having it all.

by Liz on 06.26

I sit amidst the clutter of a busy weekend. Dishes are stacked by the sink, legos are strewn at my feet, and the baby runs around scattering crumbs from his toast as he goes. Periodically he brings me a lego tower he carefully built for me to admire. But, I sit on the couch with my coffee and a virtual stack of articles that piled up over the course of last week. Having it all, eh?

The question of “Having It All” is sort of near to my heart. I consider myself someone who temporarily gave up her career to be at home with her son (much to the outrage of the feminist world at large, it seems), though, it’s a bit more complex than that. I may have left a job that I loved, that already (though early in my career) had received recognition and commendation. But, in my time at home, I’ve further developed my own business, built a new company, and have begun to gain other means of enjoyable income while also flexing my creative muscles. I’m sort of a hybrid stay-at-home-mom and entrepreneur, never sure if I’m doing either successfully. Luckily, eventually, my son will start school and I’ll return to work. Teaching is terrific in that way. We’ll have the same daily schedule, with the same holidays and summers off. “Having it all,” for me, right now, means working from home. But it also means not having it all at once- shifting my focus to baby now, and back to career later. I’m very fortunate to have that option (at least in theory. Hopefully it’ll play out in practice).

Rather than true “balance,” some women of past generations of feminism seem to have overcompensated, neglecting family for career in ways they don’t even acknowledge. Specific accomplishments and milestones are available to a progressing career, enabling you to demarcate how far you move. With family, the only markers are negative. “We’re not divorced,” and “The kids aren’t on drugs,” seem the only means of proving success in the home. It’s easier, then, to let the family ball drop in favor of keeping up your job, and still say, “Look. I’m doing both successfully.” As a result, some of these same women (not to be interpreted as Feminism as a movement, but individuals) have shoved that responsibility onto the next generation, as well, with a, “But we did it. You should, too.”

I appreciated Slaughter’s article. I enjoyed her candor. I think we’re all always a bit surprised by how little we actually can accomplish in the face of all of our ambition. But, in my estimation, Slaughter does have it all, doesn’t she? She may have given up one high-profile branch of her career, but she certainly is still doing much more than loafing about eating bon-bons. Slaughter’s choice hasn’t been one of “either/or,” but instead one of percentages and compromises. She may not “have it all,” but she’s pretty stinking close.

Still, I think a bit of backlash like this is necessary against the increasingly outdated notion that a woman is only a valuable feminist if she’s working long, hard hours in an office someplace. Squeezing a woman into a one-size-fits-all mold is the opposite of progress. Meanwhile, considering motherhood and staying at home as less valuable than a lucrative career is just straight anti-woman. Many, many women continue to make this choice and lauding men as “progressive!” for doing such, but chiding and villianizing women for doing the same? This is feminism? This is pro-woman?

One critique of this article that I’ve heard repeatedly is that Slaughter ineffectively addresses the fact that men are not similarly torn apart over “work-life balance.” I appreciated that she reiterated a few times that her husband has taken on the majority of the child-rearing and I felt that was a satisfactory handling of the issue. “He’s helping, I’m still needed,” was the message I got. I didn’t feel that Slaughter is taking on the brunt of parenting and housekeeping, or that she is the only of the two who has made compromises in order to care for the children. Instead, it seemed a bit closer to what I described a bit ago. Her ambition got the best of her, ended up being too much, and she needed to take an unanticipated step back. This happens to many people for many other reasons, as well- not just in favor of children.

The general discussion may not often turn to, “How do men balance career and family?” simply out of habit. Women are expected to be home, (or in other circles, expected to be career women) while men are asked to show up for the occasional soccer game and be sure not to miss a birthday. Though this is the case in general, my personal experience is very different. Growing up, my own dad worked several jobs at a time (at one point, he was working one full-time job, two part-time jobs, and completing his Bachelor’s) and I know that he deeply felt the strain of missing his family. My own husband would greatly prefer to be the one allowed to stay home with my son and remarks that he’s jealous fairly often, but he works because he’s conceded to my own preference. Someone needs to pay the bills. The question of  “work-life balance” is very real to the men I know. They just don’t consider it an option or use the language that women do. In a way, the very decision that women are forced to weigh, is the choice these men do not dream their privilege to consider.

So- apart from my own husband and my dad- why are there sectors wherein the top ranks are completely filled with men? Do all of these men suffer from a level of disconnection from their families? Are they immune to it? I think perhaps a small piece may be the added work that women need to do in order to achieve the same status and recognition as men doing the same jobs. Sandberg discussed that women are not as likely to correctly value their worth, are not as likely to see their contributions as valuable, are not as likely to negotiate for a raise, and are more likely to focus on the flaws in what they do. This certainly is a piece of the problem. But perhaps another piece is that a woman needs to exert more effort to prove her worth than a man in the same position. Not because women need to work harder to do the same job, but because public opinion is less inclined to notice the contributions of a woman. This is not just a self-esteem issue. It’s a social perception issue. There will always be men who work long, inflexible hours, spending nights away from their kids in the office. But these men are not lauded for their absentee parenting, and chances are, their female colleagues are working just a bit more to maintain the same career status.

I disagreed with Slaughter’s disdain for, “You can’t have it all at once.” I recognize her point. If I were to continue teaching now, I would miss out on a chunk of my son’s beginning stages and milestones. But, by delaying my career for a minimum of five years (when he’ll start kindergarten), I run the risk of being unable to compete in the job market or prove my skills still relevant. This isn’t “it all” in the most specific, “the best of both worlds” sense. But it is Having It All in the truer, more flexible sense. I’m enjoying my time now, with some limitations. I hope to do the same in the future, perhaps with different parameters.

While I enjoyed this article, I also liked the response by Salon. In fact, they were both arguing the same basic point, as Salon’s Traister eventually admits. “Having it all” as a notion about work-life balance sets too high a bar, unfair to women in the name of “feminism.” My argument for some time has been that we need to redefine what it means to “have it all.” Does it mean that you have a little plate with partitions, each one filled with a specific amount from a buffet? I think, rather, it means choosing what is important to you in the moment, allowing your life to sort itself accordingly, and being open and flexible to that changing dramatically at any given time. Rebecca Traister argues that we shouldn’t redefine “it all”- we should remove the phrase entirely. I’m not sure that this move would solve everything. Even without the language, that  concept is still an important and pressing source of guilt for so many woman, and as such, should be discussed. It should certainly be dismantled from its position as Chief Goal, replaced with something more fair.

Perhaps instead of, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” this should have been titled, “You’ll Need to Make a Few Compromises and I Want You to Be Able to Choose Which Ones.” Then, perhaps Traister (and I, to be fair) could’ve jumped on board a bit more heartily. That’s the thing, right? Whether you are in a high-profile, demanding career like Slaughter’s or you’re a stay-at-home entrepreneur like me, you take what you have and make choices that afford you the most reasonable contentment.

 

SO! There’s lots of juicy stuff going on in all of these many articles. My reading made me think of the, “you can’t have it all at once,” and the difference between male and female decisions about work-life balance. What did it make you think about? What was your take-away? Did you like it, or dislike it?

 

For more:

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic.

Salon’s response: Can Modern Women “Have It All”?

Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk on Work-Life Balance and Barnard Commencement Address. (With some overlap in content.)

Penelope Trunk instructing you to Get Pregnant at 25 If You Want a Career. (Are you effing kidding me?)

New Statesman’s response: Feminism Didn’t Lie to Women.

Rebecca Walker’s several year old article on How My Mother’s Fanatical Feminism Tore Us Apart.

And a response that I think misses the point: Lisa Gottlieb on Why There’s No Such Thing As Having It All and Will Never Be. Rather than hearing Slaughter’s question as, “Why did I feel it necessary to stretch myself this thin and how can we ease that pressure?” Gottlieb interprets her article as whining. Nowhere do I hear Slaughter mourning the loss of her job in DC nor do I hear her blaming her teenaged kids for tearing her away or Feminism for tricking her into thinking she could have more than her share. Instead, I hear a woman wondering aloud why there aren’t structures in place to enable more women to have the highest profile jobs (and as a result, far-reaching influence) that would cyclically allow more women to have better options in balancing work and life.

And even this, Women Having It All: The Debate So Far, a more thorough presentation of the internet’s uproar, doesn’t get the full picture. Yes, Slaughter is talking from the stance of “privileged, educated women who have considerate husbands and household help,” but if even ladies with all of those assets (including what I imagine to be a pretty hefty paycheck) struggle to balance childcare and career, isn’t it something worth digging into deeper?

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Your Comments | Add a Comment

Evie says:
Jun 26, 2012 8:23 am

I connected to what Slaughter wrote about public service vs. a strong family life. I feel a calling to effect positive change for large groups of people but I also feel that often a complete devotion to public service means forgoing parenthood, which is out of the question for me. This quote brings me comfort “The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world.” but at the same time, what if everyone settled for very small scale performances of public service. Would it still be possible to witness paradigm shifts in poverty alleviation, living conditions, public health? I’m not sure.

At the same time, I think of an interview with Sargent Shriver’s son on the radio recently where he says that it is more difficult to be a Good person than it is to be a Great person. And obviously Sargent Shriver was both Good and Great and that inspires me.

I am not sure how related this is to your thoughts on the “having it all/not all at once” issue but I keep thinking about it and this is the forum I’ve had to go on and on about the article! xo

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 8:36 am

Oh geez, that reminded me to edit the bottom so it says that that’s kind of what I want. My reading made me think about “having it all/not at once” but I want to hear what it brought up for other folks, too. (those Twitter convos get hard to follow, man)

I think a lot about that, too. I really enjoy teaching and feel like I effect change in some small way with the kids I work with one-on-one. But if I worked for a higher level position, I could impact more kids. And if I ran for some sort of educational office, even MORE. And I spend a lot of time thinking about how just those small-beans type of job leaps would impact the time available for my family.

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Maggie says:
Jun 26, 2012 11:18 am

I remember seeing a cartoon once, a long, long time ago. In it, a frazzled-looking woman is trying to comfort a screaming baby, while answering the phone. The word bubble said something like, “Sorry, he’s not home right now, he’s out saving the world.” Obviously, this is an oversimplification of the dilemma, but that image has always stuck with me. It’s a tough one, for sure.

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Rachel says:
Jun 26, 2012 8:41 am

Loved. This.

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Erin says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:12 am

Yep, all of this.
The other thing that struck me is how little of the conversation between these writers discussed the unfortunate requirement of the two-income family to maintain certain standards of living. There may be a beneficial trickle-down effect from addressing the concerns that Slaughter and other women in her demographic face in their ambitious careers, but I have a feeling that the possibility and acceptability of raising a family on a single income would make more of a difference for a lot of middle- and lower-income families. I think we’ve reached a cultural shift where many men acknowledge that they would really love to stay home with their kids, and many women would like to focus on their careers. Given the economic opportunity, I bet we would see a paradigm shift, if folks could afford it.

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:29 am

Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about making daycare more affordable, but really, if people were just making a fair wage even MORE options would be available.

I wonder where the line there is, though. Because, my family growing up (and a few other folks on Twitter have discussed their families) lived on one income, but lived very very modestly. We scraped by. If Josh were making a fair wage right now, I think our little family could equally scrape by. So there’s a balance of responsibility there. If cost of living was more affordable/people were making fair wages but ALSO, if folks didn’t have such a high bar for their standard of living (cable, second car, etc).

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Erin says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:35 am

Definitely this. Lots of folks I work with are half of a two-income couple, and their worry about paying their mortgages, cars, bills, etc. rubs off on me all the time. But when I think about what they spend their money on, versus what I know I need, it does seem a little more do-able. I guess that’s what I meant when I said it should be more acceptable to have a single-income family — acceptable to do with less, or not have to keep up with everybody else.

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Liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 4:05 pm

I’ve noticed the phenomenon of higher-earning families just spending more. We know a few couples who work 100+ hours/wk between the two of them and they eat out almost every night because they are just pooped. Their food spending is through the roof because its just so much easier to call for take out on the way home. And who wants to commute by bus bookending a 10+ hour workday? So driving and paying to park it is.

We could probably make more if we wanted to (and I do, to a certain extent) but cooking dinner and having downtime in the evening to read or chat on twitter with you fine people seems more important in the immediate term. Or throwing in a load of laundry on a Wednesday night so I can bike Saturday afternoon.

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Lisa says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:32 am

I share some background with Slaughter. I made different choices than she did, however, staying home with my young children for a few years, and working only part-time until they were 7 and 10. I also have a career in a male-dominated field that can be highly financially rewarding for some – software startups.

Slaughter’s argument applies primarily to certain fields. I call these “battle-model” industries – startups, high-level government, investment banking, corporate law, some medical professions. Those careers are predicated on being there to fight, all the time.

I’d start, if we’re changing things, with the language of dialogue. Start with what we know. Women have the babies. Women nurse the babies. End of that story. Some jobs are highly competitive, but that doesn’t make them virtuous or demonstrative of strength and value.

I think if we can all learn to talk more honestly, more clearly, that society will become ever more flexible.

The one thing I mostly shared with Slaughter was the surprise at how much and for how long I needed to be with my children. And I’d like to see fierce maternal urges elevated and respected as much as fierce battles.

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:39 am

I appreciated that she mentioned the maternal drive, even though it received the anticipated controversial backlash. I was really surprised by that feeling of NEED to be with my son, and it is unfair that we dismiss those natural instincts.

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Erin says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:39 am

“Some jobs are highly competitive, but that doesn’t make them virtuous or demonstrative of strength and value.”

YES.

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Beth says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:37 am

This whole debate has been sort of odd for me. I totally identify with the “you can’t have it all at once” idea. I do feel a little bit out of some of the meat of the debate because I don’t plan on having children. What it really struck in me was that I can pursue the career I thought I wanted, but that means not having as much time to do all the other things that I want to do in life–including spending time with my family.

As much as Gottlieb’s response sort of missed the meat & potatoes of Slaughter’s article (the “how do we make some societal changes” part), I really identified with her “Life 101″ idea though. On twitter I suggested that this was like the good, cheap, and fast argument such that in life there is fulfillment, success, and family. You can have any two but not the third. It’s not QUITE true but it does seem to me like you have to make some choices about which things are must important.

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 9:59 am

I 100% don’t think being childfree excludes you from the argument. Most of the top ranking women are not just without children- they’re usually unmarried. These ladies don’t have time for a spouse, even.

I liked your analogy. I like to think maybe there is some shuffling that can be done in the short-term to make the three fit (I work hard all week and save Saturdays for my spouse, etc), but obviously I still haven’t got that “success” ball up in the air just yet. ;)

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Maggie says:
Jun 26, 2012 11:27 am

The “good, cheap, fast” conundrum reminds me of a David Sedaris piece:

“Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove.
‘Gas or electric?’ Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.
This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. ‘One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.’ The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

He goes on to talk about what he’s cut off, etc. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/24/090824fa_fact_sedaris?currentPage=1)

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 11:40 am

That’s a perfect analogy.

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Beth says:
Jun 26, 2012 1:20 pm

I think where I run into trouble with my analogy is success vs fulfillment. I sort of mean “success” in the society sanctioned money-career sort of way (and more money than “surviving” sort of deal). I fully believe that I can be fulfilled without that (I wouldn’t have thought that 3 years ago, but I do now). I can see how I wouldn’t be “fulfilled” if I wasn’t meeting my food-shelter-clothing needs but I’m also not fulfilled since I don’t have the time off to use my “success” proceeds to go explore…

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Maggie says:
Jun 26, 2012 2:18 pm

Kinda makes me think of the top 3 needs on Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid… Belongingness and Love/Esteem/Self-Actualization, but instead of placing self-actualization/fulfillment at the top, maybe thinking of them more in a pie chart… you can have a larger wedge of xxxx if you make xxxx ‘smaller.’

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Maggie says:
Jun 26, 2012 11:41 am

I also feel slightly outside the conversation, not in a bad way, just in a “hmm, this is interesting, but doesn’t quite resonate.”

I know “it all” does not NEED to include children, but the assumption is almost always there that it does. Also, children provide a unique strain on time, money, and attention/energy: someone has to be watching them constantly up until a certain age (to say nothing of feeding, diaper changes, etc.), whether that’s the wife, the spouse, the nanny, the daycare, the grandma, the kindergarten teacher, or whomever. I’ll never experience that particular brand of stress. I think the closest I might come is caring for aging parents (which I’m dreading on so many levels :( ).

That said, I do still relate to the idea of possessing finite personal resources and having to make trade-offs. It just seems like I have fewer compromises to make, since I have fewer goals to squeeze in (not ambitious–not looking for a career, just a job to pay the bills–, don’t want kids). I don’t FEEL like I’ve given anything up, even though technically I suppose I have… but it’s a strange sacrifice if you never wanted it in the first place.

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Beth says:
Jun 26, 2012 1:21 pm

I think the lack of children makes me feel like I’m sort of on the male side of the argument, since I can’t speak to how women feel emotionally about having/taking care of children.

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Petite Chablis says:
Jun 26, 2012 10:49 am

I thought Slaughter had some good points to make about the difficulties of having a super-high-powered job and also wanting to be an involved parent. But I’m actually not sure that her situation is the best example of her arguments. Many of her difficulties seemed to stem less from lack of workplace flexibility and more from geography. Her definition of “having it all” involved working a demanding job in Washington, DC and also being able to attend last-minute parent-teacher conferences in New Jersey. Until we invent those Star Trek transporters, that strikes me as unrealistic no matter how flexible your work schedule is.

I get the impression that many high-level government types have to make similar tradeoffs — you don’t want to uproot high schoolers for a 1- or 2-year job. So I’m not saying the conversation about long-distance marriages/parenting and demanding careers isn’t worth having. But I would have liked to see more acknowledgement in the article that distance played a huge role in making her particular situation unsustainable.

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 10:51 am

Yeah, I don’t think many have focused on that angle as much (also, her colleague that she mentioned whose husband commutes ACROSS THE COUNTRY. !)

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Maggie says:
Jun 26, 2012 11:29 am

You couldn’t pay me enough to ever commute across the country on a frequent basis.

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Petite Chablis says:
Jun 26, 2012 4:12 pm

As an addendum: I am self-aware enough to realize that distance is my particular hobby-horse because of my own long-distance situation! (Which ends soon OH THANK YOU DEAR SWEET LORD.) But I’m really disturbed at how normalized long-distance marriages have become in academia (and I suspect also in government). It really struck me that Slaughter, a professor at Princeton, barely even mentions commuting back and forth from New Jersey to DC as a factor in making her situation unsustainable.

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miss alix says:
Jun 26, 2012 11:46 am

First of all, I love your response. It gives me hope. The ideas that Slaughter brought up in her article are ones that I’ve been contemplating for a long long time as I debate my career path in entertainment, an industry that is intensely time consuming even at lower levels. Both of my parents worked full time growing up. In fact, my mom went back to work less than a week after I was born (by C-section even). So forever I’ve been trying to dream up a career in which I am able to actually spend time with my family and still be successful. I realize that this career may not be what I originally wanted, but that is not necessarily not having it all, unless you define “having it all” as having something you don’t really want.

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Sheryl says:
Jun 26, 2012 12:10 pm

“Still, I think a bit of backlash like this is necessary against the increasingly outdated notion that a woman is only a valuable feminist if she’s working long, hard hours in an office someplace. Squeezing a woman into a one-size-fits-all mold is the opposite of progress. Meanwhile, considering motherhood and staying at home as less valuable than a lucrative career is just straight anti-woman. Many, many women continue to make this choice and lauding men as “progressive!” for doing such, but chiding and villianizing women for doing the same? This is feminism? This is pro-woman?”

Liz, you’ve just nailed the biggest issue I have with how feminism can present itself. It’s supposed to be about freedom and equality, but at the same time women are still expected to fill certain roles (whether by traditional factions of society, or by certain groups of feminists), and end up being villainized by almost any choice they make.

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Alycia says:
Jun 26, 2012 12:57 pm

Love that you included Penelope Trunk, hopefully to be ironic. That woman is a disaster. Whatever she says to do, I plan to do the exact opposite.

I am more interested in people’s reactions to the Slaughter article than I am to the actual article. I really don’t care about the idea of “having it all”. I like my life a lot, even if plenty of others think (my boss on my birthday!) that I am a failure/loser/lame-o. But I really like reading what others have to say about this topic and Liz, I think you wrote a great piece, as usual.

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lyn says:
Jun 26, 2012 2:36 pm

You know, throughout this whole raging debate over choice I keep standing here, looking back over my shoulder at recent history, like, what the hell? It was just RIGHT THERE that women were expected to perform just one role: cleaning house and raising kids. And it was just RIGHT THERE that the very notion of women leaving the house to enter workforce was a social and cultural battleground. And the funny thing is that these days, the responses are reversed, in a way. Maybe it’s just the little bubble I’m living in, but I feel like the complains I’m most often hearing from women are centered around, “I can’t believe they’re putting me in a box, telling me I need to go work a high-powered office job when I really just want to stay home with my kids.” I sense a tangible “LET’S TAKE BACK STAYING HOME” vibe from the ladies I interact with these days. And I think that at a certain point all of the chatter around the Slaughter article and various responses just devolves into this cyclical argument of, “But my choices are valid, too!” When all I can keep thinking of, again, is we didn’t use to have this, we didn’t use to have this.

I’m not saying that respect for history alone should make us wave these discussions off; should make us hush up about our struggles in making the choices we do. And I’m definitely not arguing that deference to feminism should cause us to leap up, throw down our mops, change into executive suits, and overtake some industry.

I’m just observing that some seem to have forgotten that the choices we’re allowed to make these days aren’t being made inside a vacuum, or on an equal plane. A man can spend long nights in the office away from his family, sure, and no one blinks because that’s “normal.” Yet a woman can spend long nights in the office, and she’s selfishly choosing herself over her family. Or, a man can stay home with the kids, and he’s “progressive.” But a woman can stay home, only to be called antifeminist.

And for that reason the choices we’re faced with feel like they have more weight. Regardless of external factors like money, class, priorities, balance, and which parent has the better job. Of course. None of that ever matters. Because whatever choice we make, it’s not gonna be the right one to someone. Probably many, many someones.

The most important part of the Slaughter article, to me, was when she talked about how the entire system has to change. Our modes and methods for living and working are outdated. The working world is still built for dudes, unforch. And while women now have the privilege of making (and discussing, and tormenting each other with, apparently) our choices, we still have this nagging biological difference that makes those choices that much more fraught. Oh, and not to mention the weight of history and expectation on our backs.

Overall? I think the very fact that there was such a huge response to Slaughter’s article just serves to underscore the fact that our society loves nothing more than to shame and judge a woman mercilessly — for her looks, for her weight, for her clothes, for her sexuality, for the way she mothers, for her job (or lack thereof). And I’m afraid that until society stops collectively treating women like they’re some accident it’s rubbernecking at on the road, we’re going to continue endlessly rehashing the same squabbles and revalidating the things we’ve chosen.

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jwhittz says:
Jun 26, 2012 2:55 pm

Wow, Lyn. I nominate you/this for comment of the day.

Because: oh hell yes.

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Petite Chablis says:
Jun 26, 2012 3:12 pm

“The working world is still built for dudes, unforch.”

Yes, and I think it’s even more specific than that — the working world is built for dudes who have stay-at-home wives. A lot of my male friends have told me that their bosses are absolutely baffled when they need to leave by 5 to pick up the kids from daycare or when they need to work from home because the kid is sick. The instinctive reaction from management is “but doesn’t your wife do that?”

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Kate says:
Jun 26, 2012 4:01 pm

So I work in a field where male partners outnumber females 10 to 1 and almost 100% of the wives of the male partners don’t work. Their response in a discussion about such things is usually “well with the demands of this job they can’t!” I have also had one male partner make a comment that he could not put a female director on a client because she wasn’t available all of the time due to the commitments she made around her family.

All of that to say, that I think the reactions to the article vary HUGELY with what profession you are in and what you see around you. I have been really dismayed at the attitude of some people about these things but I don’t really see it changing any time soon and I don’t really know how to fix it.

I do have to say as well, that as an employee, when someone I am working for says they have to leave at X time to pick up kids and they expect everyone else without that situation to stay later, it sort of makes me resentful. Not because that isn’t important but because I can’t do the same, just because I don’t have kids shouldn’t mean I can’t make other plans to leave or what not, but it sort of does. If I stood up at 4pm and said oh I need to go get a drink with my friend, that would not be taken well.

I don’t know what the conclusion is, just that all of the issues around these things are so so so hard to unravel and fix…

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 4:56 pm

Josh lost his most recent job (in the fall) because he called out to stay home with his sick son. It was labeled an “invalid call out excuse.”

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lyn says:
Jun 26, 2012 4:40 pm

Ugh. Sorry. My browser froze as I was in the middle of typing my first draft of this comment, and I managed to take a screen shot of part of the comment window before it crashed completely. On reread I see that the first paragraph kind of got lost in translation on my second comment attempt. What I was trying to say there was that througout this whole debate I kept feeling amazed that up until the very very recent past we weren’t necessarily able to make these kinds of choices, and now that we can, we just spend our entire lives debating/defending them. It just seems so one step forward, two steps back. All of it.

Another thing that fascinated me was the way we keep swinging back and forth on the feminism pendulum between “Career above all RAWR!” and “Homelife hell effing yeah!” I get the sense that the frenzy surrounding the Slaughter article et al stems from the fact that we’re all now scrambling to find our own middle grounds between the two extremes; our own personal work/life/family recipes. And part of me thinks that’s good; that it just proves we’re in the midst of slowly rewriting the rules and burying the old chestnuts about what it is to be a woman. But another part of me thinks that the fact that we have to argue in this way about how we live our lives is incredibly reductive and harmful. I’m the one in my partnership with the flexible job, so it makes sense that I stay home or go to part time if we have kids. It’s as easy as that, right? So then why do I have to experience all this guilt and angst over the decisions I face? Why do any of us have to? At some point it gets damaging. Two steps back, indeed.

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 5:07 pm

To be honest, I think we’re far off from being able to make our choices and just let them be Our Choices, without defense or debate.Partly because the options are so fresh- so whichever side we fall on, seems so telling about why we’re choosing what we are. (for the record, I stayed home because I wanted to, not because of the man or the patriarchy or whatever)

But also partly because women are still defending the choices they make that have always been available. I’m questioned and critiqued about all sorts of things that my husband is not (breast or bottle?!) and I’m not sure that will change any time soon.

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Petite Chablis says:
Jun 26, 2012 5:09 pm

“Why do I have to experience all this guilt and angst over the decisions I face? Why do any of us have to?”

This is what got me about the reaction to Liz’s APW post (linked above in this post). Some people actually argued that Liz had no right to make the decision she made because it reflected on all women. No one would ever tell a guy that his choice to return to work after his kid was born was DESTROYING the possibility that other men could stay at home. But a woman’s decisions are public property; one woman somehow represents all women and her choices should therefore be judged. Judged, I say!!!!

Not so long ago we wouldn’t have been allowed to make these decisions at all. I wonder if that’s what makes it feel so fraught? We realize how precious these choices are and we don’t want to eff up our chance to make them?

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liz says:
Jun 26, 2012 5:27 pm

I’m pretty sure that that post was the first time this whole debate smacked me in the face. After the first comment, I emailed a few friends and laughed and thought, “This can’t be serious,” assuming that no one in real life thinks this way. But several other people jumped in! And agreed! And I realized we’ve come far enough to call it a ‘choice’ but not far enough to stop judging each other for it.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 12:17 pm

Gottlieb, of course, faces it squarely – if we have to start giving women special rights to accommodate preferences, they as a group, feel more keenly than men, is that required for equality? Men (for well documents evolutionary reasons) feel the need for sexual variety and frequency more keenly than women, so are divorce courts that don’t accommodate this sexist?

Women can solve this delimma by ending their need for hypergamous mate selection. If you are a woman with a high-flying careeer, marry a less educated man who doesn’t want to work much. Men don’t mind doing this? But that doesn’t sound appetizing to most women, who, despite themselves, get more self-esteem from the status of the man they can land than from their own accomplishments.

Someone needs to tell Slaughter that 80% of the people who work more than 50 hours/week are men – so much for the “pay gap” (which doesn’t account for work hours) and the “women do 2/3 of the housework”.

The bottom line is women are going to choose the competitive status of their family over the sisterhood and if their family can improve its wealth and status with a less striving woman taking up some slack at home with a workaholic guy, they will generally do that.

Ladies, reward the behavior you want to see. If you have an advanced degree, consider marrying below your socio-economic class – men don’t mind doing that. When hot girls start choosing househusbands over douchebags in BMWs we will all be signing up for the closest diaper changing class.

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liz says:
Jul 18, 2012 1:58 pm

I think male or female, heterosexual or not, we should be encouraging folks to find mates not based on income, but based on common goals and like-mindedness. I’m confident that my partner would be supportive no matter my career goal, as I am of him. Right now, he’s the breadwinner, but roles have swapped previously. It had less to do with level of education (we both have Masters’) and more to do with being supportive of one another and even taking turns.

Unfortunately, your comment generalizes so very much that I struggle to find common ground to discuss. I disagree that women find self esteem in the status of their mates. I’m sure it’s true for some women, but as I said, you’re generalizing. It’s impossible to say that women as a whole do so, and so we can’t exactly say that settling that matter would fix the problem on the whole.

I CAN readily disagree with your assertion that the reason for the pay gap is that more men are working longer hours. I think at that point, we’re getting into some cyclical logic. As already mentioned, more men than women hold the top positions of many professions. So, it’s likely that these men are working longer hours because they have high-level positions- not because they’re men.

But, in general, I think you’re reading the question differently than I am. It’s not a question of, “How can I get my husband to watch the kids so I can work?” For me, it’s more, “How can society support either option for both men and women?”

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 12:23 pm

Read Lisa Mundy’s book. She says that women who out-earn their husbands think of their salary as “mine” and are loathe to share, but men tend to just hand it over to the family and head back to work and she says if women want to have it all, they need to start mate selecting like men do and not insist on men of the same or higher economic status. That women instinctively disrespect men who have a preference for childcare and domestic work.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/book-review-the-richer-sex-on-contemporary-women-by-liza-mundy/2012/02/29/gIQA8IqMWS_story.html

She also points out that the “gender gap in pay” is mostly hogwash. That it looks at all full-time employed women and all full-time employed men and compares salaries without regard for what careers or work hours they have and that full-time employed men work way more hours on average than full-time employed women and tend to pick careers with less work life balance in favor of more money, which makes sense given that a man’s status is so much of his attractiveness to women. Men, of course, also do far more dangerous work at the blue collar level than women. And the statistic doesn’t count the massive number of men unemployed because they are imprisoned.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 2:02 pm

I think female hypergamy is as hardwired (reflected in population means) in what they find attractive in mates is as hard wired as male preference for a 7:10 hip waist ratio and it is hard to talk people out of it (and, not to mention, the role reason plays in rationalizing our emotional gut preferences rather than deciding them). It isn’t hard to understand why, given the different reproduction advantages males and females have to their mate preferences.

There are some ingenuous experiments that demonstrate how strongly women value markers of wealth and status in ascertaining attractiveness to the point where I doubt it is conscious or calculated.

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liz says:
Jul 18, 2012 2:09 pm

Like I said, I’m wary of talking about generalizations as if they were facts. There are just as many experiments proving that men seek out women with larger breasts because of evolutionary drives to find a mate who can reproduce and nurture offspring. And yet, I know many men who prefer small-chested women.

Seeking to address what is primarily a social issue by dissecting generalizations concerning biology misses the root of the matter, as far as I’m concerned.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 2:16 pm

Research wise, it is waist:hip ratio that matters (and is universal) in mean male attractiveness standards for females. That is 7:10 at a a variety of weights. Boobs appear to matter little.

Of course, we are talking about population mean preferences (picture a bell curve with means and standard deviations). Group data is our unit of measure in both variables of comparison, so noting the presence of outliers isn’t really an issue.

One contributor to the rise in single moms is the rising economic status of women, making it harder to satisfy hypergamy given low-end mile wage declines. Plenty of working class women (who nevertheless choose to have kids) say “there are no good men to marry”. The men haven’t gotten worse, they have just gotten better and for women, it is relative status that seems to matter (again, in population mean terms).

It is relatively easy to convince a man who is an MD to marry a woman of much lower economic prospects if she is nice looking. It is quite hard to convince a woman who is an MD to do the same. And men, of course, who would enter such an arrangement are already under suspicion. This is a great deal of the problem. If only men and women found the same things attractive, alas. No bad actors required.

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liz says:
Jul 18, 2012 2:26 pm

Ignoring the research and generalizations and bell curves on which we disagree, how would marrying “down” for women solve the problem? I’m not being rude, I’m just trying to follow.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 2:31 pm

‘Seeking to address what is primarily a social issue by dissecting generalizations concerning biology misses the root of the matter, as far as I’m concerned.”

But alas, it does address the root of the matter. Women feel more keenly work-life balance tradeoffs (and it is no surprise since they aren’t rewarded in the mating market for amassing wealth and status the way men are and high-cost childrearing selected for different preferences – sperm are cheap, eggs are expensive) and show an average preference for men that have higher wealth and status than them, which has to come at a tradeoff, it you reckon marriage to be a cost-benefit analysis.
Feminist don’t get that men never ran everything (a handful of men did, but men were always at the bottom of society too) and that men made as many tradeoffs as women to get married – but since women don’t feel the male tradeoffs very keenly (that is, a lifetime of monogamy, being at the mercy of a wife’s continued attractiveness and willing ness for sex, and supporting a non-earner with your slavishly earned paychecks), they just thought they were stupid.

Read Susan Pinker’s “The Sexual Paradox” or Roy Baumeister’s “Is There Anything Good About Men” or Lisa Mundy’s “The Richer Sex”.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 2:36 pm

“how would marrying “down” for women solve the problem? I’m not being rude, I’m just trying to follow.”

If you saw Slaugher’s interview on Colbert last night, you’ll get how. She said “Men can have a career and kids while women can’t because women do the domestic work for them”. Well, the reason they do is they get something in return, access to his paycheck and his reflected status. There are plenty of attractive women out there who will choose a downsized career and domestic work in exchange for access to a workaholic man’s paycheck and prestige. So women should marry the male equivalent of this. If a high-earning woman marries laterally, she is not going to have the focus on her career as he has aspirations to worry about. The key is that it is hypergamous male mate selection, not male reticence about “successful women” that drives it.
Ann Marie Slaughter should have married an out-of-work plumber, a middle school teacher, or something like that and shared her paycheck in return for him being Mr. Mom. A man in her position would have no problem with that and find a ton of takers.

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liz says:
Jul 18, 2012 3:10 pm

I think that’s a misunderstanding of the problem, frankly. I disagree with all of your previous premises, and even excluding those, I disagree with the main thrust. I don’t know anything about Slaughter’s husband, but in her article it was clear that he took on the bulk of the child-raising. Still, she wanted to be with her kids at certain important points. There was no mention of housework (I’m more than sure she could afford a maid) or of her husband’s job taking him away from the kids and leaving a void she needed to fill.

Assuming that both partners have career aspirations, both should also be able to find time for family. This is not a question of “how can a woman have a career,” but as I mentioned above, “how can we make room for men and women alike to have time for both career and family.” Even if Slaughter’s husband was the Mr. Mom that you mention- and my impression is that he was- Slaughter wanted to be with her kids. How can we make it easier for women (and men!) to be able to be successful in their given careers AND build a family? Choosing a less educated mate so he can stay home with the babies doesn’t negate the desire that many women have to spend time with their families. In the Slaughter case, paycheck and prestige weren’t the question, but an ability to do a job she loved while also being with the kids she loved.

Putting one mate in the role of wage earner and the other in the role of caregiver takes care of some of the problem (this is how most couples I know handle it, often with little regard for gender roles but with consideration to who is able to find work), but then the responsibilities (and privileges, as a result) are divided. The man may be the wage earner, but he doesn’t have the chance to enjoy the park with his son. Or vice versa. “Having it all” by definition, means being able to enjoy both.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 2:49 pm

Two good studies on this. Several groups of women were asked to rank the attractiveness of pictures of men in “status neutral” settings (wearing neutral clothes and with no status cues) and the ranks were pretty consistent. Then the high ranking men from that group were dressed in Burger King Uniforms and the low ranking men in ddesigner clothes and the ranks changed dramatically in the next trials. When men rate women, status cues have no effect on attractiveness rankings. And the key is, when asked why they rated them men thusly, they never mention status, they rationalize things about their physical looks and were even instructed to rank based on physical looks.

Another study had women rank picture of men with and without a biography that implied low or high status. A low status biography would drag a previously high ranked man way down and a high status biography would pull a previously low ranked man up. Status biographies have no effect on male ratings of women’s photos. And, strangely, being married raised a man’s attraciveness to women (but slightly lowered a woman’s).

So whenever someone complains about male shallowness, it is really just priviledging the female suite of unfair standards over the male suite.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 3:20 pm

Tons of research just shows men don’t feel the sting as much. In countries with gender neutral leave politices and work-life balance policies, far more women take advantage than men and far more women choose free time at the expensive of more money at an earlier point. Men just don’t care as much in the population mean about work-life balance. And it isn’t surprising, given how much weight the most attractive women put on a statusy spouse.

Imagine you are speed dating and meet a guy with a law degree from Harvard and a high IQ who says “I could be making mid 6 figures, but I would rather just live simply and have free time to ride my bike, fish, and read at coffee shops and maybe one day stay home with kids.” Do you think the average woman would have the same impression of this guy as the average man would have of a woman who says the same? A guy with those priorities will have a harder time meeting an attractive woman than a woman with those priorities.

I daresay, the words “loser, slacker, cheapskate” would be applied to that guy by many attractive women, but would attractive men so denigrate a women with those priorities?

Now, I am a work-life balance guy (went to an elite school, masters degree, high IQ, but make 40k as a 41 year old and gave priority to my wife’s career and I have a cheap car and house because I don’t want the headaches of striving workaholism) and would welcome any brakes on competitive signaling of hours of facetime in the workplace (the strongest part of Slaughter’s article). But on so doing, might we lose some of the valuable goods that workaholics give us?

My self-description has probably already evoked instinctive characterizations of “loser” from women reading this, proving my point that women instinctively disrespect men who have high earning capacity but eschew it in favor of work-live balance. And there is the rub.

Of course, high earning power couples can out source all their labor, so the point them becomes moot.

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liz says:
Jul 18, 2012 4:59 pm

Brian, we may just be in different social circles. :) Within some of my circles, men are lauded for pushing aside high earning potential in favor of children, being home to support the wife, or even just to pursue a less lucrative but more fulfilling career (say, in the arts, for example). In each circle, for different reasons (whether feminism/politics or bohemian ideals or whatever). Regardless, these statistics you continue to tout (despite my voiced disagreement) line up with neither of our lives- not yours nor mine! You enjoy domestic duties and relaxed work! My husband craves to be home with my son! It’s possible that we don’t fall on the bulge of the bell curve, but it’s also possible that the statistics are just wrong.

Regardless of how the cards actually fall in other countries- whether women take more family leave than men or whatever- I think it’s fair to hope for a social structure and, more than that, a social perspective that makes room for options. If a woman would like to devote herself to her family only, I’d like for her to be supported! If a man wants to do the same, I’d like the same for him! Unfortunately, in the States (and in my own experience) women are cornered into a box by social perception and social construct.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 3:24 pm

Slaughter’s husband is Andrew Moravcsik – Professor of Politics and director of the European Union Program at Princeton University. You didn’t really thinks he was married to a blue collar or mid 5 figure cube dweller, did you? This just doesn’t happen much.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 3:35 pm

In my house, let me add, I do 100% of the housework (I have higher standards than my wife and more energy) and my preferences are far more like the female average than the male average, so my personal preference is for all that work life balance stuff Slaighter talks about. But sadly, what is good for me may not be good in itself and I am keenly aware of how my work-life balance preference and my penchant for pro-active housework (and being a highly fit athletic person) doesn’t ncessarily add up to mate value (apart from my loving wife, of course) as the same suite of traits would for a female.

I am in a mostly female professional field (chosen precisely for its work-life balance) and I hear women complain often about the “second shift” and I can’t figure out how A)they didn’t know their spouses before marriage and B)why don’t they just stop? Most don’t earn as much as their spouse, or work as many hours, hence they get something in return, but are loathe to admit it is a simple tradeoff. I do the domestic work in my house because I get stuff in return (I like giving my wife time to stay fit and lean and libidinous – a few hours of cleanins is a small price to pay!).

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 3:47 pm

From Mundy’s book:

But Mundy found that some women had a hard time adapting to these new roles. “I interviewed one woman who said, much to her surprise, ‘My feelings changed, and I found myself respecting him less as a man. He was a great dad and certainly doing the housework. That wasn’t a problem. But there was something in me that I hadn’t expected. I felt differently.’”

Men don’t ever have this issue with a lower-earning, lower status wife.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 5:06 pm

Oh sure, I am a liberal and dig all that touchy feely stuff. I am just not sure gender equality requires that jobs be restructured to accommodate what women are disproportionately likely to want and are unwilling to make mating tradeoffs to get from a spouse. That is a step beyond what original feminists claimed to want.

Truth be told, I think all this “I work X hours per week” martyrdom is mostly just signaling work commitment rather than real work anyway. And don’t be surprised when women take advantage of it more and men get rewarded for their workaholism (abbetted by wives who are more about the advancement of their own family rather than the sisterhood).

“Unfortunately, in the States (and in my own experience) women are cornered into a box by social perception and social construct.”

Women corner men in a box as well (the hottest women don’t as often reward men with sex for their domestic prowess). Men and women are both exploited by society (see Baumeister) in different ways, harnassing mean preferences to the good of society, but the detriment of sizeable portions of outliers.

http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm/

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liz says:
Jul 18, 2012 5:35 pm

I would argue that both men and women would benefit from the restructuring of job systems. I think the way things are currently structured, both men and women suffer. You may be correct that some men don’t feel the sting of being away from family as sharply as some women, but that’s not so in all cases. And society as a whole will benefit from having female voices among the male in the top ranks. Society as a whole would benefit from men and women both feeling free to pursue career success without risk of missing out on time spent with family. I’m a kickass teacher. ;) If my career trajectory is negatively impacted by being home with my son in these early years (as is projected), the education system suffers by not having my kickass teaching abilities making a difference. But, such is the case as I’m currently forced to choose one or the other.

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 5:46 pm

“I would argue that both men and women would benefit from the restructuring of job systems.”

Some men (like me) would benefit but way more women would benefit. An we are seeing what happens in society when men are disincentivized from getting the rewards of work (the rewards THEY tend to care about, dismissed, of course, because women don’t get it). But what might we lose if workaholism stopped having its rewards? (It will still have its rewards in the mate market – that is going to be hard to dislodge).

“And society as a whole will benefit from having female voices among the male in the top ranks. ”

I am also in education (hint, my area requires a masters degree), but I am thinking more of private sector workaholic-type jobs with high sacrifice but high rewards. Of course, our career performance isn’t hurt at all by work life balance.

I was in the top few percentiles on the LSAT, but didn’t want to work 80 hours a week (hell, I don’t want to work 40 hours a week), so law was closed to me because I have a high need for work-life balance. If I could have worked at a law firm on 40 hours a week, I would surely have gone to law school. But would society really benefit by taking that sort of career and capping the rewards for workaholism in the name of gender equity? I am not sure. I suspect there will be tradeoffs that we don’t foresee, but perhaps not.

And so much of this conversation centers on children as being the motivators of work-life balance needs. What if I want to train for triathlons or simply wile away more time reading Nietzsche in coffee shops? Are child-raising needs a special category of want that should be accommodated by work-life balance norm changes?

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liz says:
Jul 18, 2012 5:59 pm

Career capping isn’t exactly what I’m discussing. For example, the only maternity leave offered to me was six months of unpaid and uninsured leave. I would have liked a better option, most certainly. I’m home now, with the knowledge that returning to work in 5 years is going to be difficult. Who knows if I’ll be able to compete in the job market. When discussing maternity leave, yes. I do without apology think that there is a special category. Women are going to continue to have lower level jobs if their career paths are halted every time they become pregnant. Recovery from birth is a medical necessity. Expecting jobs to accommodate isn’t unreasonable. In the rest of the work-life balance stuff, I think any other sort of family provision is equivalent- not your triathlons or your Nietzsche. Staying home to care for an ill spouse, an aging mother, a cousin who is unexpectedly a single parent. Caring for family should be a central concern to everyone- male, female, parent, not.

Feel free to respond if you’d like, but I’m going to halt my own interaction there. I have a kid running around my ankles, and being chained to the computer doesn’t suit my vision of work-life balance. ;)

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 5:51 pm

A good article on what women v men choose when work-life balance is on offer:

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2010/11/going_dutch.html

I highly recommend Pinker’s book on this. The key is the data:

http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Paradox-Women-Real-Gender/dp/0743284712

Susan Pinker is a liberal and not one of these iconoclast wannabe anti-feminist types, (and, incidentally, Steven Pinker’s sister) if that makes the premise more palatable:

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Brian says:
Jul 18, 2012 6:10 pm

“Women are going to continue to have lower level jobs if their career paths are halted every time they become pregnant. ”

My wife doesn’t have kids nor does she want them, so does she get to take career time off for her interests? Or does she have to work more without benefit? It is a tricky question. I am not coming down on it one way or another, but my wife would say if I am working several years you aren’t, I don’t care if you were having kids or training for triathlons, I put in the work and you didn’t and have more experience. I gained experience in that 5 years you were at home.

How about everyone gets undifferentiated leave and if you want to use yours for pregnancy, I can use mine to climb Everest? Otherwise, women are getting special rights for things they disproportionately care about. Obviously, people who have kids really like it, so they are getting their self-actualization needs accommodated while other don’t. This is what chaffes some people (I could care less, of course, as I care not a whit about career advancement).

But then, you can take another approach and say it is in societies interest to facilitate childbirth and family formation, but then that could be taken as a rationale for going back to the pre-1960s gender bifurcation arrangement.

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