What does it say about our culture when moms and their children are facing unbearable pain and trauma during the pandemic? This crisis has simply amplified the way women in the U.S. are undervalued, or not valued at all.
While it is widely known that America lags far behind all other industrialized countries in paid maternity leave, appropriate child care and suitable work/life balance for mothers, the challenges of the current public health crisis have brought to the fore just how bad we are as a country, a society and a culture.
Why, we must ask, do mothers have to disproportionately bear the burden of household work, caring for their children and at times their parents, all the while earning 18% less than men, often with little or no employer or spousal support?
How can this be? What are we missing in this story?
As a corporate anthropologist and a professional woman who worked from the time my daughters were 3 weeks old (no paid leave then either), I have gotten past the anger and frustration and have, like many women I suspect, accepted this as just the way it is. But does it have to be?
Before the pandemic, women made up more than half the work force (58%), the first time in a very long time. Yet 40% of children are born to single mothers, at the same time that the role of men as fathers and co-caregivers has shifted, as has their role in the workplace. Only 69.6% of men are employed full-time, and 6.3% are unemployed (5.9 million), as of February 2021.
The academic dropout rate for men is 20% higher than for women — 6.2% don’t complete high school and 58% who start college don’t complete a four-year program (48% at private institutions).
During the pandemic, 10 million jobs have been lost, over half of which were held by women, often women of color. In December 2020 alone, 140,000 jobs were eliminated, all of them held by women.
Women, on the other hand, have generated most of the new jobs since the 2008 recession.
Before the pandemic, they were owning and running 40% of the businesses in the U.S. Many of these businesses were second incomes; others were necessity businesses, from hair salons to solopreneurs, trying to thrive in a gig economy that since 2019 has grown to a third of the workforce.
To add one more injustice, our health care system is among the world’s worst for women.
U.S. women have the highest maternal mortality rate among 11 developed countries, and one of the highest rates of C-sections. They also have the greatest burden of illness, highest rates of skipping needed health care because of cost, difficulty affording health care, and are least satisfied with quality of care they receive. One in three women in the U.S. report having emotional distress.
Clearly, we need to transform the U.S. health care experience, quickly, into one that cares about women’s health.
When, we ponder, will men who have the power to change our society get wise to the pain they are creating for women and do something to change it?
When you add it all up, women seem like superheroes. They attempt to achieve work-life balance. They worry about childcare and parent care. They try to build careers and grow businesses, often with family and friends as the major source of funding. They bear and raise children and strive to provide healthy, safe environments for them, sometimes with little or no help. Is this as good as it gets?
I venture to guess that no, it can get better. It will get better. It must get better.
How? By all of us, women and men, fighting for a new normal that is far better than the one that used to be, or that we find ourselves in now. And by refusing to accept defeat.
Andi Simon, Ph.D. (www.andisimon.com), author of Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, is an international leader in the emerging field of corporate anthropology and founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants.