Bravo pours ‘political fuel’ on working-women discussion

Ellen Bravo takes particular pride in her connection to the advocacy group “9to5, National Association for Working Women.” But at a Davenport College Master’s Tea on Monday, she joked that, given the hours women with jobs and families are “working,” the work schedule should probably be called “24/7.”

Bravo, who served as director of “9to5” until 2004, focused her talk on feminism and the conflict between women’s home lives and workplace lives. Bravo currently teaches women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and recently authored a book titled “Taking on the Big Boys: Or Why Feminism Is Good for Families, Business, and the Nation.”

Ellen Bravo speaks with Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld yesterday. Bravo said workplace policies make professional life harder for women with families.
Salvador Andrade
Ellen Bravo speaks with Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld yesterday. Bravo said workplace policies make professional life harder for women with families.

America’s leaders — or, as Bravo calls them, “the Big Boys” — incorrectly claim there are fewer women in power because they are opting to raise families instead of developing careers, Bravo said. These leaders ignore the unfair laws and workplace policies that make professional life harder for women, she said.

“To be a man — normal and stable — is to have a job and a family,” Bravo said. “Women who have jobs and a family have too much — they are unstable.”

The only exception to this model, she said, are fathers who schedule work around their family and who end up at the same level as the women do.

But the problem is particularly acute for women, who are expected to make their families a priority, she said. In the absence of laws requiring companies to give paid leave to employees who have a new child or who need to take care of ill family members, maintaining a highly valued job is difficult, she said.

Those laws that do exist, some of which Bravo said she helped bring about, are oftentimes vague in what they permit, she said.

“I recently spoke in Canada and one woman I know there took maternity leave for a year with 55 percent of her normal pay,” she said. “In America, we get 12 weeks of unpaid leave.”

These problems are relevant to women at Yale, who are preparing to enter the workforce, Bravo said.

Rebecca Cooper ’09, who attended the tea, said she is unsure of how she will juggle a family and career.

“As a Yale student, I feel the responsibility to do something with my career to change the world,” she said. “But to have a family while keeping my career relevant is going to be difficult.”

The disparity between men and women that manifests itself in the workplace is evident even among Yale undergraduates, said Claire Gordon ’10, a coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center, which co-sponsored the tea. Despite the equal academic opportunities at Yale, there is evidence of gender discrepancy in course selections, she said.

“I feel like a lot of my male friends are taking economics courses and worrying about investment-banking interviews while the female students are in literature classes not worrying about that stuff,” Gordon said.

Gordon said Bravo’s talk “gave the vocabulary” and “political fuel” to work to improve conditions for working women. Still, when Bravo asked whether there is any discussion of how to do so at Yale, an audience member responded in the negative.

“No,” the audience member said. “We’re too busy.”

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