One point I share with parents on all the time, (and I got this insight from the great Rick LaVoie), is to NEVER confuse Fair and Equal. From Merriam Webster:
Equal: 1 a (1): of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another
Fair has many more defintions, but the important ones here are:
Fair: 5: ample <a fair estate
6 a: marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism <a very fair person to do business with> b (1): conforming with the established rules : allowed (2): consonant with merit or importance : due <a fair share>
Simply put, Equal means everyone gets the same, and Fair means everyone should get what the need or deserve. Things canbe both fair and equal, but frequently they can be either/or, not both, simultaneously.
When we talk about things like gender, we are talking about something that naturally divides people into two categories. It’s something we can’t do anything about. Is that fair? Yup. Is it equal? No.
Women always have a different part to play in life, because they are capable and frequently do have children. We can’t outrun or circumvent biology. As a result, women have certain issues men will never have- Do I get adequate pregnancy leave at work? If I want to nurse my baby, how do I do that and meet all the requirements they have for me at work? If I have an unplanned pregnancy, what decision will I make? All of these decisions are inherent to being a woman. It doesn’t mean men can’t have feelings or opinions about them, but in the end, the person who is carrying the child has to take responsibility for it.
Notice how we always know who the mother of a baby is, but the paternity can be called into question. It goes like this- one person comes into the hospital, two people come out. We know for sure who the mother is. Basic biology. This is another issue, unique to women. There aren’t a whole lot of Maternity Suits out there, searching for the unknown mother of a child, to hold them fiscally liable for the child’s expenses. That would be silly, and unnecessary, since we “register” each new baby by issuing a State birth certificate and now even a social security number, before the baby leaves the hospital. Except in rare cases of home births and child abandonment, we always know who the Mom is.
So How Does This Gender Difference Affect Politics? Should it?
When women have struggled for equal pay for doing the same job, that is an argument that is about both Fair and Equal. If both people have the same experience -exactly-, the same education, and the same job, and are performing it equally well, they should be paid the same wage. Fair and Equal. If the woman is out of the office more because she has a baby, her kids are sick, or she is caring for elderly parents, or whatever reason- should this be reflected in her job? Her job review?
Many working moms watch their sick days and vacation days like a hawk, because they know, sometime during the year, a kid is going to get sick- hopefully not with anything that is like chicken pox, requiring a week or so out of school and thus out of work as well-and if they exceed the maximum number of days they can use, they risk being fired. Taking a day off to attend a school play or teacher’s meeting? Great- but you pay for that down the line without a vacation day left for when the child gets sick, you get sick yourself, or you actually want to get away and have a vacation.
Sure, working dads have the same issues. But in most families, the reality is that when a child is sick or there is an issue at school, 90% of the time it’s the mom who goes in and takes care of the problem. That may not be equal, and it may not be fair, but it is reality.
Even my husband, a physician, has avoided taking off more than a few hours when we’ve needed him at school meetings, or I have been out of town on business. It doesn’t ever occur to him to take a sick day or a vacation day-in fact, he’ll sooner have a relative come and help with the kids if I am out of town for an extended period than take a week off of work and use vacation time for child care duties. And I am perfectly okay with that, and don’t feel it’s a sexist issue at all- I look at it as triaging the situation, and know his patients need him, and this is a high enough need that taking a day off “because he feels like it” is not part of his nature. Patients come first. I get that, and that is part of our family contract, so to speak. (And I hope all of you out there appreciate that too- you do, and should, come first to your health care provider, often before his own family.)
I doubt this is unusual in most families, even those without wage earners with “important” life or death kind of jobs. We can argue fairness, equality, and sexism, but reality is this is the way the world works, liberal or conservative. Women have a larger share of child care issues, in part because she is the mom, period. Dads participate and it’s wonderful, but few dads are the sole and primary caretakers of their kids. Reality, not sexism.
And this means, as a result of my gender, as a result of being a Mom, I see what happens at our local schools more than my husband. I know the Teachers and Administrators. I know my child’s physicians. I also know the other parents, my kid’s friends and their parents, and I am the social hub of the family as a result. Education is a big political issue, and while we all want a good education for our kids, I would imagine most Moms have a better sense of what is happening in the school than Dads, at least 8 out of every 10 times.
There are very few dads on most PTA and PTO committees. Dads may sit on the school board, but few are out there baking cookies for bake sales and setting up the book fair, independently of their spouse. Just the facts- gender plays a role, but it doesn’t make it a sex discrimination or sexist issue.
Gender in the Election
When I hear people complaining that Sarah Palin is being treated differently than a man, I answer- “You Bet! Because she is a woman! And that is perfectly normal and ok!”
Being a woman doesn’t make Palin any less of a politician, nor does it make her a better one, either. It doesn’t make her more or less competent as an executive or administrator. And her husband could be an example for men all over the Country, on how to have a spouse in national politics, and be a role model for stay at home dads. That’s fantastic and I applaud this.
But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we say we need to factor out gender from politics; that “we would never say that or ask that question if she were a man”. If women want to play on an even playing field, then they need to compete on the same playing field as men and be okay with it. They have to be comfortable with their gender and all the questions- good, bad, indifferent, and even the nasty questions that might be asked. If male politicians can be hounded and examined for every woman they have ever taken out for dinner, women politicians should undego the same scrutiny and be asked if they ever use their gender for their advantage.
Gender does matter, and I think it’s silly to think it isn’t a factor in the election or in politics. Of course it is. Some day, maybe it truly won’t matter. But it does now. And we shouldl feel very free to discuss it, without apologizing for doing so.