Anne Hathaway Nails Why Paid Parental Leave Should Be A No-Brainer

by Valerie Williams
Originally Published: 
Image via Angela Weiss/Getty Images

The actress uses her experience as a new mom to explain why paid parental leave is so important

Anne Hathaway spent International Women’s Day advocating for a cause close to our hearts — paid parental leave. She went before the United Nations and delivered a passionate speech about the necessity of paid leave for both moms and dads, arguing that it’s sorely needed for both.

Citing her own experience as a new mom, Hathaway spoke about the changes a family goes through when a baby is born, and why those changes should mean a grace period for both parents. After giving birth to son Jonathan last year, she began to grasp how crucial that time is. “I remember I experienced a shift in consciousness that gave me the ability to maintain my love of career and also cherish something else, someone else, so much, much more.”

Though her life as a famous actress is clearly different than us Normals heading back to the office, she demonstrates a real understanding of the implications of parents returning to work too soon, and of not being paid for whatever time off they do receive.

“Like so many parents, I wondered how I was going to balance my work with my new role as parent, and, in that moment, I remember that the statistic for the U.S.’s policy for maternity leave flashed through my mind. American women are currently entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. American men are entitled to nothing.”

While some companies are offering their employees either full or partial pay and possibly even longer than 12 weeks, it’s still a reality that none of them have to by law. And that most of them still don’t. While Hathaway was speaking to the United Nations and not solely referring to the U.S., it’s hard not to see her speech as a subtweet to America, the “greatest” nation of all, who’s the only country out of 41 nations to not offer parents a single dime’s worth of paid leave.

If Estonia can offer 87 weeks, the U.S. could certainly consider 12.

Hathaway talks candidly about her family’s adjustment to a new baby and how it’s made her see the paltry 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave our country offers mothers in a whole new light.

“That information landed differently for me when one week after my son’s birth, I could barely walk. That information landed differently when I was getting to know a human who was completely dependent on my husband and me for everything, when I was dependent on my husband for most things, and when we were relearning everything we thought we knew about our family and our relationship.”

We’ve discussed before how many women go back to work after having a baby still in pain. Still bleeding. Still totally upside-down from the life they knew before baby. Of course, no amount of parental leave can reverse the totally seismic shift a family goes through when welcoming a new member, but several weeks at home without having to worry about paying the electric bill would go a long way toward easing the transition.

Because while the emotional and physical adjustments surrounding the birth of a child are very real and can’t be ignored, the practical concern of money is a pretty big one. Hathaway acknowledges that reality.

“I remember thinking to myself, If the practical reality of pregnancy is another mouth to feed in your home and America is a country where most people are living paycheck to paycheck, how does 12 weeks of unpaid leave economically work? The truth is for too many people it doesn’t.”

Nailed it. For most families, saving up 12 weeks’ worth of expenses in advance is a struggle or borderline impossibility. In effect, America’s total lack of paid leave for parents sends the message that only those who are well off deserve to have a family. Which is a repulsive and unjust notion.

She also cited the infuriating statistic that one in four American women go back to work only two weeks after giving birth because they can’t afford more time off. After the birth of a child, two weeks is nothing. Not to mention the fact that most reputable childcare providers won’t care for a child under six weeks old. This leaves families trying to cobble together care between partners, babysitters and grandparents. It’s an added strain on top of the myriad other strains a lack of paid leave puts on a family.

There’s also the fact that even in countries that offer paid maternal leave, fathers are still entirely left out of the equation, which contributes to the perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes, as Hathaway points out.

“The assumption and common practice that women and girls look after the home and the family is a stubborn and very real stereotype that not only discriminates against women but limits men’s participation and connection within the family and society.”

Many women are either the sole or primary breadwinner of their household (40% according to Pew Research,) yet, most companies refuse to recognize that dads play a significant role in raising kids these days. My husband’s company is ahead of the curve, allowing him two weeks of paid leave when our kids were born. While recovering from c-sections and learning to breastfeed and barely sleeping, it was incredible having him there. It was necessary. I literally have no idea how women do this when their partner goes back to work by the time they’re home from the hospital. It’s a disgrace it happens in the “greatest” nation in the world.

And it needs to stop.

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