May
31st 2011
What we should and should not worry about: an address for the rising generation of feminists

Posted under: Berkshire Conference, Gender, happy endings, jobs, students, women's history

Check out this year’s commencement address at Barnard College by Sheryl Sandberg. (H/t to reader COB for the link and the idea for this post.)

It’s brave of her to throw a bucket of cold water in the face of graduating Seniors by telling them this:

As we sit here looking at this magnificent blue-robed class, we have to admit something that’s sad but true: men run the world. Of 190 heads of 2 state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.

I recognize that this is a vast improvement from generations in the past. When my mother took her turn to sit in a gown at her graduation, she thought she only had two career options: nursing and teaching. She raised me and my sister to believe that we could do anything, and we believed her. But what is so sad—it doesn’t just make me feel old, it makes me truly sad—is that it’s very clear that my generation is not going to change this problem. Women became 50% of the college graduates in this country in 1981, 30 years ago. Thirty years is plenty of time for those graduates to have gotten to the top of their industries, but we are nowhere close to 50% of the jobs at the top. That means that when the big decisions are made, the decisions that affect all of our worlds, we do not have an equal voice at that table.

She’s got a solid analysis of the reasons for this stasis, and some good advice for ambitious women, which if I summarize here will sound like a bunch of commencement address cliches but are actually pretty smart. I wish when she pointed out the negative correlation between success and likability for women that she had said, “F^ck likeability. You think Mark Zuckerberg gives a $hit about likeability?” Instead, she implicitly feeds the notion that likeability is something we need to worry about. I think telling women they’re not “likeable,” or that people find them “difficult personalities,” is a way to knock them off their game and get them to worry about trivial stuff they can’t control instead of worrying about decisive stuff they can at least partially control. (Kind of like this, h/t reader KV for the link.)

Heh. A few years ago at the Berks conference, we on the program committee got some negative feedback from some younger women that our plenary on the state of women in the historical profession was too much of a buzzkill. (They didn’t want to hear about just how bad it is, and how immoveable the percentages of women in tenured and tenure-track positions really is.) Back to the Sandberg speech–I thought this advice was pretty shrewd, too, about the “choice” to prioritize family over professional success:

But until that day, do everything you can to make sure that when that day comes, you even have a choice to make. Because what I have seen most clearly in my 20 years in the workforce is this: Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.

These women don’t even have relationships, and already they’re finding balance, balance for responsibilities they don’t yet have. And from that moment, they start quietly leaning back. The problem is, often they don’t even realize it. Everyone I know who has voluntarily left a child at home and come back to the workforce—and let’s face it, it’s not an option for most people. But for people in this audience, many of you are going to have this choice. Everyone who makes that choice will tell you the exact same thing: You’re only going to do it if your job is compelling.

If several years ago you stopped challenging yourself, you’re going to be bored. If you work for some guy who you used to sit next to, and really, he should be working for you, you’re going to feel undervalued, and you won’t come back. So, my heartfelt message to all of you is, and start thinking about this now, do not leave before you leave. Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.

What do you think? Do you think she gets it just about right–that success is for closers, with some acknowledgement of the powerful institutional forces arrayed against the success of even very privileged women like the Barnard class of 2011? Or do you think she’s not acknowledging these powerful forces enough?

131 Comments »

131 Responses to “What we should and should not worry about: an address for the rising generation of feminists”

  1. cgeye on 31 May 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    I think she’s being an alpha female, and assuming weakness is an internal factor instead of systemic external pressure.

    She doesn’t even mention the booze-n-hookers atmosphere of many of the most remunerative career tends to make women lean back, just so they don’t get splashed by the products of male co-workers behaving badly. She doesn’t mention the anti-women socialization that successful women have to internalize in those environments, so mommy-blaming for Holding Back The Sex becomes second nature for everyone. What the hell would happen if men had permission to lean back, and make real time for their families, mid-career? Why not have health and childcare that was for everyone, instead of the feudal rich?

    And, of course, she doesn’t even see the little people who clean her office, tend her children, cook her takeout meals, and suffer as wives and mistresses (rented or not) to her and her male peers — the people who make all this success possible without these masters of the universe being imprisoned for child neglect and declining maintenance on their gated properties. The class privilege is as dank as a high school lav hotbox….

  2. ej on 31 May 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    I agree that the absence of women in positions of public power is as much a result of systemic problems inherent in patriarchy as it is of personal choices. But you do have to start somewhere. Women who “lean back’ before they even encounter the challenges of being female in male-dominated spaces are taking themselves out of the game before it even starts. As someone who is attempting (without a great deal of success) to deal with 2 kids under 4 and a career, I can see how opting out could look attractive at times. Especially when work is frustrating, the kids are sick, etc. But I decided 20 years ago that my career would be a priority. I am way too invested now to give it up. I figure I need to think of a strategy that accounts for all 9 innings of the game, not just the 1 or 2 I am currently in, which are kind of sucking.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying that although I see all that she didn’t discuss, I agree that she should be applauded for throwing the wet blanket on the party and encouraging those women to appreciate that they do have a role to play in all of this.

  3. shaz on 31 May 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    No question there are still serious structural inequities. But as a feminist colleague once said to me: I can’t tell you how to change the rules of the game. I can tell you how to succeed at the game.

    The irony, of course, is that succeeding implicitly changes the game. I agree that there are limitations, power dynamics, a stacked deck, etc. BUT, why not tell women what they can do for themselves?

    Funnily, I just had a conversation with a (male) colleague about how much change has happened since the 60s, when our department was all (white) male. He sees huge changes, I see a huge way still to go…

  4. Meghan Roberts on 31 May 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Well, I liked it. Was it the most theoretically sophisticated bit of gender analysis I’ve ever read? No. Does it sufficiently acknowledge the systemic issues at play? No. But it seems like smart, pragmatic advice for women just starting out in their careers, and that’s precisely what a commencement address should do.

  5. KC on 31 May 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    All the disclaimers aside, I think this is good advice, especially good to be giving it at a commencement. I would add that we live in a world where more and more men (although not enough, relative to women) are staying at home to take care of the kids and putting their careers on hold while their spouses continue with their careers. (Speaking here of a stereotypical hetero-relationship, obviously). It’s a fairly recent trend and I think in the coming years it will continue to grow, especially if women aim high in their career choices. There are, of course, still structural problems that will continue to disadvantage women in the workplace, but it is very difficult for an individual woman to change that kind of meta-issue, which can only be improved on a larger, structural level. On the level of the individual, you have to force the issue in order for change to occur.

  6. Jacey on 31 May 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Ok- maybe not everything in her address was perfect, but I applaud and thank her for saying what no one else has. I graduated in 2006 and entered the workforce with a degree in electrical engineering. Very few want to deal with the double standards that exist in a male-dominated corporate culture, but any woman working in it can tell you that they have experienced them. She’s candid and I couldn’t appreciate that more.

  7. Nicole on 31 May 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    I like this line a lot, “Everyone who makes that choice will tell you the exact same thing: You’re only going to do it if your job is compelling.” It definitely rings true with many folks I know who have made this decision, even if they don’t realize it.

    I like this from Shaz as well, “I can’t tell you how to change the rules of the game. I can tell you how to succeed at the game.”

    Though to be honest, if I had a ton of money I probably wouldn’t be working at my current job. I’d probably be doing something completely different. Something about turning 30 seems to make a lot of people (including me) wonder if they really need to be spending 80hrs/week on the job, kids or not.

  8. thefrogprincess on 31 May 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.

    So true. I was friends with this guy for ten years, through senior year of high school, all of college, and most of grad school. He and I both had serious career aspirations, and I knew (still do know) that if I’d told him that I was thinking of pulling back from my career plans for a nonexistent relationship and/or kids, he’d be pissed. We had a conversation towards the end of his time in med school about just how many of his female colleagues were choosing less demanding specialties: not because our country has a chronic shortage of primary care, family practice, and pediatric doctors, but solely because they were thinking ahead to their potential (but non-existent at the time) husbands and families. My friend was utterly appalled.

    BUT in the same conversation, he made it clear that any woman he married was going to need to have a less demanding career than he had so that the children could be taken care of. And sure enough, when he did get attached, he married someone he’d known in person for about a week (no exaggeration) and she magically went from doing a residency in anesthesiology to looking for a residency in peds. (In fairness, she had to move to this country once she married him, so whatever residency she was doing in her home country was going to end midway.) When I asked about this, he rushed to convince me that she was really interested in both, but I simply didn’t buy it. Somebody spends months or years waking up early for surgeries and suddenly they’re into pediatrics right when they get married.

    That’s something I’ve always found interesting: most of my straight male friends couldn’t be more enthusiastic and supportive of my career and they’d be appalled if I ratcheted back my plans, and yet they marry women who either stay home or dramatically downsize their plans. That’s another lesson, I guess. Just because male friends are supportive doesn’t mean boyfriends will be. Choose accordingly.

  9. Historiann on 01 Jun 2011 at 4:10 am #

    Thefrogprincess: wow. This is a great example of Sandberg’s point about not “leaning in.” Although, I can’t exactly say that her life as a pediatrician will be easier, if she stays in practice. Gas passers don’t have to take call (at least as far as I can recall), but peds is all about the call.

    I have to say that I’m kind of shocked by the number of younger women pediatricians (below 40 or so) who marry sub-specialist men and drop entirely out of practice. Med school seems like a pretty arduous and expensive way to find a husband. D00ds should just marry nurses, but I suppose it’s an even bigger status symbol to get a fellow doc to drop out professionally.

    A number of my friends and I–women in our 40s–have commented on the blitheness with which we see some straight, married women in their 30s ditch their careers. (And we even noticed this before the economy bottomed out, so I can’t say that their career-ditching was precipitated by the 2008 collapse.) It’s kind of surprising to us, and it’s not like we don’t have our war stories. All of us have had at least one crappy and/or abusive job (inside and out of academia, women across the professions), but we sucked it up and figured it out. Most of us moved away from husbands/partners to take a job, and later figured out how to reunite the family. (And all of us who wanted children had them–we didn’t have to sacrifice “it all,” we just understood that in different phases of life & careers we “leaned in” when we needed to so that we could have more options down the road.)

    Now it seems like women just a half-generation younger are willing to chuck their careers because (as ej said above) they don’t have a 9-inning strategy, they’re just focused on the immediate 1 or 2 innings. I would like to hear from some under-40s about this: is my impression accurate? What’s going on from your perspective?

    Also: I don’t want to be morbid, but has anyone here ever heard of divorce or widowhood? I guess I’m always surprised that so many heterosexualist women are eager to throw away their earning potential. More professional possibilities = more options for sustaining oneself and/or a family, is what I’ve always thought.

  10. Perpetua on 01 Jun 2011 at 4:52 am #

    I’m only marginally inside the under-40s, but most of the women I know have chosen the lesser-career track rather than the SAHM track. I see both dynamics replicate with alarming frequency. In some ways the lesser career track is more pernicious – there are definitely some women who choose to stay home thoughtfully, intentionally, and as feminists (not all of course), but women rarely consciously choose a lesser career framed in some kind of feminist way. It’s easier to fall into by accident, and that’s where the structural influences come into play, the ones most women don’t even see as they are making those tiny day to day decisions that lead to a lesser career. I think to have a more high powered career women have to be hyper-intentional and deliberate and focused, and not let anything hold you back. I have chosen the harder path for myself, and when faced with a few absolutely wrenching decisions that placed (to seemed to place) my career and my family in opposition, I have chosen career. It’s an uncomfortable place to be as a woman, but there it is. I struggle with it a lot, because honestly I don’t really want to replicate the US-capitalist-male-career system where one’s career is life and identity. I’ve always wanted a full life, which for me means a satisfying profession with a vibrant out-work life as well. And that mentality makes it easier to fall into those replicating models of smaller career. (Whereas stereotypically speaking men tend to see identity in terms of career/financial success in a way that militates against the desire that I spoke of for a ‘full life’.) Note to young women: The choices I have been able to make (chose my career “over” my family)is possible because I have a feminist partner who facilitates, supports, and makes sacrifices of his own. I can’t imagine how hard life would be if I had to fight my spouse every step of the way because he harbored a whole lot of unconscious and conscious assumptions about who should be doing what. Partnering with a true partner is one of those intentional decisions that is so important.

  11. Feminist Avatar on 01 Jun 2011 at 6:56 am #

    Well, none of my friends have completely left the profession to be SAHM, and I suspect this is more unusual in the UK where two-income households are fairly normal even among the middle classes (plus we get decent maternity leave etc), but I do know women who have stepped back, if you like, to have children. However, I think for most of these women, it is because they are sick of the exploitation and are happy to take the risk- not because they are innately less ambitious. So, right now in the Uk’s current job market, the reality is that those of us running at the top of game are working 80 hour weeks and more. How else do you write 2 books inside five-six years, plus articles, which is increasingly what my cohort of scholars have in the UK. (Not kidding, I am four years out of PhD and recently got knocked back after a job interview, being told that I didn’t get it as my second book wasn’t near enough completion- dude, could I have worked anymore hours- I think not. Clearly someone else did though!) Add on to this the temporary contracts and the annual move across the country (or further), living apart from spouses etc etc. And some of my friends have went- enough! They want to have children, but they can’t do it working those kind of hours and living apart from spouses, so they have limited where they choose to work, or went part-time, or are publishing less, for a better work life balance. And, you can’t blame them, because at some point, you have to ask whether the sacrifices will be worth it. I think that men get an advantage in this game because they don’t hit thirty or so, and start worrying about their biological clock. They can stay on the gas knowing they can slow down at forty, once properly established, and still have the kids and marriage they want (and I know a large number of academic men who only started families at forty- but they had younger wives). For some women, waiting til forty is too much of risk in case you find it’s too late.

    I also think this extends beyond academia. My sister works as a business consultant for a major firm and is very successful, but they work more hours than academics and they are away from home several nights of the week. Women either wait until they are high enough up in the company to demand less hours to have children (but this is usually around age 40), or work there until they want to have kids and then move to a different career or to ’boutique’ consultancies (ie small specialist companies which are not fortune 500 and have more work life balance).

    So, in conclusion to this long essay, I think the reason so many women ease off the gas today is because we are being driven to go faster and faster and we can’t do it all under those conditions.

  12. Dr. Crazy on 01 Jun 2011 at 7:25 am #

    “Now it seems like women just a half-generation younger are willing to chuck their careers because (as ej said above) they don’t have a 9-inning strategy, they’re just focused on the immediate 1 or 2 innings. I would like to hear from some under-40s about this: is my impression accurate? What’s going on from your perspective?”

    I think there are two influences on this that come from opposite directions. 1) I think that many women in their 20s and 30s first have internalized the message that you *can’t* “have it all,” particularly if they watched their own mothers try and “fail” in that regard. (If they decided that their own mothers should have been around more when they were kids, if they blame their parents’ divorce(s) on career coming before family, etc.) So on the one hand, the choice to “lean back” in career path even before there is something to “lean back” for is a profoundly pessimistic move related to thinking that one’s life will end up being a disaster if one pushes ahead, that one will “waste” her reproductive years, will never get married, whatever. 2) Weirdly, though, I think the other factor is naively optimistic: many women have bought into the idea of “choice” feminism – that one can “choose” to opt out of the paid workforce and that it will be there waiting when she’s ready to return (after the kids have started school, after her personal life is in order and a husband is secured, after she does x, y, and z things that are difficult to do while working full time. I think that this is especially the case for women who come from a place of unexamined privilege regarding class/education – something along the lines of, “But I have a good degree and obviously when I’m ready to work, the world shall be my oyster.”

    For me, coming from my working-class family background, the only women I knew in my family who “stayed home” were on public assistance, so it seriously never occurred to me that I wouldn’t work. The “luxury” of my education and moving into a higher class status isn’t that I can “choose” to stay home but rather that I can have a “career” instead of a “job” that barely makes ends meet. It means putting up with less crap, and doing something that I care about. It means that if I ever have the good fortune to end up partnered (and God only knows whether that will happen), I will never end up somebody’s dependent. That matters to me.

    I suppose the best take-away from this commencement address is that it’s the small choices that matter and that it’s important to be thoughtful about them. And I think that at 21-22 years old, that can sometimes be difficult to see – that small choices can shape the course of your whole life.

  13. LadyProf on 01 Jun 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Leslie Bennetts has written a lot about the deeply hostile reaction she provoked in her “Feminine Mistake,” which argued that women need to stay in the workforce for their own safety. The patriarchy sure does dig in when something’s at stake.

    And word to Dr. Crazy about young women who conclude that they can’t “have it all” because their mothers “neglected” them by having something to do during the day other than catering to them. American culture doesn’t care a lot about children’s needs, but tunes into them when it’s expedient. If a low-income mother has to work two grinding jobs to pay the bills, that’s great. If an upper-class mother holds a job that a d00d might want, how selfish. What about the children?

  14. mandor on 01 Jun 2011 at 8:52 am #

    While intellectually I get the argument, I really do not dig the framing where “women’s work” is inherently less than and undervalued. It just seems like nothing is gonna change until that shift in thinking happens. It has never been my goal to get to the point where I can pay someone else to take care of the domestic labor. This work matters too.

  15. Rachel on 01 Jun 2011 at 8:54 am #

    “They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.”

    Yes. I have watched and continue to watch friends of mine do this and hate it. And I see it among academics, not just doctors and lawyers.

    A brilliant friend of mine got a PhD — and had 2 kids in this period — only to follow her husband (the higher earner) to a new area and get a part-time job at a university. She claims she only wants to work a 50-75% time job and will ratchet up later. She’s clearly deluding herself that this is possible. But to me the saddest part is that she is f*cking brilliant — far more brilliant than I — and has the credentials to get a job where she could not only publish amazing stuff and teach awesome classes, but help implement structural change. But she won’t. She’ll publish here and there, teach well to a limited audience, and worry about whether she’s “there” enough as a mother even though she’s the one working part-time. Mind you, she’s never not wanted to work, but she’s always seen her less well-paying career as secondary to her husbands. I think this is the mindset of some of the MD women thefrogprincess refers to. Even the feminist-identified among them (as this friend of mine is) position themselves as the caregivers such that no matter the circumstances, their husbands’ work comes first. It pisses me off.

    I’ve got another friend in the midst of her PhD who I see making the same sorts of small decisions because she wants kids and her-boyfriend-she-expects-to-marry-one-day makes more money and she wants her kids to have the benefits she had of growing up in a solidly middle/upper-middle-class family (her mom is a nurse and made her schedule work around the kids). So she expects to finish her PhD but is ambivalent about job prospects and says she won’t mind being a SAHM. Now, everyone in grad school should be concerned about the job prospects, but I don’t get why the “choice” is tenure-track prof v. SAHM.

    And I’ve also had conversations with male friends of mine akin to thefrogprincess, in which they encourage me but want wives who will stay at home or work part time or put their careers on hold or see their work as less important than their own. Maybe they don’t say it quite that bluntly, but it’s there.

    And perhaps this all explains why I’m still single, since I can’t imagine relinquishing my career to some d00ds. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I have no intention of giving that up. Nor do I think I should, nor do I think it should be expected of me, nor do I think the communities in which I travel should be surprised that I actually care about my work and expect to actually do the work I’ve gone to school to do.

    Women voluntarily positioning themselves as second-class, as seems to be happening more and more today in the name of “choice” and “feminism” bristles, it hurts like a dagger. Maybe if women were actually equal it would feel less damaging, but to me it feels like a fight given up before the finish line. I’m waiting for the day that a full chorus of d00ds, not just the soloists touted as being the shining exemplars of progressive men, volunteer that they’ll ratchet down or work fewer hours or choose the less demanding specialty or follow their wives or make choices based on their girlfriends’ plans or elect not to pursue being a partner or worry about whether their work travel will impinge on their spouse or make the arrangements for extra childcare while they travel, etc.

    [Sorry for the long rant, this sh!t just kills me.]

  16. cgeye on 01 Jun 2011 at 9:19 am #

    Dr. Crazy and Rachel say it better than I did: The classist assumption that a woman who loves her family best stays at home, if she can afford it, dismisses the generations of women I grew up with who loved their families enough to work two jobs.

    That, and the “a man who’s comfortable enough to let me quit my career for our family is stable/rich/caring enough to always provide for me” presumption, which in this economy is: Insane, and charmingly ignorant of the First Wives’ Club.

    But don’t mind me, I’m an old spinster, who’s seen decades of kind, talented, hard-working broads leave jobs when the toxic men left behind float on all that female work-and-home labor, pretending to be oblivious about the source of that uplift.

  17. thefrogprincess on 01 Jun 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Mandor, the problem is that, with the exception of a few things like breastfeeding, this work isn’t woman’s work. It’s the parents’ work. There’s nothing inherent in the tasks that means that only women can do them. Moreover, the fact that rich people pay people to do this work suggests to me that there is an inherent value to it, and what SAHMs risk is that work being chronically undervalued and expected of them: it’s what they do in order to be helpmeets to their husbands as opposed to equal partners.

    I’d also add something to Dr. Crazy’s hypothesis about why there’s a shift towards SAHMing: I think the encroachment of conservative family values is responsible as well. Women are now viewing that as the ideal.

    Historiann: I’m with you on the widowed/injured/divorced bandwagon. Every time I mention that, people look at me like I’ve got a third eye. But I view my potential role as a wife to be prepared for the eventualities of life: so no, let me not step off the career path b/c if something were to happen to my husband, I’d really prefer not to have to scramble to get an entry level job when I could have been advanced in my career path. Then again, maybe that’s why I’m perpetually single.

    I’m waiting for the day that a full chorus of d00ds, not just the soloists touted as being the shining exemplars of progressive men, volunteer that they’ll ratchet down or work fewer hours or choose the less demanding specialty or follow their wives or make choices based on their girlfriends’ plans or elect not to pursue being a partner or worry about whether their work travel will impinge on their spouse or make the arrangements for extra childcare while they travel, etc.

    This is my thing as well: I always find myself wondering if this is how unattached men view their careers and, if it isn’t, then I don’t think in those terms either.

  18. Janice on 01 Jun 2011 at 10:19 am #

    It’s funny, but when men make little decisions along the way, I don’t notice quite the backlash in their careers that the women receive.

  19. mandor on 01 Jun 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I guess I ask this in all honesty because I’ve yet to see a long term hetero relationship function where the woman isn’t in charge of/carrying out the household labor. The closest it comes is if the couple can afford to pay someone else to take care of the tasks. I naively grew up expecting for some sort of equality on this front, but I’ve yet to see it in practice. Women’s work was in quotes for a reason.

  20. Matt_L on 01 Jun 2011 at 11:12 am #

    great comment thread and an enlightening discussion thread. I would like to respond to Historiann’s question in the original post.

    I think its a great speech, but it comes up short in terms of the structural problems facing women today and in the future. Scandinavian countries have more women in parliament and in corporate boardrooms because they passed laws that set quotas. That is the only way things can change for all women. Pass laws that mandate equality and give that equality a real material existence. Quotas for women’s participation in government and business won’t fix everything, but it will give women a structural position to push for change. Society and politicians have to make women’s equality a priority and turn the priority into policy.

    Until that happens, individual women will rise or fall based on the dilemmas and little decisions Sheryl Sandberg, Historiann and the commentators have dissected and documented in this post and elsewhere.

    I hope this does not derail the thread, its just something that has been bothering me since I read the original post this morning.

  21. Janice on 01 Jun 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I remember being pregnant and questioned by a contemporary about when I was going to quit my job (so I could stay home with the kid/kids). That sounded so alien to me: I was already pretty much the sole support in our family having gotten my partner to up and move where I had an academic appointment and jobs for him were rare as hens’ teeth. Things only got more lopsided in our life with having to accommodate autistic youngest’s needs. I have to work full-time and full-out at my job just to feed my family!

    Life will throw you tangents and might even throw you off track, but little good comes of blithely saying, “Oh, I won’t worry because I can always go back to work after X event.” Many more women do this than men and so many of them without an inkling of how hard it is to get back into most professions. For academia, the heartless bitch? It’s even more unlikely!

  22. Dr. Crazy on 01 Jun 2011 at 11:32 am #

    @Janice – But I’d say that the “little decisions” that most men make along the way tend to be toward career success rather than away from it, so no, there isn’t the backlash in terms of career for men. On the other hand, I think that the backlash for men conventionally comes in their personal/family lives. So I think that the “little decisions count” advice is actually good advice for all college graduates, but the reasons that they count or where they count differs based on gender.

    @Mandor – Honestly? And I say this because I’m spending today cleaning? I don’t blame anybody who tries to get out of doing house work. It’s not fun or interesting to mop floors or clean toilets or vacuum cat-hair-covered stairs. It’s not rewarding. It sucks. My ideal would be that I could foist all of this off on somebody else. I in no way aspire to sharing this garbage work equally: the dream for me would be to dump it all on somebody who would do the work for free. I totally get, then, why men would allow women to take on that role if women are willing to do it. I mean, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

  23. Rachel on 01 Jun 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I received a link to this article today, about recently-ordained female rabbis having trouble getting jobs: http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/jts_women_grads_struggling_pulpits.

    There are so many problematic ideas and statements in the article, but one I want to point out because I think the opening of ministerial roles to women shows very clearly how gender dynamics/decisions/choices affect other women not just the ones make choices. One currently employed female rabbi “chose the associate position because ‘I knew I wanted to have kids. … and being an assistant made more sense so I could balance’ both a career and motherhood.” This was an individual choice that is supposed to be above reproach because it was her own “choice,” not a mandate imposed on her — but also serves as clear evidence of the domino effect of little choices Sandberg talks about.

    Yet this article was written to dissect why in a graduating class, all the men have jobs and few of the women do (a problem noted in numerous articles about other faith traditions earlier this year). Along the way, the reporter has quotes from people trying to explain why synagogues were more likely to hire women a decade or even 5 years ago then now. There’s the usual blaming of the economy, but I think this is more telling: “‘It’s nothing against women; it’s just that given two equally good candidates, congregations would prefer to go for the more traditional profile,’ Wolnek added. ‘Again, it has nothing to do with the quality of the women; it’s just more comfortable” with a man.’”

    What makes the congregation “more comfortable” with “the more traditional profile”? Many things, of course, including hidden gender biases. But I think the women who have elected to take the assistant positions to balance motherhood and work are also part of the equation. As individuals, they have made personal choices. But as part of the larger community, they have signaled that women don’t want to prioritize their jobs or women will work when the balance best fits them. My point is not that women do this intentionally or want to do this but rather that their actions, not their words, are louder and, unconsciously I think, assumed to stand for all women. What male rabbi [lawyer, doctor, professor, etc] has ever done this? Why shouldn’t a congregation select the candidate that seems most dedicated to the job? Gender invisibly filters searches because unless there is someone on the hiring committee pointing it out, no one thinks they’re discriminating because they’re not doing so actively.

    The big issue here — and this is not just about rabbis or religious hiring — is that “individual” choices that women make are never individual in their consequences. The consequences, fairly or not, get applied to everyone in their position who comes after them. And this is why the rhetoric of feminist choice is so problematic — because as much as I believe in choice in many realms, the neoliberal embrace of choice overshadows both structural conditions and the longterm consequences of “choices” in hiring and employment. Like it or not, women are still representing a class. And whether clergy, academics, doctors, lawyers, managers, consultants, insert-well-educated-role-here, the choices made by individuals, which may well be best for their vision of their family (which seems to be, as thefrogprincess, points out, taken over by conservative “family values”), often impose impossible-to-meet standards on future women seeking employment.

  24. dandelion on 01 Jun 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Why I left the corporate world: first, I was making 2/3 what my corporate salaried husband was making, so if one of us was going to “opt out” or succumb to being pushed out, it was going to be me. Second, my bosses demanded 60 hours of work per week, and so did his bosses. At some point there aren’t enough hours, period. Third, once my daughter hit pre-school, daycare became less predictable rather than more, because of countless school holidays that weren’t holidays for either my husband or me, long summer, Christmas and spring breaks in the school calendar, etc. We made enough to pay for pre-school, a mortgage and groceries, but not enough to pay for extra babysitters and or some kind of nanny — every month I experienced yet another scramble for coverage. And every time I had to re-juggle my work schedule because of something kid-related my “lack of commitment” was thrown back in my face by my male bosses whose wives managed all those kid-related events for them. Sure, my husband did his share of kid-related caretaking, but his job also required him to travel half the time, and if the kid was sick and he was in Cleveland, then I was the one who was there.

    And yes, we could have both cut back on our careers, I suppose, but in the corporate world it’s pretty much all or nothing, there’s no such thing as having half a management position (or there wasn’t at the time.)

    (It’s the career I fell into rather than going to graduate school in history because all I ever heard from my professors was doom and gloom about the job market. At the time, I exulted because my starting salary was more than a full-time lecturer made at my alma mater.)

    And yeah, I came to hate my job. I hated the men I worked for, I hated the male corporate chest-thumping environment, I hated always feeling two steps behind because I was a woman. My career wasn’t a “calling,” it wsa just a well paying job where I got to use some of my intellect and a very small smidgen of creativity now and then — the way jobs are for a lot of people.

    I didn’t think about being employed in my field again. I didn’t think about the future at all. Which was, in retrospect, incredibly dumb, because now I’m in that future and it’s scary as hell. But at the time it was like being caught in a maze with only one exit. And I think that’s because 1) employers are batshit insane in the workloads they now demand and get away with demanding; and 2) men will not — even the best of them — just will not carry their share of the load, in fact don’t even see the damn load half the time; and 3) individual women in this world feel individually on their own, there is no structural support for sorting all this out — there is no women’s space — and it feels like a battle of one woman against a monolith.

    I left the corporate world because the life I was living and racing so hard to maintain put me in a state of deep depression and I could not see any alternative.

  25. Emma on 01 Jun 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    I left the corporate world because the life I was living and racing so hard to maintain put me in a state of deep depression and I could not see any alternative.

    So, instead of a career or job change, you chose to have a baby?

  26. dandelion on 01 Jun 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Emma — no I didn’t leave in order to have a baby. I had the baby in the midst of having a career and worked for years after I gave birth.

  27. dandelion on 01 Jun 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Emma — also: I didn’t say I didn’t make a career or job change — I said I left the corporate world.

  28. Emma on 01 Jun 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    So what did you leave?

  29. Emma on 01 Jun 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    And what does it have to do with having babies?

  30. Emma on 01 Jun 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    What are you trying to say? I’m just totally confused.

    Was it a defense of women who take lesser jobs and career paths to raise babies? Are you saying you’re the exception to that phenomenon for some reason? Are you saying that you did take a lesser job/career to be a mom but in your case it’s justified? Or it’s justified in every case?

    I just don’t get what the point of that post was and I’m seeking clarification.

  31. Dr. Crazy on 01 Jun 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Whatever your circumstances, Dandelion, the part of your comment that struck me most was this:

    “(It’s the career I fell into rather than going to graduate school in history because all I ever heard from my professors was doom and gloom about the job market. At the time, I exulted because my starting salary was more than a full-time lecturer made at my alma mater.)”

    I think this gets at exactly what Sandberg is getting at in her comment about what brings a woman back to the workforce: “Everyone I know who has voluntarily left a child at home and come back to the workforce—and let’s face it, it’s not an option for most people. But for people in this audience, many of you are going to have this choice. Everyone who makes that choice will tell you the exact same thing: You’re only going to do it if your job is compelling.” It sounds to me from what you wrote, Dandelion, that you weren’t compelled by your job – in fact, you sort of hated it. So you scaled back in your career both because it seemed like a sane decision at the time and because it seemed “practical” because your husband was making more. I think that what Sandberg asks the graduates to consider (and for women generally to consider) is what sorts of things lead up to those “sane” and “practical” decisions, which I think is a fair question.

  32. Historiann on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    Emma–please don’t badger dandelion.

    I like Matt’s point above, which is that quotas work. I heard a recent story on the radio about a push for quotas in French companies, which is being debated by French feminists now. Some say, “well, getting a job through a quota isn’t fair!” Others say, “Don’t kid yourself: men set and enforce their own quotas because they have the power.” And that’s in a country where there’s a quota for women in parliamentary seats, as I recall!

    I think the latter is correct, but I seriously doubt that I’ll live long enough to see this kind of action in the U.S. This is where some women making individual choices might be able to move the bar–getting more than 40% representation in parliaments and on corporate boards is what might get us to the point where legistlation like this can even be debated.

  33. Historiann on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    And, the rest of my comment got munched. Weak internet connection here.

    I was just saying that this is a great discussion, and those of you with stronger internets should keep it up. I like Dr. Crazy’s analysis of women in their 30s and I also liked thefrogprincess’s comments about paid versus unpaid labor.

    Finally, I wonder if we just need to tell more girls and women that sometimes work sucks, but that’s why you get paid to do it. Very few men come to the conclusion that it’s just “easier” to quit their jobs relative to women. This is due to 99% to the structural and cultural factors that most of you have discussed above.

  34. Susan on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    The speech was a pretty good commencement speech: I don’t expect great analysis, and this was at least honest.

    I spent last weekend at a college reunion for people who are in their mid-50s. One thing that struck me was how many lawyers hated being lawyers, and told me that they wished they taught. These were almost equaled by the conversations with doctors despairing about practicing medicine, mostly because of the administrative end of things (and I overheard a number of conversations that were along the lines of “this is how I manage it”). A few women classmates were not “working” but doing things like working on developing property to provide for retirement for them and their husbands. They were engaged in activities that were designed to make money, but they were not “careers” or “jobs”. Another friend was downsized from the corporate world and is in the process of reinventing herself as a Chinese teacher. One of my classmates suggested that as we were older, we were all more forgiving of the various choices others had made.

    Studies show that most people have multiple job roles. So I wonder if we are being unrealistic in thinking that because you went to med school, you must practice medicine for 45 years, or whatever. My question about those who opt out for whatever reason is “how are you using your talents/ experience/ skills to make the world a better place for people other than your children or family?” (Actually, I ask that of those who stay working in demanding careers, too.)

    Our society makes it very difficult to live a life without someone to manage tasks during working hours. As a widow, I’ve become very aware of how complicated it is without someone who can take responsibility for making phone calls, being present when someone has to come to the house, etc. So in that sense, I am actually a bit more forgiving of those who make choices…

  35. Emma on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    I think, rather than “badgering”, there was some cross-posting going on. And the inability to edit posts also contributed somewhat.

    Anyway, Dandelion posted a rather lengthy post, the point of which wasn’t that clear, IMO. So, why shouldn’t I ask her to explain it? She doesn’t have to.

    I think women who defend the practice of “taking time off” to be mothers should expect to provide some cogent discussion of the choice given the huge consequences that flow from it. And the expectation that other women, and especially feminists, should be, at least, sympathetic to the women who made that choice and are now suffering the entirely predictable consequences. But that hardly counts as badgering.

    Anyway, there does seem to be a real “hands off” vibe about women’s “choices” to leave jobs and careers to be mothers. I point to LadyProf’s comment:

    Leslie Bennetts has written a lot about the deeply hostile reaction she provoked in her “Feminine Mistake,” which argued that women need to stay in the workforce for their own safety.

  36. LadyProf on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Gender quotas would be awesome. Once they’re installed, people get used to quotas without difficulty. Tiny states have a quota in the United States Senate. The Oscars have quotas for male and female actors. In New York, the Democratic party elects one male and one female district leader for each of the state assembly districts.

  37. dandelion on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Thanks, Dr. Crazy — that’s what I was getting at. Trying to show how those seemingly small decisions/constrictions add up to what feels like very little choice at the time — though of course there are choices all along the way.

    What irks me, though, about all the exhortations to women about how to (better) manage their lives is that this still throws women back on their own individual choices/circumstances and doesn’t at all recognize the political dimension to the problem.

    If we treat political problems as indidivual failures, then the only solutions will be individual — “stronger” women will succeed, women with lesser resources will fail — and the women who fail will view their failures as their own.

    (Most of the SAHM women I work with feel a great deal of anxiety and inadequacy, though you have to wait through layer upon layer of defensiveness to hear it. Most of the women I work with who are in the corporate world feel, instead, that they have no place in the world in which their own individuality is valued.)

    Where does this send them but in search of individual solutions — to the therapist, to the Rx bottle, or — lucky for me — to my adult ed classes in creative writing. The same old solutions (middle-class) women sought in the 1950s.

    It is still true that the personal is the political. I for one am tired of searching for or demanding from others personal solutions to political problems.

  38. cgeye on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    “It is still true that the personal is the political. I for one am tired of searching for or demanding from others personal solutions to political problems.”

    Megadittoes, Dandelion. Once our anti-anxiety/anti-depressives are shown to cause male pattern baldness or something, then the other pacifiers weakening in effect, we might see, yet again, the cyclical rise of political feminism. I’m not holding my breath — for as long as, yes, the patriarchy, get to tell our kids that women aren’t perfect mommies are bad, but men who aren’t equal or at least adequate dads are our tragic heroes, we’ll keep losing in a race whose course or length we don’t control — and we’ll still be blamed for not running fast enough.

  39. Janice on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    “But I’d say that the “little decisions” that most men make along the way tend to be toward career success rather than away from it…”

    No, I am talking about the same decisions that women make. It just looks like they haven’t made any of these decisions because there is no backlash for them.

  40. thefrogprincess on 01 Jun 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Life will throw you tangents and might even throw you off track, but little good comes of blithely saying, “Oh, I won’t worry because I can always go back to work after X event.” Many more women do this than men and so many of them without an inkling of how hard it is to get back into most professions. For academia, the heartless bitch? It’s even more unlikely!

    Great point, Janice. I was once having a conversation with a friend also working on a history PhD in which she told me that she intended to take a few years off work (in academia non less) whenever she had kids. When I asked if she was going to ask her future-imagined husband to do the same, she said no, that he was going to be working for the family, and she wanted to give this (this, I guess, being the gift of her time) to him. This is someone who is serious and passionate about history, who believes history is vital and important work, but yet she hadn’t considered for a moment, that maybe you can’t just dip out of academia for a few years and return.

  41. Comrade PhysioProf on 01 Jun 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    A number of my friends and I–women in our 40s–have commented on the blitheness with which we see some straight, married women in their 30s ditch their careers.

    Two of the most talented post-docs I have ever had in my lab each left science completely and in midstream of their post-doctoral training to stay home with their babies. In each instance, I was told by self-described feminists whom I trusted at the time that it would be sexist of me to attempt to convince these women not to quit their post-docs and leave science, and that the only appropriate response was for me to affirm their decision to stay home with their babies and not to try to talk them out of it.

    I think I made a big fucken mistake listening to those people, and that I should have tried to convince them not to quit.

  42. PG on 01 Jun 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    I haven’t had a chance to watch the video (I’m at work). But I do think people like dandelion have a point. When work is profoundly alienating, when one simply isn’t that ambitious, when one wants a good life more than a good career, then the advice to “lean in” rather than lean back doesn’t sound all that wonderful. I think one discourse and one set of ethics-politics (feminist) is perhaps in unexamined conflict with another (post-industrial capitalism’s insane emphasis on productivity, and its complete colonization of the life-world). Or perhaps certain strands of feminism end up reinforcing the more predatory aspects of post-industrial capitalism? I certainly agree with the various injunctions to “get back to work” (isn’t that the name of a book?) – I do indeed worry about the effects of divorce or death on several of the SAHMs I know – but I don’t always see work as the primary terrain on which my feminism is exercised and displayed. Work is indeed meaningful to me, but only insofar as I resist my employer’s vampirism.

  43. wini on 01 Jun 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    I like the message of this video a lot, even it is the kind of over simplification that works for commencement addresses.

    I’m in my mid-30s and it seems like a lot of us are having that “but I was promised a jet pack” moment. You know that feeling when you look around and realize you’re still driving a car that gets 20 mpg and you’re job prospects suck just as much as your mom’s did? I am also witnessing the people I care about decide they can take 5 years off between the PhD and a job. That they can move with their husband’s (some time’s less lucrative) career and they will get a good job. Etc.

    Outside of academia I see feminists pull back and lean away throughout their 20s and 30s. Inside academia, it often seems more like a sudden braking.

    But, really, this cheered me up.

  44. Historiann on 01 Jun 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    It’s really easy to drop out of academia for 5 years and then bop back in–universities LOVE adjunct labor!

    Kidding–sorta.

    Here’s a surprise: that Comrade Physioprof declined to share his opinion with ANYONE in his lab! I hear what you’re saying, but you would only have been doing those women a favor to draw them a little flow-chart of their career options after 3-5 years on the mommy track.

    As for me? When can I get on the daddy track? Srsly? Like Dr. Crazy said above, it sounds awesome!!!

    I wonder how much of this NOT leaning in stuff has to do with the pressure to be “likeable.” Being a bitch really works for a lot of men–I should try it for once, I guess. Don’t’cha think? (Susan and ej always tell me that I’m waaaaayyyy too nice, and they actually know me in RL.)

  45. mandor on 01 Jun 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    While it’s great to think that encouraging/telling women to not fall out will help change things, I find it a bit insulting to assume that those women doing so haven’t anguished over it a million times to themselves already. What if Comrade Physio Prof had said something to his postdocs and they (because they’d probably thought pretty long and hard about their decision) went through with it anyway? Is there anything more constructive advice than “don’t do it” and “act as entitled as a man”? Agency hasn’t really worked when the structural deck is so stacked against women.

    I’m not trying to be a pain here, these are things I haven’t figured out for myself. I get plenty of messages about how I’m wasting my education and shooting my future self in the foot. Your friends you see falling out? It’s pretty likely that they know how you feel.

    Dandelion–while our lives are probably very different, what you said really resonated with me.

  46. DickensReader on 01 Jun 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Sometimes something just has to be said. One can feel, one can sense on a level, but it does not hit home until it is said. Years can go by even.

  47. Western Dave on 01 Jun 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    I kinda wish there was a daddy track at my institution but there ain’t. Daddy’s and mommy’s have been taking it on the chin as the childless zoom by us. One department chair cut her hours and pay, the other demoted because babies and careers don’t mix. I’ve watched my own career stall out and then wind up in serious trouble because I’m doing my fair share with house and kids (and I’m still really surprised when my wife’s colleagues ask how she gets me to do stuff, or the moms I’m hanging out with at the birthday party/class social/room parent meeting ask why I’m there and where my wife is… come on it’s been 8 years people! The answer is still “she’s at work” duh.). So I was seriously sympathetic with the point in the speech when she says she wants it for her son and her daughter because having a family shouldn’t mean choosing one way or another. My wife and I both made choices to put our family first and all it got was debt and dead-end jobs. I think we both need to lean in a little more. Or explore feral parenting.

  48. Dr. Crazy on 01 Jun 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    “Our society makes it very difficult to live a life without someone to manage tasks during working hours. As a widow, I’ve become very aware of how complicated it is without someone who can take responsibility for making phone calls, being present when someone has to come to the house, etc. So in that sense, I am actually a bit more forgiving of those who make choices…”

    And I think I’m less forgiving, actually, because I’m a single, never-been-married person. “Choice” – in terms of having somebody to stay home and be there for the cable guy, or in terms of having somebody to make phone calls – is a privilege of partnership (most generously) and heteronormative privilege (less generously). I don’t have the choice of leaning back in order to deal with the day-to-day stuff, or even of having somebody else lean back for me. Instead, I have to do all those things for myself. So I don’t really appreciate the necessity for other people to have somebody else to take care of those things for them. I manage, so why is it so hard for people who have a partner? And yes, that is not generous of me, or understanding of me, but dude – what do partnered people think single people who are not wealthy do? I mean, seriously.

  49. comparatrice on 01 Jun 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    The thought of young women blaming their mothers for not being around enough (in Dr. Crazy’s comment) makes me profoundly sad — I was very lucky to have an awesome SAH dad for most of grade & middle school (after which he started working again), but I’ve never felt that my mother wasn’t present enough in my life. Not once — despite her 50-hour-a-week job and weekends on call. When she was there, she was always fully present. And it’s been instructive to see her devotion to her career and her Herculean work ethic pay off in recent years: during a time of great professional difficulty and misery at her longtime employer, in her mid-50s, she was able to use her connections and decades of consulting experience to land a better and more interesting job, in the middle of the recession. She’s been an amazing role model for my whole life, and I would never dream of judging her. Whether I can emulate her is another story.

    I think about the gender questions of medical practice and subspecialty a lot, because I’m hoping to apply to med school in a few years (once I’m done with a postbac — slow process when you’re debt-averse). But I’m also 6 months pregnant now, so the kid will — assuming all goes well — be a fait accompli by the time I’d have to pick a specialty and so forth. I do worry about the time investment across the board; I worry about how you can fully express love for a youngish child, in a way that she can understand and receive, while working residency hours. It’s rather terrifying. But I also wonder if part of what scares me is the class transition, which affects men as well as women: I grew up in a close-knit, frugal, middle class family where most things were either DIY or didn’t happen. It’s hard to separate the feminist consciousness I grew up with from things like, I don’t know, our clothes budget being minimal, makeup budget almost nonexistent (sole exception: mascara, for some reason), dinner parties and thus “hostess” duties unheard of, home improvements all being done by hand (and extremely well). In an ideal world, I’d like to be an accomplished professional, a really damn good doctor. I don’t know how I feel about becoming an upper-class woman. But if I were to choose, say, ophthalmology over primary-care-in-underserved-areas, that *is* what would happen, and the work hours would follow, and the outsourcing and insidious forms of estrangement from a family life where everyone collaborates… is being a damn good ophthalmologist worth *that* to me? I don’t know. It’s quite possible that I’ll just get rejected everywhere and never have to find out. But the class question isn’t going to go away…

    (n.b. I’m not saying my childhood wasn’t privileged — it very much was — just that we weren’t wealthy compared to a couple of radiologists, or the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences who actually lived three houses down — and that I internalized aspects of that non-wealthiness. Cherished them, even.)

  50. other side of the pond on 02 Jun 2011 at 2:09 am #

    Great conversation.

    I am a mid-30s academic in the UK, and I definitely recognise the phenomenon of women of my age opting out – both inside and outside academia. So partly I do think women need to toughen up. As Historiann points out, this isn’t just about having a compelling job, it’s about being financially independent (or at least capable of becoming so).

    And as a single parent, I completely agree with Dr. Crazy’s point about just having to get on and do those task like stay in for the plumber and sort out your insurance.

    But I think we also have to recognise that women are under huge ideological pressure to stay at home or at least de-prioritise work. EVERY non-academic mother I know in the city I live in works part-time or not at all. My sense is that these pressures have grown greatly since the 1980s or even the 1990s.

  51. Historiann on 02 Jun 2011 at 3:52 am #

    I know this article pissed off a number of you when I wrote about it nearly 2 years ago, but I still think Hannah Rosin’s article on the Breastfeeding Imperative was pretty insightful in explaining why men’s and women’s career tracks diverge in the 30s.

    We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding? Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift. In my set, no husband tells his wife that it is her womanly duty to stay home and nurse the child. Instead, both parents together weigh the evidence and then make a rational, informed decision that she should do so. Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on. Recently, my husband and I noticed that we had reached the age at which friends from high school and college now hold positions of serious power. When we went down the list, we had to work hard to find any women. Where had all our female friends strayed? Why had they disappeared during the years they’d had small children?

    Of course, there’s nothing essential about breastfeeding and breast milk that dictates that women drop out of the paid workforce, but the way it works is that it’s embedded in a particular set of economic and social structures that pretty much demand that grown women lay around half naked for montha at a time to put themselves at the service of mewling infants. This is not compatible with being a member of the paid workforce in most cases.

  52. KC on 02 Jun 2011 at 5:40 am #

    Of course, there’s nothing essential about breastfeeding and breast milk that dictates that women drop out of the paid workforce, but the way it works is that it’s embedded in a particular set of economic and social structures that pretty much demand that grown women lay around half naked for montha at a time to put themselves at the service of mewling infants.

    Yeah, because that’s exactly what breastfeeding is like, “laying around half naked for months at a time to put themselves at the service of mewling infants.”

  53. Dr. Crazy on 02 Jun 2011 at 6:40 am #

    Oh, Jesus. Is it really that difficult to see that Historiann’s talking about the rhetoric of breastfeeding there and that she’s not talking in full voice? I mean, come on.

  54. other side of the pond on 02 Jun 2011 at 6:52 am #

    Agree on breastfeeding – not that I am against it, but it does go hand in hand with a sense of how mothers of young children should be (available 24 hours) and what fathers need to do to facilitate this (work long hours). I don’t think breastfeeding is the sole cause of this – you can see these dynamics at work in lots of couples where the baby is bottle fed or mix fed. But it exemplifies where parenting roles are at right now.

  55. wini on 02 Jun 2011 at 7:20 am #

    I actually regret breastfeeding as long as I did. It wasn’t worth the tradeoffs for a full 11-13 months. There is no magic date I wish I’d stopped, though.

    I should have mentioned how happy schools are to hire mothers “back” as contingent labor.

    @DrC Your point about single parents and non-partnered people is a good one, but I fail to see what is heteronormative about the assumption (and important point) that Susan was making. Do you really think that all queer people are not partnered? never widowed with children?

  56. KC on 02 Jun 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Oh, Jesus. Is it really that difficult to see that Historiann’s talking about the rhetoric of breastfeeding there and that she’s not talking in full voice? I mean, come on.

    Sorry, but I’m not buying it, given her history on this topic. Besides which, I’m unaware of a “rhetoric” of breastfeeding that describes it thusly. Breastfeeding proponents do not describe women who breastfeed in terms one would describe a lazy cat, surrounded by a litter of yawping, hungry kittens. But I guess that’s how she sees “breeders.”

    Anyway, after observing this blog for a number of months, I find it fascinating how Historiann consistently demonizes people who oppose her, especially if they “present as male” on her blog, while she engages in the very kind of rhetoric and behavior that she decries from her opponents.

    Anyway, I’ve had enough of it myself. Other people in my department have been mistreated by her, and I won’t wait around for my inevitable “banning.” Adios, amigos.

  57. Dr. Crazy on 02 Jun 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Wini – I didn’t mean to imply that at all – I was just thinking that depending on circumstances that LGBT partners wouldn’t necessarily be able to serve in that capacity for one another in some pretty typical contexts (I was thinking about stuff like dealing with tax issues, insurance things, etc.), in which case, lack of legal equality would mean that the assumptions about what partners can do for one another wouldn’t work in those partnerships (as they wouldn’t work in non-married straight partnerships, which resist the heteronormative impetus to marriage although they are not banned from doing so).

    It’s also worth noting that it is possible for people who identify as LGBTQ to replicate heteronormative ideology or practices or privilege, so arguing that something is heteronormative in its rhetoric doesn’t necessarily exclude same-sex couples, though that wasn’t my point when I posted.

  58. Western Dave on 02 Jun 2011 at 9:19 am #

    I’m not sure what kind of crack KC is smoking, but I want some. These are priceless “Sorry, but I’m not buying it, given her history on this topic. Besides which, I’m unaware of a “rhetoric” of breastfeeding that describes it thusly. Breastfeeding proponents do not describe women who breastfeed in terms one would describe a lazy cat, surrounded by a litter of yawping, hungry kittens.”

    No but breastfeeding rhetoric demonizes mothers who can’t or won’t breastfeed as bad mothers who are not available to their children or aren’t putting their children’s needs first. When I hit the piece in the Sears book on how even cleft palate kids could breastfeed, I knew the rhetoric was out of control. We pumped for over a month with the first (undiagnosed until age 2) cleft palate baby while crying repeatedly about it and feeling guilty and failing at breastfeeding and the second one got formula and ear tubes right away. The third doesn’t have a cleft (so far as we know) but he got formula too.

    “But I guess that’s how she sees ‘breeders.’”

    Every time she looks in the mirror or at Frat Guy.

    “Anyway, after observing this blog for a number of months, I find it fascinating how Historiann consistently demonizes people who oppose her, especially if they “present as male” on her blog, while she engages in the very kind of rhetoric and behavior that she decries from her opponents.”

    Only when they mansplain. I’ve never felt demonized around here. Historiann does play rough and she doesn’t tolerate trolls or issue trolls male or female. But she’s pretty clear about the rules here (which are different from the NYT or other types of traditional public forums). She is consistent in the way she applies her comment policy.

    “Other people in my department have been mistreated by her,”
    Translation, they had their feelings hurt in the comments section?

    “Adios, amigos.”

    Vaya con vacas dude.

  59. Emma on 02 Jun 2011 at 10:47 am #

    It is still true that the personal is the political. I for one am tired of searching for or demanding from others personal solutions to political problems.

    Acquiescing to the “mommy track” is a short-term personal solution, with long-term poor consequences, to a political problem. It’s also a personal solution that legitimizes the mommy track and makes it harder for every other woman in the work force.

    Defending one’s personal choice to take the mommy track has the same consequences.

  60. Emma on 02 Jun 2011 at 10:52 am #

    When work is profoundly alienating, when one simply isn’t that ambitious, when one wants a good life more than a good career, then the advice to “lean in” rather than lean back doesn’t sound all that wonderful.

    How’s that George Carlin joke go?

    “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

    There’s a reason why work is called work and why you get paid for doing it. Ask Marx: the essence of capitalism is alienating the worker from her work. It’s the same everywhere, at every level of work, from lawyers (me) to secretaries.

    And why is the answer to “profoundly alienating” work the mommy track? That’s really the thing for me. “I found work alienating, so I took time off to have babies.” Really? So, legitimizing the mommy track isn’t a concern here?

  61. Rachel on 02 Jun 2011 at 11:06 am #

    “Acquiescing to the “mommy track” is a short-term personal solution, with long-term poor consequences, to a political problem. It’s also a personal solution that legitimizes the mommy track and makes it harder for every other woman in the work force. Defending one’s personal choice to take the mommy track has the same consequences.”

    Thank you, Emma, for making this point far more succinctly than I could.

  62. Tigs on 02 Jun 2011 at 11:46 am #

    30 year old ABD here, in the throes of trying to figure out what ‘successful’ means to me. I think perhaps there is a postmodern element to this dropping out–if power is ultimately dispersed, and we all fundamentally lack agency, then why shouldn’t we/I just do whatever feels right? If the CEO has no more *power* over his life, than does the SAHM over hers–so why not take the gig that seems more straightforward and is less socially stigmatized–particularly if one has bought into the trope that selfless motherhood is the most fulfilling thing that one could do (and as a white/het/married-to-a-white-dude/middle-class woman with a couple master’s degrees, that trope might as well be the theme music that follows me around–it’s hard not to internalize it…)?

    The problem is that we actually know this isn’t true, that people with power actually have power. Just as we also feel deeply that we are by and large powerless in this grand equation.

    I think many of us basically despair of the possibilities for structural change, and certainly don’t see ourselves as effective agents in creating structural change–even when we are hopeful–and so it becomes hard to see that the 9th inning is going to bring any sort of great win.

  63. Historiann on 02 Jun 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Hey all–don’t you know that one can never speak in mocking or derisive tones about the Holy Feast that is breastfeeding? I’m glad to see that my power to piss people off w/r/t this topic remains undiminished!

    Of course, Rosin’s point is that the scientifically/medically enabled discourse on the importance of breastfeeding is in direct conflict with women’s advancement in the professions. But, no one who worships at the Altar of the Holy Breast wants to recognize that because ZOMG don’t the rest of us horrible people realize that BREAST IS BEST!!!1!1111???ELEVENTY!!!??!111

    And we can never talk about how that labor is (as Emma reminds us of Marx’s formulation) profoundly alienating work. Because women who don’t enjoy or simply can’t breastfeed are clearly horrible women, dreadful mothers, etc.

    But, yeah: what Crazy and Western Dave said.

  64. thefrogprincess on 02 Jun 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    If the CEO has no more *power* over his life, than does the SAHM over hers–so why not take the gig that seems more straightforward and is less socially stigmatized–particularly if one has bought into the trope that selfless motherhood is the most fulfilling thing that one could do

    But what about what you want to do? Yes, it might be “less socially stigmatized” for me to abandon the career I’ve worked hard for to raise children, but having watched homemaking destroy and eventually kill my mother, I simply cannot buy that “selfless motherhood is the most fulfilling thing that one could do.” And yes, I certainly feel the pressure, even as a single (as in no boyfriend) woman: I’m getting the pressure from well-meaning friends who are convinced that I’ll think differently in time. Certainly, anything’s possible; but it’s still very important to consider just what women are being told to give up (and for a relatively short period of their lives) to do work that nobody else wants to do. And it’s important to think about the potential costs: the complete economic dependence upon someone else who might not have your best interests at heart; the message you’re sending your children that women’s sole duty in life is to be at their beck and call; the severe difficulties you’ll have trying to get back into work after the children have left home, or gone to middle school, or whatever the point of return is; the perpetual undervaluation of the unpaid labor you’re providing your family; and the higher risk of isolation and severe depression. For me, the risks significantly outweigh any benefits.

  65. Historiann on 02 Jun 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    “it’s still very important to consider just what women are being told to give up (and for a relatively short period of their lives) to do work that nobody else wants to do. And it’s important to think about the potential costs: the complete economic dependence upon someone else who might not have your best interests at heart; the message you’re sending your children that women’s sole duty in life is to be at their beck and call; the severe difficulties you’ll have trying to get back into work after the children have left home, or gone to middle school, or whatever the point of return is; the perpetual undervaluation of the unpaid labor you’re providing your family; and the higher risk of isolation and severe depression.”

    Amen.

  66. Emma on 02 Jun 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    Name a benefit to a woman who quits work to have babies and raise kids. One that she couldn’t have if she continued working.

  67. Dr. Crazy on 02 Jun 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Ok, I don’t have kids. But I think an *immediate* benefit would be not feeling torn between the stuff that needs to be done at home and the stuff that needs to be done for work. Now, do I think that this outweighs the long-term benefits of full-time work? No. Do I think that individual short-term benefit has potentially negative long-term consequences for women as a class? Maybe. But here’s the thing: it’s disingenuous to imply that there are no benefits to quitting work to raise children. There clearly are.

  68. Tigs on 02 Jun 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Mind you, my ears are wax-filled against the siren song, I am preparing for this fall’s job market—but I know how loud the song is playing. It feels like everyone I know is pregnant or has recently reproduced. My dissertation is often compared to a baby (which frankly, is a little insulting, the gestation period on this thing is already elephantine).

    Also, the choice presented in the OP isn’t necessarily giving up work, it’s pulling back. If women are still doing most of the domestic labor, then why wouldn’t they pull back? Particularly if their slowed down job position makes them *enough* money to live the kinds of lives they want to live. Straight women are clearly already compromising and partnering with men who have not completely given up their male privilege; this is a choice we make and we live with the consequences.

    If you don’t believe that you can transform the power structure, what is the benefit from being ultimately ambitious professionally (keeping the class status in mind here– Sandberg is speaking to a professional class of young women who will by-and-large do well economically. These are not women who are going to be financially devastated by their lack of extreme professional ambition)?

    Clearly this is not great for women as a class–but last time I looked women weren’t doing a whole hell of a lot as a class. White women (including white feminists) are still doing shitty things to women of color. Rich women are still dicking over poor women. Feminism is apparently a damn curse word, for lard’s sake.

    ‘Work harder’ is traditional liberal dogma. Forget leaning in, where’s the revolution?

  69. dandelion on 02 Jun 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    I’m amazed that in 68 posts about women working vs. women staying home not one post has mentioned these words: universal affordable day care; year round schooling.

    And Emma, you continually say that women quit work to have babies, as if, feeling too too tired, they decide to leap from the corner office into the soft gauzy life of a Baby Gap commercial. From everything I’ve seen, it’s the other way around: women have the babies and THEN quit work, after struggling and failing to make it work for them on a day to day basis. They are ground down. The ones who can’t make it work are, usually, the ones who don’t have extensive support systems — most particularly, they don’t have extended family living nearby.

    Patriarchy is a system of oppression. Oppression oppresses; some women — most women — are defeated by it. I see a whole lot of victim blaming here.

    I’d rather paraphrase Twisty and Blame The Patriarchy.

  70. dandelion on 02 Jun 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    One benefit to a mother not working in the workforce: she is no longer required, on a routine basis, to occupy two physical locations at the exact same moment.

  71. thefrogprincess on 02 Jun 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    dandelion, there could be a generational thing going on, here, although i don’t know what generation you’re a part of. I most certainly know people who decided to stay at home prior to having children, and, like I said, I’ve had conversations with my peers, many of whom are getting PhDs, in which either women were planning to stay home or in which men suggested strongly that that’s what I should do. In the under-30 set, I think there’s a stronger push to make this choice at the outset b/c that’s what’s good for the kids as opposed to feeling as though there are no solutions once you’re in the throes of parenthood, as you’re describing. My reaction is a response to what I witnessed as the child of a SAHM but also my surprise that women my age were spending time building careers, all the while planning to opt-out.

    And as for universal affordable day care: we can’t even get universal health care. I tend to think in realities and for me, if I have children, it will be in a US without universal affordable day care: I have to make decisions with that reality in mind, no matter how much I wish things were different.

  72. Mary Catherine on 02 Jun 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Long-time reader, finally delurking…

    I enjoy this blog very much, but wow: the hostility here toward women who are mothers [who have not yet managed to conquer the past two or three millenia of the patriarchy: and how stupid and lazy of them!] is really a bit much, and seems bizarrely abstracted from the material conditions that actually govern most people’s (including most women’s, because women are people too, right?) lives. Yes, the personal is political, but most people (and that includes most women, of course) don’t really lead their lives as though they were in the throes of a political campaign. And then there are those deep-seated structural problems, which several commenters have alluded to above.

    What kind of movement is this that *blames* the victims of the wrongs it wishes to redress (and with such vehement and misdirected anger?!), rather than at least diagnose the problems, and make an honest attempt to formulate and work toward the realization of alternative policies (paid parental leave, for example, and universal affordable daycare)? I mean, seriously, c’mon, where is the solidarity?

    And when did feminism become such a grim and dour exercise in Gradgrindian didactism? Those mothers of young children! They just want to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon, and set up with a coach and six! Send ‘em to the workhouse, every last one of them! That’ll show ‘em! those lazy, silly b*tches!

    You know, it’s probably (almost certainly) not true that work will set you free, no matter what they told you in Sunday school, or in grad school. But also!: if you go out to work while paying someone else to look after your children (which is also work, by the way), you haven’t really solved the gendered division of labor problem, because that someone else you’re paying for childcare is…also a woman! It’s a huge problem, obviously, and I don’t claim to have the answers…The early 1970s feminist ideal was to have both men and women equally engaged in both the production of the means of life, and the reproduction of life itself. This has not (yet) happened, clearly; but do we give up on that utopian vision entirely, and relegate one class of women to sub-worthy-of-basic-human-dignity status (the breeder class, I guess), and sneer at them for devoting their lives to the care and feeding of mewling infants; or do we try to think creatively, and dare I say it, somewhat more humanely, and attempt to come up with alternative goals and policies that are more in line with the goals of equity and basic justice and human flourishing for all?

    (Or: what dandelion said).

    (And also: while some of the pro-breastfeeding rhetoric is way over the top, I have honestly never met a flesh-and-blood woman who took such an extreme position as is routinely found on the internets. I think the extremism is a function of the world wide web and its need for stark dichotomies and dramatic conflict).

  73. Historiann on 03 Jun 2011 at 3:25 am #

    I am sorry you are reading the conversation here as hostility to mothers. Believe it or not, many of the people whose comments may have rubbed you the wrong way are mothers. I think most of us are rather hostile to particular ideological constructions of motherhood rather than to motherhood itself.

    One person here took issue with my joking comments about breastfeeding as laying around half-naked at the beck and call of an infant. But, my comments were serious in that the structural and work conditions for nursing mothers are almost diametrically opposed to the structual and work conditions of professionals, whose bodies are contained in suits (or at least are fully clothed), who work with higher-status people (rather than low-status infants and children) and whose labor is compensated rather than volunteer. Reconciling the gap here is something that mere individuals have a great deal of trouble doing!

    As for “blaming” mothers (rather than looking at the larger structural issues that compel many women to leave the paid workforce: many comments upthread raised this issue, and I also wondered about that element of Sandberg’s speech myself. However, in the context of a speech to a graduating class from Barnard (rather than a history or sociology lecture), I thought it was probably reasonable for Sandberg to ask the women to examine their choices in light of some of her observations of women in the professions over the past 20-30 years.

    Structure is very important, but structural change will remain impossible if individuals–like the very privileged women with Barnard degrees–agree out of the gate to let their careers be second-rated in favor of the demands of family life and serving the needs of a husband with a career that comes first.

    Finally, I think you raise some good points abou the extremism on the internets, but I had friends who had children BEFORE the world wide web, and believe me, they were either breastfeeding extremists or feeling put upon by the nursing extremists. (I first heard the term “Nursing Nazi” in 1995, I think, right around the time I was hearing about the World Wide Web.)

  74. Western Dave on 03 Jun 2011 at 5:59 am #

    “I have honestly never met a flesh-and-blood woman who took such an extreme position as is routinely found on the internets. I think the extremism is a function of the world wide web and its need for stark dichotomies and dramatic conflict).”
    I can introduce to whole bunches of people who assaulted my partner and I in public when giving our children bottles. Not to mention the nurse at our family practice who berated my wife for not breast feeding – it must be her fault that the baby couldn’t latch and not the undiagnosed soft tissue cleft palate, if she just tried harder she could get that kid to latch! (We switched practices).

    Nobody is attacking mothers here. Parenting is hard work. It’s even harder when you try to divide the labor somewhat evenly and both keep the jobs that you find rewarding (if not ideal). And high quality day care ain’t cheap.

    So the beef here isn’t with mothers per se. But how do you fight a system that consistently penalizes parents who try to balance their lives; and academia especially rewards those who manage to increase their labor inputs, or don’t have to worry about arranging child care on the summer institute/archive trip etc.

    But the people who will be most able to change that will be active mothers and fathers in the workplace who are in positions of power. But the Catch-22 is how do you get there if you can’t get ahead because your job as parent gets in the way of your job as employee.

  75. Feminist Avatar on 03 Jun 2011 at 6:56 am #

    In some ways, there are a number of different issues at stake here. There is the ‘personal’ problem that SAHM are financially dependent, which leaves them very vulnerable, to divorce, death, but also just in terms of power within marriage.

    And, then there is a separate, if related, issue, that middle-class SAHM, who have opted out of a career, are the cause of the lack of women in positions of power in big companies, in academia, in the state, etc etc.

    The latter I am not entirely convinced is true. It is suggested by a whole whack of statistics that taking time-out to raise children effects your later life career choices, income and promotion prospects. But, there is a whole whack of non-mothers in middle-class careers who aren’t getting to the top- what’s the explanation for that? Some studies are showing that currently 30% of graduate women do not have children at 40, while suggestions for graduate women born around 1970 suggest it will be nearer 40%. This is an awful lot of non-mothers who aren’t making it into the boardroom. I am suspicious that blaming SAHM for women’s lack of progress is really just disguising a much more disturbing reality that women aren’t valued enough to be promoted or given power. And, in that sense, directing our anger at ‘women’s choices’ becomes a very easy way to ignore the structural realities.

    Plus, as a lot of the commentators have pointed out, some of those ‘choices’ are based on those structural realities – women are frequently the lower-earning partner, so if one career is to be sacrificed, it seems more reasonable for it to be hers. And, yes, having children and a career shouldn’t be an either/or, but for many people, working conditions are pushing things in that direction. And, this is where campaigns should be focused around around decent maternity leave, decent affordable childcare, restricted working hours, etc, etc. And, I know that these seem impossible in a society which doesn’t even provide free healthcare, but in many ways to give up on them is to accept that conservative family structures are going to be the norm. And once you have accepted that, you really can’t criticise the SAHMs for doing so as well.

  76. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 7:04 am #

    it’s disingenuous to imply that there are no benefits to quitting work to raise children. There clearly are.

    So, some temporary emotional well-being. What else?

    Meanwhile, that temporary emotional well-being can be achieved short of quitting work. In part, women can restructure their personal lives to demand that fathers take more responsibility. In part, women can stop being guilted about raising their kids. In part, there’s day care.

    Tons of women seen to do fine raising their kids while working, including women who don’t have the temporary economic choice to quit work.

    In any event, let’s tot it up. The posited temporary emotional well-being seems a pretty high price to pay for lower lifetime earnings, lower social security benefits, lower retirement savings, and less financial security over your lifetime. At least. So, let’s balance the emotional well-being of staying home to take care of your kids against the emotional insecurity of having to eat cat food when you’re 82.

  77. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 7:17 am #

    Some studies are showing that currently 30% of graduate women do not have children at 40, while suggestions for graduate women born around 1970 suggest it will be nearer 40%. This is an awful lot of non-mothers who aren’t making it into the boardroom.

    Very good point.

    IMO, it isn’t a mommy problem. It’s a women’s problem. And I, for one, am tired of the mommies making it all about them as mommies. And I’m tired of upper- and middle-class women acquiescing in and legitimizing the mommy track, thereby helping to hold other women back, exactly because they have a baby-daddy willing to pay the bills, at least temporarily, so they can afford, at least temporarily, to not work. And I’m tired of these same women unthinkingly prioritizing their husband’s careers because their husbands make more money.

    If you take time off to raise babies, you are going to be economically screwed. Even more economically screwed than women who don’t. But that’s the choice you made in the context of your temporary comparative privilege.

  78. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 7:22 am #

    And, this is where campaigns should be focused around around decent maternity leave, decent affordable childcare, restricted working hours, etc, etc. And, I know that these seem impossible in a society which doesn’t even provide free healthcare, but in many ways to give up on them is to accept that conservative family structures are going to be the norm. And once you have accepted that, you really can’t criticise the SAHMs for doing so as well.

    It seems to me mothers have the most vested interst in getting these programs. But, it seems to me, that what most mothers who choose to not work really are angling for, from feminists especially, is validation of their choice not to work.

    I’m not accepting conservative family structures. Women who choose to not work to raise their kids are. And, so, yes, it’s entirely fair to ask them WTF they’re doing, why, and whether they have any thoughts for the bigger picture both politically and personally.

    The personal is political. So why are women choosing to live in conservative family structures? Demand more of your husbands so that your husbands demand more of their work. Or is it just that having your baby daddy finance your choice not to work, or work less, is too good to pass up?

  79. Feminist Avatar on 03 Jun 2011 at 7:39 am #

    If it makes you feel better, according to my fabulous googling ability, I have just learned that only 17.76% of two parent American families have a husband who works and a wife that doesn’t (in 2007). And, 71.2% of mothers with children under 18 work, rising to 75.5% for single mothers (in 2008). 74% of women work full time and 26% part-time. But, the evidence suggests that mother’s participation in fulltime/ parttime work is similar to that of non-mothers, and SAHM are on average younger, poorer and less well-educated than other mothers.

    Just to make us a bit more depressed though: women make up the majority (57.5%) of workers in ‘professional’ occupations – and are still underrepresented at the top.

    This website is particularly interesting: http://www.catalyst.org/publication/249/women-leaving-re-entering-the-work-force

  80. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 7:52 am #

    But, the evidence suggests that mother’s participation in fulltime/ parttime work is similar to that of non-mothers, and SAHM are on average younger, poorer and less well-educated than other mothers.

    Right. Which makes even more clear the hothouse boutique of class privilege discussions about “SAHMs” usually take place in.

    I think I’m just irritated with this “Work sucks! That’s why I chose to do it less/not at all and raise my kids.” That’s really not being compelled to leave the work force or cut back because of structural inequalities.

    I’m not saying that there’s tons of women doing this. It just irritates me when I hear it. Everybody hates work. That’s why it’s called work. She didn’t quit work, or work less, to raise kids because her work was so uniquely awful that no reasonable person could be expected to stand it. She did it because she, through her husband, had the temporary economic ability to do it, future consequences be damned. And then I’m supposed to applaud or ratify that choice? And be understanding about how hard it is to stay home and raise kids? Come on.

  81. squadratomagico on 03 Jun 2011 at 8:11 am #

    I haven’t been writing in, but I’ve been following this discussion with interest. But I feel compelled to second Emma’s recent comment:

    IMO, it isn’t a mommy problem. It’s a women’s problem. And I, for one, am tired of the mommies making it all about them as mommies. And I’m tired of upper- and middle-class women acquiescing in and legitimizing the mommy track, thereby helping to hold other women back, exactly because they have a baby-daddy willing to pay the bills…>

    Somewhere along the line, “feminism” came to be 95% centered on issues of mothering, childcare, and endorsing “choice feminism” — specifically, choosing to be a SAHM. And I, like Emma, am truly tired of this set of pieties being top of the agenda. There are so many serious and revolutionary feminist ideas to be debated and battles to be fought, but instead of exploring the full spectrum of feminist political issues we got stuck on one alone. And that one is a debate that, in its current incarnation, is framed and fueled entirely by traditional, conservative family values.

    We’ve been assimilated by the borg that is Focus on the Family and their ilk. They must be delighted.

  82. Rachel on 03 Jun 2011 at 8:40 am #

    But, there is a whole whack of non-mothers in middle-class careers who aren’t getting to the top- what’s the explanation for that? Some studies are showing that currently 30% of graduate women do not have children at 40, while suggestions for graduate women born around 1970 suggest it will be nearer 40%. This is an awful lot of non-mothers who aren’t making it into the boardroom. I am suspicious that blaming SAHM for women’s lack of progress is really just disguising a much more disturbing reality that women aren’t valued enough to be promoted or given power. And, in that sense, directing our anger at ‘women’s choices’ becomes a very easy way to ignore the structural realities.

    I think this is fair but needs to be parsed more: why aren’t the women who don’t have children not making it to the top? Non-mothers aren’t valued as much as men, fathers or not. The question is why. And while I would agree that there are structural and cultural reasons that account for most of this explanation, I can’t help but think that the privileged women who earn degrees and work, only to leave the workforce, greatly reduce their hours, or work without being fully present, contribute to this. As in, once a company/practice/department has experienced the smart-women-who-leave-to-be-mothers phenomenon, they are reluctant, consciously or not, to hire other women or to promote the women they’ve hired or to fasttrack women or to encourage women to take the path that leads to the boardroom.

    Maybe this sounds hostile, or blaming, and perhaps in part it is. But I’d like to see women who make the choice to leave or scale back or not be fully there account for it — for themselves and for the other people it affects. Why should I support, endorse, applaud it when its consequences are harmful to other women? Why aren’t these women demanding that their husbands with their higher-paying jobs negotiate to work 75% time? After all, their husbands (yes, I’m assuming a heteronormative relationship here) are the ones with power in the workforce. Perhaps unacknowledged power, but power nonetheless. Why don’t both parents work to negotiate 75% time jobs or onsite childcare or flextime or more paid time off? How do we hold company men accountable for devaluing women if their wives aren’t even trying, much less succeeding, in getting them to change their behavior to the benefit of their wives/children/families ? Why does society okay women abdicating without even asking, much less demanding, men step up in any way other than earning an income? An income that he “needs” to earn for the family such that a woman in his position doesn’t “need” it because it’s assumed she either has no kids or isn’t a sole earner or is less deserving because she will leave someday?

  83. Feminist Avatar on 03 Jun 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I guess, I wonder who these women are, because I only know two degree educated SAHM. One of whom is American and does seem to fit the ‘conservative model’ and imo is married to a sexist asshat (and she earned much, much more than said asshat)- but interestingly has reframed her ‘SAHM-ing’ as property development as they bought a run down house and she is revamping it. The other was a nursery school teacher who gave up work when her second child was diagnosed as severely autistic and she couldn’t afford to work on the poor wages she earned in that role and pay for specialist daycare. Her husband didn’t earn too much either and he had been a single parent with full custody before he married her, so could have I suppose taken on this role- but I think he earned more, plus she was trained in raising young children. Neither of these people are married to ‘rich’ men- this choice means living pretty close to the breadline.

    Every other women I know who was a SAHM for part of their lives (and I can only think of two women who never made it back into the workforce and one was by that stage physically disabled) were not degree educated. Most of them gave up their jobs, including a few ‘careers’ as nurses, because their wages didn’t cover childcare, especially when they worked shifts. None of these women lived in luxury; in fact, most stuggled to get by and most of them worked in the ‘informal economy’ at various stages, i.e. cleaning, childcare, or temp jobs like counting for the census. They all returned to work later; my mother got her degree in her 30s when her youngest was 9, and went on to have a ‘career’.

    ‘Leaning back’ is a slightly different issue, I guess, but like I said upthread, the women I know who have dones this, are doing it in a very ‘relative’ sense. None of them have given up their careers, but have usually cut back on hours, which impacts on the number of publications etc, which will in the long-term perhaps impact on their promotion prospects. But, at the same time, the hours many people are working in the UK at the moment are really unhealthy, and there may be longer term implications for those who try to sustain this. One of my very, very successful friends, who has an extrememly distinguished profile and employment record, had to take sick leave due to stress after having her first child. And, this wasn’t because she didn’t have a supportive husband (also an academic), but you can’t sustain a career based on an 80 hour week and care for a child without something having to give. So, I guess, I have never met the SAHM who has a rich husband to support her; I have met women trying to cope in a variety of situations, in a world in which children have little place.

    But, perhaps, I just don’t have rich enough friends…

  84. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    But, at the same time, the hours many people are working in the UK at the moment are really unhealthy, and there may be longer term implications for those who try to sustain this.

    Yes, but why can’t we discuss this issue on its own merits rather than tying it to a discussion of motherhood — like this:

    but you can’t sustain a career based on an 80 hour week and care for a child without something having to give

    The truth is, you can’t sustain a career based on an 80 hour week without something having to give. If *I* have to “give” something to maintain that career — friends, family, dating, vacation — why should I care if somebody else has to choose between a career and having a kid? Or between that career and staying home with your kid? Or between that career and anything having to do with a kid?

    And if my job doesn’t pay me enough to get everything I want, even if I work 80 hours a week, why should I care if your work doesn’t pay you enough to get childcare? Or even afford having a kid? Or to take time off to raise your kid?

    The fundamental unfairness here isn’t to mommies or daddies. The most unfairness here isn’t to mommies or daddies. The most acute effects of this economy aren’t felt by mommies or daddies.

    It’s not parental status, it’s class status and gender status. Because class and gender status can wholly insulate you from any “parental” disadvantages in the workplace. Looking at these as “parental” issues wrongly democratizes them across gender and class lines. Looking at them as mommy issues wrongly democratizes them across class lines.

  85. Western Dave on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    The structural incentives for women who bears children to lean out as opposed to a partner (male or female) leaning out are pretty significant. At my place of employment women get 12 weeks “maternity leave” @75% salary (really disability leave) and up to 12 more weeks unpaid leave under FMLA. Dads get 5 days. It’s actually the 5 personal days that everybody gets for things like attending a wedding out of town and dealing with sick kids and whatnot. Plus the 12 weeks unpaid under FMLA. I believe this is not atypical. So who is going to stay home and deal with setting the routines those first 12 weeks? And once that’s established, it’s pretty hard to break.

    So there are some equity issues where we create incentives for moms to miss work and have it seem ok but dads can’t without some penalties. From the get go we’re creating incentives for SAHM or underemployed mom or whatever you want to call it vs. breadwinner (male or female). But add to that the fact any parent who misses work or puts boundaries around work for family time is going to lose out in the workplace to the childless, or a parent who doesn’t have to be involved with the kids, and all of a sudden you’ve created a bunch of perverse disincentives for involved parenting.

    I work at a private school that 2 of my children attend. There are three groups of parents there for the most part doing drop off and pick-up and being class parents. In order from largest to smallest. 1) Flexible hours moms and dads. These range from the underemployed or mommy-track jobs (real estate agents, ex-lawyers who now work for the church 1/2 time, etc.) to some unusual ones (a man who is a sports agent. When he’s in town he does almost all the child care, but he’s often away seeing clients). 2) au pairs/sitters – these range from college kids or retired folks who mostly do pick-up and drop-off and then have free time to full time housekeeper/nanny types. 3) SAHP very, very few of those. Ironically, the household with the most equitable division of chores and childcare I know of has a SAHM and a flexible hours dad who makes a lot of money (or they inherited it?). The SAHM basically has a full-time volunteer position or 3 in PTA type stuff plus she subs (she’s an ex-teacher).

    But when people talk about getting mommy tracked (or parent tracked), they aren’t talking about SAHMs. They’re talking about not getting the grant because you missed the meeting where it was announced because you were home with a sick kid, the times you couldn’t be a “team player” for some extra duty because you couldn’t get childcare, the opportunities you missed because you felt guilty asking your working spouse to fly solo for a week so you could take advantage of a professional development opportunity. There are ways around these problems, of course, but most of them involve money and time or nearby relatives who can and will do childcare. The first two are in short supply for most families and the third is not something one can control for easily. And, of course, these aren’t problems that are just rich people problems. Just trying to hold down a job as a single parent is a struggle for anybody.

    And yes I am aware that I’m taking what is primarily perceived as a women’s issue and I’m making this about the dOOdz. But in this case, I think most of the (economic and other) beneficiaries will be women, either because they will have an easier time if and when they have kids or because their partners will be able to more easily participate equally in the labor of childrearing without the family taking two huge economic hits (instead of just one).

  86. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Why aren’t these women demanding that their husbands with their higher-paying jobs negotiate to work 75% time? After all, their husbands (yes, I’m assuming a heteronormative relationship here) are the ones with power in the workforce.

    This.

    And if raising children has so many clear benefits, why aren’t men clamoring to do it? Restructuring the workplaces they control to make it happen? Instead of bemoaning the (untrue) “fact” that there’s no paternal leave for daddies, why not ask why daddies aren’t advocating for it?

  87. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    At my place of employment women get 12 weeks “maternity leave” @75% salary (really disability leave) and up to 12 more weeks unpaid leave under FMLA. Dads get 5 days.

    First, untrue. Dads get 12 weeks unpaid FMLA leave just like moms. You get it for having a baby. You get it for adopting a baby. If dads wanted to, they could take the 12 weeks FMLA leave instead of mom taking 24 weeks. Or they could take 36 weeks between them, nearly a year. If it being unpaid is problem, you know where your legislator lives.

    Second, if dads want paternal leave why aren’t they advocating for it?

  88. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Sorry, Dave. I misread your comment. My total bad.

  89. squadratomagico on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I know several women who’ve done this, including 3 PhDs in their 30s. One of them decided not to look for a full-time, tt job after finishing her degree, opting instead to stay home with her kid (now kids) and adjunct occasionally once they were older. Her husband is a lawyer, I believe. There’s another adjunct in my town, whom I know less well, but I think her story is very similar: didn’t even look for a job after the degree, opting instead to follow her husband and adjunct a little once her kids grew older.

    The third one is the most puzzling to me. She received a BA and a PhD from the same institution, located in her home town. She then went on the job market and in her first year received an offer from a well-regarded SLAC in a different state. She balked at the idea of leaving home, turned them down, and then, over the next 18 months, met and married a husband with a good income (she had previously been single), had her first kid, bought a house with said husband, and started the SAHM life. Last I heard, she had three kids, and was fully absorbed in caring for them.

    I also know lots of working moms who don’t have either the desire or the luxury to quit, but who manage to hold it all together by doing exactly what others on this thread have suggested: making sure their partners lean back when necessary, and do their share.

  90. Western Dave on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    “Why aren’t these women demanding that their husbands with their higher-paying jobs negotiate to work 75% time? After all, their husbands (yes, I’m assuming a heteronormative relationship here) are the ones with power in the workforce.”

    Plan for the new building roll-out.
    Me: Where’s the on-site day care.
    The powers that be: Get real.

    Me:We’re going to have a baby.
    The powers that be: You have 5 personal days. Don’t spend them all at once.

    Me: The added time required by the new expectations at work are very family unfriendly.
    The powers that be: Yes we noticed, so we’re putting you on double secret probation. And don’t go looking for a promotion because you clearly can’t handle the workload you have now. And since the economy is so bad right now you’re pretty easily replaceable so why are you still standing here when you should be working?

    Hey look! All the logic that’s used to keep moms in line work for dads, too!

  91. dandelion on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Emma — you’re right, it’s a corporate problem. On this particular posting, it took the form of talking about motherhood, because that’s what the Barnard speaker was talking about.

    But corporate America has to be restrained — it is preying on everyone.

    Many of the people in my neighborhood and many of my night-class students work for the big IT firms in Silicon Valley. The buses come around the neighborhood beginning at 6 a.m. to pick them up and drive them to the work campuses. In some ways, they have a great deal of benefits — free commute, on-site dry cleaning, gyms, nap rooms, etc. But the buses to drive them home leave at 4:30 and then not again until 7 or 7:30. Basically they “slack off” and are seen to do so or they work a minimum 12 hour day.

    The corporate goal is for all workers to center their lives completely around the corporate campus. This seems okay with the 20-ish employees, much less okay for older employees. My night class students tell me the one night out they have with me a week is their ONLY night not working.

    There is no such thing as working 75% time in corporate America. You work 125-150% time or 0%.

    Right now California U6 is 21% and IT workers have been hit very hard.

    So why aren’t daddies negotiating better working conditions — why isn’t ANYONE negotiating better working conditions? Why isn’t a sick individual negotiating for better health coverage or a worker nearing retirement negotiating a better pension package. If work sucks, why aren’t individual people negotiating for work that sucks less?

    No employee has that kind of power in corporate America — no one.

    We need a revitalized Labor Movement, we need a revitalized Women’s Movement. Individuals on their own cannot solve these problems.

    And you’re right, too — the SAHMs you’re angry at aren’t going to be the vanguard of any revitalized Women’s Movement. But it’s hard for me to see them as the enemy instead of people making difficult choices where no solutions work well.

    Did my choice to leave corporate America as a mother who finally said no bite me in the ass? Sure. I don’t have great retirement security ahead of me, and I make about 1/3 what I’d be making if I’d stayed. Of course I worry about that — a lot, a whole hell of a lot. On the other hand, not working harder/better/faster for my corporate patriarchal masters has given me the space to write and publish books, articles, stories and poems that I’d never have written if I’d been on that hamster-wheel, work that has brought me satisfaction and other awards/rewards, and from that I’ve been able to develop a freelance editing and teaching career I love. Was my pursuit of a writing career funded by husband’s bigger salary? — absolutely. I’m not ashamed of that. Most male writers have been supported in all sorts of ways by females catering to their every need.

    I think when you demonize women who are, for the moment, opting out, you have to be careful about the size of brush you’re painting with and the assumptions you make about what they’ll do with themselves if they’re not chained to a desk.

  92. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    Me:We’re going to have a baby.
    The powers that be: You have 5 personal days. Don’t spend them all at once.

    You: I’ll be starting my FMLA leave the day after my wife ends her 12 weeks maternity leave.

    -or-

    You: I’ll be using my X weeks of vacation plus my 5 personal days plus my 12 weeks FMLA leave starting the day after my wife finishes her paid maternity leave.

    -or-

    You: Isn’t providing differential benefits on the basis of sex called discrimination?

  93. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    On the other hand, not working harder/better/faster for my corporate patriarchal masters has given me the space to write and publish books, articles, stories and poems that I’d never have written if I’d been on that hamster-wheel, work that has brought me satisfaction and other awards/rewards, and from that I’ve been able to develop a freelance editing and teaching career I love. Was my pursuit of a writing career funded by husband’s bigger salary? — absolutely. I’m not ashamed of that. Most male writers have been supported in all sorts of ways by females catering to their every need.

    I’m so glad patriarchy worked out for you and that you’re not ashamed of that. As a single lesbian, I’m not so enamored of the prostitution of marriage model.

  94. dandelion on 03 Jun 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Wow. The writer as whore. I love it. It’s a nice addendum to Woolf’s comment that writers needed a room of their own and 500 pounds a year or John Gardner’s comment that the best asset a writer could have is a spouse making $25,000 a year.

    And you’ve got it exactly right. My husband leaves the money on the nightstand for me every morning.

    One of my students is a lesbian who just took a year off to finish the novel she’s just sold — and she’s been supported during that time by her partner. I’m not sure if the money’s left on the nightstand in their home, though — it might be the coffee tsble.

  95. Spanish Prof on 03 Jun 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    I’m from Argentina, so I have a somehow different approach to the issue of feminism and women rights. In fact, I wrote a post yesterday on my blog partly inspired by this debate.

    @dandelion:

    “We need a revitalized Labor Movement, we need a revitalized Women’s Movement. Individuals on their own cannot solve these problems” I absolutely agree with you. But how do you achieve solidarity in the U.S., among people who might not share with you 100% of the goals? I am asking this seriously, I’ve always been baffled by the fact that in this country, unity seems to be a characteristic of right wingers, not progressives.

    @ Emma:

    “As a single lesbian, I’m not so enamored of the prostitution of marriage model”. One of the things that make me proud of my country (and there are not that many) is that last July, a federal gay marriage law was approved. It didn’t happen because suddenly Argentina became a paradise of tolerance. It happened because a lot of very intelligent organizations united to push for and achieve the goal, and they also knew how to seize the correct political moment. I would ask you: would you have opposed it? Would you have work for it, regardless of your personal opinion? Would you have work against it?

  96. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Wow. The writer as whore.

    No, the wife as whore. Surely you’re familiar with this basic feminist analysis of marriage? Since you admittedly took time off NOT to write, but to be a mother, that your husband funds your part-time child raising is the point. That he also funds your part-time writing endeavors = bonus.

  97. Emma on 03 Jun 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    I would ask you: would you have opposed it? Would you have work for it, regardless of your personal opinion? Would you have work against it?

    I don’t need to be hypothetical: I’ve ignored every marriage equality provision put forward by every gay group in the U.S. I don’t “oppose” them, but I think they’re utterly misdirected.

    We could’ve had a Federal law against employment discrimination against gays and lesbians over a decade ago. We don’t becuase, inexplicably, the gay rights groups turned their attention to marriage and babies for gay people.

  98. Dr. Crazy on 03 Jun 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Emma: what I wrote was “But I think an *immediate* benefit would be not feeling torn between the stuff that needs to be done at home and the stuff that needs to be done for work. Now, do I think that this outweighs the long-term benefits of full-time work? No. Do I think that individual short-term benefit has potentially negative long-term consequences for women as a class? Maybe. But here’s the thing: it’s disingenuous to imply that there are no benefits to quitting work to raise children. There clearly are.” In other words, I already spoke to your caveats. That doesn’t make my final note, that it’s disingenuous to claim that there are *no* benefits to choosing to stay home, erroneous. And in fact, I think we agree about a lot of things. At the end of the day, I have a hard time with a feminist politics that doesn’t acknowledge the very real conditions of women who don’t have lives that identically mirror my own. And I think that demonizing the choices whose lives don’t mirror my own is, ultimately, a pretty crap version of feminism.

    Tons of women do do fine while raising children while working. My mom did. My *grandmothers* did. And I myself would choose to work. That doesn’t mean that I can’t empathize with other people.

  99. Scholasticamama on 03 Jun 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    I’m afraid to post, but here goes.

    Dandelion –

    I hear you. You have a small person (yes, I called that child a person) at home who needed you, a job you hated, and money that needed to be spent on caring for this small person. You took time off. It hurts – your finances, your retirement, your self-image (an empathetic guess), and other women. Bad enough that we have to feel guilty for everything we do to/for our children from conception forward, now we must feel guilty for all of Womankind. Nice, ain’t it?

    Frankly, I didn’t get my first “real job” until I was 38. Before that, I was “in school” and adjuncting. So, I didn’t take time off – but I would have. I had a baby. She is a fully realized person, one whom I love; she is not a problem. I wrote a dissertation (No, baby and diss not the same. One I love and one I despise – you guess.) I got a TT job. I teach 200 students a semester (no TAs). I do committee work. I breastfed for 3 years (yes, I did, and I’m proud of it – if you didn’t, fine, the way I live my life is in no way a personal jab at the way you live yours). I cosleep (ditto disclaimer). I am a single parent 5 months a year (partner travels for work). Work can suck and often I am a bitch – mostly because I feel that I have a perfectly good job at home, one I often would rather be doing, so if I don’t get tenure – fine. I’ll go home. I can do this because I am a white middle class woman whose partner makes a decent income and we are financially sound.

    And you know what? I’m thinking about another baby – they are fun and I love them. Does this worry me? Yes, I worry about gaining tenure with two children and that worry pisses me off. The patriarchal system we call “work” needs a changin’ and I’m doing my best to do that. And so is, wait for it…every other mother I know at my uni and also most every mother I know who is now a SAHM (I know quite a few).

    And the speech? Good. Depressing, but needed to be said.

  100. Feminist Avatar on 03 Jun 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    I guess part of the problem is the framing of this discussion. We can’t, on the one hand, blame women who ‘opt out’ or ‘lean back’ or whatever, in order to have children, for women not being in power more broadly in society (which is where this discussion began), and not have it be a discussion about parents. I don’t think it’s fair that they get that blame landed squarely on them and then we say ‘but this isn’t a parenting issue’. Because, either it’s not a parenting issue, but an issue of capitalism and exploitation and they are just a symptom of the problem, or it is their fault and we need to discuss parenting.

    And, yes it’s true that some SAHM do so because they are privileged enough to do so; but others do it because they are poor, or because they have sick children, or because they didn’t have support networks to help them balance work and children. So, why are we focusing on the choices of a very small number of privileged women? I mean we could equally bemoan the daughters of the rich whose income allows them to dillydally about and never hold a real job, despite often fabulous educations. Those sorts of class issues run far deeper than just ‘mothers’, so why all the resentment towards that particular group?

    I also have a little bit of question around the problem with ‘dependency’. Yes, dependency is a privilege for some; but for others, it’s a necessity. What about disabled women who cannot work? Is their dependence on a spouse a privilege, a necessity, something else? And, whether consciously or not, if we start to label dependency as ‘a problem’ or ‘capitulating to patriarchy’, what message are we giving to those for whom dependency is a necessity? ‘Oh, it’s ok, for you it’s not a choice’ is a bit patronising. (And, this is before we get into the bigger discussion of the interdependence of everybody in society, so we are all reliant on each other’s labour and purchasing power to survive- and yes, on other’s people’s children too!).

  101. Historiann on 03 Jun 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    One of the big problems with this issue in a U.S. context is that dependency is a lot more dramatic when one has health insurance only through coverture (i.e. the insurance offered by the employer of a spouse or parent.) Even “dependent” spouses and children in Canada and Western Europe are a lot more independent because of UHC. I think it’s really difficult to underestimate the liberty that gives to otherwise dependent people.

    I can’t help thinking about this problem like a historian (suprise!), and in history we’ve had some interesting debates in the past decade or so about the relative importance of the agency of individuals and of strucure. Interestingly, the scholars of my generation (myself included) appear to be swinging the pendulum back over to an emphasis on structure, continuties, and the longue duree, while as many here have pointed out feminists of my generation (myself, perhaps, included) have thrown their lot in with the agency of the individual, only not with the individual as a change agent, but (as I think Squadratomagico said above) the individual as deserving of ratification as an agent of her own life. (Choice feminism, basically.)

    I don’t think it necessarily undercuts our understanding of the importance of strucure to recognize that invidual actions might have a powerful cumulative effect. Although it’s far after my period of expertise, I think this is the backbone of the study of political activism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The stories that historians love to tell are all about change and the power of charasmatic individuals to make a decisive difference. Which story would you rather read? “Faceless masses continue to dwell in oppression and misery,” or “Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus?”

  102. Historiann on 03 Jun 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    My bottom line is that I don’t think it was inappropriate for Sandberg to ask a very privileged class of women to examine their choices and consider the effects 5, 10, and 20 years down the road. I thought she offered a shrewd analysis for why men continue to surpass women in running the world sometime between their 30th and 40th birthdays.

    But I deeply regret that this conversation spurred by her speech has left people feeling attacked for their decisions. That was certainly not my intention–but I suppose that it’s probably inevitable given the diversity of lives among the readers here. People who don’t have children believe–with good reason–that too many conversations about feminism and women end up revolving around mothers’ issues, and mothers often feel–with good reason–that although they may conform more or less to a traditional script for women’s lives that they’re rowing against the current when it comes to doing what’s best in their judgment for themselves and their families.

  103. thefrogprincess on 03 Jun 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    I agree with Historiann that the US context of this is important. I feel that especially strongly as I read Feminist Avatar’s contributions to the discussion. I think there really is a conservative current running through American society at the moment that tells young, college educated women that staying at home is what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s what I find most troubling at the moment: the fact that there are women going to college, going to graduate school etc, all the while planning to stay at home with the children they don’t yet have for the husbands they don’t yet have. I am not referring to the individual decisions folks are making once children come–even if I do have particular opinions on that–but instead I’m wondering why I’m having conversations with a fellow PhD student about how it’s a blessing to stay home and how much fun it is and how it’s what we should be aiming for as a gift to our (nonexistent) men, followed by a long list of women this friend knows who have stayed at home and are pampered by their husbands. That’s what concerns me: the ratcheting down of plans as a response to a presumed ideal, not as a response to a difficult situation of juggling work and kids.

    And yes, I really think the precariousness of women in this country who don’t have their own job can’t be underestimated, with the lack of healthcare just being the start.

  104. cgeye on 03 Jun 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    @dandelion at 06/02/11 8:17 pm – In my first post, the first one of this thread? “Why not have health and childcare that was for everyone, instead of the feudal rich?”

    But the child sex panic took care of that, didn’t it? No stranger can take care of a child adequately, and heaven forbid should he be male.

    And, @Emma at 06/03/11 2:35 pm – It wasn’t inexplicable; it was deliberate.

    Who has more sympathy in our culture — a sexually wild gay or lesbian singleton, or the partner of a wounded gay soldier, unable to visit him in hospital lest command find out about the relationship? The single worker who just wants respect and a paycheck, or the ancient sapphic couple who can’t have the rights inherent in marriage?

    Just as Rush Limbaugh came on the scene — and, coincidentally, when protease inhibitors made AIDS less of death sentence — the conservative gay powers that be chose to deemphasize civil rights for all gays, in favor of civil rights for those who toes the line regarding committed relationships, child-rearing and national service. Notice how few openly anti-war gay or lesbian groups now exist? We all have to salute the rainbow soldier, lest we be homophobic as well as unpatriotic. I suspect it has something to do with rich queers getting steamed about inheritance problems, and realizing that the whole “adopting a gay-ward” thing now smacked of pedophilia. We lost so much, with this reductiveness.

  105. Janice on 03 Jun 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Let’s get back to something that might be constructive out of this. There’s a line we all know is fed to people in western society: it’s natural, right and simple for women to opt out for a little while in order to care for their families. That line is bullshit.

    CPP is right in retrospect. He should have told those people from his lab that, in his experience, the choice they were making was going to bring some problems. If you’ve been fed nothing but the bullshit, you don’t know how wrong it is until you’ve gone too far to go back easily.

    Just as I don’t tell prospective grad students “Come on in and aim for a Ph.D., things are sure to get better!” I don’t tell young people starting families that this will be easy to negotiate, even in Canada with our far more humane parental leave and health care policies. It’s damned hard and that’s one reason why my spouse makes less than 10% of what I earn, because something had to give in order to support the more lucrative career path and also give our autistic child a chance to thrive.

  106. squadratomagico on 03 Jun 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    cgeye’s point is erxactly right: the fate of gay rights is following the same path that feminism took a few years beforehand. Just as feminist analysis and political priorities have been de-fanged and tamed by making everything about The Children, so, too, has the conversation over GLBT rights been co-opted by the Right, to be a conversation about Marriage Rights as a framework for child-rearing.

    I used to feel very sympathetic to this viewpoint, really I did…. until it became the only thing feminism seemed to stand for. Now it’s to the point where, even to DARE to suggest that feminism might be seen in more multidimensional ways, elicits accusations of being anti-mother. To which I would like to say: you know there are other people, other lifestyles, other issues, don’t you? Or is your own situation the only one worthy of discussion and activism? Because I’m not really on board with that.

  107. Western Dave on 03 Jun 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Me:We’re going to have a baby.
    The powers that be: You have 5 personal days. Don’t spend them all at once.

    You: I’ll be starting my FMLA leave the day after my wife ends her 12 weeks maternity leave.

    -or-

    One problem, my wife is self-employed/independent contractor. She doesn’t get maternity leave.

    You: I’ll be using my X weeks of vacation plus my 5 personal days plus my 12 weeks FMLA leave starting the day after my wife finishes her paid maternity leave.

    -or-

    I don’t have vacation time (other than school vacations) and like I said above, my wife isn’t getting a paid maternity leave. What the hell are we supposed to eat for three months? And if I use those 5 personal days, how do I take the kids to a doctor’s appointment if my wife has to meet a client and one of them is sick?

    You: Isn’t providing differential benefits on the basis of sex called discrimination?
    You think I didn’t look into this? It’s not legally sex discrimination because the law defines pregnancy and child birth as a medical condition, technically a mom in my workplace is on disability. If I managed to time a car accident just right, I could get the same 12 weeks too, but I doubt I’d be of much use with the baby. Which kind of defeats the purpose. Now if my wife and I had better jobs and more enough savings we might have been able to do that. But, like most Americans that doesn’t apply to us. We did manage to time one of the births for Spring Break so that I was home the first week. And by summer I was home and spouse was back at work. That’s what’s called family planning in my work place – trying to time it so that you have the kid at the beginning of summer.

    So yeah, what Dandelion and Spanish prof said, and at least some of what Emma said (albeit less hostilely). Workplaces need changing. Because even allegedly feminist workplaces like mine have pretty much no interest in being family friendly for their employees, male, female or otherwise.

  108. Linksies « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured on 04 Jun 2011 at 12:51 am #

    [...] This discussion at Historiann is a model for incredible comment threads, with a variety of well-thought-out responses.  Once again, we continue to love Historiann. [...]

  109. Historiann on 04 Jun 2011 at 4:24 am #

    If I managed to time a car accident just right, I could get the same 12 weeks too, but I doubt I’d be of much use with the baby. Heh. Yes, that’s the way it works at Baa Ram U.–there is no paid maternity or paternity leave, it’s 6-8 weeks of *medical* leave plus FMLA, which pretty much stinks, and it’s usually up to faculty themselves to figure out who’s going to cover their classes gratis for them while they’re out.

    I’ve never heard of a faculty member who’s had to make hir own arrangements from a hospital bed about how ze’s going to get hir classes covered after suffering an MCI, a major accident, a stroke, etc.

  110. Nicole on 04 Jun 2011 at 4:43 am #

    I didn’t realize this thread had gotten so many comments! Apparently Maggie (other blog half) had though.

    I wanted to highlight this quote from Dr. Crazy, “I think that many women in their 20s and 30s first have internalized the message that you *can’t* “have it all,” particularly if they watched their own mothers try and “fail” in that regard. (If they decided that their own mothers should have been around more when they were kids, if they blame their parents’ divorce(s) on career coming before family, etc.) ”

    Maggie and I were just discussing how irritating mom blogs are being to us recently with this idea, “You can have it all, but not all at once.” Which is something Claudia Goldin said, but not about MY generation, about the previous generation. I’ve even got a nascent thread complaining a bit on the subject, but it may never see the light of day (maybe if I tag it deliberately controversial). And my mom did have it all, though I will not take a detour into administration and the school-board that will keep me from gaining full-professorhood until after my kids are in college. I like money too much and managing people and politics too little. I’m going to have even more than my mother did, though perhaps not as much as I could have because truly, I don’t want to work 80 hour weeks, kid or not. Career-wise I just want to do good work and be respected.

  111. Nicole on 04 Jun 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Re: Lactation

    The workplace is definitely instrumental in making breastfeeding compatible with work. We need space, time (the bf breaks actually correspond very nicely with the Boicean recommendation for breaks), and privacy. It would also be nice not to be harassed by bullying secretaries who thank God get asked to leave later when they bully someone else they morally disapprove of up in administration.

    Support is also crucial. There’s a lot of information on how to breast-feed and how to make breast-feeding and work compatible, but there’s too few avenues to get this information to the women who need it. There are many ways that BF can go wrong, and solutions to most of them, but it is difficult to get the solutions to the women who need them in time. In addition to the information, there needs to be emotional, physical, and cultural support. When the stars align it’s no big deal to work and nurse, even formula free. Institutional change would help those stars align for a lot more people.

  112. Cloud on 04 Jun 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I’m almost afraid to comment given the venom in some of the other posts, but hell, I’ve defended a PhD so I should be able to take it. Or I guess I could just not come back and read any flames.

    Anyway, first of all- @Emma: the only people who get to call me “mommy” are my kids. Calling us mommies and daddies is unnecessarily demeaning. I get that you don’t like a lot of us, or the decisions we’ve made, but you might find that we could have a more civil, productive conversation if you didn’t start out belittling me.

    FWIW, I don’t think anyone should have to work an 80 hour week. And frankly, the time use surveys say that mostly, no one does. When people log their time, they usually max out at about a 60 hour week. Which isn’t great, but is a lot less than 80. (I log roughly 45 hours/week on paid work, if you’re curious.)

    But what I really want to say has nothing to do with the majority of the debate here. I want to go way back to the original post.

    I liked the quotes from the commencement speech- I don’t have time right now to watch the whole thing. I think the quotes make perfect sense in the context of a commencement speech, and they are something that a group of presumably ambitious college grads need to hear and think about.

    I remember being in grad school and agonizing over whether or not I could combine kids with my chosen career, which is at the intersection of science and IT. I plowed ahead, and I’m glad I did. Because now that I am here, it is nowhere near as bad as I feared. Also, from where I sit, the other option for motherhood- that of being a SAHM- doesn’t look “easier”. I am friends with some SAHMs, and they are just as tired and stretched as I am. I think that the tired, over-stretched feeling is a function of having small children, not necessarily of combining small kids and demanding careers. I actually feel very little angst about being a WOHM, and I don’t really see much evidence that my career is suffering. I’ve gotten raises and promotions post-kids, I’ve also applied for and been hired into new jobs, even though I don’t hide my status as a mother in the job interview.

    I don’t really know why I am a happy WOHM when so many others are not. I’ve mused a lot about it on my own blog, so anyone who is interested can click over there, click on the “working motherhood” category and read away. But if pushed, I would put it down to a few things:

    1. My partner is absolutely in this 50-50, without argument. We both eased off a tiny bit on our careers after our first was born, mainly in the “extras”- I don’t network as much as I should, he’s dropped his non-work coding projects. We both are starting to ramp things back up now that our youngest is almost two. Neither of us have seen negative consequences yet. In the grand scheme of things, 5 years or so of less intense career focus is not a big deal.

    We both eased off a huge amount in the area of housework. We used to split that 50-50. Now we split it 15-15-70, where the 70 is a wonderful housecleaning service we pay. I look forward to the day my kids are old enough to factor into that split!

    Of course, I’m not in academia. I can see how the slight easing up isn’t as much of an option there, given the timing of tenure decisions.

    2. I don’t go in for guilt, either from the parenting side or the working side. I think guilt can become self-fulfilling. My kids see plenty of me. My work gets plenty of hours from me. Would each like more? Probably. Do they need it? No.

    3. I happened to have my kids later. I had my first when I was 35. This was largely because I hadn’t met their father until I was 30. By the time I had kids, I was established in my career and in the position to request accommodations that made things easier for me. Also, it meant that I was making enough money so that there was never any question about whether it makes financial sense to work and so that I could do things like hire the housecleaning service I mention above.

    4. I live in California. Seriously, say what you want about my screwed up, bankrupt state, but both my husband and I used our FMLA, and the right of women returning to work to have pumping space and time is protected by law, and has been for quite some time. No one batted an eye about me pumping at work.

    (Not to fan the breastfeeding flames, but I breastfed my first for 23 months and am still breastfeeding my second, who is 20 months old. I pumped until 18 months and 17 months, respectively. I did not use formula for either. I believe the science that indicates breastfeeding is the best choice when it is possible, but frankly, the main reason I’ve committed so much to breastfeeding is that I like it. I honestly do not care if other mothers choice formula, but I do care if they’d like to breastfeed and are thwarted by work considerations. As @Nicole says, if the stars align, it is no big deal to work and nurse. Let’s stop bickering about whether or not breast is best and put in the institutional changes that would make it a genuine choice for anyone who wants to make it.)

    I say all of this in full knowledge that I am privileged and that many, many women are not as lucky as I am. The answer to that is, in my opinion, not to dismiss my experience, but to take a hard look at our society and figure out how we can make my experience the norm, not an exception available only to the privileged few.

    And part of that change is for young women not to do the sexists’ work for them. Charge ahead. Reach for it all. You might just get it. I did, and I’m so very grateful that I didn’t preempt that possibility 15 years ago, when the future looked so scary.

  113. Nicole on 04 Jun 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Oh Cloud, it’s like you’re reading my mind again. We’ve got posts queued up and in process with many of your points, though not so naturally eloquent.

  114. Is there anything wrong with choice feminism? « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured on 05 Jun 2011 at 4:52 am #

    [...] post was inspired by a recent discussion at Historiann’s.  It’s a bit scattered and should probably be two [...]

  115. anonymous on 06 Jun 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Seriously, say what you want about my screwed up, bankrupt state, but both my husband and I used our FMLA, and the right of women returning to work to have pumping space and time is protected by law, and has been for quite some time. No one batted an eye about me pumping at work.

    I’m really glad to hear that these things are available to the women at the “wonderful housecleaning service.” Do they get paid maternity leave, too, or just the pumping accommodations and FMLA?

  116. Nicole on 06 Jun 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    “I’m really glad to hear that these things are available to the women at the “wonderful housecleaning service.” Do they get paid maternity leave, too, or just the pumping accommodations and FMLA?”

    I never understand these kinds of crabs in a bucket comments.

    Btw, though I did get pumping accommodations (by virtue of having an office as a T-T faculty member), I did not even get unpaid FMLA (by dint of not having worked at the uni long enough). But I do not begrudge the state of California for the benefits they afford the women who work there, or the women who benefit from them.

    Should nobody have an advantage until everybody has the same advantages? I thought the whole point was to get as many people covered by these kinds of things as possible. How is making high-powered women go without going to at all help women who don’t have JDs or PhDs? Why attack them for having what many would argue should be the rights of all women?

    But perhaps I’m biased because I did get married before homosexuals in my state got that privilege. I bought a house, despite not everybody in the US being able to afford one. I eat to satiation despite the hunger problems in the US and the rest of the world. And there are millions of these choices I’ve made that not everybody has the benefit of. Should all benefits be taken away until everyone has them? Are you living that life?

  117. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 4:24 am #

    This post was originally about well-educated women like the Barnard class of 2011 and the commencement speech by Sheryl Sandberg. So I think it was perfectly fine for professionals in the discussion to talk about their individual experiences.

    Breastfeeding accomodations laws cover everyone–I’m unaware of cases in which state laws dictate that only professional women can benefit from them.

    In the event that breastfeeding accomodations are made only for high-status women in some companies or institutions, keeping those women in the paid workforce so that they can climb into positions of real decision-making power can be one way of expanding those rights to more classes of workers. In any case, the male-dominated workplace hasn’t done this for most classes of women workers–so we might as well see what women in power might do.

    I think these conversations can become unproductive if we demand that feminism fix every other injustic in the world before turning to the injustice of sex bias. Can a blog run by a feminist women’s historian really not talk about a commencement address at a women’s college offering advice to this year’s grads? Really? If so, the feminist blogosphere should just roll up and die, because we can’t talk about anything then.

  118. anonymous on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:14 am #

    I do not begrudge the state of California for the benefits they afford the women who work there,

    Well, my point is that (in reality, the one we live in) those benefits only apply to SOME of the women who work in the state.

    While women who work for housekeeping services (if they are on the payroll and not paid under the table) might technically receive the same accommodations laws as anyone else (assuming they’re not considered contractors or temps or the cleaning service a small business), in REALITY I cannot fathom a cleaning service providing a woman with pumping space and time. It is possible I am wrong, but I truly don’t think so.

    So, you know, it’s not crabs in a bucket to point out that the “solution” someone has found to the problem of women’s oppression might be coming at the cost of…oppressing women.

    And when we’re talking about some women finding they can access more power by participating in systems that do not allow the same kind of opportunities to toher women, it’s NOT demanding that every other oppression get fixed first. It’s demanding that feminism become more than an upward wealth transfer between women that looks like every other capitalist structure.

    So, if you’re so busy as a professional woman – no, professional hetero couple – that you need someone else to scrub your toilet? Go for it. As long as (let’s be honest) SHE is being paid a living wage, health benefits, vacation time, a retirement plan, etc. And certainly breastfeeding accommodations, too, since

    I honestly do not care if other mothers choice formula, but I do care if they’d like to breastfeed and are thwarted by work considerations.

    When YOU ARE those “work considerations” it’s time to put up or shut up. IMO.

  119. anonymous on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:23 am #

    [same anonymous as 8:14] Back on topic, though, Historiann, I liked the speech a lot. Work certainly doesn’t have to be everything to everyone, but I am appalled by the “leaning back” I see from fellow early-career professional women.

    For instance, I understand that good daycare is hideously expensive and a major pain in the ass, but every single time I hear that complaint from a hetero married professional woman, it is phrased as “I really hate my job today/can’t beLIEVE how much daycare costs, and here’s a calculation of my salary – daycare = why do I even come here?!?! I’m worth more than this!”

    Um, must be nice to be your goddamn husband, never having to have his earning power rhetorically “discounted” by random other household costs.

    Worse than actual costs of actual babies, though, has to be the limiting of imagination based on imaginary families. We are encouraged to limit ourselves in so many ways, and it’s just so insidious, this planning for a “balanced” life.

  120. anonymous on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:34 am #

    I do think this meshes two different points, though:

    (A)…keeping those women in the paid workforce so that they can climb into positions of real decision-making power can be one way of expanding those rights to more classes of workers. (B)In any case, the male-dominated workplace hasn’t done this for most classes of women workers–so we might as well see what women in power might do.

    Taking point “B” first, absolutely. We absolutely might as well see what women and power might do. Let’s do it.

    However, point “A” is dicier. Why would professional, power-identified women intuitively/naturally use their hard-fought positions to increase access for lower-status women? I think applying that notion to women (and other minorities) requires expecting some greater mystical insight about their own condition and sisterhood and connectedness and fairness than we would ever expect from men. And, in fact, my own experiences with outsiders who have risen to the top of the inside crowd is that they’re very interested in reaching “down” and mentoring up some individual person who reminds them of themselves…but when it comes to increasing general access to (and therefore decreasing the prestige of) their own positions and organizations, they’re simply not interested.

  121. wannabee on 08 Jun 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    if everyone stops having kids, who are we going to teach at the university???

  122. Cloud on 08 Jun 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    anonymous, you made a faulty assumption. I did not get paid maternity leave, either- just FMLA, which is paid in California and the usual 6-8 weeks disability, depending on mode of birth.

    I’ll give you, though, that it is a lot easier to absorb the lost income (FMLA does not cover 100% of income) at my higher income bracket. But it has a cap, so I got a lower percentage of my income covered than a lower income person would have had.

    And, not that you care, but I shopped around for a cleaning service that gives its employees paid time off and benefits.

  123. Cloud on 08 Jun 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    Also, if the cleaning service has more than 50 employees, they are required to provide pumping space and time, just like all other employers with more than 50 employees.

    In practice, they come and clean my house while I am not there. A lactating cleaner could take her pick of private rooms in which to plug in a pump and take the 15 minute break the law requires. Heck, she could take 30 minutes. I pay a flat rate, not by the hour.

  124. Cloud on 08 Jun 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    I guess my last comment is unclear. The cleaning service pays their employees by the hour. I pay them a flat rate. I happen to know, from the few times I’ve been home during cleaning, that they finish my house in less time than the service sets aside for a cleaning- it is a small house and we aren’t utter slobs. So in practice, for the one particular woman anonymous chose to attack on this issue, in fact there is no reason that my cleaner couldn’t pump if she needed to.

    And I’ll also say, because I’m having a beer while I do some work, and my programs are taking longer than I expected to run, so I’m cranky AND a little less guarded than usual…

    The sort of comment that anonymous left is one of the reasons I don’t hang out on feminist blogs.

    I’m your natural ally- I’m a professional woman who has benefited from prior generations’ feminism and knows it. I work in a male dominated field so I get frequent- almost daily, really- reminders of how far we have left to go. I’ve thought about what makes it possible for me to enjoy my life as a working mother, and I’m well aware that a lot of that comes down to the money I have- and I think that is wrong. I’m left-leaning and I cast my vote and even occasionally write my congresspeople with an eye towards extending the benefits I’ve received to women in other income brackets.

    But apparently, I’m not feminist enough for some of you guys. I am wallowing in privilege and entitlement and I should be… what? Cleaning my own damn toilets? Piously refusing to take my paid FMLA because it is not available to everyone, just to people who work in California for companies that employ at least 50 people? Storming the barricades and yelling loudly to get this fixed? So cowed by my knowledge of the great weight of privilege that I have that I never post any comments?

    How does any of that help?

    I keep posting because I remember being a grad student and everyone and their freakin’ dog was telling me that I “couldn’t” combine my chosen career with motherhood and that work-life balance was impossible in the sciences. It scared me and almost made me drop out. I had no role models to look at to counter what I was being told- my professors were mostly male. I was the first (and so far) only person in my extended family to get a PhD. Most of my female classmates were saying they weren’t going to have kids or quietly making plans to go into the science-related careers that are perceived as more family-friendly. So I believed what I heard, but for some reason, I stuck it out, anyway. And now, here I sit, happily combining my chosen career with being the mother of two adorable little kids… and I’m so very, very glad that something made me stick it out. So I post to be the counter-voice for other young women who might be where I was 10-15 years ago.

    But that viewpoint doesn’t feel welcome on feminist blogs. It seems to me that there is a large subpopulation that is so busy waiting for perfect solutions that they won’t accept the partial progress we have made, and just want to make women like me feel guilty. Well, no thanks, I’m too busy for that.

    @Historiann, I appreciate that you and @Nicole defended me. I’m sorry to dump this crankiness here. But I really needed to say it.

  125. Nicoleandmaggie on 09 Jun 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Like we said, http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/crabs-in-a-bucket/ .

    There’s a big difference between the folks who say, “I have privilege, how can we make sure everyone has the privilege I have?” and “I have privilege, nobody else should have it.” We should celebrate folks who say the former, and absolutely condemn the latter (as in Historiann’s more recent post on the NYTimes whiny chick).

  126. Nicoleandmaggie on 09 Jun 2011 at 5:32 am #

    p.s. Guilt (maternal guilt, guilt about women being successful, etc.) is one of the strongest weapons that the patriarchy uses. Reject it.

  127. Sarah on 09 Jun 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    People vary in the amount of bullshit they can tolerate; women as much as men. Staying in academia (or medicine, or law, or business) requires that women overcome barriers which men need not overcome. So I don’t think it’s surprising that some proportion of women lean back; I bet a similar proportion of men would lean back, too, if they had to face the barriers we do.

    We’re all just human beings trying to make the most of our time on the planet. Recognizing and removing the barriers to women in academia is important, and ongoing, and may take several more decades. In the meantime, second-guessing any individual person’s life choices is unhelpful. Whether you’ve quit your job to be a SAHM, opted for adjunct work to find better work-life balance, or hired a live-in nanny to let you focus more on your career, your choices are yours to make and they are valid. We all have different limits, different comfort zones, different levels of ambition, different approaches to parenting, and different externalities. We should support each other, and enjoy the diversity.

  128. Why I had to skip the Berks : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 11 Jun 2011 at 8:42 am #

    [...] not a mother because I express opinions about motherhood they disagree with see here, here, and here; Dr. Crazy has written about this too.  Because all mothers everywhere transhistorically are [...]

  129. Shelley on 30 Aug 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Wow. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer that I feel this way, but the logic seems to me to be totally turned upside down here.

    What if the “jobs at the top” aren’t worth sacrificing 24 hours a day for? Why should “running things” be valued more than a happy daily life?

    Maybe women are showing their wisdom in preferring to stay out of the corporate rat race.

  130. Anonymous on 28 Jul 2013 at 1:11 pm #

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  131. Forex on 17 Oct 2013 at 1:41 pm #

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