Monday, August 8, 2011

What I Don't Understand About Women

I am on maternity leave through August and September, so please enjoy today's guest post by NAMC's Advocacy Coordinator, Valerie Young. Valerie writes the popular blog for mother's rights, Your (Wo)Man in Washington.

BITL Founder, Ginger, in pursuit of "pushing back" in 2010,
fundraising for women and children in Haiti
through voice and song.
Photo taken at a North Carolina festival. 2010.
I know something about women.
I am one, and have been for my whole life. Much of my time is spent in the company of women, professionally and personally.  

As an advocate for women's economic security, I think a lot about about our experiences. I spend more time than most looking at data and research on women's finances, economic power, and how they are affected by cultural attitudes and government policy.  I talk for hours on end to female academics, politicians, economists, lawyers, and my personal women friends, some down the street and others scattered around the world.  Most are mothers, some are not.  I've birthed and am raising children, and I’ve experienced surgical menopause, the effects of which continue to reveal themselves with the passage of time.   The art and science of being female is pretty much constantly at the front of my mind.  And I have noticed something.
We rarely give ourselves the credit we deserve.  

There is a significant gap between the efforts we make, the responsibility we assume, our willingness to put others first, and the esteem in which we hold ourselves.  I don’t understand this.  Being on the front lines of our very own lives, we know better than anyone the demanding and essential roles we play.  Yet we often give ourselves short shrift.  Consider what our lives may include:
  • the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth  
  • years of varied and unending tasks required to keep an infant, a toddler, a child, a teen, an adult child living, learning, and functioning in this unpredictable and complex world
  • the constantly changing compromise required by our unpaid care of family, from economic dependency, to paid work with too little time for home, to trading down our paid employment, and accepting less than we are worth, to be available to the people who need us
  • part time work  without health insurance or a retirement plan
  • excruciating choices, such as go to work and get paid, or stay with the sick child and don’t get paid, or worse
  • in later life, we have less money than men because we earned less, saved less, lived longer and spent more time taking care of other people.  
We do this year in, year out, knowing the consequences, and not caring because we have to go to work, or the baby is crying, or the school just called, or we are too tired to even think about it.

Certainly some women are satisfied with their own blend of family life and employment.  It is not impossible, but at least in my own admittedly unscientific survey of mothers, it is exceedingly rare.  The women I know want passionately to succeed as both mothers and earners.  They know instinctively it is not one or the other, or at least that it doesn’t have to be.  They tie themselves into knots trying to be all things to their children, partners, bosses, co-workers and clients.  They want to do good work, be valued for their efforts and ability, and be treated fairly.  They want to raise their children the best they can, and are willing to give their all to whatever they are doing, whether it’s a raising a well-adjusted human being, or producing a bump up in the bottom line.  The women I know set impossibly high standards for themselves, and work hard to achieve them.

I say let’s recognize ourselves for the extraordinary creatures that we are.  We generate life, nurture, teach, grow.  We learn, strive, and work.  Our time is precious, our abilities unlimited.  We don’t realize our own strength.  When we became mothers, we committed ourselves to the service of human life.  That is no small thing.  Some portion of our own resources, energy, and purpose should be dedicated to our own interest.  So, stick up for yourself, sister!  We deserve better.  Push back against the status quo.  We have a stake in the future, for we will live there with and through our children.   How the future deals with us is up to us right now. 

Creation is what we do.  Every single day women remake the face of the world.  We have every right and every reason to make it a face that will smile back at us. 

Your (Wo)Man in Washington, Valerie Young
Valerie is Advocacy Coordinator for the National Association of Mothers' Centers and its netroots initiative, Mothers Ought To Have Equal Rights.  She contributes analysis of policies affecting the economic security of mothers, educates members on the political process, and promotes a society that values the work of caring for children and other family members.  She brings the lens of motherhood to her coalition work on feminism, work/life issues, older women's income security, and maternal health and well-being.
Valerie earned her law degree at Tulane University and practiced maritime insurance law in New Orleans for 11 years.  Before joining NAMC, Valerie worked for the National Association of Women Judges, and was a founder, along with Ann Crittenden and others, of the Mothers Ought To Have Equal Rights effort arising from publication of Ann's book, "The Price of Motherhood".  She also worked for the National Partnership of Women & Families fighting efforts to privatize Social Security, and promoting paid leave and other work/life issues.  She authored the National Partnership's State Round Up of family friendly legislation in 2006.  She lives in suburban Washington DC with her family.


  1. As a man, son, husband, brother and father, i wanted to say you are absolutely right!

  2. Thank you for your comments Seniormassage! I strive to support mothers and women on this blog, as do all our contributing authors. I believe policies which support mothers - also support families...and, stronger families equal a stronger America - and ultimately that benefits us all. Thank you for stopping in to BITL!

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  4. Wonderful post Valerie. So true and uplifting to boot. Thanks for arranging for a great guest post Ginger.

  5. Thank you for stopping in to BITL Linda. I am so glad you enjoyed the guest post. Valerie is an incredible resource, writer, and person. Please spread the word about her post - every mother (and anyone who cares about them) needs to read it. Thanks again Linda.

  6. This piece just reminds us that we as women do so much and should toot our own horns, and much as we find that impossible, we are mothers, career women, earners, care-takers and more. As a woman that wears many hats myself, I refuse to hear that the status quo is enough. I always push forward and strive for more. Great article Valerie.

  7. Thank you for the comment Renea. Please pas the word along about Valerie's article and Breathing In This Life. I am here, doing my best as a mother of three and working woman myself, to help mothers and women - succeed.