“I need a job for a woman. Un lavoro per una donna,” this earnest, bright-eyed 19-year-old said to me.
“Medicine is too demanding if you want to have a family. I would need a more typical schedule,” my classmate added.
My heart broke into a million Ruth Bader Ginsburg collar threads, but I said nothing. We don’t know each other well enough for me to start ranting, “How many teenage boys divert their dreams because they might shoot their juice into a lady canyon ten years from now?!” She’s also from an unstable, war-torn nation of which I can give no educated cultural evaluation. Instead, I offered a slight head nod to show I was listening.
Despite what seems to be an interest in medicine, she’s veered into the technology field instead. I’m sure she’ll have a thrilling, impactful career there, and I could be reading too much into this one sidewalk conversation — but to me, she represents the fears of women across the world. Women who know or suspect that society, their employer and/or their partner won’t or can’t support a lifestyle in which she has a demanding job and is also a mother.
I know some men (#NotAllMen) may consider how their career might affect their future as a parent, but we know it’s not to the extent that women do. Also noted: Same-sex couples and single parents have their own set of dynamics.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with prioritizing family over career, but I wish there was more societal support to manage both, if one so desires.
What do we want? Better, paid parental leave, affordable child care, affordable health care, flexible hours, remote work, more equal distribution of childcare/housework among couples, opportunities for advancement, good ol’ fashioned respect! When do we want it? NOW. Also, yesterday.
Regarding those opportunities for advancement + respect, consider listening to these two The Daily podcast episodes over your commute/lunch break: The Rampant Problem of Pregnancy Discrimination, from a local Walmart store to corporate America.
Also, in the midst of writing this blog, an NPR article popped up on my news feed: Report: Japanese Medical School Deducted Points From Exam Scores Of Female Applicants. A university official said that “it was concerned that a large increase in the number of women posed a serious problem for the future of the university hospital, because female doctors tend to quit after marrying or starting families.”
As for Italy, this is what I know so far:
- All women get a minimum of five months of maternity leave with 80% of their wages, although reportedly most companies will add the remaining 20% so you reach full pay.
- Men get a mandatory two days, full pay.
- After this period, there’s an additional 10 months of voluntary parental leave shared between mothers and fathers, which can be taken any time in the first 12 years of a child’s life (pay is eventually reduced from 30% to 0%). This increases to 11 months if the father takes off at least three months — an interesting incentive to get dads to pull more weight?
- If you give up the voluntary parental leave, you’ll receive 600 euros a months for six months, and there’s some support toward childcare costs through tax exemptions. (Fact-checking and additional data above via this 2017 Business Insider article)
Despite that somewhat rosy picture (at least compared to the U.S.), some argue that the post-maternity period in Italy is decidedly not supported. “In the past, networks of relatives, especially grandmothers and aunts, often provided child care support,” The New York Times reports, “but now younger generations are moving away from their families to pursue work — often leaving them dependent on inadequate public institutions for support. Few employers subsidize child care, and assistance is particularly rare for women on temporary contracts.”
More from “Women Could Decide Italy’s Election, but They Feel Invisible” by Gaia Pianigiani:
- “Italy has the second-lowest female employment rate in the European Union, according to Eurostat, ahead of only Greece. One in four Italian women do not return to work after giving birth. Those who keep working often see earnings drop more than 35 percent, according to INPS, Italy’s social security institute, mostly because mothers have to reduce working hours since child care and other support is so limited.”
- “Enrica Maria Martino, who conducted a study for the social security institute, cited ‘the rigidity of working hours, the scarcity of part-time opportunities and the inadequacy of child care provisions, together with a strong role division between men and women that still attributes women all family responsibilities’ as obstacles to keeping mothers in the work force.”
WAIT, it’s not all bad, though! Fun fact I learned from my classmates the other day: It’s traditional for women in Taiwan/China to take a month off after childbirth from doing everything. They don’t cook, they don’t clean, they don’t leave home — the real legit ones don’t even bother to bathe or wash their hair! It’s called “sitting the month.”
Someone is enlisted to come help with the home and kid(s), so mamma can do absolutely nothing but rest for 30 days. Day 31 might be a sleepless hell but at least she had one precious month to breathe and heal and be pampered. There do seem to be a lot of potentially aggravating rules that go along with it, though: further reading/listening via NPR, “For Chinese Moms, Birth Means 30 Days In Pajamas.”
More fun female tidbits (I’m a collector) from our visit to Rocca d’Angera in June:
“The wisdom of the women herbalists would be associated with the devil, and for this they would be condemned as witches.”
Thank you for your service, Tortula, Hildegard and all you witches. #WitchesGetStuffDone
I have six friends who are pregnant right now, and I want them, and all of us, to have choices and power. “Having it all” might be a somewhat mythological concept, but can we “have a lot more” at least?