Saturday, July 05, 2008

It’s (Some) Man’s World

In the last few months both Marie and Belle have written feminist oriented posts. I agree completely with Marie about sexism and the Clinton campaign. I am somewhat less sympathetic to Belle’s for the reasons stated in a comment. Since reading those, two related ideas have come to mind. One is the number of times I hear of career oriented women hammering those who want a career and a family. The most recent came from a law firm in which 5 partners (three men, two women) were deciding which of the 5 associates (also three men and two women) would become partners. The men voted for all five. The women voted for the men. It was while talking to one of the men partners I learned this and I asked his theory. He said the women partners were fully career devoted without children. The two women associates were attempting to have families and careers and he felt the women partners felt that they had not focused on their careers enough.

I do not know how often this pattern is found but I have heard of it on more that one occasion. Maybe men make it up to point the sexist/anti-family finger at women but in a way I can sympathize with the women who vote no. If they view themselves as having sacrificed to be successful. it is human nature to expect the same of others. Maybe not fair, but human nature nonetheless.

The second idea is that I am confident that a more subtle version of this anti-family bias exists in the case of men. Before my kids were born I tended to write and prepare at home at night and on weekends. Most holidays were spent at work. If I got home at 9:00 PM because I was chasing down an idea or finishing a chapter it was fine. Stay up till 3 A.M.? That was fine too. Just sleep in. When two kids came along (and then a third) the choice was clear. If I wanted to be part of my kids' lives there would have to be coming home for supper, bedtime reading, helping with homework, building things with blocks, racing slot cars, rough housing, soccer, T-Ball and baseball, building Lego castles or free-styling, giving baths, sitting up at night, doing family things on weekends and minimal traveling to conferences. Every person with kids under the age of 10 knows that you cannot work and be in charge of the kids. Trying to will make you crazy. And I was a Dad with a stay at home wife who did most of the work.

I understand this is still far less than the demands on female faculty with children (although I do think a stern talk with their husbands may make as much sense as a talk with the dean) but children force even men, except perhaps the most efficient and the most talented, to make a choice. In fact, for men like me who are not in the most talented or efficient ballpark, losing the extra hours is even more critical. I could see it unfold but for me the choice was easy, I assume, in part because it was not as big a choice as women make. But the problem to some extent lies in the nature of the job. Law teaching and especially writing is not like a limited space or limited time exam. Those who have more pages or unlimited time will write more and do better professionally. If we had 8-5 jobs the playing field would be a bit more level for men and women but that is not the case. Should anything be done? On this I am not sure. An economist would say that we all make the best choices we can. (As I have written a number of places, I think that is only partly true but let’s pretend that it is true so I can add my final thought.) Presumably the dads and moms not spending time with the kids and the no-kid-workaholic men and women opting for writing and its rewards instead of yachting or belly-dancing lessons or wood chucking or pasta making make hard choices and lose something pleasurable in the process. In a not-limited-space profession, it’s inevitable.


Blogger Stephen said...

Nicely said.

7/05/2008 7:41 PM  
Blogger Belle Lettre said...

This was very interesting and well put, and thanks Jeff, for this. It has given me much to think about. I am still working out my feelings and beliefs on this issue, as I am with my personal life and timetable, and I appreciate hearing other sides of the discussion. I am quite young, and I am still sorting things out, in scholarship as much as life.

7/06/2008 5:24 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Thanks Belle (I think I referred you to Bette -- sorry) but please listen to wiser people than me on thise matters. I feel like I should add a P.S. that may illustrate why.

A reader who private communicated with me suggested that I am saying that career women without children resent career women with children because they too would like children. I can see why what I have written can be interpreted this way and so I would like to add two comments. First, all the career women I know who do not have children seem to be quite happy. What I think they would object to (as I would) is someone expecting equal treatment at work for unequal contribution. As I understand it the most common reason for this arguably unequal contribution would be family demands.

The second point is that I do not know although I suppose I should know the feminist position on families. What I see are two types of feminist issues. The first is based on gender and the threat bright assertive women pose to men. It potentially affects all women. I think Marie captured this in her post about Clinton. The other is that,since at least at this point only women can give birth, the family issue. This appears to affect people who are not only women but women who choose to have children.

7/06/2008 8:50 PM  

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