Dear Meghan McCain

We need more than paid maternity leave

Welcome back Chaise Lounge readers and happy 2021! While the first week of this year looks dismal from a political perspective, I am hopeful that by Friday we will know the results of the Georgia senatorial races and have gotten through the electoral college debacle in Congress. We all know that January 20 cannot come soon enough!

I am going to try a slightly different format for the newsletter this year with a focus on national and global trends in women’s issues with the occasional local story. I will still have a weekly piece that is either an analysis or an opinion piece. I would love to hear your feedback on this format.

Global Issues - Analysis of Gender Representation in Global Health Leadership

You may have noticed some headlines during the pandemic regarding the effectiveness of women leaders during the pandemic. In particular, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan have received a lot of positive press. Medical News Today held some fascinating interviews on this phenomenon. Focusing on the issue of the way the male and female leaders used language to address the pandemic, researchers found that “Generally, men tended to rely more on fear-based tactics by either using more frequent war rhetoric or blame, while women tended to stress more social unity through personal examples and appeals for compassion.”

Other research revealed the huge gender disparity in women’s representation on global health decision making panels. “A mere 3.5% of 115 identified COVID-19 decision-making and expert task forces have gender parity in their membership while 85.2% are majority men.” The interview with the authors involves an excellent discussion of who gets to be in clinical studies, gender quotas for membership on these panels, and thoughts about female leadership styles. Interestingly, they mention that in the United States, the CDC panel was over 80% women while the White House task force was only 9% women.

National Issues - Paid Family Leave

Yesterday, Meghan McCain, daughter of deceased Senator John McCain, returned to her seat on the daytime talk show, The View, after taking maternity leave. McCain is the most conservative voice on the show and surprised the audience by making a pitch for legislated paid maternity leave. However, her pitch caused many to question why it took her own experience for her to come around to her new support for paid family leave. I decided to write her a letter asking her some hard questions while welcoming her to the cause.

Dear Meghan McCain,

First, I want to congratulate you on joining the ranks of mothers around the world. I know that you, like all mothers, are over the moon about having baby Liberty in your life. Welcome to the mother’s club. There is nothing else like it as you now know. 

I saw your segment on The View yesterday where you passionately called for paid maternity leave, and I left it feeling both hopeful and angry for many reasons. Why didn’t you care about all of the other women in the country giving birth before you did? While I am glad that you have come to your senses regarding the need for paid maternity leave, you must understand that the backlash that you are facing from those who have been paid leave advocates comes from the fact that you have ignored this issue until it affected you personally. While this is a human phenomenon, it seems to be pervasive in conservatives. It isn’t until you experience something yourself that an issue becomes worth your consideration. 

Look at the Republicans who have changed their minds regarding mask-wearing once they contracted COVID-19. Yes, I am thinking of people like Chris Christie and Tom Mountain, vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party. Everyone knows that mask-wearing is the right thing to do during the pandemic, but they decided to take a chance and pay the consequences. Unfortunately, their family members and communities had to pay the price as well. Just as American women have been paying the price of a lack of paid leave for decades. 

When your co-host, Sarah Haines, mentioned that it is not just maternity leave that we need, but paid leave for the fathers as well, you appeared to dismiss this thought as something that can be put aside for now saying that we must “meet in the middle.” Yet, you also told us that you needed both your mother and your husband for support as you recuperated from your difficult childbirth and postpartum experiences. Why don’t you want to fight for other women in having the full support they need at home post-birth? Why do you think that this is optional for other mothers? 

To those of us who have been championing the idea of paid family leave for decades, you must understand the frustration. However, we can get over our frustration if you can understand that other people’s lived experience is worthy of examination and compassion without you having that personal experience as well. Your father demonstrated that compassion when he voted to sustain the Affordable Care Act. He understood that many Americans needed the ability to access healthcare even if it went against conservative ideology. Now you understand that families need paid leave when a new baby enters the household. As you said yourself, “It a dark spot for our country. We are the only developing nation that does not supply women with paid family leave.” It is my hope that you and other conservatives will take this lesson and open your hearts and minds to other issues that may not affect you personally but do affect millions of Americans daily. 

As you know, the coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on the need for paid leave, regardless of if it is for childbirth. People have all sorts of reasons for needing paid leave from caring for sick children (as you will soon learn), to needing a break for mental or personal health reasons, to caring for their aging parents. You mentioned that you had done a lot of research on this topic, although it sounds like you were focused on maternity leave. But there are population trends happening right now that will force the issue. As the baby boomer generation ages, the number of family caregivers available to care for them will drop from 7.5 in 2010 to 2.9 in 2050, a 50% decrease. Clearly, more people will need to take leave to care for their parents or grandparents. Take a look at this article for more information on trends that will necessitate the need for more paid family leave and not just for maternity purposes. 

I am excited to have you as an ally in the fight for paid leave, Meghan. I imagine that your voice will be heard better by conservatives than others. I invite you to consider the many needs of Americans for paid leave beyond just maternity leave. While it may be politically expedient to “meet in the middle”, this is a moral issue that has major repercussions for all American families. And as you said, Republicans are the party of “family values”, so it is time for them to put their money where their mouth is. 

Respectfully,

Anna Lynch

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