Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's Only Fair

I had the opportunity to be interviewed for a professional women's magazine that was doing an article, so I thought, on childfree women in the workplace. Because the writer flaked out on me and didn't call for weeks, only finally reaching me near the end of her deadline when i was unavailable, I was not interviewed. After reading the article, which came out this month, I am SO happy I was not interviewed.

Had I been interviewed, I surely would have become the "bad guy" in an article about the "Opt-Out Revolution." The article ended up being about women who return to the workplace after having children, and I can see it now. I can see my quotes about how I've been made to take on extra work, to work extra hours while the people with "real" families went home, being taken in a horrifically negative context. I really want to write the journalist and ask her why she changed the focus of her article. I want to know what questions she'd have asked me if we were able to connect. I want to know what she'd have done with an anecdote about my boss treating my goings on as far less important than the activities of the parents in my creative team, volunteering me to stay late because everyone else had families to go to, and my plans were just with friends and my husband.

It makes me sad that the article took this turn, that perhaps her editors intervened and said "let's make this from a mother's point-of-view because more women can relate to that." Or maybe she's a mother herself, unable to handle talking to childfree women who have chosen to focus on their careers. I'd like to know, but I'm afraid to ask.

I've had this discussion with my parent friends, those who've "opted out" of professional careers. While I'm not in the camp that thinks mothers are "ruining everything" for childfree women, I have felt the discrimination. I've felt self-conscious about letting potential employers know that I'm a newlywed. My previous boss had spoken out and actually said ih he had his way he wouldn't have women who were planning weddings working for him because they spend all their time focusing on the wedding, then as soon as they're done they start having babies, stringing the company along during the maternity leave, then quitting entirely as soon as the baby is born. While this sounds like a heartless thing, it's often very true. It happened with several coworkers throughout my 18 months with the company. I found mysef wondering if I would hire a newlywed, or a new mother, as a business owner myself, because of all the missed work, the inflexible availability that a mother has, and I hate myself for thinking that I might discriminate, even if it were subconsciously.

I do have a problem with parent-friendly rules in the workplace when they don't make equal concessions for people with alternative families -- couples with friends who are family, in my case. Sure, allow flex-time, but allow it for everyone, not just because someone has a sick kid. If I have to take my cat to the vet, allow me the same rights. If my husband is sick and needs someone to help him at home, allow me to work from home if Annie with the sick baby can do the same.

And yet if I suggest things like this, people act as if it's unreasonable to expect these things. I don't appreciate being treated as less deserving than a parent, that my relationships are less valuable, that putting family before work doesn't count if it's managing my close personal relationships that do not involve kids.

All I want is equality, but I fear that if I were to interview for that magazine, or any of the others that might come my way as a result of this blog, that my message will be miscontrued. Do I think that women who choose to leave their careers to raise children are "ruining everything"? It's not a black & white thing, so it's hard to answer.

I once said to my sister-in-law who was quitting her job to raise her kids that I don't believe it's possible to have a full-time career, a happy marriage, and still raise well-adjusted kids. She fired off that it's because companies won't let mothers have the flexibility they need. And while that is true on some sense, it's also true that workplace flexibility needs to be approached not from a parents' rights position, but as a people's rights issue in order to maintain fairness.

Why is that such an inflamatory idea?

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