The recent put downs of women in the Senate have brought forth comments from other women in high places testifying to the pervasiveness of such experiences in male dominated organizations. They report as typical being interrupted, talked over and generally having their ideas treated dismissively only to see them later put forward by men as their own.
At the same time, almost daily there are reports of sexual harassment in many places which have resulted in investigations, firings and in some instances serious financial penalties. In these instances, too, women have responded with recognition of behavior seen as typical of the experience of working in settings in which men predominate.
Despite this, many women forge ahead, breaking trails and opening new doors for others to follow in the search for a more equal place for women in our society. At the same time, women have equaled men in enrollment in medical and law schools, suggesting that in some areas at least, some barriers have been broken.
Much that is written these days is about the contemporary challenges that exist for women. But the fact is that many women – perhaps most – are facing a different dilemma. In addition to the reality in many families that women seek employment out of financial necessity, there are those whose interests and abilities lead them to seek opportunities in which they can fulfill those abilities in addition to raising children.
Despite the obstacles and resistance confronting women trying to break through the glass ceiling, the more general resistance faced by a majority of women has been the unwillingness of those in power to provide the kind of child care that would meet the needs of all women who are mothers. The need for good child care remains the major unresolved issue confronting women in the workplace that has served well those whose underlying belief is that children should be cared for by their mothers.
This is a belief that underlies considerable conflict for women who either because of financial or personal need are in the workplace. It is also a driving force in the search to find balance between children’s needs and the demands of work. Recently, I had an opportunity to ask a number of mothers in demanding jobs about their solutions to this issue. One mother said that she works days and her husband works nights. They are together mostly on weekends when household tasks must also be accomplished.
Another mother is able to work three days a week, limiting the days she needs to arrange for child care.
Still another mother spoke of her children having been in daycare since infancy, a solution about which she has mixed feelings. She spoke sadly of her feelings that she is not a good mother. This is a feeling shared one way or another by many of the working mothers with whom I have talked.
I also had an opportunity to talk to several older mothers, both of whom are physicians, who raised their children during a period when most women were full-time mothers caring for their children. They also reflected a time when women generally were not accepted into medical school. What they both expressed was a lack of conflict about the care of their children. As long as the children were physically cared for, these mothers focused on the demands of their careers. One mother spoke of the crazy arrangements she had to make at times, determined to meet her training obligations.
This dedication to career goals is matched at the other end by mothers who are dedicated to the care of their children and the belief that such care is necessary. But most women today are searching for a way to balance the needs of work and children, often struggling with an underlying feeling that they are doing neither well.
Providing quality child care is a way toward that balance.