The United States has always prided itself on being a free market economy. In our hyper capitalized society, everyone wants to outwork the other and become the best in their fields. From birth, we are practically raised to compete amongst ourselves and win at all costs. This creates a negative environment of cutthroat competition in which Americans aim to “succeed,” no matter the sacrifice. This weighs particularly heavily on women, as it is difficult for women to give up taking care of their families, which is seen as a traditionally female role, in order to “get ahead” in their careers. We need an equal opportunity society that values women’s work. We should give both men and women a chance to progress in the workplace.
In 1800s America, women were almost always constrained to work in the home, rearing children, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. Household work was seen as not only women’s personal duty, but also their primary labor. As a result, women were less likely to seek outside employment. Instead, their husbands were the sole breadwinners and received all the income for the household.
Flash forward 200 years later, and it seems women are still facing the same problem of being forced to choose between their careers and their families. More and more women have to sacrifice promotion in their careers in order to be responsible for their homes. American work culture of “survival of the fittest,” does not help. Employers would simply prefer people without the burden of taking care of children and/or elderly people, because they would be able to work longer hours and chug out more production. This shuts out many career women who are also mothers, because they are expected to put their work before their family. This is not right.
For example, there is no guaranteed paid maternity leave in the United States. The United States does not legally mandate pay for women or men who have to take time off to have a baby and take care of the baby. Women are expected to juggle both having a new baby and a demanding, production-oriented job. This places women at an unfair disadvantage in the workforce.
In the workforce, women are still being shut out of executive positions. Only 10 to 20 percent of women are in senior management in American businesses. This can be a direct result of apathetic bosses who do not take into consideration the fact that women tend to have to balance their work life with their family life. As a result, women tend to be left behind, compared to their male counterparts, when it comes to executive positions in the corporate world.
If we as a society incorporated “care-giving” the way we incorporate “competition,” we could have a much fairer workforce. This includes high-quality and affordable child care and elder care; paid family and medical leave for women and men; a right to request part-time or flexible work; investment in early education comparable to our investment in elementary and secondary education; and comprehensive job protection for pregnant workers.
Women still shoulder the responsibility of care: care for the children, care for the elderly. Both women and men are expected to be competitive in terms of production quantity at work, in a society that prizes quantity over quality, yet, just like in the 1800s, 200 years ago, only women are expected by society to take care of their families as well. This unfairly disenfranchises women in the workplace.
I believe that we should be an equal opportunity society, and give both men and women a chance to flourish and be competitive in the workplace. Women need to benefit from a work culture that accommodates caregiving and not only competition. It’s about time we institute policies like paid paternity leave and better child care facilities. It’s time we value household work as a legitimate job sector.
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