Immigrant Healthcare Workers: The Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic

By: Jetzel Chavira

When I first heard of COVID-19, I had no idea what we were getting into. I reflect on the healthcare workers fighting frontlines against this contagious and deadly disease. About 2.9 million immigrant healthcare professionals played a vital role in fighting against COVID-19. And one of those 2.9 million healthcare workers was my mom. She immigrated to the United States at 8years old, but she went back in forth to Mexico ’till around the time she was in middle school. She had me at 16 years old but despite these challenges with a newborn and practically being a single mother, she pursued respiratory care. She earned her associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. During the pandemic, she continued to work at the hospital, working directly with COVID-19 patients. I remember how fearful she was coming home to my little sister and I. Our laundry room was next to our car garage so she would change out of her scrubs in the laundry room to new clothes in order to take extra precautions. She was on the front lines fighting against the pandemic.

Whenever I hear immigrants steal jobs or don’t contribute to our society, I feel anger come over me because I think about my mom. There have been countless times when my mom has been afraid that she may be fired from her job due to her status. My mom does not deserve to live in fear. No one deserves to live in fear. 

So, I say let’s appreciate immigrant healthcare workers, instead of telling them to go back to their country.  

 

The Gender Gap in Caregiving and Why Women Carry It

Trivia Question: In heterosexual married couples where both partners work full time, women spend ____ % more time caregiving than men.

Answer: 40.

By: Emma Sauer

When I think of caregivers, I think of my paternal grandma, who’s dedicated herself to my grandpa’s care for as long as I can remember, ever since he’s had difficulty walking. I think of my mother, a living reminder that housewives work their asses off just as much as career-women. I think of my best friend, studying rigorously so she can become a nurse.

Caregiving, whether its paid or unpaid, professional or personal, is hard work. I will forever have respect for caregivers, because they go above and beyond to help their fellow humans. It takes a special kind of person to be patient and disciplined enough to be a good caregiver. Caregiving, if you weren’t aware, is a broad term that covers those who “provide care to people who need some degree of ongoing assistance with everyday tasks on a regular or daily basis” (CDC). A caregiver can be someone hired to take care of a stranger, or an unpaid person taking care of a family member, friend, or loved one. Up to 81% of all caregivers, formal and informal, are female, and they may spend as much as 50% more time giving care than males. Even in heterosexual relationships where both partners work full time, women still spend a whopping 40% more time caregiving than their male partner. 

So, why do women shoulder such a heavy share of the caregiving compared to men? If you yourself are a woman, you already know the answer: it’s what’s expected of us. This isn’t to say that caregiving and homemaking isn’t just as important as more traditional careers, or even that there aren’t women who love doing it. However, it would be outright wrong to say that that 75% number isn’t partly due to a sense of obligation. It was only as recently as WWII that the United States began to change its perception of women as primary caretakers. In those days, the nuclear model of family demanded that women stayed home to cook, clean, and watch the kids, while their husbands went off and did important man things, like selling vacuums door to door, committing tax fraud in the office, and whatever else businessmen did in the 50’s. You’d think things would have changed more by 2022, but a lot of women are instilled with an obligation/duty to take care of others, whether it’s their children, husband, parents, or someone else.

This month, let’s recognize the women in our lives who are caretakers. Better yet, let’s do it all year long. If you’re a caregiver yourself, thank you. Thank you for your hard work, dedication, and time you give to others.

What Infertility Taught Me About Feminism

by Danielle Lyons

As a child, it was obvious to choose motherhood as a career. That was the goal. That was the plan. Things don’t always go according to plan. At the age of 19, I received the diagnosis of Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility. Marni Rosner says,

“Women often begin to imagine themselves GetAttachmentThumbnailas mothers long before actually trying to have children, and this is certainly influenced by implicit cultural and societal messages that idealize motherhood. When this imagined self of a mother, however tentative, is withdrawn, it may result in feeling a loss of control, threaten her imagined future, cause her to doubt her womanhood, and feel like an assault on her ability to self-actualize.”

So much of my identity had been taken from me at the second of my diagnosis. I had invested so much in my plans of motherhood, I had to do a little revaluation of my goals.

First I addressed the age old question, “What’s Plan-B?” I had planned so much of my life around the prospects of motherhood. I was left reeling when I realized that might not come to fruition. When we are young, we are given baby dolls to nurture that instill in us the value of being a caretaker. Through my work here at The Women’s Center, I came to a realization. Yes, I’d be a great mother. But I’d probably be good at a lot of things if I give myself room to explore other avenues. Iris Waichler reminds us, “Spend some time thinking about how many other different ways you can identify yourself. You may be a sibling, a friend, a wife. Perhaps you are a person with a solid career and professional skills, and proud personal achievements that occurred before the word infertility ever entered your consciousness.” So, motherhood may not happen for me. That’s not the end of the world. There’s infinite possibilities at our disposals. Infertility has taught me about recognizing my worth as a woman. My worth and possibility as a person reaches far beyond my fertility, or lack thereof.

It is easy to see your body as the enemy when it doesn’t work in the way you want it to. I eventually learned to love own my body; broken parts and all. Gloria Steinem reminds us, “Each individual woman’s body demands to be accepted on its own terms.” At the end of the day. It isn’t the final say in motherhood. That took a while to grasp for me. We do have options if we so choose to pursue them. There are fertility drugs, surgery, in vitro fertilization, adoption, and many other choices. At the end of the day, I realize that I’m not completely at the mercy of my body. I have much more power and choice than I realize. Mothers aren’t defined just by their ability to bear children, and that’s an important conclusion to come to when you are dealing with infertility.

And finally, I learned the importance of self-care. I’m not going to pretend that fertility issues don’t make me sad. They do. I think it’s completely okay and necessary to mourn the things that just may not be. With that being said, it is also a necessity to provide some self-care at those times I’m mourning. Self-care is an intentional act in which to help care for your emotional and mental wellbeing. Lucille Ball says, “You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” On those days of grief and insecurity, it’s essential to actively be kind to yourself. Sometimes the most radical thing you can do, is just care for yourself.

To my fellow sufferers of infertility, I’ll leave you with this:

You are power. You are worthy. And you are not alone.

Starr Community Conversation: “Who Does She Think She Is?”

By Maritza Gordillo

On Tuesday, March 22nd, I attended the Starr Community Conversation: Technology and Modern Families. This discussion was very interesting to me because it helped me understand that technology can be beneficial for balancing work/life if you know how to moderate yourself; as well as harmful if you overdo it. Although this conversation was open to all ages, it more importantly focused on how to best integrate the use of technology within families in our community.

This evening, April 12th, the Starr Community Conversation: “Who Does She Think She Is?” Balancing Family Life with Creative Careers will be taking place at the Truman Forum auditorium in the KC Public Library from 6pm-9pm. This conversation will be discussing the documentary “Who Does She Think She Is?” and the unique challenges women and men come across in balancing their creative careers and family life.

Heat Death

By Maritza Gordillo

Image c/o Flickr Images

I was browsing Change.org and stumbled across an article about 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez who died of heat exhaustion. Maria was constantly denied water breaks while working long hours picking grapes for the Merced Farm Labor in California. After working nine hours in the sun, she collapsed in the arms of her fiancé, and died two days after. The doctors that examined Maria’s body discovered that she was two months pregnant. When she was initially brought to a clinic, her family was instructed, by the labor contractor, to say that she had fainted while exercising. Is it physically possible to reach a temperature of 108 degrees while exercising? Maria’s, and her unborn child’s, deaths could have been prevented if the labor contractors would’ve taken the time to consider heat prevention procedures and the basic rights of a farmworker.

Maria’s family took Merced Farm Labor to court; the result was a $1000 fine and 400 hours of community service for the safety coordinator, and 40 hours of community service and 3 years of probation for the owner of Merced Farm Labor. Their attorney may even find a way to reduce the safety coordinator’s charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. This type of minor punishment for two deaths that were preventable sends a horrible message that the life of women farmworkers do not matter. Maria’s case is just one of many female farmworkers who get exploited by their labor contractors with no opportunity for water and restroom breaks or even proper shade. We should advocate against this unjust treatment of women farmworkers. If you would like more information about Maria’s case please visit the United Farmworkers Facebook page.

Sexist Solutions

By Maritza Gordillo

Image c/o Flickr.com

Officials in Frederick County, Maryland were voting on a possible elimination in local funds for the well-known Head Start program for children who come from low-income families. This proposal raised worries and frustration for parents, but parents were not only worried because of the cut in funds, but also furious with the sexist solutions and remarks made by some elected officials. Paul Smith and Kirby Delauter, both commissioners in Frederick County, suggested that women should stay home and take care of children instead of sending them to school, thus saving money. Smith says, “My wife stayed home at significant sacrifice during those early years because she knew she had to be with those kids at that critical age.” Delauter agreed with Smith, stating, “My wife, college educated, could go out and get a very good job, she gave that up for 18 years so she could stay home with our kids.”

Many argue that the commissioners’ comments and suggestions were very sexist and ignorant because a woman has just as much right to get an education and have a career as men do. Maybe these individuals were privileged to sustain their families on a single income and have their wives stay at home if that was their choice, but for Smith to assert that, “the mother’s role is primarily in the home…,” does not mean he can generalize and assume that every mother is mandated to be a house wife. Smith and Delauter fail to consider women who live on a single income and do not have the luxury of staying at home with their kids. Why do many people assume that mothers should forego their careers to stay at home and be the primary caregiver of the family?

Working Mothers Face the Motherhood Penalty

 By Patsy Campos

Image from Flickr.com

Many women dream of that moment that they become mothers.  For many women this is a happy time, as it should be. But for many working mothers, they are finding a work environment that can be somewhat hostile, unfair, and even sexist.  But why is there so much discrimination towards mothers when it comes to careers?  Why do people degrade something that is a natural part of some women’s lives?

 Society tends to makes its own rules.  I recently came across an article that addressed this issue; I cannot believe how unfair some people are towards working mothers.  Joan Williams, a professor of law at the University of California said that according to a recent study, mothers are 79% less likely to be hired and 100% less likely to get promoted.  Also the study found that mothers are assumed to be less competent than non-mothers.  Who created this mess? 

As I searched through people’s responses in the study I found one that struck me: “the economy needs people who will be there every day and not miss work because of a sick child.”  Just because someone is a parent, it does not mean that they are going to miss work.  People shouldn’t be so quick to make assumptions and to draw conclusions; furthermore, why are they so quick to make this assumption about a working mom, but not a dad. I remember my parents always were at work and received perfect attendance. 

What is sad here is that not only do women have to consider how many children to have or when to have them when it comes to their careers, but whether or not to have children at all because apparently being a mother looks bad to employers.  I believe being a parent should not hinder anybody in the job market. 

We are in the new millennium and it surprises me that people are still discriminating for very foolish reasons.  Many working mothers are very resilient and adaptable – they work, attend school, take care of their families, and still fit in some social life.  That is impressive and it shows determination which is an important quality employers should be looking for.  Working mothers need the support from society and employers who can see the benefits of hiring a working mom and not just the draw backs.  We should eliminate the assumptions about working moms and the motherhood penalty, so that women can make choices about motherhood without worrying about the impact on their jobs.

To hear more about work/life balance, join us for the Starr Community Conversation, “The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle,” on Tuesday, November 9, at 5:45 p.m. at Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center. The conversation will take a deeper, diversified look at local stories of the work/life balance struggles of Kansas City’s “three faces.”

Johnny Rockets: Unsupportive to Nursing Mothers

Image from flickr.com

As you’re aware from my previous blog post, this is National Breastfeeding Month.  During this month breastfeeding is recognized for the value it brings to infants. Although, it is the mother’s choice whether or not to breastfeed her child, many people seem to have their own opinions about breastfeeding, especially when it comes to when and where they think it is appropriate.

In a recent article I learned about a woman who was asked to leave a Johnny Rockets restaurant in Newport, Kentucky because she was publicly breastfeeding her six-month-old child on the patio of the restaurant. The manager had received complaints from several customers who felt uncomfortable with what the mother was doing, despite her attempt to be discreet by covering her nursing child with a blanket.  The manager suggested to the mother that she continue feeding her child in the restaurant’s restroom, but when she refused to do so, he eventually asked her to leave. 

This incident drew the attention of many outraged mothers who began to protest outside of Johnny Rockets.

I don’t think that the mother in this case should have been asked to move away from the other restaurant patrons, nor should she have been sent to the restroom to feed her child. And I think that the restaurant manager was wrong for making the mother feel ashamed and marginalized for choosing to do something natural. (All mammals nurse their young, right?) 

Laws actually exist in most states in the US to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed publicly.  In the state of Kentucky where this incident happened, the law permits a mother to breastfeed her baby or express breast milk in any public or private location; furthermore, the law protects the act of breastfeeding from being considered an act of public indecency.  Here in Missouri, the law allows mothers to breastfeed, with “as much discretion as possible,” in any private or public location.  And just across the state line in Kansas, the law also supports and encourages a mother’s choice to breastfeed, and permits a mother to breastfeed in any place she has a right to be.

More understanding of these laws is necessary, so that mothers who choose to breastfeed their children feel supported in their choices and so that restaurant owners and restaurant diners (and everyone else, for that matter) can be more sympathetic.  National Breastfeeding Month and many non-profit Organizations strive to bring awareness to the benefits that breastfeeding can bring to a child and to bring advocacy for the mother’s right to breastfeed her child.  It is still up to the individual mother whether she breastfeeds her child or not, but at least she can be assured that in most states, the law is on her side if she chooses to do so.

Changing Attitudes About Family Roles

Image from flickr.com

Recently, the New York Times published an article discussing women in the workforce – specifically mothers and the job market. The article makes some valid points about the disparities that still exist between men and women in the job market, most of which are examples of why we still need feminism today.  The article states that, “There are still only 15 Fortune 500 companies with a female chief executive… Overall, full-time female workers make a whopping 23 percent less on average than full-time male workers.”  For the most part, the article is right about how we need policy changes that allow people with families, mainly women with children, the freedom and protection to find balance between their family responsibilities and advancing in careers; however, I found that the article made some statements that bothered me.

Not too far into the article, the writer, David Leonhardt, plays into gender stereotypes by saying, “What’s going on? Men and women are not identical, of course. Many more women take time off from work. Many more women work part-time at some point in their careers. Many more women can’t get to work early or stay late.”

Maybe it’s not just Leonhardt gender-stereotyping, but the fact that this is a pretty common attitude about women that really bothers me.  Moreover, the stereotype tends to emphasize that most women are unable to devote adequate time to their careers. In all fairness, Leonhardt’s piece does a good job of outlining how new policy would have a positive effect on the job market, not just for women, but for all people with families.  In addition to this, he stresses that it will take a combination of legal and cultural changes to make a difference. However, the article brings up an interesting question: Why are there still so many negative stereotypes about females in the workplace, especially females with children?

It seems the stereotypes and the fact that more men than women are CEO’s is a result of this ongoing cultural idea that a woman can’t do the job as well as a man. This idea is one that feminists have been fighting against for a very long time. And while we have made headway in the fight against gender discrimination at work, society still needs to change the way they view women.

Leonhardt’s article also mentions that “women can’t get to work early or stay late.” I focus on this line mainly because it seemed confusing to me. Is he saying that women with families obviously have more work around the house to do and are mostly responsible for childcare, and these reasons are why they can’t get to work early or stay late?  Is he assuming, then, that men with families don’t have to do as much around the house or have the same responsibilities for childcare, so they obviously can devote more time to work and their careers?

This gender stereotype, about women’s roles in families, is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to changing both the cultural and legal landscape for the job market. In Sweden, both men and women take leaves to take care of the children, equally. Granted Sweden is much more work/life balance friendly when it comes to people being able to take leave from work and not be penalized, but it is a great example of the gender equality the U.S. needs to aim for.

Women in the U.S are constantly expected to be either “career-driven” and, therefore, have no family.  Or they have a family and, therefore, can’t be “career-driven.” It is a double-edged sword for women who ask, “why can’t I have both?” Men can just as easily stay home and take care of the kids, or assume an equal share of the household and family responsibilities.  And many of them today do. But much of society works under the impression that that is still the “woman’s job.” Clearly if America is ever going to see gender equality in the workplace, our society needs to start with changing how we define family roles.

August is National Breastfeeding Month

Image from fotopedia.com

Every day at the Women’s Center, we celebrate women for their many contributions to society. August is nationally recognized as National Breastfeeding Month. This month is devoted to women and the value of breastfeeding their infants.

While not all mothers choose to breastfeed their infants, advocates of breastfeeding feel that women who breastfeed their infants can improve their child’s health, such as protecting the baby from gastrointestinal trouble, respiratory problems and ear infections.  Additionally, breastfeeding can even protect an infant from developing allergies later in life.

In support of staff, faculty, and students at UMKC who are also nursing mothers, the Women’s Center provides an on-site lactation station. Our lactation station provides a private, secure space where mothers feel comfortable while pumping their milk.  For more information about using the lactation station please stop by the Women’s Center at 105 Haag Hall or contact us at umkcwomenscenter@umkc.edu or 816-235-1638.