Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Summer 1991

College/Unit

WVU College of Law

Abstract

Reaction to Felice Schwartz article, "Management Women and the New Facts of Life,"1 has added a new question to the already heated debate surrounding issues of gender discrimination: to what extent are

current pregnancy and parental care policies instruments of discrimination? This paper will explore this question by focusing on the extent to which pregnancy and parental care laws and policies in the United States and the European Community help to subordinate those women who take advantage of maternity "benefits" as well as the class of women in general.

An examination of pregnancy and parental care leave is a legitimate and useful inquiry for understanding and comparing implicit societal values. This issue provides a natural forum for cross-cultural comparison because all industrialized societies must struggle with the question of how to deal with pregnant working women. Furthermore, this issue raises the more interesting question of whether and to what extent deeply rooted prejudices cloud important social issues and skew scientific interpretations of statistics. To what extent do these prejudices disable social scientists who use their tools to forecast and then prove politically desirable and undesirable predictions? Pregnancy and parental care policies are also interesting because they involve an area that must divide along gender lines (even where paternity leave is available). After all, only women can give birth to and breast-feed children. Historically, this biological difference has been used as a scientific cloak by those in power who wished to disenfranchise women. The question remains: to what degree do current maternity laws remedy this historical discrimination? After analyzing the ways in which various cultures deal with working women, comparative analysis helps to direct us to and focus our attention upon the values underlying common perceptions regarding gender. Section I of this paper provides the sociological background necessary for an informed discussion of pregnancy and parental care policies across the United States. Section II describes the ways in which the United States has organized its maternity leave system at the legal level and critically analyzes the American maternity leave system from a feminist perspective. Section III describes countervailing European models within the European Economic Community and compares these models with the American model. Finally, sections IV and V offer an alternative solution to the problem that arises when maternity policies serve, to some extent, as instruments of discrimination. What values, if any, do such policies reflect? What values do we, as a society, want these policies to reflect?

Source Citation

12 Comparative Labor Law Journal 458

Comments

This article is posted in the Research Repository @ WVU with the permission of the Comparative Labor Law Journal.

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