a shortcut to stability and joy

Earlier this week, I saw an article going around written by California governor Gavin Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who has become the first “First Partner.” The piece is a well-constructed iteration of something that women have been noticing and talking about for some time: the cultural tendency to treat parenting as “mom’s burden and dad’s adorable hobby.” See: dads getting praised for any time they are seen in public, alone, with a child, while moms are simply scrutinized and criticized for their parenting practices.

Newsom connects this cultural tendency (manifest in Twitter reactions, online headlines, Grandparent expectations, in the workplace, in line at the grocery store) with the persistent failure of truly equal partnership between men and women (as amply demonstrated in pieces like this one and in books like Darcy Lockman’s All the Rage [SIDE NOTE: more than a dozen women have told me that reading this book with their male partners, pre- or post-birth, has had dramatic effects on the actual equity in their relationships].

Sometimes I find myself fatigued with just how good these pieces have become. They’re all telling the same story, just in slightly different ways, with slightly different language, with slightly more or less prominent figures as the protagonists or authors. The song stays the same, though, because people aren’t hearing it — which means that we (and by we I mean women) have to keep singing it, even though it’s annoying as fuck, even to us.

And part of what’s annoying is that a piece can only do so much: like a song, or a march, or a discussion group, it’s part of consciousness raising, that old dorky feminist phrase that was the foundation on which actual change was built. You can convince people to change if they don’t know there’s a problem, and singing this damn song over and over again in public forums is the way to 1) give other women the mental space to realize it doesn’t have to be this way and 2) get men to see the distribution of work and power as a problem in the first place, and then feel moved to do something about it.

Your consciousness can be elevated sky-high, but that doesn’t mean anything actually changes, other than the amount of simmering rage you keep inside you. Maybe you and your partner work hard to change your own, inter-personal dynamics, but that ultimately does little to change the societal dynamics. Change, at least in this country, is primarily effected through legislation and policy.

Which is why it was so disappointing to discover that just days after Siebel Newsom published her piece, Governor Newsom vetoed a bill that would grant 12 weeks of paid leave to K-12 and community college teachers in the state of California. His stated reason: it costs money. Of course it costs money. There are all sorts of OTHER POLICIES in place that also cost money, and somehow legislators and school districts have decided that those things are a priority. Things are only “abnormal” and “expensive” until they’re not. Then they’re just “normal” and “the way we should treat people.”

I realize that you could make that argument about all sorts of services, all sorts of privileges, all sorts of ways of making life better for people. I realize that California taxes are “high,” but what does that even mean? What number is too much to make it so that your peers, and your kids’ teachers, are able to take time with their children at home without claiming it as a disability? (To be clear, I don’t think taxes should be high for people barely making ends meet. For rich people though, whew!)

It reminds me of this article from earlier this week arguing that millennial women are scared of motherhood because they’re scared of losing control. Nah, they’re scared of significant lost earning potential, and the fact that all signs point to sustained discrimination against them in the workplace, and just how difficult it is in our society to create a genuinely equal partnership. That women still have children given all of those factors is a true testament to the power of the biological reproductive drive.

But all of this returns to the question I keep considering: do you care about other people? Authentically caring about other people means caring about equality. And if equality costs money, it’s money well spent — especially with the knowledge of the dividends it will reap, both psychologically and practically. And what is money for if not as a shortcut to stability and joy? You have to decide for yourself: are stability and joy things to be hoarded for the self, or things that you want, desperately, for as many others as possible to have as well?

This is true for something as seemingly obvious as paid maternity leave — and paid paternity leave, which, when taken solo, is one of the only proven ways to actually equally distribute domestic labor in the long term — but also for something as seemingly “radical” as reparations. How much is too much to make things right?

I’m sick of sharing these articles and writing these pieces. I’m full of simmering rage but that doesn’t mean that I’m not also filled with hope, with certainty, that things could be different — and we can make them that way.

Things I Read and Loved This Week:

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