Men are trying to get more time with their children. So why aren’t they taking parental leave?
Tom Matlack’s post, Why Being a Good Man is Not a Feminist Issue, has garnered hundreds of comments covering all sides of the debate. But in one small corner of the comments, a very specific conversation about parental leave in the workplace was started. When it comes to equality, it’s a no-brainer that pay for equal men and women should be equal for equal work. But what about men who work longer hours? What about men who want more time with their children? If men are offered parental leave but don’t take it, does the task of taking time off for kids fall onto the mothers? And should they get paid for working less?
These are the questions we like to dive deep into on The Good Men Project. Below is one small slice of the conversation. We would love more people to continue the conversation in the comments. Thank you.
Kacey: “It’s often the case that women can’t work longer hours because they have to take care of their children — 84% of custodial parents are women. I have had personal experience with pay disparity as well.”
Mark Neil: ”Why are feminist groups opposed to fathers rights groups and equal parenting? You can not blame patriarchy for the actions of feminist groups such as NOW and the women’s bar association. Men are actually trying to get more time with their children, I hardly think it’s fair to pretend that women are being burdened by an activity they refuse to give up. And if that is impacting their incomes, then it can not be deemed a result of discrimination, unless you are willing to acknowledge it is a result of discrimination against men.”
Lisa Hickey: ”Mark, this is a REALLY important point, and one that we need to explore in much greater detail on this site. We advocate a great deal for men spending more time with their kids, having a work/life balance, not being viewed as the “provider”, being seen as someone for whom parenting is just as inherently natural it is for women. I haven’t seen a man here who doesn’t wish they could spend more time with their children.
If I were the lobbying kind of feminist, I’d be spending all my time lobbying for equal parenting and father’s rights *precisely* because that’s the only way we are going to make up any last bit of disparity in pay between men and women, or solve the problem of women not being in top jobs. It seems so obvious to me, I just don’t get why other people don’t see that.”
Karen L. O’Connor: ”I am a lawyer, and I practice labor and employment law. My practice consists of litigating lawsuits against employers (management side) that involve harassment, discrimination, etc. I also advise clients on leave law issues, and teach HR professionals about leave laws. In my 15 years of practicing in this area, I can safely report (based on my personal experience, which granted is limited to the Pacific Northwest and a very small set of the population), that, frankly, men don’t often take leave to care for their children. It drives me CRAZY. Women take it, all the time – certainly for births, but also for other family related issues. Men, oh, they’ll take a week, or a month at most. They so incredibly rarely take the leave – and the fact of the matter is that it will never truly be accepted or “normal” in the workplace unless and until they do. We will never solve the pay disparity until it is just as likely that a woman will take time off to care for her family as a man would…which seems so far away.
And, let’s add something to that: women will expect/demand/lobby for flexibility from their employers (or policy changes) to deal with their family needs – but they do NOT ask or expect that level of assistance from their husbands. Why is that? Why do women seem to think that it’s okay to ask their employers for a “favor,” or to suggest that the workplace needs to be more flexible (and, full disclosure, I do believe the workplace needs to be more flexible in so many ways!) but they won’t ask (nor, sadly, do their husbands offer) their husbands/ partners to leave work early to drive the lacrosse carpool or get the kid to piano lessons? Unless and until women do so, men won’t “need” to press the issue at work, so they don’t, and we continue to see what I believe are FAMILY issues – work/life balance issues that affect FAMILIES not women or men – characterized as women’s issues, and thus too easily marginalized.
I am troubled that the statistics are so depressing – the number of men who use family leave (which I believe is a reflection of how many men do advocate and work for work/life balance, and involved/engaged father/parenthood) is pathetically low. They simply don’t do it – even when they are at a socio-economic level such that economics can’t explain it. I have sat at so many dinner tables and listened to my friends announce that, well, “Bob can’t really take time away from the office.” Really? Why is that? Why are men’s jobs more important than women’s? Why is it that I can step away for 3 months and come back and it’s no big deal, but men seem to think their worlds will crumble if they surrender the iPhone for 12 weeks?
The men who visit/read GMP are, unfortunately, such a small part of the population – how do we convince more men to advocate for work/life balance, and actually use what is available to them? How do we convince women that, in fact, they are well within bounds to expect that their husbands will pick up the kids or come to a school conference or otherwise be engaged as active dads – like the men who read GMP?
I participated in a radio program this week for our local NPR affiliate, and was saddened to hear the youngest panelist announce that no, she didn’t think things really were changing….I so desperately do NOT want to agree with her, but my oh-so-involved husband (who is one of the few men who did take family leave, works from home, coaches the soccer team, drives to piano lessons – you get the picture) seems to be a precious rarity.”
Please add your own voice to this conversation below.
photo by basheertome / flickr