I appreciate when our readers take time to comment. This one, which responded to Sabrina’s recent post on the Family and Medical Leave Act, particularly caught my eye:
What if our culture encouraged both parents in a two parent household to spend time attending to the kids, i.e. the regulations provided men and women the same opportunities for family-based leave or whatever?
Imagine for example, both parents in most families then being able to take half as much time off as any any one parent would otherwise do alone. They would have more options to better balance their family and work lives together. ….
As soon as men start taking as much advantage of such policy as women do, it seems that the author’s concerns about family leave policy hurting women would evaporate for the most part.
Perhaps this is oversimplified thinking in the interests of brevity here, but I really think we’d raise better adjusted kids and live happier lives as adults with a culture shift like this.
It’s an interesting idea and, undoubtedly, one of the reasons that laws like FMLA are gender neutral is that policymakers hope men will make use of these benefits and take on greater family responsibilities. Many companies and universities have followed suit, even offering men paternity leave that is as generous as women’s maternity leave.
But I have yet to read anything that suggests that men actually take as much advantage of these policies as women do, and some research that suggests that the push to be “gender neutral” may backfire on women. As I wrote before, countries that try to facilitate flexible schedules and paid time off for childcare find that women still disproportionately make use of the benefits; same goes for companies and universities here in the U.S. Even when men do take leave, that’s not necessarily a victory for gender-equality, since it depends on how that leave time is put to use. For example, if male professors take paternity leave and use the time to work on research this actually puts female professors (who use leave to actually recover from giving birth and deal with a baby) at greater disadvantage.
Those who believe government can squelch traditional gender roles will inevitably end up frustrated. The simple truth is that there are reasons why essentially every society in the history of civilization has had women specialize in nurturing the young. No government policy can (or should) change that.