When it comes to pregnancy and parenting discrimination, existing laws and policies do not guarantee enough protection to women. Not only do they discourage social change in outdated gender roles, but they sometimes stand as an obstacle to change. In our short film, we wanted to reflect on the notion of motherhood in our society, on the current role the legal system has in maintaining it, and on the potential role the legal system can take in changing it.
The way our society perceives and treats mothers and motherhood plays a central role in preserving sex inequality. Despite the tremendous progress women have made in the last century, the impact of gender roles is still real, and it affects both women and men at the most meaningful junctions of their lives. While society encourages parenthood as a means of general economic growth and having a family is something that usually both men and women want, women disproportionately carry the burdens of parenthood before, during, and after childbirth.
The film brings forward the voices and experiences of three women: Lisa Newman, an IT engineer who faced pregnancy discrimination while working at a local college; Rebecca Pontikes, a local lawyer who championed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and advocates for the rights of women; and Michelle Budig, a sociologist with expertise on parenting discrimination.
We would like our viewers to see how the current legal regime contributes to the unequal status of women, and at the same time realize how a change in governing norms can promote social change in this area. Updating current law can more accurately reflect the reality of people’s lives as they are lived now and help shape social norms and gender roles, equality, and family/work relationships.
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Elizabeth Ferrie, Zamzam Mohammed, and Yafit Shalev graduated from Harvard Law School in 2019.