Letter to the Editor: A Case for gender neutral paid leave

To the Editor,

Goldman Sachs announced that they will implement a new policy offering men and women 20 weeks of paid leave. This offers a path towards the breakdown of traditional gender stereotypes that have long been perpetuated by patriarchal society. I don’t have children, but I know firsthand the benefits of both your parents taking time off to bond with you and having your mother feel like she has access to work.

When I was born in 1996, my parents simply couldn’t have afforded for my father to take time off to bond with me as an infant. By the mid 2000’s as social norms changed and when my youngest sibling was born, my father was able to take more time off to bond with her.

My parents now had the individual financial ability to afford having my father take some time to bond with his child, they considered this a luxury. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not provide a federally mandated paid parental leave policy. With no new family leave legislation since the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, even though 82% of American’s support women having paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child and 69% supporting paid paternity leave.

The idea of paid parental leave has bipartisan support, 88% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans in favor, making it likely one of the only pieces of legislation that could pass the 116th Congress and be ratified by the president. Recently we’ve seen Senators Gillibrand, Harris, Warren and Rubio all introduce family plans that aim at contending with the lack of federal mandates for parental leave. These policies focus on parental leave, so why is it so important that companies and any legislation be for family leave and not maternal leave.

This must happen for a couple reasons; a quarter of women say that they face backlash in the workplace after taking maternal leave. A law that would allow for both men, women and all people to benefit from taking time off, would help to reduce the stigma attached to leave and our societally embedded ideals that women are the natural “homemaker.”

Women need to work, it is not a luxury, but the workforce is too inflexible and punitive, punishing women who take time off after having a child. 17.5% of children in the United States live in poverty with 58.2% of all poor children coming from single-mother households (childrensdefence.org) these women don’t have the financial means to take times off to care for themselves and their children following birth.

Studies show, that time off can have positive effects on birth weights and decrease infant mortality but only women of means are able to benefit. Creating of a policy that accounts for all people to take time off allows for a breakdown of the classical gender stereotypes that women are the ones who should go home. It imprints that both parents will take equal responsibility and frees women of less means to take a leave. A policy that is gender neutral is imperative in allowing for LGBTQ+ parents to take time off after the birth/adoption of their child. If policies aren’t gender neutral same sex couples and non-binary people will not be protected.

My families lack of ability to have both my parents take leave instilled in me and them a family picture where the female is the caretaker, I grew up with strictly gendered roles as the norm. When my mother went back to work and my father started to stay home our household challenged these gender norms. My family went through growing pains to gain a more egalitarian household, which has only provided a benefit for their children.

As a woman, the most formative experience has been seeing my mother as a working mom. Coming home to her after school was great but her job has inspired me and left me with one of the greatest role-models. The imprint my mother left on me and my siblings by seeking a role outside of the gendered prescription is a choice that all women should have. Policy that allows for men women and all people to take a leave redefines gender roles in the home and is integral in making work more accessible to women and flexible for poor women.

Megan Connor