Maternity Leave: Looking Forward, Looking Back

Miki Caul Kittilson of Arizona State University makes a strong case for the importance of women in political power in order for more parental leave policies to occur. Kittilson’s article “Representing Women: The Adoption of Family Leave in Comparative Perspective” examines data from 1970-2000 in 19 different democratic countries. As writer’s like Ann Crittenden(see “Mommy Tax” post) have looked to European countries for a better model of parental leave, Kittilson’s research provides one solution as to what makes a difference: women actively participating in democracy. Kittilson concludes, “Women’s parliamentary presence significantly influences the adoption and scope of maternity and childcare leave policies. Women’s political presence trumps the ideology of the party in power.”

It is difficult to say what will happen to maternity leave policies in the United States in the future. The women’s movement is a movement of people and as such is very diverse. As we discussed in class there were women advocating for women’s suffrage while others resisted it and found it counter-intuitive to their goals and identity as women. Still yet there were systematic barriers in the language of the Declaration of Independence and the all male government that needed to be convinced in order to enact change. Similarly, maternity leave is an issue that questions people’s values. As mentioned in previous posts, some simply do not see a problem and feel equality has basically been achieved. Others feel that the policy facilitates women working outside the home, which they find degrading to the true role and influence of women. Advocates of maternity leave find it an important policy to advance the position of women, but have diverse beliefs on what those policies and benefits should look like. As seen with the ERA movement, many others have seen the inequalities and problems, yet feel that assigning women a special status in the workplace hinders her advancement in the working world. The attitudes of women are diverse and the barriers to a comprehensive maternity leave policy are as complex as the attitudes that maintain them. However, there is still potential for change in policy. As Kittilson stated:

“It is also possible that the activities of one woman may inspire more change than the inactivity of a critical mass. Yet critical acts and actors require support to pass policies. Support for adopting and expanding family leaves is often rooted in an environment in which women have greater political power.”

This language about activists and the many supporters behind them required to effect change reminded me of our discussion on the Civil Rights Movement. Just as in Brown et. al. v. The Board of Education, there are many people and choices at work in a movement. Also, just as with Rosa Park’s story, even the “one woman [who] may inspire more change” often has a lot of behind the scene work and invisible activism before getting a moment of recognition.

With time we will see how the battle over maternity leave plays out in the United States. Whether it develops into a common belief as a right, like women’s equal pay did after the 1960’s movement, or remains a highly contested issue in the coming decades, women will not simply be helpless victims in a patriarchal system. With this issue, as with all others, they are actors in the movement and will make the choices they feel are in their best interest, working actively and consciously within the constraints they face as both mothers and workers.




Kittilson, Miki Caul. “Representing Women: The Adoption of Family Leave in Comparative Perspective.” Journal Of Politics 70, no. 2 (April 2008): 323-334. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed December 3, 2016).

Class Notes.


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