It’s broken and it’s not our fault

Working mothers are fed up.

Earlier this month, California Assembly member Buffy Wicks brought her newborn to work because she was denied the right to vote remotely by a male colleague. She ended up casting the deciding vote in a critical family leave bill.

The move was symbolic of the hard choices working mothers face constantly, especially in the middle of the pandemic: Show up to work to prove you can do it all, or don’t, and face the backlash that comes with not being able to do it all.

But for every Buffy Wicks, there are countless women who don’t have the same options. For those in lower-wage jobs who can’t bring their newborn or child to work, not showing up means losing a full day’s pay or their job.

It’s an impossible choice, and now, months into the coronavirus pandemic, everyone seems to be catching on.

This epiphany has led many, including myself, to rethink the burdens and high expectations placed on women with caretaking responsibilities in the workforce and in society. Why am I apologizing for having to leave work to take care of a sick family member? Why am I working through the night? Why did I work up until my baby was practically crowning and throughout my maternity leave?

During the pandemic, with schools and day cares closed, caretaking responsibilities have increased exponentially while work didn’t stop. But women will figure it out because we always do, right?

This time, however, something feels different. We understand the system is broken and that it’s not our fault. It was never made for us. It was made for working men. A system made for men assumes 100 percent availability for work, unencumbered by caretaking responsibilities or demands (because there is a woman at home to take care of those responsibilities, of course). Long hours, extensive work travel and late-night meetings are the norm.

These expectations underestimate men as caretakers and disregard women.

This election season, there’s an opportunity to create a system that works: one that prioritizes issues such as child care, paid family leave and economic policies that do more to close the pay gap. A system that will make work-life balance possible.

As of June, women made up 49.2 percent of the workforce, a significant and influential voting bloc that could help decide the upcoming election. Many women are employed in sectors hit hardest by the pandemic — service, education, and leisure and hospitality. Those types of jobs offer little in the way of competitive pay, job flexibility or benefits to begin with. To compound matters, a huge swath of those jobs have disappeared for good, leaving workers economically vulnerable.

Black women and Latinas — often deciding factors in state and federal elections — have experienced outsize job loss compared to other groups of female workers during the pandemic. They are also more likely to be the primary wage earner in their families and less likely to have savings to ride out an economic downturn. Showing up to the polls may be the lifeline we need to turn things around.

In the 2018 midterm elections, women displayed record turnout, outvoting men and sending a historic number of women to Congress. At that time, issues such as health care, violence against women and gender equality were top of mind.

Today, getting back to work and creating an economy designed for women and families have to be priorities for candidates.

To win our votes, they must be.

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