There are several important feminist perspectives that have played an important role in the current understanding of Parental Leave in the workplace. This post highlights several of these perspectives.
1. The Liberal Feminist Viewpoint finds its roots in the political philosophy adopted by the US founding fathers: that all men (and women) are created equal, and that all individuals should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As such, liberal feminists have been concerned with dismantling structural impediments to equality that prevent women from full participation in the workforce. Standing litigation on work force equality such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). While liberal feminists have been fundamental in breaching discriminatory laws, criticisms of the viewpoint are that the liberal feminist approach have supported laws based on the notion that women can become just like men and that it calls women to change their behavior to more closely resemble that of men, a presumption that becomes problematic when it comes to the debate over maternity rights in the workplace.
2. Cultural Feminism takes a serious look at the specific biological needs of women and the social differences that arise as a result of this as a means of shaping policy around maternal leave. They argue that current policies (the ones supported by liberal feminists) ignore the demands pregnancy places on women, and that biological differences justify parental leave policies that compensate women on leave while not providing the same option for men having children. Criticism of this perspective is that (1) it operates under the assumption that all women are the same and leaves no room for women who do not fit under the traditional conception of womanhood (2) it only perpetuates the cycle of sexism and the assumption that women should remain responsible for the majority of childrearing and (3) that it gives little incentive or possibility for fathers to take time off following the birth of a child as its policies focus specifically on women.
3. Post-structural feminists, unlike cultural feminism that groups all women together, take an individualist approach to maternity leave, believing it is a futile exercise to clump all women (or all men) together as a means of forming policy. As such, they challenge altogether the idea that women are more properly suited for child rearing than men and that policy itself must be derived from local context and individual needs. The proper management around parental leave to a post-structural perspective would be to deal with parental leave issues on an individual cases to case basis since every local context and individual circumstance is different and thus requires due accommodation. Criticism of this approach is that the perspective does not recognize how individuals themselves may inherit oppression through group membership, as well as the long and tedious process of negotiation that it requires.
4. Postmodern Feminism works to combine all the previous theories to include all of their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses. The postmodern approach believes that parental leave should be available for both men and women, but that the length of leave time can vary depending on the demands that come from childbearing itself. This would mean that all parents are eligible for paid leave for a fixed period of time (say 6 weeks) with an extended period of paid leave eligibility for childbearing mothers (say and extra 6 weeks).
Tagged below is a youtube on how Maternity Leave is dealt with at Yale...policies that seem to reflect the post-modern approach.