Women as Caretakers: What is Innate and What Disadvantages Us?

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Tanya M

A raging liberal who challenges all ideas and destroys boxes and expectations.

A stem with a few leaves of a baby ficus plant was sitting in small glass on the kitchen window seal. “You can plant this little guy, as soon as it develops roots in a few weeks,” my roommate told me. It’s been over a month now and the ficus is still sitting there, roots too big for the glass now, not planted, while I stare at it every time I wash the dishes, too guilty to throw it away, too unwilling to take the time to plant it.

It is not uncommon for us to associate males with being analytical and stern, while preferred characteristics for women tend to be caring and flexible. By socialization, not nature, women are forced in the caretakers role. Boys are not disciplined for ‘just being boys’ because girls are always there to clean up the mess. Girls are taught to avoid conflict and to never speak out. When we do choose to speak out, our words are misconstrued as anger or nagging and are immediately dismissed. While assertiveness in males is praised, women are constantly put in the position where their credentials are questioned and when they try to prove them, they are perceived as aggressive and easily dismissed. Qualities of caretakers include being soft-spoken, non-aggressive, tolerant and flexible, and whenever women display the opposing qualities to stand up for themselves or simply fight for what we want, we are quickly met with opposition.

In present society, women’s skills are rarely correctly perceived. Even though girls, on average, have better grades and perform higher on tests, those excellent marks usually don’t get them far, because when women enter a workplace, the dynamic changes. They are discriminated against on every possible level: the salary, benefits, and even the job itself.

Female college graduates experience a harder time getting their first full-time job. They are often required to work in an administrative role before they can get additional opportunities to advance in the company, while the same requirement does not apply to male applicants with the same qualifications. Women are continuously expected to take care of all the tasks necessary for men’s success and take pride in it.

Having received the position, white women make 79 cents to every dollar a man makes, while Hispanic women are making 55 cents to every dollar a white man makes. Women are not only offered lower salaries but tend to negotiate lower salaries as well. We are continuously told that being aggressive and demanding is not flattering, not womanly. We live in a society that tells us that fighting for more is reserved just for men and we must stay in the background performing maintenance tasks.

When it comes to motherhood, women are yet again in a lose-lose situation. While they are expected to take care of their children, bosses view pregnancy as a negative effect on image or productivity of the company and are not hesitant to take action. Nearly 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination were filed between 2010 and 2015. This number reflects women who have been demoted, not offered the promised promotion, laid off, or experienced a reduction in hours due to pregnancy.

Those who are able to keep their jobs throughout their pregnancy are given no time to recover after childbirth. US is the only developed country that does not have paid maternity leave. Women are given no time to recover from delivering a whole new human being and many are forced to use their yearly allowed two-week vacation time to recoup. If they ask for any more time off, they are at a serious risk of losing their job. Highly restrictive, unaccommodating, and discriminatory work culture tells women, time and time again, that they belong in a home.

Lower income women are at the highest disadvantage. When childcare weekly costs are comparable to a weekly salary of minimum-wage workers, millions of women in US do not have a choice but to stay at home and take care of the children.

While there is a responsibility of child-rearing, the question that lingers in the backs of our minds is: “Why just us?”.

From a very young age, we have been conditioned to take care of tasks that have not been completed, to the point where the hardest responsibility-raising another human-also falls on our shoulders.

It has repeatedly been drilled in our brains that child care is in our blood. Those women who find babies repulsive and children irritating are told their feelings are foreign and not natural.

Society needs to recognize that there are a lot of factors that come together when it comes to raising a child and having the biological configuration to grow one is just the beginning.

For women, accepting the role as a caretaker translates not just directly into motherhood, but it can also disadvantage them in the workplace.

As I return to the sink to wash another round of dishes, I look at my ficus, still unplanted. But the guilt is now gone because I decided that maintaining houseplants will not enrich my life. Women need to stop accepting the rhetoric that taking care of others is their destiny and instead make their own.