In an article for Slate, Dwyer Gunn demonstrates that flextime actually harms the careers of many women, because fewer hours in the office lead, inevitably, to fewer promotions and the dreaded “mommy track” of less prestigious, second-tier work assignments. Advocates of lavish maternity leave and flextime benefits often overlook the fact that for every employee who takes advantage of a long maternity leave or flextime arrangement, there is a coworker who continues to work long, uninterrupted hours day in, day out.
While no one blames new parents or those caring for elderly relatives for taking time off, workers who are always there and always able to give 100% ought to be able to reap the fruits of their labor. It is unfair to give equal promotions or responsibilities to workers who have not put in the time, for whatever noble reason.
Gunn proposes the feminists’ solution to this problem, which is to force men to take as much paternity leave as their partners do. Forced paternity leave ensures that both men and women suffer career setbacks equally, which for feminists is an unequivocal win. If they can’t promote female success, then by golly, they can certainly promote male failure to even things out! Except equality in this instance means lost wages, opportunity, and job security for all parents of young children. Great solution, guys.
The debate over flextime and maternity leave overlooks the fact that many young couples consciously decide to put all or most of their eggs into one career basket because that is what makes the most sense for their young family. Lower- and middle-class mothers are not thinking “Gee, I wish the federal government would mandate that my husband suffer career setbacks, too!” Rather, they are thinking “how can I achieve the most job security for my family in this economy?” What data analysts see as male selfishness and disinterest is often just the opposite. Probably a lot of new dads wish they could stay home and help out. But they don’t because their first priority is to make sure that baby and mom have food, shelter, and economic security.
I know from experience. My husband actually prayed that each of our three children would be born on a Friday so that he could share their first couple of days with them. Like a lot of Americans who are self-employed or who work for small private companies, he doesn’t have the kind of job that can be put on hold for a month or two. Emails, phone calls, frantic customers are unceasing, and there isn’t anyone else in his entire company who can do what he does. So we have excellent job security and we take no paternity leave.
That is our choice to make. Public policy cannot sacrifice individual choice for the sake of feminist conjecture.