No Maternity Leave? Only in the US

Maternity Leave and Why the US is the Only Developed Nation Without It

Broadly (2016)

Film Review

Maternity Leave focuses on the failure of the US government to offer working mothers paid maternity leave. The US is one of two countries globally (the other is Papua New Guinea) and the only developed country without it. The rest of the world provides paid maternity leave for two simple reasons: 1) because spending time with mom is vital to newborn development and 2) because studies show financial advantages for employers, taxpayers and GDP.

Three states require employers to provide paid maternity leave: California six weeks at 55% salary, Rhode Island four weeks at 60% salary and New Jersey six weeks at 67% salary.

Ninety percent of California businesses report an increase in profitability (owing to the high cost of recruiting and training replacement workers) since they started providing paid maternity leave. Nationwide replacement workers for women who leave work to start a family cost billions of dollars. Forty percent of women without access to paid maternity leave are forced to apply for public assistance, which is also a major burden to taxpayers.

The filmmakers visit excruciatingly poor Papua New Guinea, to investigate their failure to provide paid maternity to leave – only to discover the government of Papua New Guinea provides three months paid maternity leave for public employees. This is a start contrast with an extremely anemic executive order Obama signed in 2015 allowing federal employees to “pre-use” six weeks of paid sick leave (which they haven’t earned yet) as maternity leave.

The filmmakers also visit Sweden, which has the world’s best maternity leave policy. Their generous paid parental leave (480 days per child split between both parents) has helped to bring more Swedish women into the workforce while simultaneously increasing GDP.

They interview a member of Sweden’s Feminist Party, who maintains that paid maternity leave is a matter of full equality for women. True equality means that women enjoy the same rights as men to both a job and family time – they shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

Real equality also means embracing and valuing traditional women’s work (homemaking, child care and elder care).

The Mommy Tax

the price of motherhood

The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is still the Least Valued

By Ann Crittenden

Henry Holt and Company (2001)

Book Review

The Price of Motherhood is about the refusal of English-speaking countries to acknowledge the vast amount of unpaid labor women invest in their children. Economists agree that two-thirds of society’s wealth is created by human skills, aka human capital. Yet they also refuse to acknowledge thirty years of psychology research demonstrating that the most critical education producing this “human capital” occurs in the first five years of life.

Not only is most of this work unpaid, but mothers who require part time or flexible work arrangements to address their children’s needs pay an enormous penalty in terms of lifelong earning potential. Crittenden refers to this penalty as the “mommy tax.”

According to Crittendon, while the pay differential between men and women continues to narrow, there has been virtually no change in the pay gap between mothers and unencumbered men and women. Numerous studies identify this “mommy tax,” consistently highest in English-speaking countries, as the primary cause of child poverty in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Likewise a woman’s “choice” to become a parent is the number one cause of poverty in old age.

Crittenden contrasts the US with France and various Scandinavian countries that support working mothers through policies such as free health care, one year paid maternity leave*, and free childcare. Child poverty virtually unknown in France and Scandinavia. In contrast 22% of American and 25% of New Zealand kids grow up in poverty.

The book is also highly critical of economists’ failure to count women’s unpaid labor in the GDP, given its high importance in creating a skilled workforce.** Despite the US refusal to keep data on “non-market” labor (where no money changes hands), more civilized countries do. Crittenden cites figures from Australia (where it comprises 48-64% of GDP), Germany (where it comprises 55% of GDP, Canada (where it comprises 40% of GDP), and Finland (where it comprises 46% of GDP).

Besides including “non-market” labor in the GDP calculations, the book proposes a number of other policy changes to reduce or eliminate the mommy tax. They include federal laws mandating one year paid parental leave, free health care for all children and primary caregivers, and free preschool for three and four year olds; a shorter work week; and equal pay and benefits for part time work. They also include a federal ban on discrimination against parents in the workplace, a universal child benefit, the creation of a single federal agency to collect child support obligations, and a federal mandate requiring divorce courts to award both parents an equal standard of living where there are dependent children.


*The only six countries that fail to mandate paid maternity leave are the US, Australia, New Zealand, Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

**See review of Marilyn Waring film Whose Counting

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

BBC (1986)

Film Review

A dramatization of Fay Weldon’s 1983 classic, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is a satire about the sexist and exploitive nature of romantic love.

The heroine is a very ugly woman named Ruth who ingeniously manipulates her husband’s innate sexism to wreak vengeance on him and his beautiful rich mistress Mary Fisher.

Both the book and the dramatization focus on society’s use of romantic love to glamorize the vast amount of unpaid labor women perform for men and society in general.

As Weldon puts it (in the words of a Catholic priest Fisher “seduces”), “love robs women of their identity and creative selves.”

The video below comprises all four episodes in the 1986 series.

The Women Who Brought You the 20th Century

dreamers of a new day

Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century

By Sheila Rowbotham (2010)

Book Review

Dreamers of a New Day is about the first international feminist movement in the 1880s and the profound influence feminist organizers and writers had over 20th century life. Most of the women Rowbotham identifies by name are invisible to mainstream society – despite the critical importance of the major social reforms and institutions they fought for and won.

The period 1880-1929 was notable for the wide adoption of mass production and communication, the obliteration of rural life and the treacherous economic instability resulting in recurrent panics and recessions. These major social changes triggered a broad range of anti-authoritarian social movements, including socialism, anarchism, utopianism, populism and numerous other trade union and reform movements. As in the anti-authoritarian sixties, women naturally questioned why the new freedoms men were seeking shouldn’t apply to them, as well. This, in turn, led to the creation of numerous  revolutionary and reformist women-led groups.

The Campaign for Social and Economic Equality

Contrary to what they teach in high school, the first women’s liberation movement fought for far more than the right to vote. Early feminists campaigned (and won) equal access to higher education and professions previously closed to them (eg medicine, law, pharmacy, veterinary medicine) and housekeeping arrangements that enabled mothers to meet their children’s needs while simultaneously pursuing careers. The period 1880-1929 saw a lot of experimentation with cooperative kitchens, laundries, bakeries and child care facilities.

The Feminist Campaign for Clean Drinking Water, Sanitation, Birth Control and the Shorter Work Week

The settlement house movement was a direct outgrowth of the feminist movement. Early women-run settlement houses typically offered communal kitchens, organizing facilities for women’s trade unions (the Working Women’s Union was formed in 1881), childcare and parenting advice. The settlement houses (Jane Adams’s Hull House in Chicago is the best known), which were often linked with universities, were directly responsible for the development of the new fields of social science and social work, which scientifically studied the needs of children and families.

These early feminist groups also led campaigns (which they won) for clean drinking water, sanitation services, clean safe streets, housing more conducive to children’s needs, an end to child labor and sweat shops, a shorter work week, subsidized state housing, and maternity benefits for destitute mothers (established in at least a dozen states before Roosevelt enacted the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in 1935).

On the sexual front, feminists campaigned for (and won) sexual equality to men, including equal access to divorce and equal access to guardianship of children (prior to 1900 wives and children were viewed as the property of men), the right to dress as they pleased, engage in “free love,” legally access birth control and birth control information (illegal under the Comstock Law in the US and the Obscenity Law in the UK), the right to say “cunt,” “cock,” and “fuck” without going to jail, and medical reforms to reduce maternal mortality (in the 1920s, it was four times as dangerous to give birth as to work in the mines).

Witch Burning and Women’s Oppression

 

caliban

Caliban and the Witch

by Silvia Federici

AK Press (2004)

Free PDF download Caliban and the Witch

Book Review

Caliban and the Witch*discusses the critical role witch burning played in the enclosure movement that drove our ancestors from the commons.

Feudalism Characterized by Continuous Rebellion

As Federici ably documents, medieval Europe was characterized by nearly continuous rebellion by serfs against their slave-like conditions. According to Federici, it was only by introducing a reign of terror involving the execution of nearly 200,000 women that the ruling elite succeeding in preventing total insurrection.

In all European countries (both Catholic and Protestant), witch burning was accompanied by legislation expelling women from most occupations and severely restricting their legal and reproductive freedom. The control over women’s reproduction (including a ban on birth control, abortion and all non-procreative sex) was a direct reaction to the population decline caused by famine and plague. Their lower numbers enabled peasants and urban workers to cause an economic crisis by demanding higher pay and improved working conditions.

The True Purpose of the Inquisition

Contrary to what we’re taught in high school and college history classes, the true purpose of the Inquisition was to not to stamp out heresy but to end the continuous peasant revolts. The hundreds of heretical movements (eg the Cathars) the Catholic Church persecuted during the Middle Ages were actually political revolts aimed at creating genuine political and economic democracy. Women figured very prominently in the Cathars and similar heretical religions. In addition to exercising the same rights as men, they also led many food riots and other revolts against enclosure.

Although none of these insurrections succeeded in overthrowing class society, they were extremely effective in winning greater political and economic freedom for both serfs and proletarian workers in the textile industry and other crafts.

The First Worker-Run Democracies

According to Federici’s research, the strength of peasant resistance peaked between 1350 and 1500, due to a severe labor shortage resulting from the Black Death (which wiped out 30-40% of the European population), small pox and high food prices. Highlights of this period include Ghent, which created the first dictatorship of the proletariat in 1378, and Florence, which created the first worker-run democracy in 1379.

The mass refusal of peasants to work under slave-like conditions created a major economic crisis, which the ruling elite addressed through wars of acquisition against other European countries, the colonization of Asia, Africa, America and Oceania and the reimposition of slavery (both in Europe and the Americas).


*Caliban is the subhuman son of the malevolent witch Sycorax in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

A big shout-out to the reader who recommended this book to me. I loved it.

What are Men Thinking about Women?

With or Without You: What are Men Thinking about Women

Directed by Tom Sands and Ramsay S James (2012)

Film Review

In this highly amusing documentary, the filmmakers ask random men on the street a series of questions about women. They intersperse their answers with so-called “experts”* who have made a life study of male-female relationships.

The overall impression I took away is that men feel a strong expectation to talk about women in terms of their booties, boobs and legs. However most of the men in the film (including the so-called experts) share a strong expectation for women to fulfill deep-seated emotional needs and feel angry and bitter when women fail to do so.

Aside from some really bizarre and convoluted pronouncements, a few of the experts came out with some really valuable insights:

• Human courtship is contaminated by a range of political and sociological factors (I was disappointed the film failed to explore some of these.).
• A man who doesn’t fully know and accept himself is unlikely to have a successful relationship with a woman.
• A man who doesn’t know and accept his feminine side (so-called “feminine” traits such as empathy, nurturing, instinct and intuition) is unlikely to be successful in love.
• Men’s anger towards women nearly always stems from unresolved conflict within themselves or towards their mothers.


*Psychologists, psychotherapists, a sex therapist, a tantric master and an Anglican priest.

Stop Telling Women to Smile

Stop Telling Women to Smile

Directed by Dean Peterson (2014)

Film Review

Stop Telling Women to Smile is a public art project by African American artist Tatyana Falalizadeh. Her goal is to fight the daily street harassment young women face in New York and other cities (I, too, experienced street harassment until well into my forties).

In this type of harassment, packs of men make obscene catcalls and noises at random women as if they own them.

Falalizadeh interviews women about the intense humiliation and degradation this causes. Each woman identifies the specific message she wishes to convey to her abusers. Then Falalizadeh paints the women and puts up the posters in neighborhoods they frequent.

Examples of messages include:

“Stop Telling Women to Smile.”
“I’m Not Here for You.”
“Women Aren’t Outside for Your Entertainment.”
“Keep Your Thoughts About My Body to Yourself.”