Equal rights for women are just not enough
I recently watched the series, Mrs America, which is set in the 1970s during the push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. It was everything I had anticipated and more—frustrating, eye-opening, inspiring, devastating, infuriating and even humorous. OMG did you see the episode where the conservative, uptight housewife takes drugs and wanders into a lesbian sing-along while she laid on the floor and slid food into her mouth? Too good!
But after the last episode, which took place in 1980 (the year I was born), it left me feeling a bit empty. Sitting here in 2022, 42 years later, I’m left wondering why it’s taken so long to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment? Virginia, my home state, was the most recent to ratify in 2020—50 years later.
WTF, you ask? That’s right, it’s taken Virginia 50 years to give women/anyone equal rights under the law. But it doesn’t even count because the time limit for the ERA ran out in 1979 and it’s too weird and b*llshitty to even discuss. Laws, who writes these things? Oh yeah, it’s still old white men!
But I digress, what stumped me the most was how the series pitted “feminists” against “housewives.” I was unable to pick sides because quite frankly, as a 42-year old female and mother, I am presently both—in fact, I am everything and everyone. I understand what the feminists were fighting for and I reaped the rewards of their battle. But as a mother of two, I can also empathize with the housewives. Because society was not structured to support women properly, we continue to suffer. The changes and the expectations we place upon ourselves as women are crippling us.
New systems need new structures. And it seems like we all forgot about the new structure along the way.
I’ll tell you my story so you can understand where I’m coming from.
My Pre-Existing Emigration Story
Ironically, I now live in Australia and have done so for 14 years. My reasons are multifaceted but the choice was almost entirely driven by my newfound role as a mother.
When I fell pregnant in 2008 while travelling in Australia, I had given up my US health insurance plan when I left my full-time job. Returning to the US to have my baby meant I fell under the pre-Obama “pre-existing condition clause” and was denied coverage. Estimates for my birth were in the $5,000 plus range cash out of pocket, but only if nothing went wrong. I knew that was likely impossible in the US healthcare system. Since that was such a raw deal, I immigrated to Australia to solve the health insurance problem.
Did you know that the state of South Australia was the first place in the world to give women the right to vote in 1894? Australia can be refreshingly progressive. In terms of equal rights for women, women in Australia are still paid 17% less than men (in the US it’s 16%) and domestic violence and violence against women is out of control here with no end in sight. But, there are perks for women that the US does not offer. I’ll explain that in a second.
Girl Power: Growing up in the US
Growing up in the US was a gift I am grateful to have experienced. Knowing that it was my inherent right to pursue happiness which for me, as a female, meant that I could have a career, a family—anything I wanted—was truly a revelation that many fought and died for. Let’s count those blessings!
For one thing, in the US I easily graduated from university with zero issues as a woman, flourished in a career and never felt like I was less than or deserved to be paid less than anyone else. If anything, I knew my worth and never felt like I was not the most qualified person in the room. I have never discriminated against myself.
Thanks to Gloria Steinem and her band of rebels, I grew up knowing women were strong and deserved to be treated equally. I stood up for myself against all types of harassment, but while the government and society talks a good game, sexual harassment and domestic violence laws and prosecution still have room for vast improvement.
I also did enjoy the freedom of earning my own money and never questioned my ability to take out a mortgage or own a home in my own name. Reproductive rights were wonderful and women’s health has come a long way, evolving at a rapid pace here in the 21st century.
But I did feel the need to relocate to Australia from the US because of the working mother problem.
For example, in the US if you have a baby, either you need a high-earning husband/partner so you can take time off from work, family close-by who can nanny your children, enough money to pay for full-time day-care OR you can either not have children to avoid all the complications. Opting to have a baby and still work full-time in the US is for lack of a better word, utter b*llshit.
And if you are a single mother, poverty is basically your only option. Any way you slice it, maternity leave is a measly six weeks and health insurance costs a fortune. You’re out thousands of dollars to even have a baby in the hospital on day one. According to The Atlantic (2020), in the U.S., the average new mother with insurance will pay more than $4,500 for her labour and delivery.
Again, WTF? That is not a good deal. What is wrong with the US? Why don’t they fund programs, laws and health initiatives that support women? It’s proven to be a good thing economically time and time again. Where is the innovation?
Rights for Women Down Under
Australia seems to get it. In Australia, I had a baby for free in the hospital. After each birth, the government gave me $5,000 which I used to buy baby gear and hire in-home nannies (they have since ended this program). My health care was also free for myself and my baby. I was even visited by midwives after birth and received free breastfeeding coaching. My childcare, when I eventually needed it after two years of being at home, was subsidized to match my income and basically free.
A government-funded inclusion in a local “mother’s group” overseen by a local nurse for new moms in the community was also thrown in as a perk. As part of your mother’s group, you receive free health advice and meet peers suffering through the first year just like you. I never had to worry about healthcare costs, childcare costs or maternity leave in Australia. It is standard for women to take a paid year of leave. Our taxes support women and babies.
The Bottom Line
Doesn’t it sound nice to have children in Australia? Yes, but despite it all, I still believe I deserved this and MORE. Raising two children, working full-time and taking on almost all of the household chores required a lot of time and energy. I believe all women should be compensated for that energy by a government or perhaps a partner—plus retirement.
Now back to the issue of equal rights. Yes, equal rights are great, but it’s not equal rights that we need for women globally, what we need is MORE F*CKING RIGHTS THAN ANYONE ELSE. I think it’s time for women to aim higher.
Having babies is hard work. In fact, it’s way more work than anyone who is not having babies is doing. Mothers work two full-time jobs, probably more like four if you actually counted the hours per child. Unless you’ve had a baby, you literally have no idea so either have empathy or shut up and listen.
Sure, the ability to earn as much as men and never be discriminated against is great, but so is having free healthcare and childcare and not stressing about poverty. We pay taxes so where are our services? We deserve these things. We deserve to be paid for our work whether or not it is “valued” by society.
What I see right now as the biggest threat to women, especially in the US, is the belief that we have almost achieved equal rights and can do both: have a successful career AND a family. Based on how society is set up, these two things are very hard to achieve at once successfully. What is happening is that women are silently suffering under the strain of it all. And we still do not have equal rights. In fact, I would say based on the current standards, the rights of women are going backwards again because we are taking on too much.
This false belief, perpetuated by social media and mainstream media, that we can have both, is eating us alive. The idea that we can be the BEST mothers AND have the career of our dreams alongside a perfect body is a brutal, harsh, impossible reality. Trying to be everything for everyone is killing us. It’s turning us into stressed-out, wine zombies who need Xanax to sleep.
Reproductive issues like endometriosis, PCOS, infertility and fibroids are hitting new highs due to the female insistence that we MUST do it all. The freedom we fought for has become our prison. How do we pay for the health insurance, daycare fees and still have healthy children who feel emotionally supported when we are empty and depleted and riddled with sick wombs that make our lives even harder? Proving that we are capable is destroying our mental and physical health.
What we need to determine is this: how can we make life-work balance equal and fair for women in modern society— especially when society itself cannot exist without women providing a constant flow of children to support it?
People claim the real issue facing us is overpopulation, but recent talk of population decline has begun to reframe the narrative. Women have stopped having children. Is it due to education and career advancement or is the situation just too dire? Are the stakes are too high? And is the cost too astronomical? What happens when the birth rate drops too low to actually support society? According to experts, we’re already there.
Maybe what those women were fighting against all those years ago was the idea that women were sacrificing themselves to a world shaped and controlled by men. It was all about female empowerment. I get that. But as the power of women in society has grown, so too has the stress and requirements of being a woman, but without the perks we require to actually thrive. We are still sacrificing ourselves to a world shaped by patriarchal ideals. Our value is still determined by these ideals. These beliefs of patriarchal conformity are still being installed in our subconscious no matter how many signs we hold up stating otherwise.
Thanks to social media, the pressure we put on ourselves to be thin, beautiful, wrinkle-free, well-dressed, healthy, happy, educated, wonderful mothers with wildly fascinating six-figure careers and sexy husbands who look amazing in gilded frame photographs with our 2-3 perfectly dressed children is causing a steep increase in health issues for women. This ideal is also making us all insane (look to the rising rates of anxiety and depression). Women aren’t fun anymore, we are too busy competing and trying to win the trophy at the pony show.
Instead of coming together and fighting for what we need, we are tearing each other apart on Facebook over politics that don’t benefit us and who wore the best pair of yoga tights. Are you a vegan or a pescetarian? Do you drive a Tesla or a Ford? The categories are consuming us.
What we need to do is come together. We are getting royally screwed again. If we want both career and family—or just to live happy, healthy, balanced lives—then it’s time we sat down together and figured out a game plan.
The pandemic hurt us the most (working mothers I feel your pain). Let’s reshape the world and make it our own. Women need MORE rights than everyone else—not equal rights. Why? Because we do more. And if you don’t like it, then go have a baby, work a full-time job with a $45,000/year salary and explain to me how you survived that hellscape we call motherhood in the 21st century. I dare you.
It’s time for a change. And it will cost money, but we deserve all of it.
And yes, I’m saying that women, especially mothers, provide more value than anyone else on earth and we deserve to receive more value because of it. Yes, I said it. We’re worth more. Do you need me to repeat it? It’s time for a shake-up.