Segregated Kids = Segregated Women

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

September 18, 2011


Categories: The Balancing Act

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," a...

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I never imagined myself as a Suzy Homemaker, growing up with the idea that housework, keeping house, was a lessor task. I always hated doing chores. My mother abhorred cooking, complete with the false notion that she can’t cook. I grew up believing I could be anything I wanted, if only I could figure that out. I grew up knowing there was something bigger out there for me than the retail, dead-end, jobs my mom took to put food on our table. I knew there had to be something more out there than that. Something more than punching a clock and doing something that only mattered to someone else. I grew up with hope, with possibilities, with an endless sea of opportunity.

The sea is still there as a mother and a wife, but I am now finding that one has to be more creative when noticing, finding, and creating opportunity. I thought life was challenging during my twenties, and I certainly didn’t understand where I stood or what I had or could do. Life was simpler then, and I didn’t even know it. I was immersed in the blissful ignorance of youth. I didn’t chart my sites very high, as such, I could really do most anything I wanted.

My own point of view began to change when I moved to the Big City. I had done this type of move before: goldfish in the bowl to the pond to the lake and then the ocean. I was in the bowl of my small town elementary schools and moved up to the pond of the high schools then to the lake of university. The ocean is the big city. It’s a shift you don’t notice immediately, until you do things like try to find a job. Suddenly the 3.67 high school GPA ceases to matter. Then, another paradigm shift presented itself when I became a wife and a mother. The circles that I traveled changed, and with it my priorities and assumptions.

I suddenly found myself with married mothers. This was a demographic, until 5 years ago, about which I knew very little. I learned we (naturally) had very similar, concerns, thoughts, and parenting styles. And, we did things during the day. We worked things around nap times and feeding schedules, and we all wanted to be home by early evening to get dinner on the table. I was realizing, within my circle, that women, more so than men, stay home with kids.

When going places, affordability and kid-friendly were the top criteria for determining if we really went to the place. “Adult” friendly or only was a long-lost memory. Life with kids is so consuming that you really cannot imagine, clearly, what life without kids was like. Anecdotally, this happens to every parent I know! During the day, though, when Levi and I would venture out to the library, grocery store, or coffee shops, we would be with other moms and kids because women often stay home with the kids. These spaces were largely absent of men, unless the men were working at said establishment. If a place didn’t allow kids, then a result is that the place isn’t going to allow women.

Adult only coffee shops, high-end restaurants, high-end shopping spaces, community meetings – these all set themselves up for adult company only, not kids. They might not state that the place is “adult only” and they might argue they do accept children visiting, but they do not arrange their space to allow children. When you segregate space for kids it inadvertently means you dictate where women go. Because women largely stay at home with kids, need flexible work spaces, and go where kids go – by not making a pointed effort to include kids in anything, we are perpetuating stale gender roles. Roles where women occupy one sphere and men another, and nary the two shall meet.

I serve on one board of directors and take part in another. Women with children, as sitting board members make up less than 5% of the members. That’s 1 in 20. One in 20 are mothers. This NPR story showcases how the number doubles (in the U.S.) when discussing just women. But, if women and mothers are less likely than men to be on boards, hold key roles in business, or even sacrifice time volunteering – you have to ask, who is still making the decisions in this country? I would argue men because women are less likely to be in places where their opinion matters.

This isn’t about vilifying men. This about who hears our story. Who hears what stay at home or primary care givers go through in a day? Who makes policy that keeps caregivers at the forefront of the conversation? Likely it’s not caregivers. There has to be better ways to include all types in our civilized society. If we can’t think about how to equally include varied genders and associated roles, how can we begin to think about how to include people whose brains literally work differently? If we value an evolutionary society, that is, leaving the world a better place than what we found it, then we need to update our gender codes, roles, and conduct.

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