August 10th, 2011

planet

Paternity leave is a feminist issue

Last week I posted about why I think engineering is a good career choice for women who want to be mothers. I wanted to touch on another point that came up: the general family friendliness of it, and how men fit into this whole vision too.

Engineering is sometimes portrayed as a suboptimal career choice for mothers, and therefore women, because it's dominated by men, making it less "family friendly". First, let me say that it's no less family friendly than most other careers available to women. But I already sorta wrote about that, so let's move on. A field dominated by men needs to be family-friendly for the obvious reason that men have families too. I think that perception is growing in popularity. FMLA was definitely a sign of changing times, acknowledging that people have the right to take time off work to take care of their babies.

But our paid leave policies are still terribly antiquated and it's glaring issue to me. Where I work, women receive 6-8 weeks leave after the birth of a baby, men receive one week. This is normal. It's also horribly inadequate.

It's very common for the men I work with to take an additional week of vacation, so they get two weeks, but even that doesn't feel like enough. Women need to be taken care of after the birth of a child. Two weeks after having my baby I was still in serious "rest" mode, limiting my trips up and down the stairs, not up to a full-on trip to the grocery store that involved walking around for an hour. If Marc had been working, I would have been left alone to take care of myself and a newborn baby, who was on some bizarre awful cycle of NOT sleeping for days at a time, zonking out for 24 hours, then three more straight days of "I took a one hour nap this afternoon I'm good until 4am!".

Even with help I was barely surviving at night; I needed Marc to take a shift or two. During the day I needed him to clean the bathtub so I could soak my stitches, keep up with the laundry because it was downstairs, do the grocery shopping so I didn't starve. And I needed that for six weeks until I was starting to heal up enough to take care of myself, and the baby was mature enough to realize that we like 24 hour cycles here (welcome to earth, kid!).

Maybe 80 years ago, when we all lived within a block away from our whole extended family, women weren't as dependent on their husbands. Grandmas, aunts and your 7-12 sisters could step in and be the support system. But in 2011, when we have the resources to give fathers some more time off, we need to do that. They deserve six weeks of paid leave. The babies deserve to have their fathers home for six weeks, it's an important time for bonding. And women DEFINITELY deserve to have their partners home for six weeks... for support, for healing, for help.

Who's idea is it to leave a woman home alone with a seven-day-old when she's recovering from something like childbirth? Not a feminist idea, I'll tell you that.