In case you missed it, Netflix announced yesterday that it would offer unlimited maternity and paternity leave to its employees for up to 12 months following the birth of a child.
My first reaction was ebullience: This is incredible! Finally, America is getting with the program!
Except… “America” isn’t doing anything. One American company is. Will it lead the way for others? How long ’til one big move by one big (rich) company trickles down and actually changes the culture?
When I shared the Netflix news on Facebook, I mentioned how thinking about my unpaid maternity leave still makes me feel vulnerable, three years later. I’m self-employed, and wasn’t aware that getting short-term disability insurance could have at least gotten me some assistance in those first few months (but only if I purchased it before I conceived).
A friend shared that she had to return to work when her son was only 5.5 weeks (WEEKS) old; she was a single mother at the time, and she brought him to work with her, then tried her best to “look alive” while nodding off at her desk.
I cannot. fucking. imagine. Being back in an office less than 2 months after my child’s birth, let alone trying to get ANYTHING done while I had my needy, demanding infant with me. (Here’s where I was, emotionally, when my daughter was that age.)
And yet, my friend is hardly the hardest case. Think of someone who works at McDonald’s — there’s no bringing your infant with you, there. So you lose your job. And then you raise your child with no income. How’s that work, exactly?
According to the Atlantic, 30 percent of mothers in the U.S. can’t afford diapers. (I don’t know why the study only focused on moms. Do dads not buy diapers?) Anyway, the article details all the insidious mental and physical health effects of not being able to provide for your child in this most basic way, for both the parent and the baby. It’s horrible. This is the United Fucking States.
Some might say, “If you can’t afford a child, don’t have one.” While this seems logical, it’s a sterile kind of logic that doesn’t take into account what it feels like to be a person who may not have money, but still very much has the human urge to have sex. Should poor people lose the right to copulate, as well? Now, of course, you might say, “Just use protection” — but of course, this Netflix news hits right on the heels of a major effort to defund Planned Parenthood. So, our message to poor people is: Don’t have sex, but if you do, use protection, but learn about the need for protection on your own dime. That you don’t have.
The logical escalation of this argument of course is that poor people just shouldn’t have gotten poor in the first place. If they’d just be rich already, they’d know all this stuff, and then they could get a job at Netflix and get 12 months with their newborn.
I don’t mean to be a cynic. The Netflix news is good. But it’s good news for a very small, privileged portion of the world.
As ThinkProgress reports, out of 178 nations, the U.S. is one of only THREE that offers zero paid maternity leave:
What the fuck is wrong with us?
This article in The Atlantic, though unfairly titled (it makes it all about Hillary Clinton, when really the substance of the piece is about the state of paid family leave in this country), offers a good summary of the state of the state.
Meanwhile, The Onion posts headlines like this one:
If enough of us get fed up that things like this are funny-because-it’s-true, we can make paid family leave a major issue in the upcoming election.
Or we could just sit on the couch and binge-watch Netflix. The choice is ours.