I recently sat at a luncheon with a friend who was very pregnant and also very successful in her career. She’s a high-powered attorney and a pitbull. And I’ve always admired her drive, conviction and brutal honesty.
But during that luncheon, I saw a different side to her. And I had to fight the urge to walk away from our friendship.
During our one hour outing, she made it a point, several times, to tell me that motherhood will not derail her career. She overstated how she had worked too hard to get where she was to be stepped over. She explained that she had plans in place, and she was going to be very “efficient” with her time – working in the middle of the night when her child slept, and so on.
As our lunch continued, another lawyer and acquaintance walked by and made mention of her pregnancy.
“Oh, you know me,” she said. “I will most likely be taking calls from the delivery room. I’m taking about two weeks maternity and will not miss a beat.”
She said it with pride and a hint of brag in her tone.
Why do women feel the need to overcompensate? Sadly, I guess I can answer my own question. I know many of us have felt passed over for opportunities because there was even a chance we could get pregnant within the next year. I know some of us have hidden our pregnancy for as long as physically possible (thank heavens leggings are actually in style) because we knew layoffs were imminent and didn’t want our names to fly to the top of the list.
But times have changed. Granted – not fast enough for many of us – but they are changing. And we need to stop perpetuating this type of behavior. We have to stop downplaying the need for maternity (and paternity leave) and stop de-prioritizing family and overall health out of fear of looking like the weaker sex. We aren’t the weaker sex – the proof is in who was made to bear and deliver children. So, why do we constantly trip over ourselves to prove which one of us will be LEAST affected by becoming a mother?
It’s beyond frustrating, but it’s also really dangerous. While most women see through this behavior for what it is, many men just happen to believe it. Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they believe someone who says that they don’t need maternity leave and want to be back in action as soon as possible?
“Mary never fully unplugged during her maternity – why is Jane taking 12 weeks off and completely out of pocket?”
It’s unrealistic, and it sets us all back. Many years.
Even scarier to me than watching this unfold is seeing some of these same women take a larger stage and present at conferences or sit on panels and talk about how they are fierce advocates for women. They are recognized as leaders in their industry – and label themselves as fighters for gender equality and progressive cultural changes. Yet, they don’t see the INSANE hypocrisy in the fact that they are the same women trying to prove how masculine they are by not needing (or wanting) to take maternity leave.
When I see this, I want to scream from the sidelines, “Don’t listen to her!” When I see women like this speak at conferences, it scares the crap out of me. We are in the middle of the #MeToo and the #TimesUp movement, and we still have women bragging that they will be back to work and better than ever 10 days after giving birth.
Look, we are all different. We have different drives, different levels of ambition and different definitions of success. But we can’t, if we want to move forward as a gender, have different views on how we now speak and act about our differences.
I equate this type of dangerous behavior to the women who used to say, “I can handle myself” when working with sexists and in an environment with blatant sexual harassment. You remember those women, right? If you asked them how they survived working for men who would grab their ass and call them sweetheart, their answer was, “I grew up with brothers and a tough mom. I don’t cry in bathroom stalls about it. I can handle it.”
Times Up. Times up to stop allowing blatant sexism and harassment to happen and times up for women to stop perpetuating unrealistic beliefs to prove to others that they are just as valuable as men. While we are equal and deserving of equal pay and representation – we are different. And we should celebrate those differences and not hide from them.
There is no doubt my friend’s life will change in MANY different ways when she becomes a mother. I also know she will continue to be very successful in her career whether she takes two weeks of maternity leave or three months.
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