It may not be fair. In fact, it isn’t fair at all.
If you’re a working woman, you’re going to be asked about how you balance your job duties against all the other aspects of your life. And the more senior your position, the more suspicious detractors are likely going to be about whether or not you can handle it. A man can be married and have multiple young children, but few will question his ability to balance the time that he ought to be dedicating to his family against the needs of his employer. Someone else (his wife), they’ll say, will take care of the family stuff. Maybe they won’t even bother to comment on it at all. It more or less goes without saying.
If, as a woman, you have the audacity to have both a family and a career, expect people to think that you are short-changing one or the other. Colleagues will suspect that you’ll be spending too much time at home (or distracted by what’s going on at home). Gossips will accuse you, under their breaths, of mistreating your children by heading to work while they’re still nursing/learning to walk/learning to read/learning to drive…you must see the almost endless trap of this catch-22?
Shockingly, the world of politics might be beginning to make headway in striking back against this outdated attitude. Better late than never, of course.
The United States Senate, undoubtedly one of the most elite bodies in world politics, has only 100 members, each of whom is elected for a six-year term. Of these 100, only 23, as of April 2018, are women. Despite being half of the population, women are less than 25% of this august body. But this is still a vast improvement over even recent decades—20 years ago this number was less than 10%.
And, just this month, a truly remarkable thing happened. Senator Tammy Duckworth, of the state of Illinois, became the first Senator to give birth while in office. Perhaps even more amazing than this piece of news is the announcement that the Senate voted unanimously to allow children under the age of one to accompany their parents onto the floor of the chamber. This means that Senator Duckworth will be able to nurse her newborn daughter during voting procedures, which can sometimes last for hours.
Although this development affects a relatively small number of people, it is a change that, because of its high-profile nature, could have the positive effect of causing other workplaces to rethink their policies toward parents of young children. And, since the new Senate policy allows both mothers and fathers to bring their young children to the Senate floor, perhaps we’ll soon see male Senators bringing their infants to the floor for votes. Everyone should be allowed to get in on the balancing act.