By Matt Johnson
The United States does not have a paternity leave policy. This means that the United States government does not provide paid leave, unpaid leave, or any type of economic or social support for single parents or married couples after the birth of a child. However, some companies in the United States do provide some sort of parental leave. According to Bloomberg Business, Google, Facebook, Bank of America, Patagonia, State Street, Genentech, Linkedin, Arnold & Porter, Roche Diagnostics, and PricewaterhouseCoopers are the best U.S. companies for providing paternity leave. And recently on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, it was noted that “Papua New Guinea [and the United States] are the only countries in the world that do not provide any paid time off for new mothers.”
Unfortunately, this is as good as it gets for working parents in the United States. If American parents want a government that will support the family, they will need to look to another country. In Sweden, parents are alloted 480 days of paid leave, or roughly 16 months. “This leave can be taken by the month, week, day or even by the hour.” This policy of course is vastly different from the United States. In addition, the social perspective of Swedes is much different from Americans. Thus, one could argue, effectively, that Swedes view paternity leave, and subsequently the success of the family, to be important whereas Americans do not.
This past Tuesday in class, my fellow study abroad and leadership student Kara posed the discussion question, “If the United States implemented [paternity leave], how would this effect the feminist movement?” This is an interesting and provocative question. For decades, feminists have been pushing equal rights philosophy and arguments to facilitate policy change in the United States. This includes paternity leave.
To delve a bit deeper into the responses of this question and future possibilities, here are a few suggestions from other students in the Global Leadership Study Abroad program of how paternity leave would “effect the feminist movement” in the United States:
It would be a positive change. It gives men an opportunity to be in the “care-taker” role. Plus, the modern male would be more willing to participate and to give; it forces traditional men to analyze the care-taker role.
It opens doors for women…and it provides more balance to the relationship.
It would allow men to see what women experience and what women go through during the process of raising a child at home.
Resocializing the gender roles would help the success of the feminist movement.
However, feminist policy has already been implemented and exist in the form of paternity leave in Sweden. So Kara’s question can be viewed through an already established policy lens. As Eric Sundström, political strategist for Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, stated in a meeting with the students from the Iowa State University Global Leadership Study Abroad program on May 22, the lack of paternity leave in the United States is “one of the greatest weaknesses” that great country faces today.
In Sweden, feminist policy is already being applied and instead of viewing feminist policy as something antithetical to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” it is being viewed as something that perpetuates and solidifies “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As Mr. Sundström further explained, paternity leave creates an environment where the father can stay home with his daughter or son. From this time spent at home, he will partake in simple things like shopping for shoes and clothes and food. This will allow him to learn a great deal more about his child and the added time will allow the father and child to bond at an increased level. But this modern Mr. Mom opportunity creates additional opportunities and benefits for women in the market place as well.
For example, stay at home dads provide increased opportunity for women to work in their careers. It also increases participation for women in the market place. In other words, more stay at home dads means greater mom participation in the work force because the child’s needs are being taken care of at home. And finally, stay at home dads provide women with the opportunity for increased leadership opportunities. This happens because as women spend more and more time in their respective careers in the market place, they will accumulate more experience in their profession and acquire greater leadership potential. The by-product of this scenario is more women moving up the ladder and helping to facilitate greater levels of productivity in the market place. As Mr. Sundström stressed, there is no valid economic argument against paternity leave. Sure, in the short run in takes a substantial investment, but in the long run it is worth every penny and it pays economic, political, and social dividends.
The question of how would paternity leave change the feminist movement in the United States was posed and with good reason. It is important to consider such possible outcomes in a political environment that is much different from Sweden’s. It also offers a futuristic perspective of what something might look like if a particular policy was implemented at the national level. However, American politics is a different animal. The United States is a deeply conservative and religious country and it shows in its policy agendas. Currently, states are pushing bills to rewrite and challenge Roe v. Wade, 1973. So Kara’s question is more important than ever.
The question now remains if America would like to be #1 in not providing paternity leave and being perceived as a country that does not care about the welfare of its workforce or would America like to provide paternity leave and be #1 in providing the worlds most ambituous and productive paternity leave and be perceived as a country that takes care of its own?