Mother’s Day is next weekend, so this is the time of year when we hear many touching and heartfelt odes to moms and motherhood. I’m a mom of 2 myself, and I’m happy to accept a hearty “thank you” from my husband and kids for all that I do (including a 36-hour labor with my first child).
What I’m not okay with is the deeper, implicit message that moms are the more important parent. I believe the work of primary parents should be honored, but that it’s the work itself that makes that parent special, and not just the gender of the parent doing the work.
And there are several reasons why that’s an important distinction to make. First, when we make female-ness a requisite for highest parenting honors, where does that leave our gay allies? Second, how can we expect men to up their game as fathers when we spend the entire month of May essentially telling them that, no matter what, they’ll always be second best? Third, I see a direct connection between female privilege at home and male privilege at work.
The percent of women in the workplace has grown steadily over the last 50 years to 47 percent of the total labor force in 2010 (US Department of Labor), and yet the percent of Fortune 500 CEOs that are women is still less than 5%. While there are many theories for why that is, what’s often overlooked is that the increase of women in the workplace has not been matched by a commensurate increase of men in the home.
Could it be that the flip side of the glass ceiling for women is the glass door for men?
Women have fought hard for the right to choose for themselves what they do after children, whether to stay home, work part-time, work full-time, or work flat-out in pursuit of becoming the next Marissa Mayer. Men, however, have been barred from that same range of choices by societal attitudes held by both men and women. If women want more seats in the board room, we may have to first invite more men into the kitchen.
Interestingly, whenever I raise this issue, people invariably respond with statements like, “But don’t you think it’s biologically more natural for a woman to want to stay home with her kids?” Which is just another way of saying that it’s biologically more natural for men to lead, or biologically unnatural for women to serve in the military, or as commander-in-chief. Such appeals to “biology,” thankfully, have eventually given way to respect for the individual.
Ideally, we’ll get beyond the false promise of 50/50, because let’s face it - Jack Welch never did 50% of the dishes. Instead, let’s borrow a page from same-sex parents, where the decision of whose career is on the front burner is made based on economic realities and personal preference, without a default assumption made from gender.
Maybe, just maybe, this Mother’s Day, we can take a step in the right direction to finish the half-done work of the feminist revolution. Let’s accept the cards and the kisses, but let’s relinquish the idea that we’ll always be better at parenting than dad, so that we can set off a chain reaction that ultimately leads to more female CEOs.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a business coach and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.