Opinion: Are women really victims of the ‘motherhood penalty’?

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Remember last summer’s much-buzzed-about magazine cover story in the Atlantic declaring the end of men? Among the topics covered in Hanna Rosin’s article was how women came to dominate the workforce while men sat on the sidelines lamenting the loss of blue-collar jobs. Then, in April, Newsweek asked, ‘Can manhood survive the recessions?’ But feminism isn’t about edging men out of the picture but rather achieving equality. And on that front, there’s still a ways to go, write Eve Weinbaum and Rachel Roth in Friday’s Opinion pages. How far have women come since winning the right to vote in 1920? Well ...

--Women on average still make only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This pay disparity is worst for women of color, who earn only 61 cents if they are African American and 52 cents if they are Latina. This pattern has been remarkably constant. […] --Although women now outnumber men on college campuses, the upper echelons of most professions and political bodies remain male-dominated. […] --On the home front, gender norms have changed significantly since 1920, but women still do the lion’s share of child care, elder care and household planning. And child-rearing is still regarded as a private matter rather than a contribution to society.


Those are just a few examples, all by way of getting to the heart of their argument, which hinges on a 1920 essay by socialist feminist Crystal Eastman.

Eastman understood that work and home are inextricably bound, that women’s freedom depends on resolving what we now call ‘work/family’ conflict. As long as women face a ‘motherhood penalty’ while men benefit from a ‘fatherhood bonus,’ gender equality will remain out of reach. Racial discrimination has made the path to equality that much harder for women of color.The real question now is, in Eastman’s words, ‘how to arrange the world’ so that women have ‘a chance to exercise their infinitely varied gifts in infinitely varied ways, instead of being destined by the accident of their sex’ to lesser economic opportunities and heavier domestic burdens.

Readers on our discussion board have pushed back on Weinbaum and Roth’s Op-Ed, many of them taking on the issue of the motherhood penalty. Since we’re in the business of facilitating reasonable debates, I deleted the particularly offensive comments. Here are some of the remaining missives:

The victim mentality keeps women back

This is a victim mentality that actually keeps women back. Opportunities for women today are endless, and keeping a narrow focus on inequalities more perceived than real is a detriment. You wanted equality -- you got it, so stop crying poor pitiful me.


Women should stop playing the sexist card

Men are starting to finally wake up to the brainwashing of the feminist movement. If we criticize or question its claims, the sexist card is immediately used. Too many of us are afraid to stand up to the nonsense. Feminists portray females as victims when it’s convenient, and turn around and tout their gender superiority at other times. Even intelligent men have been duped by this hypocrisy.

Feminists would be given more credibility if the advantages and disadvantages of BOTH males and females were fairly weighed. Instead, it’s all about how we can better the lot of females, and females only. Even the name, feminism, signifies one gender only.


Women have more options today

Spare me Crystal Eastman’s views about what women want!

Why on earth would any American care what Eastman would think or have wanted? She was a self-described socialist, for pity’s sake! As such, there’s very little in her ‘vision’ for America that would be anything but a nightmare for modern-day feminists like me.

And BTW, the overwhelming majority of the income disparity between males and females in modern America has nothing to do with gender discrimination. Rather, more women than men make CHOICES to take jobs and pursue career paths that offer them greater flexibility to balance family, work and other priorities.

Ladies, this is not something to be regretted, but to be celebrated.


Women who want to get ahead shouldn’t have children, in response to LindaB

Thank you Linda, for yet another common sense post! Women should be held accountable for their choices, but we should also celebrate that we HAVE so many choices. Personally...I choose not to have kids and to get ahead in my career. But I have total respect for a woman that chooses the opposite, or some combination of the two. And that might mean that she makes less money, but enjoys time with her family. Good for her.

Cries of ‘gender discrimination’ are just ways to explain away one’s own personal shortcomings.


How far have humans come since women got the right to vote?

Really, how far have humans come since women got the right to vote -- or since anytime for that matter? Not much. We are now more brutal, selfish, and horrific to one another. We’ve never pushed so hard to separate out into ‘groups of like people’ to beat down and step on every other group and individual to declare the rights of our ‘groups of like people’ as superior, or needing to be recognized, or more important than others. When a woman becomes CEO of a company, it should be based on merit. When her achievement is clouded by ‘Female CEO’ or she appears on a list of ‘Top Female CEOs’ it does nothing to bring us beyond the archaic and separatist mindset of HISTORY. I’m still waiting to read about the progress of a modern White Man (as they are not guilty of the crimes of their ancestors, but are still held accountable), but there’s been none and such an article would be declared ‘divisive’ by all the ‘groups of like people’ who were not White males. So to answer the question posed by this article: Not far.


*Spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


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--Alexandra Le Tellier