Call Yourself A Feminist? Prove It By Taking Your Paternity Leave

In the daily torrent of news about the fight for gender equity (ahem, #GoogleMemo), one policy has been increasingly thrust into the limelight: paternity leave. From the uproar over the initial Trump plan that excluded fathers, to frequent news reports of evolving corporate practice — even in traditional bastions like big law firms — more people and companies are paying attention to paternity leave.

This should come as no surprise: 94 percent of fathers polled in a 2015 Pew survey affirmed that being a parent was either “extremely important” or “very important” to their sense of identity. One Boston College survey found that 89 percent of fathers believe it is important for employers to provide paid paternity leave.

But here’s the thing: with a few prominent exceptions (kudos to the father who recently filed a class action lawsuit against JP Morgan Chase’s discriminatory leave policy), men have largely been absent from the fight for gender equity, and for our own rights when it comes to paternity leave and family friendly policies more broadly.

I’m guilty of this. As a proud male feminist, I have tended to think of my role as being a good ally. Or more accurately, a rhetorically supportive but ultimately lazy ally. I’ve been content to sit back and draft on the successes of the women’s movement: Hey, you get flexible work hours and telework? I’d like those too. Parental leave to bond with your child? Count me in!

When female colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development(USAID) formed a “Women@AID” affinity group, I tentatively asked if I could join. And found them already doing the hard work of organizing and advocating for better work-life policies. We hosted a brown-bag discussion about the popular “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” article by then-Director of Policy Planning at the State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter, with issues deeply relevant to my own life (as a man) and how I thought about career balance with my wife. Of the 100+ people who attended, six were male.

When I subsequently joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — rightly regarded for their progressive work-family policies — I again found myself searching for an avenue to engage. Once again, it was the “Women Connect” group doing the hard work, pressing for better solutions to work-family conflict.

Where are the men — these huge majorities who claim to value paternity leave — when it comes to advocating for themselves? Where are the men’s groups demanding better paternity leave benefits and flexible work schedules so that they can spend time with their children? Why is it that virtually every major organization leading the advocacy efforts for paid family leave — an issue that affects men and women alike, not to mention their children and families — is led by women?

Let’s be clear: right now men are losing when it comes to the fight for family leave. Another women-led…

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