No More, “I’m Late!”

by Jennifer Stripe Portillo

One morning a few months back, I stopped by the office of one of the department chairs at my institution.  She and I had been trying to connect all week to discuss a student matter and just kept missing one another.  I got lucky on this day—a Friday at just after 9:00 am—finding her at her desk deeply engrossed in a stack of paperwork.  We exchanged pleasantries and jumped right into conversation about the student issue.

As our interaction came to a close, I said something like, “I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you—I have been running behind all week.  And Fridays are my mornings to drop my son off at daycare, so I always get to work late.”  She stopped short and said, “Jennifer, I will not allow that language in my office. You’re a mother to a young child, and I guarantee you that you have done more this morning than our male colleagues who have been sitting at their desks since 8am. I must ask that you stop subscribing to the belief that your attending to your child’s needs is a problem and accept that your urge to apologize for being “late” is fed by the existence of hegemonic masculinity.”

Wait – what??  That can’t be true.  I’m a feminist.

My son was born two months before I turned 40.  Up until that time, my life revolved around my career.  I got to work early, stayed late, attended myriad weekend and evening events, and prided myself on being always available to my President.  My happiness and self-worth were almost exclusively defined by my professional success.  Becoming a mom changed that.

After returning to work from maternity leave, I found myself making a lot of “excuses” — about arriving late, about leaving early, about taking time off to care for my son, about why I was so tired during meetings.  All the while, I was secretly scolding myself for failing to stay on top of everything, scolding myself for failing to celebrate “having it all”.  In hindsight, I wonder how the women in my organization—some of them mothers and most of them young professionals—were impacted.

Was excusing my inability to achieve “balance” (a whole other blog post!) creating conditions in which sexism and oppression were permitted to lead?  How was this affecting their view of our shared workplace?  What was it saying to them about my expectations of them?

Through this reflection, I uncovered an important truth for myself—I’m a feminist, and, like many, I have learning and growing to do around how my commitment to equality can impact my workplace and the experiences of women in student affairs.  I have the privilege and responsibility to live out my feminist core values in my daily work to continue to advance toward fairness for all.


1 thought on “No More, “I’m Late!”

  1. Great post and great wisdom! Women bear a disproportionate amount of childcare responsibility and a disproportionate amount of the impact of this in the workplace and in their careers. I would add – one might ask the wise department chair to consider that the man in the office by 8am she dismissed might have also dropped off his kids at daycare that morning. Rigid gender roles and expectations are a tool of patriarchy that limit men and oppress women…and we all contribute to them.

    The Dad who does drop off and pick-up most days and is in the office by 8:30am most days …and who also will not apologize.

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