Women shouldn’t have to choose between work and motherhood

Shae Slaughter

Coke or Pepsi? McDonald’s or Burger King? Cats or dogs? Mom or CEO? These are all questions that seem to be decided with a single answer. 

You either want a Big Mac or a Whopper. 

You either want children or you want to run a company. The problem with this dichotomy is that the answer is not, nor should it be, that simple. I want it all, so why can’t I have it?

I have an argument just like this in my head time and time again. Do I want to be a suburban soccer mom with a dainty yellow house, a garden and a mini van? Or do I want to run the world, driving a fancy car and living in the city? I feel forced to choose, and that feeling worries me.

It’s a statistical fact that women don’t fill upper-level positions in the same numbers that men do. Even as of last year, Forbes reported that women held less than seven percent of all chief executive positions at Fortune 1000 companies. Yikes, right? Why is that? Are women just not as smart, as driven or as powerful? I certainly don’t think so. 

I think women face another problem: gender constructs and, by connection, the “motherhood penalty.” I oftentimes hear women being referred to as “pretty” rather than intelligent or as “sweet” instead of assertive. I like being pretty and sweet, but why does that mean I can’t be intelligent and assertive, too?

The fact of the matter is that women and men are different. This shouldn’t be a surprise, and this shouldn’t be viewed as a sexist statement. We are biologically different, but that should not be considered a flaw. Instead, it should be viewed as a strength. Our bodies are not constructed to have the same muscle mass or curves. Men cannot bear children, and these are all just scientific facts. 

My mom gave birth to my two older sisters and myself. She remains one of the most capable and strong people I know. I’d like to emphasize that I used “people” rather than “women” because she skips over the gender lines that are often drawn. We see it when a woman is considered a great “female” athlete or when someone is a fantastic “businesswoman” rather than a “businessperson.” She is strong and capable on merit and not on gender.

My mom has had a lot of dreams in her life, one of which was to go to law school. My parents got divorced when I was young, and this left my mother with three children to raise full time. We were not a burden—my mother wanted us wholeheartedly—but we were a barrier to her furthered education. She did manage to get her bachelor’s degree while raising us and working full time, though, an exceptionally impressive feat considering that I can barely keep my life together as I attempt to get my bachelor’s degree with no children to raise. 

If things had been different—if my mom had been my dad—having children to raise would have actually benefited her. Data from Michelle Budig, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, shows that men’s earnings increase by six percent or more when they have children who live with them. Women, on the other hand, lose four percent of their income for each child they have. Men with families seem reliable, but women are instead seen as a liability. 

I am not naïve enough to believe that maternity leave doesn’t affect businesses or that being a parent doesn’t affect work, but I do believe that it is a part of life. Our population would not survive without these women that we are “mommy shaming.” If anything, being a mother is a benefit to a working woman. It changes the way you think and it improves your patience and ability to multitask.

I’m hoping that as I approach the “real world” and start working full time, this attitude will change. Men and women are different, but that doesn’t mean we cannot be equally deserving of an opportunity. I want a Coke, a Pepsi, a cat, a dog, a high-powered job and a family. I shouldn’t have to accept any less.