At first this seemed like a random, little city story of some flickering interest: A councilman here in New York wants to grant special parking permits to pregnant women with particular health challenges. Seems reasonable. Parking is a bitch in the city. And when your pregnancy is really hard and your bladder is crushed to the size of a wafer, driving in circles for 30 minutes and then walking twenty blocks is a serious pain.
But when Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women in New York City spoke out against the proposed legislation, I realized this story taps into something much deeper. It gets at the heart of a fundamental conflict between traditional American feminism and motherhood.
“Parking privileges for women experiencing difficult pregnancies is a thoughtful idea,” Ossorio told The New York Daily News “But I don’t want to see a short-term privilege like easy parking … create an environment that further stigmatizes pregnancy…. A lot of bosses just don’t think you’ll be as dedicated, that you’re as nimble or fast, mentally or physically. You see women’s career paths completely take a wrong turn as a result of getting pregnant and becoming mothers.”
Should we not have designated seats on the subway either? Sit down in that seat a nice gentleman just offered you on the train, missy, and before you know it, you’ll be shunted down the wrong career path. Maybe we should never get pregnant in the first place.
Look, I get it. We don’t want to be treated like freaking sick people when we’re knocked up. But one of the problems with Ossorio’s way of thinking is that it assumes the male worker as the norm. He is prioritized. And we are trying to imitate. We may as well wear shoulder pads in our maternity dresses.
I may be pushing a bit too far here but I want to make a point. In the 1960s and 1970s feminism swung really far from the horrors of the domestic sphere for a bunch of good reasons. The ‘delicate condition’ of pregnancy and the noble, saintly pursuit of child-rearing promoted in Victorian times had morphed into the world of mind-numbing, Valium-dosing isolation described by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique. So we pushed really hard against that. We shut down the idea that pregnancy and motherhood make us incapable of other pursuits. That’s good.
I believe pregnant women and mothers are great workers. In fact, if you look back even further than the Victorians and Betty Freidan/Draper and across cultures, you’ll see that women have always worked and raised children. And they’ve always depended on the support of the community, too. But they’ve worked their asses off. Women are not meant to just shut down and stare out a window til the baby is born. Also, if you look at the research behind books like The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, you’ll find that pregnant women and mothers have a ton to offer. Their brains are in prime condition for learning and mastering new tasks and taking on incredibly demanding challenges. They are, in other words, nimble.
But with rejection of the patriarchal, sexist Victorian stuff, we may have thrown too much of the female experience away. We may have actually given away some rights, too. We’ve gotten to the point where any mention of woman’s bodies, hormones or biology is a no-no. I’m wondering if we can’t get to a new place where we acknowledge our biological differences without losing ground?
Can we get an easy parking spot when we’re carrying 50 extra pounds and 50% more blood volume without sending women back to the kitchen? We have incredibly lousy maternity care benefits and I have to wonder if maybe some small part of the reason is our insistence that pregnant women and new mothers don’t need special treatment. Woman may not be womb, but she has one.
Now getting back to the parking permits. I actually think the special placards may actually not be a great idea because, as Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives argues, this would create another “entitled parking group, when there are already too many special and illegal parking permits floating out there.”
Still, I’m interested in hearing from you readers about what you think of this proposed legislation– Georgia and Oklahoma offer parking placards to pregnant women– but also what you think about the idea that pregnant women deserve special treatment. Do you think acknowledging the challenges of pregnancy and new motherhood will be better for women in the long run? Or set us back?