Women, take heed.
Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman making a run for the House speaker’s chair, is driving a hard bargain. He wants the Hatfields and McCoys within his party to put down their arms and unite behind him. He wants to make it harder for his colleagues to fire him.
And he wants to get home for dinner.
“I cannot and will not give up my family time,” he announced as a condition of his candidacy.
Women: Take that sentence. When you’re alone, read it out loud to yourself a couple of times. Get comfortable with it. Memorize it. Learn to say it with conviction. And then go out and use it.
I know, I know. It’s tough out there. There still are many barriers preventing families and, let’s be honest, still mostly women from doing their jobs well while doing a great job raising their families. Child care is still too expensive. Family leave is capped at 12 weeks, and even then it’s unpaid and required only at bigger companies. The United States is one of two out of 185 countries sampled by the United Nations that doesn’t require at least some paid leave. Indeed, we can thank the good congressman himself for his role in helping keep the status quo: For one thing, he voted against giving federal workers four weeks of paid leave for childbirth or adoption.
Yet unless we are lobbyists, activists, congresswomen or, say, president of the United States, making these changes is beyond our control.
Here’s a thought: Use the power you already have. We all have more power than we are brave enough to use. There is more leave time to be had. There are more flexible arrangements. More conference calls from home. More ability to attend the 4 p.m. game and finish the report after dinner. More opportunity to say, as Ryan says, “I cannot and will not give up my family time.” And still be an excellent worker.
It’s true that many of us are truly powerless. Many of us have absolutely no control over our schedules. No control over our lives. But I’ll say it again: There are more of us who have power right now than are brave enough to use it.
It’s a risk, of course. But others have taken bigger risks. Those who were the first to walk, pregnant, into a mostly male workplace. Those who were the first to take maternity leaves – and then confound all expectations by returning. Those who demanded a place to pump. Or a work-from-home schedule. Those who stood up for equal pay, or even sued for it. Even those of us who took a deep breath, walked out at 5 p.m. and figured out how to get the work done nonetheless.
History tells us that fighting for individual rights is one of the ways we hasten the spread of collective rights.
“I cannot and will not give up my family time.” Just say it.
You will tell me that no woman can say that sentence. Only a man, and maybe only a powerful man like a congressman, can utter a sentence like that and expect to be taken seriously.
Do it anyway.
For those women with male partners, do them, and yourselves, a favor. After you have memorized Congressman Ryan’s sentence, hand it over to your partner.
“I cannot and will not give up my family time.”
Then both of you go use it. The more people who say it and expect to get it, the more things will change and the more it will become normal, not strange.
Bennett is the former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Lexington Herald-Leader and the author of six books.