Women's Equality Day; Is your voice being heard?

Last Wednesday was National Women's Equality Day. This year (2015) marked the 95th anniversary of the day that (white) women were granted the right to vote. It was a huge victory towards gender equality, but ultimately not the panacea that it was hoped to be.

When women gained the right to vote there was the hope that by giving them a political voice it would spell an end to social and economic inequality, something that clearly still resonates today. While the amount women earn to men is frequently argued upon: $.60, .77, .83 or .91 to the dollar, what is not argued upon is that women make less than men in almost every profession. In almost 100 years since gaining the vote we are still struggling to catch up.

We know this as fact, so what we need to look at is why? Why after nearly a century of political freedom to affect policy are we still struggling to balance the scales? The answer, as in all things that are political, is complex and interconnected, but ultimately falls under the broader umbrella of gender stereotypes.

The first and foremost issue, as I see it, is that we lack the representation we need in government agencies. Sure, we may have women in the legislature, but there are relatively few younger women. How can we expect to pass legislation benefitting families and caregivers that are situated in our current economic and social reality if we are still being guided by the previous generation of families? The key is that we need younger people of both genders, but most specifically women to have a voice at the decision making table. Our generation's reality when it comes to children, elder care, and basic life balance is markedly different from even 10 years ago.

We need to buck the idea that women belong in the home when their children are young, that women have "seasons of life" or that family politics automatically equates to "women's politics." Family politics affects families. Men have health care crises, become caregivers for aging or ill family members, and experience need for end-of-life care too. Women are not the only ones affected. We need to put the idea to bed that the term "family" somehow fails to include men. These issues affect everyone, across the board. Families are in a much more precarious position these days and we all need to sit up and take notice.

Over the last three decades family income volatility has increased substantially. The economic vulnerability of families has intensified so that people born in the 1940s and 50s have a substantially different understanding of how raising children and caring for elders fits into the larger socioeconomic scheme than families of the 60s and 70s. The women born to these decades are proportionately higher in the legislative branches than women born in the late 70s and on. Because of this, the people who are currently at the decision making levels are the least likely to truly understand the challenges facing younger families today.

There is virtually no way around it: the economic reality for families from only 10 years ago is vastly different than the realities facing us today. Parents of younger children are from the new generation of families that are bringing children into the world at later and later ages. Say a woman has a child at 35 ,whose own mother was most likely already childbearing at a later age than the previous generation. Imagine her mother birthed her at 25. That would mean that at the age of the first grandchild, the grandmother would be 60 years of age. Assuming there are more children in the family the grandmother could be 65 or 70 by the time the last grandchild is born. If the family is truly blessed, that last grandchild would be 20-30 before they have to face the possibility of elder care stress. What is more likely however, is that the child may still be in high school; a bit harder, but still manageable.

Now, imagine that this trend continues. The same scenario for the next generation would be a 35 year old woman birthing a first child today that, in turn, doesn't have their own first child until 40. (The average maternal age in the US is currently 26, but the maternal rates for 35 years and older has been increasing steadily since 1970. It is now over double what it used to be for 40-44 years of age and NINE TIMES what it was for 35-39.) That would mean that our generation would be looking at becoming grandparents for the first time at 75 years old.

The average age of care recipients in the US is 75 years of age. That means that just as new families are getting started, either during the intensive newborn years, or shortly there after, they are going to be looking at not only having to juggle children and income production, but elder care, children and income production.

There is absolutely no way our current system is going to be able to sustain an entire population of people with three competing responsibilities. That is not to mention that grandparents, in the past, have typically provided much needed support, advice and help during the transition to family life and the loss of that support is an added stress on new parents. There also is the loss of the grandparent relationship when the grandparent's generation is too far removed, which can have an overall affect on the next generation as well.

Obviously these are generalizations. There are going to continue to be people have children at younger ages, people whose relationships with their parents are too strained to gain benefit, or whose parents live long, and vibrantly healthy lives and can engage actively well into their 90s. But, when the statistics suggest that more and more women are delaying childbirth, to the point that some businesses are offering egg freezing and fertility counseling as part of their benefits packages, we are looking at an unprecedented and alarming social crisis.

Luckily, the last few years have had the solution on the docket. It hasn't passed yet, but there is some exciting legislation that is working its way slowly through the system which could provide a desperately needed safety net for all families regardless of where they are in their life cycle.

Here in Colorado we had a bill that was just recently voted down on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives. The FAMLI Act: HB 15-1258 was a bill that would have provided Family Medical Leave Insurance for all Coloradans. It was a bill sponsored by Representatives Faith Winter and Joseph Salazar and Senator Jessie Ulibarri. The FAMLI (Family and Medical Leave Insurance) is designed to be a compliment to the existing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The current bill allows employees who meet a certain set of criteria to take up to 12 weeks UNPAID leave in order to care for a loved one, spouse, relative or self in the event of an injury or illness. The FAMLI act was designed to provide an insurance system that would allow those 12 weeks to be partially paid with at least 66% and up to 95% based on the employees income level.

While this bill is not going to make it to the vote for the 2015 November elections, there is still time to convince or government representatives that this bill needs to be considered for the next year's voting season. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting with one of its sponsors, Faith Winter, and a team at 9to5 Colorado in order to look at what still needs to be done to get this bill passed. It was a pretty amazing meeting, and I walked away with quite a few ideas for future posts surrounding the legislative process and the state of work/family balance in America.

Meeting with Faith Winter at 9to5 headquarters
The fact is, the FAMLI act just makes sense. It is a needed safety net; helpful for workers and employers now, but positively crucial later. Unless a substantial shift occurs in American culture in the next few years, there is going to be a significant age gap between generations. This gap is going to demand that businesses begin to acknowledge the importance of care giving, but it would be so much better to adapt the policy when we want to so that we have time to get it right, rather than after the crisis hits and we have no choice.

The only way that is going to happen is if more voices start calling out for more family friendly/ caregiving friendly policies. These voices are only going to be motivated by two things: necessity or representation. We need to get more voices in the decision making process who understand the unique socioeconomic forces that are putting pressure on families today. It started in the early 21st century, but intensified after the real estate market crash. Families are in trouble, the middle class is shrinking and the future looks bleak unless we act now.

What can I do?

First and foremost, tell your politicians you don't want hear about Family Values, but instead on how they plan on putting forth a plan focused on Valuing Families. Let them know that other than just hearing about social/moral politics like abortion or same-sex marriage, we want to hear about real solutions to help businesses and families thrive.

Write, call or otherwise contact your representatives!!! I cannot stress this enough. This is crucial. The more voices, and the more diverse the voices they hear (demographically, geographically, and across the age, gender, race and religious lines) the more they realize that an idea is popular. Diversity is democracy! They are not going to risk failing re-election by voting on something they aren't certain on. Your voice is important. Exercise your right and let them know that families have value.

Let people know about legislation like the FAMLI act. Let them know about its benefits.

Tell your story. If you have experienced hardship caring for an aging parent, a terminally or chronically ill family member or are parenting a high-need or special needs child and are struggling with work and caregiving, tell your story. Make sure your experience is acknowledged.

Run for office. If you have a compelling story, are young, or see a deep need for family policy, run. We need more voices who understand the realities as they are now, not as they were 10-20 years ago.

My Mom always told me that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease, so get out there and squeak! Make sure you are loud and make sure you are persistent, because if we don't do this now, it is possible a whole lot of individuals will be suffering as a result of scarce and improper care.
9to5 Winning Justice for Working Women (and working families)

Disagree with Love

I have had a very hard time writing here this summer. In part from having all the kids here 24/7, but almost more so, because of the extreme funk I found myself in with the craziness I have seen circulating on social media. I am talking about the "discussions" (if we can even use that term) on racism in the police force, the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriages, and the first rising tide of what I anticipate to be an intense presidential election season. The things I have seen voiced "out loud" on all sides of debates have been offensive, hurtful and down right intolerant.

I could tackle any one of those subjects, and in fact I already tackled election-time behavior back in 2012 with, Applying the Mom Pledge to the 2012 Election. But, despite voluminous articles (most of which I read) on the subject, I decided to explore my point through the lens of same-sex marriage. Ultimately the subject matter itself is not what I want you to focus on, but the process. There are too many people in America to expect us ever to be in total consensus, decisions are never going to please everyone, but I promise- there really is a way to disagree respectfully with love.

The day of the landmark SCOTUS decision legitimizing same-sex marriage, my Facebook feed was filled with celebration....and mourning. The hardest thing for me was watching as the celebratory joy that many of my friends felt as their families found a stronger foothold in the ability to speak out on their rights as caregiving workers (which is what this blog, and my grassroots Facebook group Valuing Families: A Social Movement are all about), was circumvented by the discomfort at the vocal disappointment from those in favor of "traditional marriage."

The joyfulness that I saw was quickly replaced by vitriolic hate that was spewed forth on both sides of the issue. Within the day, my Facebook feed had devolved to name calling and base insults. Some of my friends were painfully boastful, and others were uncomfortably bitter and resentful. My depression set in as I saw friends and family, people I love dearly, attack each other in an effort to "win" the argument for their side. Some of the things I saw flung at people I love were truly painful to see. The hate, the anger, the disgust. How could this be coming from people I cherish?

It took me a long time to process through these feelings and wrestle them onto "paper," and I am here to tell you, the truth I have come to is- there is no "side." We each speak the truth that we feel, and we each arrive at our own truths through our own experiences, education, culture, family and from plumbing (or not) the depth of our own hearts. You can argue, you can rail, you can even scream or threaten harm, but what you can't do is change their minds.

As an anthropologist I will tell you that for my first paper in graduate school, I was tasked to write a 10 page paper on the definition of marriage. The catch was, I had to make it universal for all faiths and cultures that we had read about thus far in our class. It has been a long time, but if I remember correctly there was a tribe of people from the Amazon rainforest who raided neighboring villages and stole their wives, who then became the one bride for all the male brothers in a lineage. We had to explain marriages in the sub-Sahara and Africa where resources are scarce so the males migrate regularly, and as a result, a woman would take more than one husband to provide income for her family. We read about marriage in the United States, both monogamous and polygamous and we read about the Arab traditions of taking multiple wives.

The list was much more extensive, but in each case we looked at the benefits to individuals and the surrounding area that each marriage system provided. We looked at children who were considered legitimate and illegitimate, and why, and how that affected their life outcomes. We looked at how each system helped individuals be successful in their particular culture and economy and what it would look like in that economy, or what would have to change, in order to superimpose our American ideal of one man-one woman in a monogamous marriage. In many cases, the local economy, or the ability to access resources would become untenable under a nuclear family lifestyle. Marriage systems clearly developed around what would provide the best possible survival for the people in question.

My thesis to this paper has stuck with me for years, and to this day guides how I perceive the concept of family. I especially see it being true in America, where family is undergoing such a dramatic (and scary and uncomfortable for some) transition to include families it would have never accepted 100 years ago. Today, our American ideal no longer (or usually does not) punish people for getting divorced, for becoming single parents, or teen parents, for interracial families, same-sex families, blended families, or families of open adoption. We have even grown to accept that people with disabilities have the capability to make decisions on their own lives in regards to love, reproduction and marriage.

My thesis was simple; the definition of marriage is the way a culture codifies sexual behavior, defines family responsibility and legitimizes children in the larger culture's eyes. In other words, we use the definition of marriage, regardless of the specifics, across the globe to dictate whether or not a child would be considered "bastardized" within the larger culture, to codify familial roles and responsibilities and who it is acceptable to be having "relations" with.

The stance of The Two-Penny Soapbox, and myself as its author, is that any definition of marriage that removes stigma from children and allows them to be accepted as treasured members of society, with the same rights, accesses, and opportunities as those whose parents are not divorced, young, old, blended, single, inter-racial, living with a disability or in a non-traditional relationship, is a definition that I will whole heartedly embrace.

But, defining marriage is not the point of this piece. The point of this piece is, that you will never change some people's minds about something unless they come to it in their own time and in their own way. I say this to my friends and family who find discomfort and anger in someone saying, "I condemn your lifestyle," or "being [LGBTQ] is a choice." I say this to some of my dear, dear friends who believe, all the way to their core, that God sanctioned marriage only between one man and one woman. Any other culture in the world that does not practice this, for them, is just a culture that has not been missionized yet. To all of you, please, be respectful. If you must, state your case with kindness, listen with an open mind, and then if you are not moved, agree to disagree. Name calling, threats, violence, hatred, fear, animosity- these things are not okay. Ever. Someone is not an idiot just because their world view profoundly differs from yours.

In my mind, finding God's grace and the spirit of Jesus is the single most important thing in the world. True love and acceptance comes when you can look at someone, someone who believes something so fundamentally different from you that it seems impossible that you can co-exist peacefully, and you listen to their story. Listen without forming the argument in your mind and waiting for your turn to speak. I mean, really, truly listen to the truth that is them, and then try to understand their viewpoint. When you do, you may find from time to time that you can connect with something within their argument that makes a grain of sense. Hold on to that grain and you will have discovered the common ground to try and love them for who they are and where they are coming from.

The world is full of breathtaking moments of glorified diversity. And in that diversity there is beauty, there is peace, there is the divine. There are people in the world that, despite what most would consider the unassailable evidence of science, still believe that babies are created by standing on a sacred spot, facing the sea and inviting their ancestors into themselves. Who are we to take that from them? What a beautiful belief system. A belief in the interconnectedness and joy of coming and becoming from a single line of people. Who am I to point to a diagram in the book of reproduction and say, "You are an idiot. You are wrong. You are ignorant and uneducated. Thank goodness I am here to show you the right way to believe"?

So please, in the wake of recent social unrest around racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance and the hatred born from fear that is rampaging social media- please take a moment and try to love your neighbor. Love them even if it hurts to look on them. Love them even as you fear their actions. Love them for the divine light that exists inside of them and accept that they have to follow what is true and evident to them, even as you do. Inequality exists. Hatred exists. Differences exist. But, what a beautiful world it could be if we all found a way to connect on a different level.

As humans, we are set adrift in a universe that provides life as diverse as it is populous. Embrace the beauty in the diversity. Look past the details and find the humanity underneath. You may find you are less angry, less fearful and more loving. And wouldn't that be a better place for all of us to be?

With that, dear reader, I leave you with this;

I love you. I love you for your faith. I love you for your choices. I love the way God made you. I love the burdens you carry, the fears you harbor and the hopes you have for your vision of the future. I love that the world you forsee is a better place, even if we can't agree on what that looks like. I love you for your heart. I love you for your friendship. I love you, just as you are.

As we always hear - kindness costs nothing and love is free.

So mind your words. Speak with respect. Disagree with love.