Justice

This Mom's Response to Her Daughter's Sexist Homework Is Spot On

June 6th 2017

By:
Ethan Simon

When Lynne Polvino's six year old daughter came home with an assignment steeped hyper-traditional gender norms, she took the liberty of editing it to 2017 standards. Her edit has gone viral, attracting hundreds of shares and comments, some positive, some not so much.

The assignment was a fill-in-the-blank.

The assignment was designed to help the children use context clues in a story to determine the missing word. But it wasn't the nature of the assignment that Polvino found objectionable. It was the narrative of the story, which seemed to suggest that mothers who go back to work after having children do so at the expense of their families.

Here's the original story in the assignment:

The story begins, "Lisa was not happy. Her mother was back at work." Lisa's problems include eating a mediocre breakfast prepared by her father, and worrying about what time her mother will come home from work. In the end, Lisa's mother takes off work early to be with the children, which seems to set things right.

The story present a bizzare 1950s-esque interpretation of men's and women's respective roles in the family.

The story suggests that when Lisa's mom heads back to work, she's abandoning her duty as a mother, and relegating her child to a life of bad breakfasts and loneliness, strongly suggesting that a woman's place is in the home.

Mom Cooking

Polvino, a working mother herself, was outraged.

According to HuffPost, Polvino works in a publishing house in New York, and lives in Queens. For her, the story was outrageous. In an interview with Today! she said "It just pushed so many buttons for me, and with each sentence it managed to get worse! My shock and dismay quickly turned to outrage. I mean, what decade are we in, anyway? In this day and age, we're going to tell kids that mothers working outside the home makes their children and families unhappy? That fathers don't normally do things like cook and wash the dishes?"

So she decided to rewrite the assignment.

Using the same fill-in-the-blank words as the original, Polvino created an entirely different story—one in which women and men share equally in domestic duties and professional life.

In the rewrite, Lisa's mother enjoys paid maternity leave, and Lisa's father enjoys paid paternity leave as well. Lisa's father has the domestic duties "firmly under control," and instead of Lisa worrying about when her mother will be home, she spends the afternoon in a "free federally-funded after school enrichment program, where they offer Lego robotics and painting." In the end, Lisa is happy not because her mother is home early, but because "she was growing up in a society free from gender bias and misogyny."

Some commenters celebrated Polvino's rewrite.

 

 

 

 

While others were more critical.

 

 

 

 

One thing is clear though, the scenario Polvino imagines is out of reach for most Americans.

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn't offer paid maternity leave. We don't offer paid paternity leave either. Individual employers might, but there's no law on the books mandating paid leave for new parents. This policy not only makes it hard for Americans to afford children, it enforces traditional gender norms. For most Americans, leave after having a child is unpaid, and job security upon one's return isn't guaranteed. Given a gender wage gap that favors men, and the fact that men get promoted more often, women are often encouraged to leave the workforce after childbirth.

 

 

Compared to some European nations, our child care programs go woefully unsubsidized. More robust and affordable childcare would allow both parents to work full-time, at least once children are school-aged. And Trump's proposed budget attempts to cut after-school funding even more.

But while America should absolutely be pushing for paid maternity leave—given how far we are behind the rest of the world—an even better policy would be more gender-neutral, like Canada's. Through our northern neighbor's program, a birth mother gets 17 weeks of unpaid leave after her pregnancy. There's also a parental leave program, through which spouses of biological or adopted children can split up to 37 weeks of unpaid time-off, regardless of their gender. Parents are also eligible for 12 months of employment insurance, through which they are paid about half of their regular salary.

A gender-neutral policy like this doesn't enforce gender norms, but rather encourages parents to make the best choices for them about who should stay at home and who should go to work.

And it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Because women suffer in their careers due to their gender, they're more likely to be the parent to stay home with young children. That trend is what leads to "mommy-tracking"—women suffering in their careers because of the assumption that they'll have children and quit. It's a vicious cycle. So while a robust mandate for gender-neutral parental leave won't change the culture of gender normativity, it can help limit the very real financial obstacles faced by women in the workforce.

Watch ATTN:'s video about the importance of parental leave below.