never get to rest. Your life is given over to a tiny, helpless thing that screams, and pulls at you, and can’t communicate.
How the fuck are you supposed to be able to concentrate on working when you’re experiencing something that, in other situations, is described as torture—sleep deprivation, isolation, nipple pulling?
Topped with the stress of commuting, dealing with politics in an office, and being good at your job, I can only imagine life becomes pure misery. Quelle horror, I say to myself, a childless woman. Because I have no fucking idea how other women do it.
So what would I want to change for my generation of women, many of us who will become mothers? Equal pay, of course. But also workplace environments that make our lives manageable. The support we need from our employers in order to raise our children. This means, perhaps, bringing our children to work with us. This means, perhaps, staying at home for the majority of the work week, so that we don’t have to waste time navigating our way to an office, time that could be spent in the home, where laundry, food, and our children are within easy reach.
I have to say, my lifestyle is pretty ideal for motherhood. I am at home all day, easily able to accept packages. That has nothing to do with motherhood, but it’s ideal for online shopping. If I cut down on the time that I wasted watching television, talking on Gchat, and reading the DailyMail, having a child in school would be easy. Having a toddler would be pretty fucking difficult, and an infant probably impossible. But in what situation would having an infant be easy?
The one thing that I suffer from is isolation. Which could be rectified, idealistically, by communal working spaces in my neighborhood that included daycare centers within the premise. If I decided to have children, I could go somewhere to work, around other people, while at the same time sharing duties of motherhood within a larger community, which is what women so sorely lack in our contemporary world. People don’t need to be in offices all of the time. They don’t need to be in meetings. In the digital age, so much can be accomplished remotely, with far more flexibility and convenience.
More than anything, what I want from my life is balance. Quite frankly, I don’t really give a shit about money, as long as I have enough to live a comfortable life—which I understand is out of reach for many women. But I think that women place far more value on things besides money—and this is pure conjecture, given that, again, I don’t have any data—such as family, friendships, love lives, health. Really anything but the bottom line of salary increases.
So when a woman asks, “How can we close inequalities in the workplace?” I say to her, “We change the workplace.” Not, “We make it possible for you to sue your employers,” or “I know binders full of women,” or even, “my mother was just like you.” Those are answers from men, who can’t even begin to see what life is like for us, in our bodies, with our different hormonal make-ups and concerns. For the question to really be answered—or the situation to be changed—we need a woman in the office of President. That’s what I hope for. That’s what I believe in. That’s what I’ll fight for these next four years.