Opinion: Despite Romney's remarks, flexible work hours aren't just for women
As I watched the presidential debate last Tuesday night, I had a visceral reaction to Mitt Romney’s comments pertaining to equal pay for women. No, my reaction was not in response to the “binders full of women” nonsense that has now virally infected the online universe. I think it is safe to assume that this comment, offensive and ludicrous as it was, was (to borrow Mr. Romney’s words) “ineloquently stated."
In fact, my reaction stemmed from the comments Mr. Romney made immediately afterward when he told us why he believed he was successful in his efforts to procure “good women” on his cabinet.
“I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, ‘I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.’ So we said, fine. Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”
It was at this point in the debate that my blood started to boil and I yelled at the TV so loudly that I woke up my sleeping, school-aged children.
You might ask why I object to Mr. Romney’s seemingly pro-woman, “willing to be flexible” attitude. Isn’t this a good thing that his female workers have his permission to leave work so they can be home at 5 p.m. to cook dinner? Isn’t this an example of progress?
Here’s why I’m furious:
What about the dads? Why don’t we create flexible schedules for fathers with school-aged children and facilitate their ability to cook dinner for their families? Why do we not expect equal household participation from men?
When we talk about “equal rights” for women in America, we are truthfully talking about extra responsibilities for women. It’s fine for women to work outside of the home — as long as they are still cooking, cleaning, and tending to the children.
Nowhere is there any mention of men’s contribution to the family unit. Nowhere does Mr. Romney speak to the role that dads can and should play in the domestic realm. Men can cook. Men can clean. Men can change diapers. Men can drive kids to after-school activities. But in Mr. Romney’s world, one assumes that this does not occur, as the men would be staying at the office until 7 or 8 p.m.
We should not be “making accommodations” for women in the workplace — as if being female was some sort of disability. Rather, if we truly believe in family values we should be crafting flexible work hours so that all parents and guardians can be available to tend to their children.
Mr. Romney may say he wants women to be professionally successful, and have all the benefits that men have in the workplace. However, as long as the domestic expectation lies squarely on women, this will never be the reality.
It is my wish that one day, men will rise up and protest unfair working conditions that keep them excluded from full domestic participation. One day men will lobby for domestic inclusion and demand adequate time to be with their families outside of the office. When that day comes, the rights and responsibilities of women and men will be truly equal.
When that day comes, we can all be home by 5 p.m.
Sonya Lewis is a physician and mother who lives in Ann Arbor with her two daughters and her husband.