Parental Guidance Necessary: Gender Equity in Parental Leave

Alexia.JPG  Alexia Petasis is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. Alexia is pursuing an individualized studies degree with a concentration on social justice and dance. She is a co-facilitator for Pop-Culture Pop-Ups.

Originally with this blog I wanted to to explore the ways in which the gender wage gap could be mitigated by giving fathers the same parental leave policies as new mothers. However, as I started researching I found that there many more benefits than pay equity; more equitable parental leave policies have the capacity to end the traditional gendered division of labor.

In order to talk about this issue through an intersectional feminist lens, I want to add a disclaimer about the language I use in this blog post. I will be referring to mothers as those who give birth and fathers as those who co-parent with mothers; however, this is a heteronormative and cisgender-centered assumption. There are many different people who give birth who may or may not identify with the label of “mother.” In spite of this, our language for parental leave policies has remained stagnant which is a problem in and of itself. I will be dividing my conversation among “maternal” and “paternal” conceptions of leave as they are articulated by policy, but I hope that I can also offer space to challenge those conceptions and show the diversity in sets of parents that exist in the world.

Let me start with explaining what paid paternity and maternity leave is and what our policies are here in the United States. Paid paternity and maternity leave is when new parents have access to a select amount of paid time off after having children. Obviously, the time given off for new mothers or those who give birth fluctuates based on their employment and which state they live. On average, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), maternity leave can ensure up to 12 unpaid weeks off. In the United States, we currently do not have any policies in place to give mothers paid time off or fathers any time off, paid or unpaid. This discourages new parents from taking any time off work after having a child. Having only the mother stay at home with the new-born child perpetuates the stereotype that the father is the breadwinner of the family (this is further complicated when we think about lesbian and gay couples raising children). Mothers might only take a limited period of time off, they might take off and then stay home for a while and rejoin the workforce, but regardless there are usually consequences to any time off they take. Women in the workforce also face pregnancy discrimination, which results in being fired, not hired, or otherwise discriminated against due to being pregnant or intending to become pregnant.

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To give some context to how this is related to eliminating the wage gap, experts argue that the wage gap is not only due to women getting paid less on the dollar than men, but because of the “motherhood penalty.” This penalty is the effect of the time women take off from their work after having children and the negative impact it has on their ability to get promotions, get raises, or gain more years of professional experience. While there are plenty of women that go back to work soon after they have children, women are often still the ones who engage in childcare work or unpaid domestic labor while still doing professional work, known as the “second-shift.”  

For an issue as complex as this one seems, it actually is not too hard to see how gender norms are deeply ingrained in us growing up and how the policies then reflect that. For example, growing up I am sure you were relegated to play with certain types of toys based on your assigned gender. For me, that meant playing the stay-at-home mom with the very realistic baby doll I had, being gifted an ironing board playset, and spending my free time pretending to be an elementary school teacher. Clearly, all these toys and pretend games had a theme; they were all things I had seen the women in my life doing. They were tasks that involved staying in the home, taking up childcare responsibilities, and embodying the caring and nurturing traits that women were expected to hone and perfect.  In contrast, my brother had a range of different Superman, Batman, and Spiderman costumes he would dress-up with alongside a collection of hot-wheels race cars. Now, if we think about the gendered division of toys and play, we can understand what society expects out of us solely based on our gender.

Reflecting on this dichotomy as a 21-year-old, I cannot help but also note the irony of how I have grown into an adult woman:  the fields in which I have the most work experience are babysitting and teaching.

I use this as an example to demonstrate the harm that arises when we grow up thinking our talents, abilities, and traits are determined by our gender and the expectations that we believe we have to abide by when wanting to have a family. I’d also like to bring up the hetero-normative structure of these policies since the expectation is having a mom and dad, but the reality could be having two moms, two dads, a single parent, or two non-binary parents. Instead of the division of labor being equal and both parents being confident in their ability to stay at home and raise a child, that responsibility is socially cemented as women’s work. In doing so, men stay at their job and advance their career while moms face the consequences of their time off, and those fathers actually receive higher wages after having a child, known as the “fatherhood bonus.”

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Regardless of whether the mom stays home for a bit, goes right back to work, or the parents hire a nanny, working mothers almost always engage in the second shift, something  I have seen in my countless years of babysitting. Mothers and fathers might work the same amount of hours a week but whereas a father is only expected to work and then come home, the mother makes sure dinner is made, the house is cleaned, the kids are picked up, and everyone in the family and home is in order (which often involves a heavy emotional and mental burden).

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Paid paternity leave policies would not only benefit new-fathers in hetero-sexual relationships it also benefits new fathers in non-heterosexual relationships, where both parents are fathers and in relationships where the father is the one giving birth. In Soraya Chemaly’s book, “Rage Becomes Her:The Power of Women’s Anger” she discusses how in LGBTQ relationships, parenting relationships are usually more egalitarian unless there’s a stronger butch/femme expression of gender, in which case the disparity of parental duties begins to resemble heterosexual partnerships more clearly. Giving all new parents paid leave, no matter their relationship to their partner, could result in cultural shifts that give space for all types of parents to be present in the beginning of their children’s lives.

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I was motivated to write this piece as a personal way to reflect on parental relationships that I have seen who did not divide childcare responsibilities equally and observed the unfair expectations for mothers to “do-it-all.” I wanted to tie in how that mentality hinders any progress for an equitable home and workforce.To do so, I had to look back on how my gender shaped so many aspects of my personality and how I always thought the traits of caring and nurturing just came easily for me. This realization pushes me to consider how I will raise my children in a way that rejects this gendered expectations of emotional labor, childcare, and professional work. Moving forward, my hopes are that an equitable parenting relationship is respected by my partner and my workplaces.

This gets me back to my main point. In order to create equality in the workforce and at home, policies should ensure that both mothers and fathers receive equal paid time off after having children. This would reward and motivate parents to take their time off and engage in the responsibilities of being parents. It would also mitigate the motherhood penalty and pregnancy discrimination as now both men and women would be expected to leave their place of work when they have a child. Furthermore, it would create a new generation of men that will not shy away from care-taking and embrace their abilities to be nurturing.

Check out these resources to learn more about the topics that were covered in the blog:

The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/the-daddy-track/355746/

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Take Back the Night 2019 Round-Up

On April 18th 2019, the Women’s Center hosted the seventh annual Take Back the Night at UMBC. The night began with an introduction by the emcees Autumn, Calista and Women’s Center staff members, Samiksha and Morgan.

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After the introduction was the survivor speak-out. The speak-out is the heart and soul of Take Back the Night. Survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to acknowledge your experience with others who believe and support you.

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We then moved on to the march portion of the night, where we got loud and chanted in support of victims of sexual violence. We Believe You, an activist group dedicated to ending sexual violence, led the march, the survivor circle of care, and a private discussion in the Women’s Center following the march.

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The survivor circle is a new addition to Take Back the Night. At the peak of the march, everyone formed a circle around True Grit. Survivors were invited to the middle of the circle, while supporters chanted the refrain, “We see you. We believe you. You matter.” After the survival circle, the march back to Main Street commenced.

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After the march, community members got back together for some craftivism! This part of the night is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community-building between survivors and supporters alike.

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Thank you so much to everyone for a powerful and moving evening. Thank you to every survivor for sharing their story, to every ally who supported the survivors, and a special thank you to all the volunteers and We Believe You members who made TBTN possible!

If you’ve joined us this Thursday and you haven’t already, please fill out the survey by April 26, 2019.

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If you weren’t able to make it, here are some resources:

Pointe-ing Towards Change: Inclusive Practices in Ballet

 

alexia-e1535562782603.jpg   Alexia Petasis is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. Alexia is pursuing an individualized studies degree with a concentration on social justice and dance. She is a co-facilitator for Pop-Culture Pop-Ups.

This past year, I went to see the San Francisco Ballet at the Kennedy Center for the premiere of new works from various choreographers in the nation. The show consisted of around eight separate dances; some solos, duets, and quartets. The dancers held my attention throughout the lengthy, three-program show as they moved with strength and elegance.

However, I quickly noticed the lack of racial/ethnic diversity on the stage. Under-representation is not a recent problem in the realm of classical or even contemporary ballet. This issue dates back to the 17th century when ballet first became popularized in the courts of European nobility and was, as one can imagine, plagued with discrimination and racism. Unfortunately, the whiteness that engulfed ballet back in those days still exists today, around 400 years later.

Admittedly, I can only speak about this issue from a privileged perspective. I always loved the style of ballet, but I question if my love for it is also correlated in part because I saw others who looked like me doing it. Even from the beginning of my dance training when I was 7 years old, I never believed ballet was an unattainable style of dance for me. The standard attire that is worn for ballet class are pink tights and pink ballet slippers; and though no one has “pink” skin, it is meant to represent closely the skin of white folks, once again perpetuating the notion that people of color are not even considered within this art form. (Significantly, while writing this blog, the New York Times released an article stating that Freed of London released new pointe shoes for black, Asian, and mixed raced dancers.)

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Misty Copeland garnered the attention of the media and the dance community by being the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer (one who dances at the highest rank) for the American Ballet Theatre. Yet, the fact that she is still the only African-American woman in the nation to hold a principal role sheds light on the issue of the overwhelmingly large number of white ballet dancers and how they are given priority within this community. Nonetheless, Copeland is setting the stage and creating a path for other dancers of color to feel as though they, too, can do ballet.

In addition to the groundbreaking leadership of Misty Copeland, I wanted to uplift some companies and programs that are prioritizing racial and ethnic representation into the world of ballet.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, who had previously been the first black male dancer in the New York City ballet. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. he realized that there was still work to be done in America in making a difference for black individuals. Mitchell created DTH to, “present a ballet company of African-American and other racially diverse artists who perform the most demanding repertory at the highest level of quality.” The Dance Theatre of Harlem is trying to bring down barriers between Harlem and the world of ballet and extend the art to communities that have been predominantly ignored within the field. Doing this requires that opportunities reach out to individuals who are also of different social classes to make ballet classes available and affordable. To do this, DTH started the initiative of Dancing Through Barriers to bring people of all ages from the community to learn about the arts through an inclusive and equitable arts education program.

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Another example is Project Plié an initiative started by the American Ballet Theatre to create a community within the world of ballet where the talent of people of color could be nurtured. The company, “grant[s] merit-based training scholarships to talented children of color; provides teacher training scholarships to teachers of color [and] grants intern scholarships to young arts administrators of color.” American Ballet Theatre’s CEO, Rachel Moore emphasizes the importance of diversity both on stage and behind the scenes.

With both these initiatives working to bring more black dancers to the stages, there remains still the need to share the history and the stories of black dancers in America. MoBBallet makes it their mission to “preserve, present, and promote the contributions and stories of Black artists in the field of ballet, reinstating a legacy that has been muted.” Their website features a timeline of the various schools, performances, and companies that have provided opportunities for black dancers as well as access to an e-zine, or electronic magazine, to preserve the history and progress made thus far. Organizations such as these are integral to the preserving and showcasing the strides of black individuals in an accessible way.

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As a Women’s Center intern, I see many parallels between the work that is being done at the Women’s Center toward advancing gender equity and the work that is being done by these companies and programs to advance racial and ethnic representation in the ballet community. Their approach is similar to that of the Women’s Center, as they acknowledge that to enact change, we need to prioritize and center the voices of those who have been marginalized to create an inclusive campus climate. At the Women’s Center, we see and acknowledge the harm that is done to the communities of people that are underrepresented and whose voices are repeatedly silenced. Many other articles written about this issue speak on the economic inequalities, racial prejudice, and racism that are foundations for the discrimination in ballet. (see links below)

In writing this blog, I urge my dance friends to look around their classroom the next time they are in ballet class and see where the privilege still lies. I hope that we continue to work on expanding the number of people of color in the classroom, both as teachers and students, to nurture a more inclusive generation of ballet artists. We should prioritize representation of individuals on stage and continue to work towards creating an inclusive ballet community off-stage as well, as ballet educators and choreographers.

We will only begin to see ballet transform when we acknowledge that this lack of representation is still so pervasive in Western society and encourage the next generation of choreographers to cast more diverse dancers. Everyone should have equal opportunities and equal access to be a part of this art form. As an aspiring choreographer and teacher, I will do my part in seeing that change through.

Additional Readings:

https://www.pointemagazine.com/behind-ballets-diversity-problem-2412811909.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/opinion/black-dancers-white-ballets.html

https://www.abt.org/community/diversity-inclusion/project-plie/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/arthur-mitchell-who-broke-barriers-black-ballet-dancers-has-died-84-180970357/

https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/21/us/misty-copeland-ballet-race-boss-files/index.html

 

Self Care: An Activists Survival Guide

AlexiaAlexia Petasis is an INDS intern on the Women’s Center student staff team. Alexia studies social justice and dance. In the following blog post, she runs through a list of crucial self-care survival strategies for activists. 

Every week, the Women’s Center asks a “question of the week” available for anyone to respond to. One week our question was, “what do you do for self-care?” This question was one I have heard many times, but this time it led me to ponder all the ways I have, or have not, practiced self-care as well as what tips I can offer everyone else. I’ve seen many people around campus this semester look drained, fatigued and overwhelmed by our campus climate. For some, this exhaustion was due to the various articles and subsequent student rallies that came about after allegations that UMBC mishandled sexual assault claims.

I’ve gathered some self care tips from my own experiences, the advice my friends find helpful, and others I’ve found online while on a quest to live my best social justice activist life, while not drowning carelessly into the pit of despair that social justice work sometimes feels like. As we head into Thanksgiving, let’s use the next few days off to reflect on ways we can practice self-care….

Take the Time to be Mad:

Over the past semester, many of our campus community members have experienced feelings of  anger. Anger at our institution and anger at the fact that this issue was more than an isolated incident. Being mad allows us to feel what we rightfully should feel and allows us to push ourselves to see what we can do about it. If we weren’t mad or bothered about issues like these, then there would be no driving force to pursue change. On that note, I’ve noticed it is equally important to be aware of how much “bad news” you consume.

During the semester, while UMBC was exploding with its own bad news about the alleged mistreatment of survivors of sexual assault, the news was overwhelmingly reminiscent of how the roots of injustice are so deeply ingrained in our society. Survivors of sexual assault nationwide have had to revisit their past trauma with the news pertaining to Supreme Court Judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. An article published on CNN states, “the day Ford testified in front of senators and the whole country, the sex assault hotline saw a 201% increase in calls compared with a typical day”. It was almost like our school and the federal government were in a parallel universe and the influx of bad news was overwhelming.

So, be mad, but also be careful to balance out time to also think about the good things. As hard as it is, try not to allow yourself to stay so up-to-date with everything that you bombard your mind with all the bad in the world. This can cause opposite results and paralyze your abilities as an activist since it feels as though nothing is getting better. This leads me to my next point.

Surround Yourself with Other Activists:

This one is IMPORTANT! I didn’t realize just how draining it was to be around those who truly don’t give a sh*t about the injustices many face in our world. Therefore, I would first say, have conversations and meet individuals whose views align with yours and who want to help the world become a better place too. At the Women’s Center, I have seen so many bonds created in the lounge area of the Women’s Center and have been part of many conversations empowering us to speak our truths. We Believe You, a student organization on campus, holds weekly discussion group and general body meetings for survivors of sexuals assualt and allies. In the wake of campus conversations around sexual violence, it can sometimes feel good to be with people who are doing the work and also feel similar frustrations.

But, along with meeting activists in person, there are many podcasts out there that can make us feel hopeful of all the other activists we have doing amazing work and raising our consciousness about issues that are all around us.

One of my favorites is called “Transforming Together” by two staff members at HopeWorks, a domestic violence shelter in Howard County. Brittany Eltringham and Heidi Griswold shed light on issues happening in our country with an intersectional feminist perspective. They describe their podcasts as, “a blend of pop culture and social justice, the show is hosted by two queer folks who are committed to healing, laughing, and loving their way to a world free from exploitation, oppression, and violence.” Another resource called Know Your IX mentions various tips for self care on their website as well.

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Express Gratitude:

Express gratitude when it’s easy, but more importantly, make the conscious decision and effort to express gratitude when the world feels as if it’s a dumpster fire. Even if it is as simple as I woke up on time today, I made an extra good cup of coffee this morning, or I had a good conversation with someone. Try to start each day or end each night writing five things that you are grateful for that day. Every little bit of positivity you offer to yourself trains your mind to escape this bubble of pessimism towards the world (which frankly I do often too, but I am working on it).

Another cool way to bring in more optimism among all the dreariness that comes with social justice activism is to sign up for The Good Trade email notifications. The Good Trade describes their daily newsletter as, “Everyday Inspiration For The Informed Woman: A 30 second read of good things to listen, follow, visit, browse and read—delivered to your inbox each morning. Curated by and for women.” Their mission statement at the bottom of the newsletter states that the inspiration of the day leaves you “informed + inspired about the good things that rise above the clutter”. To say the least, waking up and reading the good work that others are doing around the world can help to ground us and recenter our views of the world.

Embody Self Preservation:

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Finally, the infamous quote by Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Viewing self-care as an inherent part of any activism effort and a duty you owe yourself is crucial to taking good care of yourself while you are busy trying to take care of everyone else. As we head into finals and holidays and reasons for activism always continue to exist what will you do to practice self-care? Feel free to share your ideas or comments with us on the Women’s Center social media pages!