James Green, Vice Chairman of the Wasatch County Republicans, recently wrote a letter in which he expressed sincere concern for all those men and children who would suffer if we insisted that women be treated as equals. Equal pay, Green tells us, is bad for families. You see, paying women more means paying men less. But men are supposed to support their families, so when they make less, women have to enter the workforce even if they’d rather stay home, and that increases the competition for jobs. “Even men’s jobs.” That’s a direct quote. “Even men’s jobs.”
I really couldn’t care less about the Vice Chairman of the Wasatch County Republicans, and it’s obviously absurd to suggest that the labor market is men’s domain. But the idea that the home is women’s? The absurdity of that is apparently debatable.
In September 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump promised six weeks of paid maternity leave for all working mothers. Of course paid leave would be good for new parents, a clear expression of those family values Mr. Green cares so much about. But President Trump didn’t promise paid leave for new parents. He promised paid leave for mothers.
If we offer paid maternity leave rather than paid parental leave, we treat her as expendable in the workforce in a way that he is not. If we really valued her contribution to the workforce as much as we value his, we would offer paid parental leave and let them decide which one (or both) would take it. Meanwhile, we treat him as expendable in the home, as though his contribution is merely financial. In addition to being bad for both women and men, that division of domestic labor has lasting effects on the children who watch it happen.
Moreover, paid maternity leave supports only the “traditional” family structure, complete with a gendered distribution of unpaid labor. It’s not yet clear what, if anything, this plan would offer adoptive families, but single fathers, same-sex couples, and families who distribute domestic labor “non-traditionally” (equally, for example) would be left to their own devices. And that is the truly insidious thing about this campaign promise: this sets the default for what it looks like to support working families. But then, arguments for additional policies to support non-traditional working families become arguments about whether those types of families deserve to be supported, subtly putting the burden of persuasion on those who strive for equality rather than on those who strive to deny it.
President Trump himself said he did not change diapers, explaining that “a lot of women…demand that the husband act like the wife, and you know, there’s a lot of husbands that listen to that,” but that’s just not how his family works. And that’s great. How they choose to divide paid and unpaid labor is entirely up to them. But when he’s crafting family leave policies for all of the other working families out there, he would do well to remember that changing diapers is not a wife’s job; it’s a parent’s.
As for Mr. Green, if he wants to protect men’s jobs, jobs men do to support their families, jobs that give women more freedom to pursue work they really value, jobs currently threatened by a flood of women pushed into that line of work by external forces? He should start by protecting that one.