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February 8, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
At 5:30 one recent winter morning my wife and I was awakened by the trash pick up—metal cans—a minor inconvenience for the value of the service. As I staggered from the bathroom and stumbled toward the coffee pot my wife immediately retrieved a vacuum cleaner from the closet and swept the hallway. I was not surprised—I’ve seen her still in nightgown vacuum before, but this time I asked her why she chose that particular moment to vacuum on her way to the kitchen. Without elaboration and with a sense of acceptance that only a male would ask such a question she replied. “It needed to be done.”

Her actions and response reinforced something I learned 40 years ago when I was leader of a labor union that had more female than male members: Women are underappreciated and undervalued. One need not be female or feminist to understand the condition of women in the United States. Women were ignored in the Constitution; at least slaves were constitutionally rendered a partial human being.

The 15th Amendment, which decreed that the right to vote could not be denied because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude was adopted in 1870. Once again, our country’s leaders missed an opportunity to include women and it would be 50 more years before women got the vote. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ratified August 18, 1920. Women continue to lag behind.

Women have always contributed in major ways to the survival of the family, clan or tribe from prehistory, in hunter and gathering groups women gathered more food for the family table than males killed, but females were considered of little real value and a liability. The idea of dowry—a gift of money or property handed over to the groom by the bride’s parents was payment for assuming the responsibility of caring for a female that could not produce wealth except for male children. Not much has changed.

We get a lot of lip service from pro-life groups and others about the blessedness of motherhood and that every pregnancy ought to be brought to completion. As a result motherhood has been oversold. It remains too easy to cherish a child in the womb, but actions speak louder than words; as a nation we have little regard for life after birth or motherhood. In 2005 USA TODAY had a front page story about Linda Strauss Mcllroy, a first time mother, in Santa Fe trying to get her two month old boy in day care so she could return to work. Staying at home with her new born was not a option, the family needed Linda’s paycheck. Across the border in Vancouver, Canada Suzanne Dobson went back to work after 14 months of paid maternity leave. “It was great,” she said. “I was still making pretty good money for being at home.”

At the same time, in Sweden the story continued, Magnus Larsson was looking forward to splitting 16 months of parental leave at 80% pay with his girlfriend who was expecting a baby in a week. The United States and Australia are the only industrialized countries that do not provide paid leave for new mothers.

However , mothers in Australia are still better off with 12 months of job protected leave. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of job protected leave, but it only covers those who work for larger companies. To put it another way, a Harvard University study revealed that out of 168 nations 163 had some form of paid maternity leave leaving the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.

Employers should not—cannot—bear the cost of paid maternity leave, but we the people—the government can. Sure, it will take a lot of money, but we found the money to fight an unnecessary war in Iraq and to pay off the incompetent bankers. We can take a major step toward appreciating women and to value motherhood by implementing paid maternity leave. Otherwise, all of our big talk about motherhood and life of the unborn is meaningless and just so much blabber.


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