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Monday, October 17, 2005

what about the men!?

There has been a spat of articles, columns and discussions in the last month or so over the supposed growing tendency of American women who have the option of high-level professional careers leaning instead toward becoming stay-at-home mothers. First, of course, was the New York Times piece about women at Yale, which was subsequently attacked for its recycled and statistically fuzzy nature by Slate Magazine. On campus, there was first a piece much discussed here in the Crimson about wealthy white girls choosing boat shoes and matching children's polo shirts over pants suits and big offices, and then today a more thoughtful rumination on this difficult choice.

The only problem has been that there has really been no mention of the fact that the fundamental reason that women have to make this choice is that their husbands and society at large continue to view child-rearing and running a household as a female-only role. As far as we've supposedly come in redefining and understanding gender roles in this country, we continually forget to ask: what about the men? (more in expanded post)

(note: please forgive the assumption of heterosexuality in this thought, I am commenting on one aspect and would be thrilled to be enlightened as to how these types of issues affect queer people)

I know a lot of men who believe that they have progressive, liberal views of women. They go out of their way to counteract the common objectification of women, they are political feminists who believe that women should have an equal role in all facets of public life, they even support feminist activism. But not one of them, that I know of, is willing to carry this principle into their personal lives. Not one of them has ever expressed to me the belief that if women are ever going to be able to truly have an equal role in the public, men have to have an equal role in the private.

It is, after all, a zero-sum game. If women are expected to be responsible for children and the home, they will either have to give up their other roles or do two jobs at once. That much the discussion has already made clear. But that is an IF. If men shared these responsibilities of the "private sphere", women would be more able to share the responsibilities of the "public sphere." Men, however, are almost uniformly not so inclined. The only other option that removes this zero-sum aspect is if we outsource child-raising and running a home to professionals, something that we've partially done with daycare and housekeepers. However, this is still only a partial outsourcing, and comes with a price tag not all can afford. It also has pros and cons of its own.

Now, I'm fairly used to students at Harvard claiming publicly progressive beliefs and making personal regressive decisions. However, if we men really do claim to believe in equality of opportunity for the sexes, if we believe that our wives should have the opportunity to be just as publicly accomplished as we are if they so choose, it's time for us to start asking ourselves: how will we balance a career and a family?

14 Comments:

At 12:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What planet are you from? As a guy of course I'd be happy to stay at home if my future wife were willing to work the 80hr+ wks to be successful in a career. I'm not saying they aren't out there, but as a rule guys are more willing to suck it up and put in those hours.

So thankfully with the education and opportunities that I've been lucky enough to have, I plan to earn enough so that my wife will have a choice. She can pursue a career if she wants in any field she wants without worry of the financial aspect of it, or stay at home if that's what she prefers. And if by chance she does earn more than me and is fine with me pursuing a career without regard to financial considerations, I will not complain.

And please, sure everything seems possible from the safety and comfort of college. But in life, it's about making compromises. Working jobs you don't want to, rescheduling ones life for kids, all that stuff. But it's a choice made happily.

 
At 3:25 AM, Anonymous LPSE said...

Anonymous, I cannot believe your post. Golis is right on. Though, I must ask you: What planet are YOU from?

You make it seem like you are a liberal, female-supportive man, and yet, you make a statement like "as a rule guys are more willing to suck it up and put in those hours." This is an insult. Many women work 80+hrs/week. Moreover, many women work full-time jobs AND at the same time are full-time mothers. This gets at the very issue we're addressing here: sharing the responsibilities, financial and familial. Not simply presuming that the man is the one who will sacrifice himself, toiling away at work, while the woman lazes around at home.

In addition, you say: "if by chance she does earn more than me." Wow. Just wow.

 
At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally find this interesting because I'm actually writing an essay about this as we speak! When I suddenly saw this post, I was like "wow, great timing."

The point you make is EXACTLY the point I am trying to make in my paper. But I think we need to go beyond telling the men what to do. I think society as a whole needs to embrace the idea, and the way to do that is to start at the top. Businesses need to start offering equal maternity and paternity leaves to men and women. The option has to be open for men and women to leave to take care of their newborn children. And maternity and paternity leave must be THE SAME in every way.

Once that option is available, there is no difference between who leaves for the child. Then we can see equality edge its way into the public sphere. So that a woman who gets pregnant can leave her job for 3-6 months while a man DOES THE SAME. Together they can raise their children and reenter the career.

Many argue rightfully that women find difficulty reentering the public sphere after maternity leave. That is true, but that's because an alternative in the work force exists: men. So for an employer, they just hire men instead of women and the problem is moot. Then they don't have to worry about how to keep maternity-leaved women in the career track.

But once EVERYBODY becomes an option for parental leave, businesses will be forced to find solutions to this problem. I think the answer lies there.

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger deborah ho said...

You might find it interesting, anonymous 2, that parental leave of like 12-52 weeks is available for both parents in Canada...

 
At 11:51 AM, Anonymous yet another anonymous said...

Indeed! In Canada, parents get to share 52 weeks worth of parental leave - in any division they choose.

 
At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

first anonymous here.

i should've been more specific. i did not mean that by staying at home, one "lazes around". i know that taking care of kids and the home is hard work, draining and has little outside acknowledgment. i would enjoy the role reversal not because i'd be able to just do nothing, but because i'd have more time to spend with the kids. to be an active father, to enjoy what life is really about.

but to the person who responded to my post, have you worked a job yet? and lets stick with the types of jobs harvard graduates end up in, finance/consulting, medical and law. are you honestly going to say that there is not a majority of men v. women in those positions? i'm not saying that women can't work those hours, of course they can. but tell me if the numbers don't support what i'm saying?

sure we wish in an ideal world that it didn't have to be this way. that someday society will believe in an equal distribution of financial and familial responsibilities. but i don't care what society says. when a couple is married and has children, it is a very personal matter in how they choose to split those responsibilities. they can't change society, so they'll adapt themselves as best to it in order to give their children the best opportunity. those are the sacrifices you make when you get married.

i remember reading an nytimes and new yorker article questioning what the feminist movement had brought about. it's great women can reach for the highest echelons in whatever career they choose. but to think that just because one achieves a 50/50 ratio in all professions, and a 50/50 sharing of familial responsibilities, we've achieved some ideal? i think it's great that we're moving towards allowing educated women to choose a home life versus a career life. and that just because a women has an ivy degree she is somehow obligated to society to get a high-powered job is just an unfair an idea as that a women should stay at home.

and i do realize that this is partly brought about by a society where it's easier for a man to succeed than a women because of prejudice. but i call you all on your bluff. tell me what those concrete steps are that will change society in order that this equal sharing of responsibilities happen. i believe that sharing happens, and a couple does it's best to maximize their efforts. the rest of us common people will deal with the world as best we can as you all in your ivory towers figure out how to change the world for the better, and probably mess things up and make it all worse.

 
At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To quote Anonymous:

"and lets stick with the types of jobs harvard graduates end up in, finance/consulting, medical and law. are you honestly going to say that there is not a majority of men v. women in those positions? i'm not saying that women can't work those hours, of course they can. but tell me if the numbers don't support what i'm saying?"

Pushing aside, for a moment, the flawed logic of the suggestion that Harvard graduates all end up in finance/consulting, medicine, and law, note that

http://www.sptimes.com/2003/12/05/Worldandnation/A_first__More_women_a.shtml

More women than men applied to medical school last year.

http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/p20-550.pdf

More women than men graduate from high school and college right now.

"For the population 25 to 29 years
in 2003, educational attainment
levels of women exceeded those of
men (Figure 2)—88 percent of
young women and 85 percent of
young men had completed high
school, while at the college level,
the proportions were 31 percent
and 26 percent, respectively. The
last year young women and men
had equal rates of high school and
college attainment was 1995."

(That quote is from the census site.) The numbers show no signs of reversing.

http://featuredreports.monster.com/laborshortage/gender/

"The US Department of Education projects that females will compose at least 60 percent of the national student body by 2010. Since women also graduate at a higher rate than men, this means two-thirds of all bachelor's degrees may go to women in the not-too-distant future."

(From the above URL.)

You may be right that men outnumber women in those fields for NOW. I don't know, and I think you should find the numbers to support your own argument rather than asking us to disprove it.

That aside, I do want to point out that even if you are correct now about men outnumbering women in those fields, that gap cannot last much longer, because not enough men are graduating. I say this not as a neener-neener-women-are-doing-better, but to point out that this situation would poke a hole in your argument as well as posing a host of other problems as men fail to keep pace with women's educational gains.

-Another Anon.

 
At 1:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous 1 here again

admittedly my tone and some of the points i make are offensive to some of you. but what are you opinions then of the nytimes article and thecrimson article by rena xu?

“You can’t be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time. You always have to choose one over the other.”

it's true for the father as well. when parents have children, they make sacrifices in large areas of their life, including career if they're good parents.

my problem is with all these opinions about the way "the world should be". let the individuals choose, celebrate the sacrifices that women and men make for their children instead of deriding it for being anachronistic.

with so many families needing two incomes to support themselves, why can't we applaud those families that can get along on one? i'm sure their kids aren't complaining that they have a parent at home.

 
At 9:11 AM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Anonymous 1,

A couple (okay, all) of your most recent points are troubling and/or unclear to me.

1. "admittedly my tone and some of the points i make are offensive to some of you. but what are you opinions then of the nytimes article and the crimson article by rena xu?"

In his post, Golis specifically notes that the "problem" with the current discourse on women's career/family decisionmaking (a discourse that includes both articles you mention) is that it omits men's roles from the equation. Our discussion has proceeded from this basic criticism. By failing to challenge stereotypes of women's and men's roles in public and private spheres, the nyt article and xu's piece both (wrongly, i believe) take unequal childrearing contributions by male and female parents as given.

2. "it's true for the father as well. when parents have children, they make sacrifices in large areas of their life, including career if they're good parents."

You're right; many men do make sacrifices in their careers in order to benefit their families. But women tend to make larger sacrifices; hence the exclusive focus on women in the articles in question. would women continue to make larger career sacrifices than men if men shared an equal role in the use-value domestic labor responsibilities that women currently automatically assume? you may argue that the assumption is not automatic, that individual couples are free to decide for themselves how to divide up domestic work. which brings me to your most troubling argument:

3. "my problem is with all these opinions about the way "the world should be". let the individuals choose, celebrate the sacrifices that women and men make for their children instead of deriding it for being anachronistic."

do you think that "individuals" make decisions in a social vacuum? you don't appear to fully recognize that cultural norms influence people's life choices. a lot. the media, in turn, not only reflects cultural norms, but reinforces and shapes them as well. in doing so--and this is key--what it omits is just as important as what it includes. focusing exclusively on heterosexual women's roles in a discussion of family prioritization, insofar as it fails to address the cultural gender-role assumptions that make such a discussion possible, *does* imply an opinion of the way the world should be--it just happens to be the status quo opinion.

i'm not trying to rob anyone of their right to freely decide how to balance family and career (should they choose to have either, which is also not a given). on the contrary, i think we should expand people's freedom to make decisions outside the narrow range of what's currently considered normal and acceptable. we accomplish this expansion of freedoms not through legislation but by effecting cultural shifts; that long and difficult process entails thoughtful conversations in which we examine and critique the status quo. it also entails reflecting seriously on our own values and life choices, as Andrew encourages his fellow 'progressive' self-identifying men to do. we can engage in social and self- criticism not as inhabitants of the ivory tower, but as ordinary members of a society that both influences us and bends to our influence.

finally,
4."with so many families needing two incomes to support themselves, why can't we applaud those families that can get along on one? i'm sure their kids aren't complaining that they have a parent at home."

your implicit allegations here completely miss the point of this whole conversation, amigo/a. no one is condemning, or even refusing to applaud, families with one stay-at-home parent. you might want to re-read all the contributions and reconsider what you're arguing for or against.

 
At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another Anonymous here again.

"admittedly my tone and some of the points i make are offensive to some of you."

Dude, be as offensive as you want. It's a freakin' blog. What boggles my mind is that you seem to have little to no interest in being PERSUASIVE. I guess that's a valid choice too, but it's an awfully confusing one. You lack numbers and logic.

You write,

"What are you opinions then of the nytimes article and thecrimson article by rena xu?"

The New York Times article was written by a former Yale Daily News reporter. Yes, Louise Story was on the Yale Daily News. Lots of good reporters have come out of there (Jodi Wilgoren among them, Andrew) but if this story is a fair example, Story isn't one of them. Hm, lots of Yale connections, big surprise since she graduated fairly recently. So that's kind of questionable. I also thought the Slate dissection of why that article was problematic was pretty much right on. No point in repeating in when Jack Shafer already said it so well. It's a "trend" story supported by anecodotal evidence. So where's the trend? It's irresponsible to sort the evidence to suit your own thesis. That's it.

“You can’t be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time. You always have to choose one over the other.”

This statement is not true because of the "always." It depends, IMHO, on the career and the individual.

"it's true for the father as well. when parents have children, they make sacrifices in large areas of their life, including career if they're good parents."

I haven't seen anyone in this comments section disagree with this yet. I don't disagree with this. But again, I think it depends on both the career and the individual. My father, a physician, never missed a damn thing I did as a child. I have no idea how he managed it, but he came to every concert, every play, every game, just EVERYTHING. I don't remember ever thinking, "Boy, I wish my dad were here to see this." He was there. My mother did choose to work part-time to spend more time with me; my father, although he was home for less time, doesn't seem to me to have had to make a choice--he has managed it all, and that is to be celebrated, just as my mother's decision to work part-time is admirable--clearly a sacrifice. They are different individuals with different careers; he figured out a way not to have to choose, and she elected home over work. I admire and appreciate them both and don't see a conflict in that.

you write,

"my problem is with all these opinions about the way "the world should be". let the individuals choose, celebrate the sacrifices that women and men make for their children instead of deriding it for being anachronistic."

My problem with your statement is that it sounds like everyone has to choose. Not everyone does. What about the lawyer who figures out how to make partner and be a great mom? What about the artist who has a studio at-home? It might be possible for him/her to be successful and still a very present parent. What about the teacher whose school day ends at 3, when her kid's does? (And the arts and teaching are Harvard-type careers too.) That doesn't deride the sacrifice of the woman who quits her job being a lawyer at a high-level firm when she has twins. Rather, your statement that everybody HAS to choose derides those who figure out a way not to.

Nor does it seem like people in this comments section are deriding those who stay at home. They're just saying that the choice is not always necessary.

Regarding Rena Xu's piece, I thought it was thoughtful, but not particularly new--and it did have the major flaw of relying upon those "recent surveys" of women at elite institutions choosing home over work. That alludes pretty clearly to the lousy Times story. A weak foundation to build a house on.

-Another Anon.

 
At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 1

thanks katie. you're right, i jumped before i looked and see now we weren't arguing about the nytimes or crimson pieces. but the absence of talking about the man's role in all of this as well.

women are choosing now again more willing to sacrifice career for family, so what about men? is there really anything to debate about that? of course men should.

anyway it was fun hijacking this thread for awhile but i guess my part is over.

 
At 1:06 AM, Anonymous sarika said...

from katie's post:

"By failing to challenge stereotypes of women's and men's roles in public and private spheres, the nyt article and xu's piece both (wrongly, i believe) take unequal childrearing contributions by male and female parents as given."

um... last i checked, women were the one to give birth, not men. i think that's pretty unequal. i think it's naive to deny how biology plays a huge role in the different roles of men and women in the childrearing process, particularly in infancy. in every set of new parents i've seen (who admittedly have mostly been indian, so this might be culturally biased), the woman has a significantly different relationship towards the child than the man. i mean, honestly -- she's had a life form growing in her for 9 months, kicking and growing and sharing nutrients. the fathers are obviously always proud and excited, but are usually slightly more detached.

as a direct result of initial differences in responsibility and closeness, mothers and fathers almost inevitably play different roles in a child's upbringing. we can see this cross-culturally, and from before the world was globalized -- in most traditional societies, the mother has been more "present" in her child's life than the father. i support women's liberation and everything, but... can we say that most of history is simply wrong/backwards? as prof. caroline elkin says, "we cannot explain history by mass insanity -- we won't get anywhere. most people are rational actors..."

progressive ideas about how the father should stay home are great in certain cases. and yes, men should be part of the career vs. family conversation. that said, we must remember the differential roles women and men necessarily play in childrearing, and its direct implications on who needs to think more about the work/life balance.

 
At 9:49 AM, Anonymous sarika said...

an addendum to my post yesterday... well more of a way to sum it up (i don't even know if anyone will read this since there are so many new discussions, but hey):

it is one thing for our ideas to progress faster than our bodies. it is another for our ideas to progress while denying our bodies.

 
At 11:35 AM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Hi Sarika,

I don't know if anyone else is reading this either, but you brought up some really good points, so maybe we'll just have a conversation...

I take your point to heart, and I, along with most feminists I know (including "third-wave" feminists), do not find it productive to pretend that sex differences don’t exist, and that they may affect social behavior to some degree. But acknowledging unequal childrearing contributions (you're right--not childbirthing contributions) by male and female parents as likely is not the same as taking them as given. Not all women raise their own children from infancy, and some single fathers do a fine job of it.

I am in total agreement with you that in having a discussion on the affects of sex differences on the work/life balance, we absolutely can't afford to deny our bodies or ignore material realities, including the fact that only certain people get pregnant (my comments on contraception (non)availability in the original discussion of women's career/family decisionmaking bear directly on this point).

What interests me about biological differences among people is not so much whether they exist (I think they do), or whether they affect our behavior in certain ways (I think they can), but the extent to which those biologically-influenced behaviors can be shaped by conscious social forces. I don't believe we are purely products of our genetic makeup, nor do I believe that we are 100% socially constructed. In finding that middle ground between biological determinism and social constructivism, we must take responsibility for our own social attitudes and choices. A good place to start is by increasing the flexibility and fluidity in the range of acceptable, “normal” parenting roles that men and women can assume.

For instance, it's worth noting that in testifying to the involvement of his father, who managed to balance a career as a physician with parental obligations and opportunities, Anonymous above focuses on the fact that his dad supported him at his games and performances. Please don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying that's not beautiful--it is. But it also describes a fairly narrow category of parental involvement, and one that I think is typically associated with fatherhood. I would have been surprised had Anonymous told us how his father stayed home with him when he was sick as a kid; took him to the doctor for appointments; cooked dinner; cleaned the house; scheduled babysitters. Do you see what I’m getting at? While some dads do share equally in the more mundane parental responsibilities with their partners, or, in rarer cases, may even take on a larger share of them, this kind of stuff usually falls in Mom’s or Grandma’s spheres. Some would argue that the asymmetry can be explained by women’s propensity to be more nurturing. I say let’s work on progressively changing our own behaviors and attitudes and see how far we can get. Conceptions of bodies are not fixed; they vary dramatically over time and cross-culturally (entire courses are taught on this--fascinating stuff). So in effect, concepts of bodies have been denied many times throughout history. Happily, we're still here. If we focus more on determining what we ought to do, we can worry less about what biology says we can do.

 

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