As an aside, I have a secret fantasy of gathering a team of men to go to every male-dominated discussion (on specific issues in the law or a certain genre of film or investigative journalism or whatever) and when it’s Q& A time, earnestly ask the male panelists how they balance work and family.
Participatory democracy begins at home. If you are planning to implement your politics, there are certain things to remember.
1. He is feeling it more than you. He’s losing some leisure and you’re gaining it. The measure of your oppression is his resistance.
Dismissing socialization and gender roles as piddling compared to this amorphous idea of “maternal imperative” is part of the reason progress is stalled for family-friendly policies. I don’t believe we must ignore how much we love our kids and want to be with them in order to effectively fight for better parenting policies—but the assumption that women want to be mothers above all other callings in their life directly impacts the way we talk and work on these issues.
If we accept the gendered narrative that says women do care work and stay-at-home because it’s fulfilling—rather than because it’s necessary—then we support the idea that it’s women, not men, who should be doing the bulk of domestic work and that we need no policies to support us. Because, hey, taking care of our kids is reward enough!
The truth is, we no longer seem to have dreams. We have abandoned the creative potential of political reverie to embrace the siren call of “breaking the glass ceiling”. Mainstream feminism (and by this, I mean, the feminist discourse that has the most presence and power across media, be it corporate or independent) has become a tool to enforce the current system of inequalities. We no longer present an alternative. We want full participation in what already is. And again, I say bullshit to that. I want my feminism to be a feminism of daydreaming.
What surprised me most about these friend’s stories was that—with the exception of having careers to leave—their stories sound eerily like those of my and my childhood friends’ mothers. Once the kids were raised, our Dads uniformly ran off with their secretaries or their golfing buddies or just didn’t come home from a business trip.
And—here’s the punch line—feminism actually helped these men as they helped our own mothers. Laws put into place to protect stay-at-home mothers ensured these guys got their fair share of marital assets and shared custody of their children.
Researchers Jess Alberts and Angela Threthewey put Hochschild’s “economy of gratitude” theory to the test in a series of focus groups, interviews, and surveys of heterosexual and same-sex couples. They “found evidence that gratitude isn’t just a way to mitigate the negative effects of an unequal division of labor. Rather, a lack of gratitude may be connected to why that division of labor is so unequal to begin with,” as they write in their Greater Good essay, “Love, Honor, and Thank.”
So when a spouse expresses gratitude to an “under-performing” partner for picking his socks up off the floor, he’s reminded that it’s not fair that she’s usually the one who does that. “And since people who receive gifts typically feel obligated to reciprocate, this insight can lead the under-performing partner to offer ‘gifts’ of his own by contributing more to household tasks. In addition, the over-performing partner is likely to experience less resentment and frustration once her efforts are recognized and appreciated.”
Surely the only reasonable question is whether laws and attitudes are flexible enough for couples to choose how they combine ambition, money earning, parenthood and free time … OK, for most working families you can forget about free time … but at least to choose the extent to which each partner pursues a career, and whether one or other stays out of the paid workforce. If parents can answer those questions and balance those demands in whatever way they want then, by my understanding, the demands of feminism are satisfied because both partners will have equal opportunity.
But if the question becomes, ”Can feminism find a way for a woman to hold down a hugely demanding job and still be primarily responsible for her household and her kids?” then the answer will be no, and the woman, and feminism, will unfairly be deemed to have failed.
Second, without the emotional connection it became easier, I think, to read the piece as just another op-ed, which is how I read it. That’s how I could get hung-up on the “trickle down” perspective mentioned above and later by Slate magazine. Ann-Marie Slaughter’s argument appears to be that when powerful women are in power, en masse, their relationships with their family demands will necessitate that certain accommodations be made. Those accommodations will, in turn, become organizational policies that will spur policy positions that will positively affect all women i.e. powerful feminism will trickle down to the rest of us.
Ok … look.
I’m going to take this as deliberately as I know how.
That could happen.
No, my proposal is this: We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again.
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.
As much as reframing is needed, we cannot take our eyes off the central fact that motivated my decision to speak out. It is women who are leaving the career fast track in large numbers as they have children, which is why the pools of women for big leadership jobs are still distressingly small. So let’s start right there, by giving women the all-important flexibility they need to make their work and family work together. It is very striking that two very hostile attacks on my piece, by Linda Hirshman on this site and Katie Roiphe in the Financial Times, are both from women who are themselves academics and thus who have precisely the ability to manage their own schedules that made it possible for me to juggle work and family all the way up through a deanship and again today.