Anytime there’s a discussion about the wage gap between men and women, someone blames pregnancy for it. The argument goes something like this: “Well, you ladies take off all this time to have babies, so of course you miss out on promotions.”
They say it like women are taking time off from work to get caught up on their soaps. Of course if you were absent a lot for some totally frivolous reason, you would have no right to complain if you miss out on raises or promotions.
But the two main reasons women miss work, or take a few years out of their careers, is (a) to give birth, (b) to raise kids and (c) to take care of elderly or disabled family members. Only the first is something that falls to women because of biology. The others fall to women because of culture. If you’re going to heap a chore on someone for no reason other than bias, then you have a duty to make sure they don’t experience additional collateral damage for doing it.
But another point is that none of these reasons women miss work are strictly for their own benefit. Caring for the elderly or disabled benefits not only the person being cared for, but the whole family. Nurses and care homes are expensive, and may not be ideal for a variety of reasons. A woman who misses work to take care of someone this way is performing a self-sacrificing act for the greater good. Surely this should not be rewarded with less pay and promotions on the job.
Giving birth and raising kids are also not frivolous things that only benefit women. Men also want children. And governments want people to have babies; this is evident by the way in which they totally panic every time the birthrate slips a percentage point or so and start offering people all sorts of incentives to make more babies, quick! So even when a woman has a baby on her own just because she wanted to, she is still doing something her government encourages and would in fact panic if enough women like her weren’t doing it. (Well, if she’s white at least – government stereotypes about women of color having children is a whole other discussion.)
So why should women be penalized for doing something that both men and the government want them to do, and that everyone criticizes them for not doing?