Are you a career oriented woman who chose to become a mother? Do you value your work as much as you do motherhood? How do our current standards of work ethic support the contemporary working mother? Do they at all? After I returned to work just four weeks postpartum, I faced the unthinkable reality of our current situation. Women who work and who choose to become mothers are not supported within their place of employment and are held to a standard of expectations that were not set by them.
When an ideal of standards is set only through the voice and experience of men, it comes as no shock that it would not align with the voice and experience of women. With the surge of women thrust into the male dominated workplace, women too were upheld to the same standards of expectations that were applied to the career oriented man. With the rise of feminism and women demanding equal opportunity, women and mothers compromised themselves in order to be able to achieve and attain the same successes as men. We now have the means to achieve the same successes, but still within a system of expectations that are set by men and designed for men. These standards of expectations include a 50 plus hour work week, little to no time off, zero sick leave and zero paid leave to name a few. This accepted norm within the workforce can have devastating effects on all people but more specifically on the physical and mental health of the working mother.
As I sat on a toilet in a bathroom stall expressing milk from my engorged breast, my mind drifted to thoughts of other mothers who have endured and continue to endure what I was currently experiencing. I thought of mothers who did not have the luxury to continue to breastfeed because their employer simply did not provide the time or space to pump milk. I thought about how often mothers are forced into making a moral decision between providing nourishment for their baby or financial stability for their family. I couldn’t help but think that the way we treat working mothers reflects what we value the most and what we value the least.
Working mothers have to overcome more obstacles than most. From gender discrimination to gender pay gap within their respective fields of work, mothers are often ostracized or penalized for taking time off to care for their infant or child. If they cannot afford to jeopardize their position, they return to work rather immediately, accruing an additional expense of child care to their household income. Further research also revealed that the United States is the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. Estonia, at the top of the list, guarantees 87 weeks paid leave, with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Japan closely behind with just over 60 weeks paid leave. These astonishing facts forced me into action.
As a result, my “Working Mother Suit” was created to bring awareness to the harsh realities of what it takes to be a working mother, especially when caring for an infant. Our system does not support new mothers or families during this transitional phase. As a social artist, it was my duty to shed light on how taxing it is on our physical and mental health. The United States needs to sustain families through this phase so they can reenter the workforce healthy and balanced. Our culture needs to shift into valuing self-care as much as we value money. Money should never supersede the importance of physical and mental health, but sadly in our society, it does. “Working Mother Suit” forces my viewers to confront the lack of support mothers actually receive in their place of employment.
It is my hope that this series will inspire people to reconsider the set of standards and expectations that employers place on their employees. That the United States government will step up in support of the American family, John Adams refers to the American Dream as “a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” It is time to redefine this American Dream which was ultimately defined for the perspective and experience of a man. So that all people, including mothers and families, can attain our ideal national ethos; an American Dream truly for all.