Imagine, if you will, a whole community of short people… Given the argument sometimes made in our society that short people are unable to be firefighters because they are neither tall enough nor strong enough to do the job, the question arises: Would all the houses in this community eventually burn down? Well yes, if we short people had to use the heavy ladders and hoses designed by and for tall people. But no, if we (being as smart as short people are) could instead construct lighter ladders and hoses usable by both tall and short people. The moral here should be obvious: It isn’t short biology that’s the problem; it’s short biology being forced to function in a tall-centered social structure.
–Sandra Bem, The Lenses of Gender
So let us then imagine a society of people who spend at least some portion of their lives being pregnant and who also need to have jobs to support their families. Oh, wait–for almost half of society, this is already the case. It was the case for Peggy Young when she was let go by UPS because she was not supposed to lift more than 20 pounds–even though her job was mostly lifting envelopes, and she had a colleague who could lift the rare 20 lb-plus package. Why is it difficult to think that it might be an ordinary expectation that employers would adjust to the needs of pregnant workers for the brief period of their lives that they are pregnant?
When we assume that men’s bodies are the norm, it is easy to see a policy that doesn’t recognize the needs of pregnant workers, a “pregnancy blind” policy as reasonable (UPS had a pregnancy blind policy when Young worked there). After all, if you can’t get pregnant, you never need accommodations for pregnancy. But if we assume human bodies are normal, then we know that pregnancy is a condition experienced by almost half of all humans, sometimes on multiple occasions.
We expect that humans need to eat, and thus time to eat is scheduled into normal workdays. We also assume humans need to urinate, and we provide accommodations for this function. We do not have a “hunger blind” work policy or a “urination blind” work policy that allows employers to forbid workers who need to eat or pee from holding a job. Even when some people do not have a need but others do, such as a need for leisure time, we do not institute “leisure blind” policies that allow 15 hour workdays 7 days per week because only some people need some time off from work. We used to, but we decided (with the help of labor unions) that this was an unfair policy.
Pregnancy is a normal human condition, whether everyone experiences it or not. Workplaces should expect to accommodate it as they do all ordinary conditions of being human–no matter how inconvenient. And usually it isn’t even inconvenient.