An Open Letter to Matt Walsh, From A Working Mom

Hi Matt,

We’ve never met, but I’m a reader of your blog. I found you when your post about encountering a reader and a mom with a screaming child in a grocery store went viral. Our babies are the same age, 8 months. I love the way you write about your children, and especially your wife who I can tell you respect and appreciate very deeply. I think that if our kids were ever in a play group together and I had the opportunity to get to know “real Matt” as opposed to “blog Matt,” I would probably like you. But I wonder whether you would like me, or if you would despise me the way I feel that you do after some of your posts.

There are many ideas you’ve written about where we agree, some where we disagree but you’ve made me think about issues in a different way, and others where I just could not disagree more. Most of those have to do with how you view the role of women. I loved your first piece about stay at home moms, and your passionate defense against the asinine “But what do you do all day?” dismissal of that profession.

And then you wrote about chivalry. For the record, I always smile and say thank you to anyone who holds a door for me or any similar act of kindness. If it’s a two door situation, I will hold the next door for the person as well. So I am a fan of this kind of polite behavior and wish more people still did it, and will be teaching my son to demonstrate it. But going into a discussion of how men do this for women to prove that they can physically dominate us poor little girls but choose not to by serving us instead made me a little uneasy. If I thought for a second that the nice man holding the door for me at Wawa was doing it not to be a nice, decent human being but to say “Hey lady, I could beat you to a pulp right now if I wanted, but I don’t, so aren’t I great?” I would probably consider throwing my coffee at him – but that would be a waste of good coffee, and as parents of 8 month olds we know that just isn’t done, amiright?

Your second defense of SAHM’s was pretty good too, but took a few swipes at those of us who work that I didn’t feel were necessary.  The contemptuous reference to “outsourcing our Mom duties” was a bit annoying, but nothing I haven’t encountered before. By the way, this is my little one during some recent “outsourcing,” it’s actually one of my favorite pictures of him because he’s clearly having a great time!

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But the piece that finally drove me to write this, because quite honestly every time that I’ve sat down to write anything else since you published it I haven’t been able to, is about the gender pay gap. Specifically, that you don’t think it exists, or that if it does it’s all well and good because, hey, women don’t do the valuable work anyway (except at home). We’re waitresses and hair dressers (who like to be called stylists, by the way), not pilots and construction workers. We don’t have big, manly muscles to do real work. I could go on, but I got your idea – you’re apples, we’re oranges, and there’s no need for anyone to worry about how and why women make 77 cents for every dollar men do.

Here’s where you’re really going to despise me, Matt. I do worry about it, and think that it’s really irresponsible of someone like you with a large audience to get on your soapbox and say “Nothing to see here, folks, forget about it.” Let’s look at an apples to apples situation, and I will show you how working women, especially women with children, earn less than their male counterparts because of a system that is biased towards that happening.

You are correct that statistics show a leveling playing field for younger, college educated women to join the work force on an equal pay footing with their male classmates. Hooray for progress! But the problem starts showing up later down the road – men and women are perceived differently for exhibiting the same behaviors. Aggressive men are promoted, aggressive women are reprimanded. Men claim credit for their work within teams, women give more credit to group efforts – and when it comes to promotion time, guess who gets it?

And when you start having kids, the system kicks into overdrive. My husband and I work for different companies in the same industry. My company was very generous and understanding with my extended maternity leave to care for a preemie. My husband’s company pressured him to report back to work the very next day after the baby was born. When the baby is sick or our sitter cancels, I am the one to stay home most of the time. My husband does sometimes too, and would split that time with me more equally except that when he does take “baby time off,” he is expected to explain, not about what’s wrong with the baby, but why his wife can’t do it. Which puts me in an awkward position when there’s a sick baby situation of being both directly accountable to my own boss for any time I take off and indirectly accountable to a boss at a company I don’t even work for for any time my husband takes off. The kicker being that my husband still has vacation days left, so he gets paid either way, and I don’t because I used them all over maternity leave.

So just within my own household, there is a gender wage gap. I’m not talking about our different salaries for the different functions we fulfill in our industry, but about the cold, hard fact that my W2 is significantly lower than the previous year’s, and my husband’s is not, for no other reason than that I had a baby. I didn’t suddenly lose all of my skills, or change jobs, or give up any of my responsibilities, but my earnings fell off a cliff not just in relation to my childless self, but also in relation to my also-a-new-parent husband.

And just to be clear, I’m not saying I should be paid for hours that I didn’t work and don’t have vacation time to use. I am not saying that I resent any minute I’ve spent with my child instead of in my office, or that my husband does either. What I am saying is that the gender gap in the American work force is not a myth. It’s not a feminist plot to destroy society as we know it. It’s not a bunch of waitresses whining about how much more airline pilots make than they do.

I know your great disdain for government, and I am not a public policy expert to take you on in that sphere anyway. But how about things that businesses can do, without government intervention, to keep that playing field as level as it can be not just post-college, but throughout all of working life?

First, managers can make an effort to recognize aggression bias and stop penalizing women for behavior that is rewarded in men. Second, family leave policy shouldn’t only be acceptably used by mothers. Third, the bias against the long term unemployed is getting a lot of attention right now because of the people still struggling to find work after the recession, but it’s always been a factor for women who take years off to raise children. If employers who are consciously trying to overcome this bias now because of the recession apply that same consciousness to women returning to work, that could help close the gap as well. None of these things require legislation to happen, but they do require people to acknowledge the gender gap’s existence. Not just employers, but people. Until my husband can spend time at home with our son without getting questions about me from his boss, his coworkers, and others, and until I can think about what another baby would do to our, instead of my, earning potential, it’s flat out wrong to say that the gender gap doesn’t exist.

You may not ever see this, Matt, but if you do, I hope that I have returned the favor of the food for thought you have given me in your work. Be well, and keep loving that family of yours so fiercely, I look forward to seeing more of your adventures in parenting!

– Shanna

It’s Waahnesday Already?

I had a happy, peppy post planned for today, but it would be a total lie to post it, so we’re winging it instead.

I am tired. Up every half hour all night tired. Ready for bed but need to keep myself and a tired, crying baby awake for another hour so he sleeps through the night tired. Financial stress from being off work for months tired.
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