While many Loyola students are looking to their calendars and marking March with spring break plans, the month has something else to offer: it’s also Women’s History Month.
Women’s rights have certainly come a long way since the 19th amendment was put into place in 1920, which gave women the right to vote. But, even with the strides made in the women’s movement in the last year, there still exists this timeless dichotomy in which women must choose between career and caregiver.
But why must a woman need to choose? As students — some of us graduating as soon as this spring — we are thinking about our careers and our futures. As we think about where our paths will lead, we need to remember that women can have it all, if they want it — the education, the career, the relationship and the children.
Compared to 65 percent two decades ago, 80 percent of women with professional degrees or doctorates have a child by the age of 44, according to the Pew Research Center. But that doesn’t mean the workforce has ushered in an era of gender equity.
Just like there shouldn’t be pressure for a woman to choose a family or career, there also shouldn’t be pressure for women to get married or have children at all. Not choosing to do either of those things is just that: a choice. Those decisions shouldn’t be something people are shamed for. Most people who have made the decision to be childfree have considered it over a long period of time and thought about how parenting would impact their lives, according to a study conducted by Amy Blackstone, a sociology professor at University of Maine.
Women shouldn’t be faced with having to worry about being shamed when dealing with the responsibilities and joys of motherhood while still holding a successful career. There should also be no shame around a successful woman taking help from family members or babysitters when necessary. Some companies even offer in-house daycare, including large corporations such as Home Depot, Allstate Insurance, Nike, Twenty-First Century Fox and Time Warner.
There’s also the other parent or partner to consider. Men are just as capable as women in providing care to children, but our society is still clinging on to old beliefs about the domestic role of women as caregivers and men as the sole financial provider. Female caregivers spend 60 percent more time providing care compared to males, according to a study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute.
But those beliefs need to be forgotten if we are to move forward with a new societal outlook.
The societal changes we need are things some young women are currently fighting for, such as improvement in paid parental leave and access to healthcare for women of color.
In 40 nations across the world, the shortest amount of paid leave required for new parents is two months. The United States sits in last place as the 41st nation and the only country that doesn’t mandate any paid leave for new parents, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Whether or not people can afford to take months off work or worry about losing their jobs are large problems people face when deciding to have children. If 40 other nations can handle giving new parents a few months off, so can the United States.
Improvements can’t stop there. The racial disparity in maternal healthcare between white and black mothers is alarming. Black mothers in the United States are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control.
Another way women are fighting for improvement is by pushing to elect more female political leaders and having an equal number of women among corporate executives across all fields of work.
Right now, women make up less than 20 percent of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. House of Representatives, respectively, and 22 percent of the U.S. Senate, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Only 38 of the 105 women serving for Congress are women of color.
Women make up around 51 percent of the U.S. population. They earn nearly 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of all master’s degrees. They account for almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, yet only hold 25 percent of executive and senior-level officials and managers, 20 percent of board seats and six percent are CEOs, according to the Center for American Progress.
The numbers seem to show the higher up one goes on the educational and professional ladder, the fewer women they’ll find. This is partly due to women facing barriers to being both professional and traditionally feminine.
Will it be easy to make decisions associated with a career, marriage and family? Absolutely not. Just like any big life decision, there will be challenges, but recognizing those challenges is the first step toward success. And everyone’s challenges will be unique to their situation, but you have every right to chase after the goals you set for yourself, not what society expects of you.