Six years ago, if anyone had suggested I’d join such a party, I would have laughed and laughed–and laughed some more. I would have believed, quite naively, not that the work of feminism was done by about 1984, but that I could, with hard work and determination, make my way in the world against whatever odds gender inequality might create. After all, I’d had equal access to a good education, and I’d made use of it. My career was off to a good start. I was doing everything I’d been told to do, and while I occasionally wondered how I would make things work after having children, I assumed–this time naively–that the support myself and my husband would need, particularly in terms of childcare, would simply be there.
After joining this much-needed new UK party, members are asked if they’d like to share their story. This falls under the tab “End Discrimation and Sexism at Work.” I considered not telling my story, because I’m sure that there are many, many women who have been treated far worse than me. By not sharing my story, however, I would basically be saying that I am okay with the way that employers treat women, and that I see the UK’s maternity leave programme and childcare funding and infastructure (or lack thereof) as fair. I am not okay with these things. So. Here is my story, as submitted to WE earlier today:
I hold a PhD in English literature. Gaining this degree required dedication, passion, and the belief that I had a long-term, meaningful career ahead of me. I occasionally wondered what it would be like to manage my career and raise children, but like many women I’ve talked to since having my children, I naively assumed that everything would work out–meaning that I naively assumed that childcare would be affordable and accessible, and that I would be treated fairly by my employer with regard to maternity leave, benefits, and returning to work.
Six years ago, I had just completed my first postdoctoral fellowship. I was also pregnant with my first child. After he was born, I returned to work, taking on a second postdoctoral fellowship. In order to return to work, I had to find childcare. I was shocked by the cost–£900/month–although my shock was underwritten by relief at having secured any childcare at all. My local authority provided no childcare whatsoever for children under three years’ of age, and the private nursery attached to my place of employment had a poor reputation. Additionally, our local authority provided no help by way of information or support in arranging for private childcare. I eventually found a good nursery through word-of-mouth, and was almost grateful to give up half of my net income simply to have the time to work at what I considered to be my dream job.
After two years, I moved up to to a post as a lecturer. It was a one-year contract. I believed that I would be able to go on maternity leave, as I was then pregnant with my second child, who was due to be born six months into my contract, and then return to work to finish the last six months of employment. From there, I hoped to be appointed to a permanent post, or seek employment elsewhere, something that would be facilitated by having returned to work after having my baby.
Unfortunately, my employer has set up their short-term contracts to run continuously, even if a woman takes time out for maternity leave. This meant that my job was terminated whilst I was on leave, caring for my child. I not only found myself unemployed, but also denied the full maternity pay and benefits that I would have received, had I been permitted to return to my job.
I am equally troubled by the fact that my work in raising two children is considered worthless: after all, I am not paid for it, and I suspect that I will be undervalued by employers in the future because of the perception that I “took time off,” as if raising children is sort of holiday. Yet, from a purely economic point of view, I am caring for and education the next generation of taxpayers, the ones who will fund health care, pensions, and education. How is it possible that my work, and the work countless other parents, do in this regard is so easily and so utterly dismissed?