Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day

This morning, yes, with a two-month old I got out of bed, showered, got my older daughter dressed and fed and out of the house with a proper jacket and her school bag and her lunch box, and diapered and changed the baby and put her in her bunting because it's still cold here, and I dressed in presentable clothing, and I think there was even a bowl of cereal for me, and I even sat down to eat that bowl of cereal and scanned the headlines (Republicans supporting more wiretapping, bad) and checked the weather page for later this week (70 degree days ahead, good). The secret to the burst of energy: last night the baby slept 7 hours straight. Yay.

I did this all because my niece Molly asked if I'd give a talk at her high school for International Women's Day. What fun I had! (Local author Jennifer Weiner was there, too, and lots of other goodhearted Philadelphians.) Central is Philadelphia's magnet high school. It's very diverse, economically and racially, because it reflects the city. I'm always on the look out for places that challenge our society's myths of white privilege, that only white people are smart: here's our city's public school jewel, and it's diverse and inclusive and smart.

I spoke in a first period psychology class about work and family issues.

How interesting to raise these topics with high school students. I gave my usual talk, and stressed that whereas we see these struggles as private, as something that individual men and women and families must solve, the real solutions are public, and they involve policy change and workplace change.

Some students asked about different careers that they imagine themselves in; one asked why corporate lawyers--his hoped-for profession--have to work so many hours. He said he planned to get established in his career and then start a family. I pointed out how men, but not women, have that option, and also told him about lawyers I know who are trying to change all that. Other students talked about their own families, about parents who worked night shift, and how hard that was, or about a dad who was at home and a mom who worked, and how much this student missed his mother and was much closer to his dad. Still another student asked how same-sex couples manage this, and we talked about that, about how the absence of health benefits for same-sex partners affected any flexibility they might otherwise have.

And I did all this with the baby in a sling, sleeping. (My mother-in-law, aka Molly's grandma, came in about ten minutes before the end and took the baby into her arms and out into the hallway.) At the end, one of the students asked me what I had done, and I narrated my own ins-and-outs, making sure to talk about how I have this flexibility because I have a husband whose job gives him health benefits, and how that's given me flexibility over these past seven years. I really wanted them to realize that these paths are not just individual decisions. They take place within an array of policies and rules that we're not often aware of, like healthcare regulations.

I sent the students off with an "assignment": ask your parents how they've managed working and parenting. What do they think of their lives? What social changes would have made life easier for their parents? What might they have done with more support, flexibility and options? If life has been hard, what might have helped?

I wish I could hear the conversations that will take place.

Congratulations to all the Central High School students who are organizing and taking part in this day.

Happy International Women's Day, everyone! Spread the word.


landismom said...

Great post, Miriam, I just linked to it.

Anjali said...

You write about so many important things in this entry, but I'm going to comment on the most important item -- Yea for seven hours of sleep!

Anjali said...

You write about so many important things, so I'll just comment on one issue - Yea for getting sleep!

chip said...

how very cool! I wish you could speak to my kids' schools, it's such an important discussion/conversation and I don't think it's happening as much as it should.

Elizabeth said...

It sounds like you had a really thoughtful discussion. I don't think I ever had such a conversation in school, not in HS, not even in college.