The Double-sided Sexism of Denying Family Leave
I have to hand it to Joe Lonsdale. You see, before my girlfriend brought my attention to this slimy, narcissistic dope-on-a-rope, I didn’t know it was even technically possible to blatantly insult and demean both genders within the exact same statement. I don’t mean a generalized slur against all of humanity that covers everyone in the catch-all of universal debasement. No, I mean a comment that in itself is injurious to both men and women independently for separate but related reasons. That is, I must acknowledge, quite the accomplishment.
If you don’t know who Joe Lonsdale is, don’t worry- you shouldn’t. He is the venture capitalist and entrepreneur who started Palantir Technologies and has a face that is eminently punchable. I’m serious. If you don’t believe me or are saying to yourself, “But Steven, I have been a practicing Buddhist monk for the past 20 years, I do not believe in violence”, I encourage you to pause right here and go Google Joe Lonsdale. You will be left no with no choice but to write me and say, “Ok, you’re right. That walking asshat just has a face that makes you want punch him as hard as you can.” And normally that would be all the pretext one would need for such a response, but then Lonsdale decided to actually open that false-smiled mouth of his, and the justification for rage slapping him mercilessly grew exponentially, “Any man in an important position who takes 6 months of leave for a newborn is a loser. In the old days men had babies and worked harder to provide for their future — that’s the correct masculine response.”
Oh, where do I begin? I guess I should start with the obvious insults to fathers and Lonsdale’s subtle jabs at their masculinity. Now, I could take the high road here and avoid pointing out that Lonsdale stands at only 5’4” and thus might be trying to compensate for something in his own lack of masculinity. I could avoid mentioning that perhaps his angst with fathers is more deeply-rooted in his own impotence and inability to impregnate his own wife. I could, but I won’t, because I don’t need to and this smug squeeze box deserves every bit of it. By describing fathers who take parental leave as “losers”, he is denigrating the role men play in the lives of their children. Somehow Lonsdale, who has never fathered a child before, now believes that he should be the arbiter of the “correct masculine response”, even though sitting behind a desk all day and wearing a tailored suit is hardly what most real mean would classify as “masculine”. No, being a real man means standing up and being a parent to your kids and a partner to the one with whom you had them, but Lonsdale’s mindless ramblings about doing something “important” not only conflate work with masculine prowess, but denigrates those men who have the strength to articulate their priorities by placing family before career. Lonsdale’s misguided musings are a regression to a neanderthalesque worldview that insults men by assigning them the role of hunter without even giving them the benefit of the doubt to let them tryout being a father.
But as much as the assignation of proscribed gender roles renders men as little more than afterthoughts in the realm of parental nurturing, it is equally debasing to women, not so much in what it does say about them, but in what it doesn’t. Because latently included in Lonsdale’s statement is the 1950’s trope that women should be barefoot and pregnant. I’m not sure if Lonsdale understands how the whole parenting works, since he is clearly something less than an entirely evolved human being (sort of like a mongoloid of emotional intelligence), but newborns simply aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. They don’t stroll down the hall into the kitchen, light the burner on the stove, and do everyone the good service of making themselves breakfast in the morning. Yeah, that never happens. Shoot, as a parent of a teen and a tween, I can tell you that we consider ourselves lucky when it even happens now. So just who does Lonsdale think should be taking care of all these kids? Norwegian circus monkeys? Hidden just offstage left of Lonsdale’s offensive remarks lies that old abeyant misogyny that suggests that women should stay home while men continue doing things which are “important”.
In the end, this perspective is not only insulting to both men and women, it is dangerous and antithetical to the very fabric of a well-functioning society. For decades now, women have been pushed back into the workforce, but what have their families gained as result? If we hearken back to the 1950’s when moms generally tended to stay home, families relied on one single income to meet their needs. So shouldn’t all of us with two wage earners in our households now be twice as economically-advantaged as our co-parts from 60 years ago? But let me take a good, long guess and suggest that none of you out there reading this in a two-income household feel that way right about now. No, corporate America has lowered relative wages, thus implicitly and subtly altering the dynamic so that they get double the productivity from each and every household while maintaining the bill for what they owe. And who suffers as a result? Kids and families.
As both parents have ventured out into the workforce, the time available and allocated for parental interaction has dwindled. Ok, sure, some parents have moved to the notion of hiring nannies to provide parental care, but who but the highest-end wage earners can afford that. When Yahoo’s own Marie Antionette, former CEO Marissa Mayer who banned working from home during her tenure there, had her own babies, she redesigned her office to have its own nursery. Ok, but what about those of us who don’t get paid $117 million over 5 years?
The fact is that we have lost sight of our perspective and priorities as a nation, allowing the unmitigated avarice of the exorbitantly wealthy executives who don’t want the cost of providing family leave to eat into their already gluttunous profits to outweigh the benefits of actually parenting our kids. You didn’t have kids just to pass them off to a nanny so that you could provide for them in some sort of existential gerbil wheel. No, you had kids to to serve as seed clones for future organ harvesting. Ok, I’m just kidding because my daughter now reads my column. No, you had kids to be with them, to raise them, to develop a bond of love that extends well beyond the years in which they are dependent on you. Instead of prioritizing corporate gains and global capitalization, let’s shift our focus back to our families, the reason we go to work in the first place. Let’s put the onus back on corporate America to pay a living wage that affords parents what now seems a luxury of actually raising their children. If they want to maximize production with double-income households, that’s fine, but then they can pay for both of them to take time off during the crucial periods of their child’s development. Of the 41 industrialized nations researched by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only the United States lacked a mandate for even minimal parental leave. In Estonia, the time granted is a full 86 weeks. The lowest country grants at least two months. In the United States, mom barely has time to eat a grilled cheese sandwich before she is expected to be back at work. And then we all sit and wonder what’s going wrong with the kids today….
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com