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Archive for the ‘work and family (im)balance’ Category

At first, it was easy. Tom and I supported each other in our work, shared the domestic drudgery equally, and always seemed to have time for each other and for fun. Life was not only good, it felt fair.

Then we had a son. And then a daughter. Like that frog in the science experiment who has the sense to jump out of a pot of boiling water but, plopped into tepid water, he doesn’t notice it gradually heating to boiling point until he is cooked, our division of labour through the years steadily grew laughably, ridiculously, irrationally, frustratingly unfair.

Forget about having it all, it felt like I was doing it all.

“You are not the Lion King!” I would occasionally yell, usually after finding myself scrubbing an oven hood so clogged with grease that the smoke alarms wouldn’t stop screeching while he watched TV. “You don’t get to laze around while I do all the work!”

He’d shoot back that my standards were too high. “You’re just like Marge Simpson. When her house was burning down, she found dirty dishes in the sink and stood there washing them,” he’d say.

When it came to the kids, I took them to all their medical appointments. Tom didn’t even know where the dentist’s office was. Without question, I was the one who stayed at home or rearranged my work schedule when they were sick. While Tom slept soundly or was off at work, I was the one still up at 2am baking cupcakes for the school or wrapping Christmas presents.

It had reached the point where I didn’t want to feel so hostile and resentful all the time, so I made a weird, lopsided bargain: I would do most of the child, house and garden work, taxes and drudge stuff. All I asked for in return, I told Tom, was this: “I just want you to notice – and say thank you.”

Our wildly out of whack division of labour is a big reason why my life felt as if it had splintered into unsatisfying, distracted and fragmented scraps that I called time confetti.

From “How my husband and I finally achieved equality at home” by Bridget Schulte in The Guardian. (Thanks to Sara for the link).

This article is a very good description of how inequality creeps into a relationship but in spite of the title, a less clear description of how you correct it. Yes, you take turns at all the domestic work and yes, you spend more time connecting, but how? How did you get there? How did you unpick such entrenched patterns of behaviour? How do you monitor it without that becoming someone’s task, too? How do you get everyone equally invested in the outcome when some were clearly benefiting from the old unfair way of doing things?

But anyway, I really just want to take note here of a couple of things in this article. One, I always find it amusing to hear the unique terms couples invent for describing one another’s annoying behaviours so, I enjoyed ‘Lion King’ immeasurably and two, how recognisable is that deal she made to swallow inequality if her sacrifice could at least be acknowledged by her partner and kids? And how devastating is it when you discover there is no appreciation?

 

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I’ve written a lot about maternal desire here and how poorly understood that motivation is.. but I’ve not considered paternal desire much before.

All through this research, Edin says, she’d never been interested in studying men. “It’s fun to write about people with a strong heroic element to the story,” she says. “Women have that. Men don’t have that. [They're] more complicated; they’re dogged with bad choices.” In addition, she admits, “I felt hostile after writing about the women. I really had their point of view in my head.”

It was Nelson who, after years of working on a book about religious experience in a black church, convinced her otherwise. Together, they spent several years canvassing Camden in search of dads to interview. They stopped men on the street and asked if they’d talk—sometimes right there on the spot. They put up flyers and worked with nonprofit groups and eventually knit together a sample of equal parts black and white men they interviewed at length over the better part of a decade.

Again, what they discovered surprised them. Rather than viewing unplanned fatherhood as a burden, the men almost uniformly saw it as a blessing. “It’s so antithetical to a middle-class perspective,” Edin says. “But it finally dawned on us that these guys thought that by bringing children in the world they were doing something good in the world.” Everything else around them—the violence, the poverty, their economic prospects—was so negative, she explains, a baby was “one little dot of color” on a black-and-white canvas.

Only a small percentage of the men, black or white, said the pregnancy was the result of an accident, and even fewer challenged the paternity. When the babies were born, most of the men reported a desire to be a big part of their lives. Among black men, 9 in 10 reported being deeply involved with their children under the age of two, meaning they had routine, in-person contact with their kids several times a month. But that involvement faded with time. Only a third of black fathers and a quarter of white fathers were still intensively involved with kids older than 10. Among the reasons, Edin identifies unstable relationships with the mothers—the average couple had been together only about six months before conceiving a child. The men also frequently struggled with substance abuse and stints in prison.

From “What if everything you know about poverty was wrong” by Stephanie Mencimer in Mother Jones.

 

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I went with the kids to stay at the beach on the weekend with our friends at their beach house. I don’t think I’ve ever arrived anywhere more worn out.

At one point my friend took my daughter to the shops with her while her teenage son took my four year old boy to play outside with him. I sat in front of a window, all by myself, looking out over the sea thinking I will just have a minute to take in the view and then I will finish reading this book I am reviewing. Two hours later I finally looked down from the sea to find the book in my lap.

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Cormac on the beach in the evening being very pensive.

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My friend’s teenage son helping Cormac cross the channel. It was deeper than we expected.

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Watching all the children swimming in the sea from my friend’s beach house verandah.

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Lauca and my friend’s daughter boogie boarding together.

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Horses in the sea.

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Cormac and one of our friends.

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Lauca learning to make twine as a form of active meditation. Yes.. that didn’t come from stressed out me.. that little intervention came from one of our friends. He’s Aboriginal and he taught her how to make a traditional form of string.

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We grow old in fits and starts, it’s not a linear progression. I don’t know why but I stay looking the same age for about two years and then one day I suddenly look three years older and then I plateau for a time and on it goes. I’ve just noticed we grow up in fits and starts too. I gave Lauca a day in the city with me for her ninth birthday. She skipped school and went to my salon for an encounter with my very good looking, perfectionist hairdressers. Then she ate sushi in my office while I tended to something urgent before we strolled together through an art gallery for the afternoon and finally, off to dinner in a restaurant with my family. I think she turned into a teenager in the process.

When I started this blog Lauca was not quite two years old. As with all change I seem to feel both happy and sad about that.

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In the lift at my work.

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And at the art gallery. Right now Lauca is fascinated with European history so this exhibition was perfect.

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I like everything almost about this article by Eva Cox in The Saturday Paper, “Has feminism lost its way?”… except the title. Not just feminism, all social progress movements have been diluted, discredited or distracted by neoliberalism to some degree over the course of the last two decades. Yes, feminism needs to reorientate itself but let’s not let the discussion of individualism become one of feminism bashing pleeeease.

The shift to market models meant many women’s groups focused on raising the status of women via access to power in current macho terms. More women in male-defined areas of power – in politics or on boards – was erroneously claimed to be the route to feminist change. But we failed to see they were promoted because they posed no threat to the system that allowed them into the tent to share some of the power that men controlled. There are active women’s groups with current demands for remedies to violence and exclusion, access to childcare, improvements to bad media images and solutions to female poverty and lack of representation. But these are not radical demands and are defined as “women’s issues”, not general problems for society. The overall agenda creates protests but does not analyse why we make no progress in these areas or offer alternatives.

At the same time, there are signs of political discontent and distrust that signal a need for a rebalancing of the policy agendas to restore the focus on the contributions that make up our connected, collective lives outside the workplace and economy. New policy options need to be designed to target good social outcomes, which overlap with feminist interest areas. We need to increase trust, social capital, good feelings, care, generosity and other parts of the social glue that are a mostly feminised area. These are areas that cannot be commodified and therefore are not counted in gross domestic product.

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This, “Out of Body: Reading Gender Through “Women’s Fiction”” by Rob Hardy in The Critical Flame is a wonderful essay about being a stay-at-home father and how that changed the way this literary academic read women’s literature. This essay visits a number of places that I love.. how women writers are represented, the purpose of reading fiction and the important role of maternal feminism in the feminist movement at large.

After The Way Things Are, I began to search the shelves of the local used book stores for more Virago Modern Classics. At one of the shops on Division Street, I found a peculiarity in the shelving system: there was a section labeled CLASSICS, and a separate section labeled OLDER FICTION. Most of the authors in the Classics section were men, with a few well-known women thrown in—Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontës, Virginia Woolf. The Virago Modern Classics were shelved in the OLDER FICTION section.

I asked Dick, the owner, about this peculiar arrangement. Why, for example, was William Faulkner (the Nobel Prize winner in 1949) shelved among the Classics, but Ellen Glasgow (the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1942) shelved among Older Fiction? Was it that men became classics and women just became old? Or, not to make a gender issue out of it, why was Virginia Woolf a Classic, but May Sinclair, who first applied the term “stream of consciousness” to fiction, simply Older?

And..

As a young stay-at-home father, I gravitated toward Virago Modern Classics because they illuminated the ordinary domestic life to which I was growing accustomed, without becoming sentimental or losing sight of the broader human concerns and higher aspirations of their female characters. For most of the history of the English novel, writing was one of the only occupations open to women, one of the only ways in which they could make their voices heard outside the nursery and the kitchen. Their writing can’t help but express the immense gulf between the expansiveness of their imaginations and the apparent narrowness of the sphere to which they were traditionally confined. But being confined to that sphere, the sphere of domesticity, they also couldn’t help looking around and seeing some of its homely significance. They couldn’t help seeing that this world of messy children and dirty floors, of broken cookers and tight household finances, was also the real world. More real, perhaps, than anything else.

 

Thanks to Tedra for the link.

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The Abbott government wants to stop collecting some of the gender equality data currently required of Australian businesses. Because what’s something cheap you can give business in a time of (sorta) fiscal constraint? Red tape reductions..  and gender equality data can potentially be embarrassing to both business and government so there’s some low hanging fruit right there if you’re a less than visionary government.

Conservative columnist and economist, Judith Sloan is leading the charge for the government with “Surge in red tape gives gender equality a bad name” – and here she is in The Australian describing the kind of data we collect at the moment…

What are the minimum standards of gender equality on which all private-sector companies with more than 100 employees must report? There are five indicators and the level of detail required is ludicrous. Take the gender composition of the workforce. There are three management categories and 10 non-management categories listed. Then there is the disaggregated data on remuneration between women and men. Details are required on the annualised average full-time equivalent base salary and total remuneration for all 13 categories of workplace profile, plus by employment status.

Given this data is all computerized and the bulk of it is collected in a standard payroll database it is difficult to see what exactly is so onerous about this but Sloan is trying her best to make the case. The other kinds of data collected by government include the family friendly working arrangements offered by a company and which of their employees use them. Again, all of this information is routinely collected by companies about themselves. Sure, reporting requirements aren’t cost-free but they’re not enough to have any Human Resource Department on a fainting couch either. And anyway, there’s no significant penalty for non-compliance and half the firms love the exercise because they use any better-than-average results to compete for the best job applicants.

So, Sloan tries another argument in relation to the data..

But I have come to the fundamental question: what is the point?

Goodness Judith, as two economists we will never guess what use you might make of data.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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This is truly enjoyable analysis. There’s a lot of Marxism in it, probably a bit too much for me. And in my opinion it is too blunt in its assessment of pop culture but that aside, this is a great argument..

(And hold someone close as you read this because you’re fine with hating Swept Away but he’s going to slaughter a few sacred cows too, starting with Firefly).

On Firefly:

What [shows like Firefly] do perform regularly is liberal multiculturalism, which no doubt reinforces a sense that the show’s gestural anti-statism is at least consonant with an egalitarian politics. And that is a quality that makes multiculturalist egalitarianism, or identitarianism, and its various strategic programs — anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heteronormativity, etc. — neoliberalism’s loyal opposition. Their focus is on making neoliberalism more just and, often enough, more truly efficient.

On The Help:

In both films the bogus happy endings are possible only because they characterize their respective regimes of racial hierarchy in the superficial terms of interpersonal transactions. In The Help segregationism’s evil was small-minded bigotry and lack of sensitivity; it was more like bad manners than oppression… The Help trivializes Jim Crow by reducing it to its most superficial features and irrational extremes. The master-servant nexus was, and is, a labor relation. And the problem of labor relations particular to the segregationist regime wasn’t employers’ bigoted lack of respect or failure to hear the voices of the domestic servants, or even benighted refusal to recognize their equal humanity. It was the labor relation was structure within and sustained by a political and institutional order that severely impinged on, when it didn’t altogether deny, black citizens’ avenues for pursuit of grievances and standing before the law.

On Django Unchained:

Defenses of Django Unchained pivot on claims about the social significance of the narrative of a black hero. One node of this argument emphasizes the need to validate a history of autonomous black agency and “resistance” as a politico-existential desideratum. It accommodates a view that stresses the importance of recognition of rebellious or militant individuals and revolts in black American history. Another centers on a notion that exposure to fictional black heroes can inculcate the sense of personal efficacy necessary to overcome the psychological effects of inequality and to facilitate upward mobility and may undermine some whites’ negative stereotypes about black people. In either register assignment of social or political importance to depictions of black heroes rests on presumptions about the nexus of mass cultural representation, social commentary, and racial justice that are more significant politically than the controversy about the film itself.

On Hell on Wheels:

That’s the happy face of adolescent patriarchy, its expression that doesn’t usually involve a restraining order, though it’s probably best that the brooding loner hero’s sainted wife is nearly always a martyr and thus motivation for, instead of the object of, his sadistic violence and mayhem. But in Hell on Wheels that device also reinforces the reduction of slavery to slaveholding as an individual act, a consumer preference to be negotiated within a marriage – like owning a motorcycle going to the strip club with the guys every weekend, or painting the living room magenta.

On Beasts of the Southern Wild:

The film validates their spiritually rich if economically impoverished culture and their right to it. (Actually, the Bathtub’s material infrastructure seems to derive mainly from scavenging, which should suggest a problem at the core of this bullshit allegory for all except those who imagine dumpster-diving, back-to-nature-in-the-city squatterism as a politics). Especially given its setting in south Louisiana and the hype touting the authenticity of its New Orleans-based crew and cast, Beasts most immediately evokes a warm and fuzzy rendition of the retrograde post-Katrina line that those odd people down there wouldn’t evacuate because they’re so intensely committed to place.

On Won’t Back Down:

Being a progressive is not more a matter of how one thinks about oneself than what one stands for or does in the world. The best that can be said for that perspective is that it registers acquiscence in defeat. It amounts to an effort to salvage an idea of a left by reformulating it as a sensibility within neoliberalism rather than a challenge to it.

On Swept Away:

.. their abomination completely erases the original film’s complex class and political content and replaces it with a banal – aka “universal” – story of an encounter between an older woman and a younger man, while at the same time meticulously, almost eerily, reproducing, scene by scene, the visual structure of Wertmüller’s film).

From “Why ‘cultural politics’ is worse than no politics at all” by Adolph Reed.

My problem with this debate is where does it leave us exactly..? So, too much left-wing politics is about repositioning within neoliberalism and not challenging it, and pop culture’s use of history without real politics is obscuring and undermining the very social justice causes it seeks to highlight, and our approach to making sense of racism has been derailed by a preoccupation with individuals rather than systems, and we fail to recognise in our analysis the extent to which class politics is at play in inequality because most of our analysis is done by one particular occupational class* … now what?

* Also from Reed: “the politics of a stratum of the professional-managerial class whose material location and interests, and thus whose ideological commitments, are bound up with parsing, interpreting and administering inequality defined in terms of disparities among ascriptively defined populations reified as groups or even cultures”.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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Raising modern, indulged children for their own sake can be challenging. In the end, Senior writes, “Mothering and fathering aren’t just things we do. Being a mother or being a father is who we are.” Her most striking observations reveal this existential complexity. “How it feels to be a parent and how it feels to do the quotidian and often arduous task of parenting are two very separate things. ‘Being a parent’ is much more difficult for social science to anatomize.” Social science is especially inadequate to describe the nature of this particular joy, but Senior deploys a novelist’s sensibility in giving evidence of that privileged euphoria, insisting that it is not merely coincident with all the tedious things parents must do, but actually an outgrowth of them. “Freedom in our culture has evolved to mean freedom from obligations,” she observes. “But what on earth does that freedom even mean if we don’t have something to give it up for?”

Senior draws on the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s distinction between the “experiencing self” that exists in the present moment and the “remembering self” that constructs a life’s narrative. “Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes — or napping, or shopping, or answering emails — to spending time with our kids. . . . But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one — and nothing — provides us with so much joy as our children. It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.” She talks about parents’ pride in their children, not only in their accomplishments but even in their basic development as human beings, their growth into kindness and generosity. “Kids may complicate our lives,” she writes. “But they also make them simpler. Children’s needs are so overwhelming, and their dependence on us so absolute, that it’s impossible to misread our moral obligation to them. . . . We bind ourselves to those who need us most, and through caring for them, grow to love them, grow to delight in them, grow to marvel at who they are.”

“Under Pressure: a review of All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior” in The New York Times by Andrew Soloman.

Complicating matters, mothers assume a disproportionate number of time-sensitive domestic tasks, whether it’s getting their toddlers dressed for school or their 12-year-olds off to swim practice. Their daily routine is speckled with what sociologists Annette Lareau and Elliot Weininger call “pressure points,” or nonnegotiable demands that make their lives, as the authors put it, “more frenetic.”
These deadlines have unintended consequences. They force women to search for wormholes in the time-space continuum simply to accomplish all the things that they need to do. In 2011, the sociologists Shira Offer and Barbara Schneider found that mothers spend, on average, 10 extra hours a week multitasking than do fathers “and that these additional hours are mainly related to time spent on housework and child care.”
When fathers spend time at home, on the other hand, it reduces their odds of multitasking by over 30%. Which may explain why, a few years ago, researchers from UCLA found that a father in a room by himself was the “person-space configuration observed most frequently” in their close study of 32 families at home. It may also explain why many fathers manage to finish the Sunday paper while their wives do not—they’re not constantly getting up to refill bowls of Cheerios.
Being compelled to divide and subdivide your time doesn’t just compromise your productivity and lead to garden-variety discombobulation. It also creates a feeling of urgency—a sense that no matter how tranquil the moment, no matter how unpressured the circumstances, there’s always a pot somewhere that’s about to boil over.

From “Why Mom’s Time is Different to Dad’s Time” by Jennifer Senior in The Wall Street Journal.

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It’s an inescapable fact that extracurricular activities, which increase student investment in school, are planned by parents who have ample time and money, who sometimes lack insight into the lives of students whose parents don’t. I tried to advocate for these students.

From Debra Monroe in The New York Times with “When elite parents dominate volunteers, children lose”.

I don’t want to be too hard on any parents who volunteer at school because mostly they’re women, and let’s face it, they are all doing work we rely on.. but I have witnessed similar problems to those being described in this article in P&C meetings. I have seen meetings being called at times when working-outside-the-home parents couldn’t attend. And I have been at meetings where parents were nudging the prices up for fundraising activities (and even sometimes, community-building activities) though the impact of this on low income kids was raised.

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