Another week, another spate of stories and “debates” about motherhood and working mothers and the right age to become a mother and on and on until oh my god, is there nothing else to talk about besides the ovaries and uterus of The American Woman? What about—just for funsies—the testicles of The American Man? After all, in a whole lot of cases, women are getting pregnant by their male partners. What say The American Man about the best age to become a father, or the ideal career path that fathers should take, or the struggle between financial security and a stable family?
I understand quite well that for many years—nay, decades—women have had a unique set of issues to contend with if they wished to have both children and a career. I also understand that while those issues have shifted over the years, there are still specific challenges to being a mother that earns a paycheck, whether she works outside the house or from home. But focusing just on the challenges and questions encountered by one gender perpetuates the notion that only this one gender needs to meet these challenges and ask these questions.
Several years ago, before we had a child, my husband made a deliberate choice to take a lower-paying job in his field. Like me, he was highly educated, with an advanced degree and the potential to earn a high salary; and indeed, his alternative would have been a larger paycheck but also longer hours and an intense workload. But he was worried that such a career would get in the way of being a good father, so he made a choice to take a job that would work better with the demands of a family.
His story is not so unusual, but for all the hand-wringing that the combination of motherhood and work inspires, you’d think that no father ever gave a second thought to how to balance his own career and family. In fact, cities like Washington are filled with men making the same choices. No, not that “Washington,” where the politicians are. The one behind it, where thousands of men and women accept the lower pay of government and non-profit jobs so that they can get home in time to cook dinner and help with homework. Funny how so many of the news stories and trend pieces always seems to focus on the other Washington, just the way they focus on very particular blocks of New York and San Francisco. And that’s to say nothing of the flyover country where my husband and I grew up, where both mothers and fathers routinely make career decisions based on what is best not just for one gender, but for the family as a whole.
Pushing a narrow view of mothers and paid work also promotes just one narrative, one way to look at a complex and personal decision. To make the conversation productive—not to mention interesting—it’s time to bring in the voices of fathers, not to mention same-sex partners. How children are raised; how adults work; what companies are capable of—these are issues that affect our society as a whole. So why aren’t more voices being heard?
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.