The Future Is Female And So Was The Past: Women, Work, and Labor

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Mamava celebrates women every day of the year, but we get especially pumped for March because it’s Women’s History month. So imagine how excited we were to learn that the theme for the 2017 National Women’s History Project was “trailblazing women in labor and business.”  Labor and business! Hello?!

 

The National Women’s History Project celebrates labor in terms of, well, labor. Our fore-mothers include women like Kate Mullany, who formed the first all-women union to improve working conditions at the Troy Collar Factory in 1846. And Norma Yaeger who was the first woman stockbroker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange...ever. And that was in the 1960s.  And even more recently, Lilly Ledbetter, an advocate for wage parity and the force behind the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. These women paved the way for all of us to be here today.

 

But because we’re a company dedicated to supporting new moms, we’re also inspired by the other meaning of the word labor--and that’s the labor of birth. Like Valerie Kaur’s powerful message about breathing through-- and pushing into--the space of revolutionary love, a space that all mamas know well.

We love laboring on behalf of mamas to ensure that those who choose to breastfeed have the support and resources they need to succeed. Our mission is to ensure that mamas have clean and dignified spaces to pump both at work and wherever they go.

 

Supporting mamas is the easy part; the hard part is changing culture.

 

Today women make up half of the workforce, but still make less money than their male counterparts for the same work. Racial and gendered discrimination continue to affect too many women on a daily basis. While we’ve certainly come a long way, when it comes to labor and working conditions for women workplaces are still not equal playing fields.

 

There’s a powerful scene in Hidden Figures when Taraji P. Hensen’s character runs across the Langley campus to use the only designated bathroom for African American women. On one of these runs she returns soaking wet from rain and has to account for her whereabouts to her angry boss (played by Kevin Costner).

It’s only after she explains where she’s been that he finally realizes that the workplace is structured by both gender and racial privilege (invisible to him as a white man until it’s pointed out by a black woman). Costner’s character then takes a crowbar to the “Colored” bathroom sign, thus putting an end to at least one local form of discrimination.

 

Authentic cultural change takes a long time, but sometimes a small potent gesture--like eliminating segregated bathrooms--can go a long way towards improving material conditions for everyday women.

 

New mamas are a powerful reminder that notions of the “ideal worker” continue to assume that male employees are the norm. We see this reflected in work environments that haven’t yet made accommodations for breastfeeding women.

 

When breastfeeding moms return to work, they need the time and space to pump so they can continue to produce milk. But they also need a workplace that demonstrates respect for women’s choices about how best to feed their children by making sure that mamas have a quiet and dignified space to pump. Mamas are everywhere and mamas go everywhere, so we need workplaces that support the needs of all bodies and all employees.

 

We’re thankful for all the trailblazing women who came before us. From demanding safer working conditions to claiming the right to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with male peers, these women identified a problem, mobilized to solve it, and challenged expectations about what women could do and what women could be. 


That’s cultural change we can get behind. And to all the mamas out there, we’ve got your front!