Why Women still Can’t Have it all

I’m digesting this article in the Atlantic: “Why women still can’t have it all” by Anne-Marie Slaughter

It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.

The Half-truths we hold dear:

Myth 1: It’s possible if you’re committed enough.

Um, no.

Myth 2: It’s possible if you marry the right mate.

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

In sum, having a supportive mate may well be a necessary condition if women are to have it all, but it is not sufficient. If women feel deeply that turning down a promotion that would involve more travel, for instance, is the right thing to do, then they will continue to do that. Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.

Myth 3: It’s possible if you sequence it right.

This is the “women can have it all…just not all at once” myth. I suppose, this is also how I’m negotiating my personal career schedule. It used to be that women had their families earlier and were more available to begin their career by their early 40s, now not so much. And it’s more common for women now to have their kids in their 30s. I had mine when I was 27 and 30yo.

But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.

Then the author offers suggestions for how things should change such that it would be easier for women to stay in the workforce.

1 – Changing the Culture of Face Time

The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.

Slaughter talks about how technology can allow professionals (men and women) more flexibility with actual location. And that a culture of “family first” and valuing time management and prioritization creates a more balanced, healthier workforce. Not just for women, for everyone.

My husband and I essentially both work from home. Though, I go to campus from time to time in the summer and a couple days a week during the school year. It’s still not easy. And definitely much harder when kids are very young. But it is doable. The key is making boundaries for oneself in the home, too. It’s easy to get sucked into a constant buzz of work.

2 – Revaluing Family Values

Many people in positions of power seem to place a low value on child care in comparison with other outside activities.

…such as running a marathon, or religious practices. The implicit assumptions in society devalue childcare.

I have to wonder why this is? Is it because of its association with women? and women are devalued?

3 – Redefining the Arc of the successful career.

Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years. I think of these plateaus as “investment intervals.”

I like this.

Whether women will really have the confidence to stair-step their careers, however, will again depend in part on perceptions. Slowing down the rate of promotions, taking time out periodically, pursuing an alternative path during crucial parenting or parent-care years—all have to become more visible and more noticeably accepted as a pause rather than an opt-out.

4 – Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness

what’s more happy: working by yourself in a dark, lonely office? or raising happy, kind, productive children to adulthood?

word.

5 – Innovation Nation

Giving workers the ability to integrate their non-work lives with their work—whether they spend that time mothering or marathoning—will open the door to a much wider range of influences and ideas.

6 – Enlisting Men

More Gen X and Y men are looking for better family balance, too.

My husband is a huge champion of  “family first.” Over the years, he’s made many calculated decisions to not pursue certain opportunities (even as recently as last week) because of the toll it would take on our family. There are certain sacrifices he insists our kids should not have to make for the sake of a dollar amount so long as our needs are met. And we are less financially well off because of it. And our kids our better off because of it.

But this article really is about women, who at the end of the day still are at a greater disadvantage…

If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate ourchoices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.

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I thought this was a fantastic article. Really outlines well the problems and the needs of our society to change. Glad I took some time to summarize it here.

on the radio in the head

I am an unabashed, ardent fan of the NPR show This American Life. I listen to it from my TAL app in the car, timing longish rides with newly released episodes. Every show sends of eddies of thoughts through my head that would be great blog fodder, but then I would have to change the blog to be a TAL fan blog. A couple recent episodes seem particularly germane to the current thought soup going on in my head that I do have to spend a moment just referencing them. It kills me that I missed going to a theater to see the live broadcast cinema event. But the timing was awkward. I did listen to the podcast version of the show, though, Invisible Made Visible. What struck me is that two of the three main features were about the character’s relationships with their bodies. The first was from a blind man (and his relationship with his toddler) and the second from a man, struggling with cancer, whose arm was amputated (and his subsequent relationship with dance). I wonder if such an episode would’ve been possible twenty years ago, even ten years ago. I’m interested in how our society has evolved with respect to how people view physical bodies. How does this relate to knowledge? Extending thinking with our heads to thinking with our bodies, too?

These thoughts are especially germane to me right now as I have just returned from the annual meeting for the Society for Disability Studies. Bodies are all over the place there. A huge diversity of bodies and of thought. It was a wonderful experience.

Motherhood Minority

My friend posted this on Facebook today. It gives a rather stark picture of how difficult it is still for mothers to be on a career track. Why the issues and advocacy of feminism are still so relevant. There needs to be a place, in this present age, for both parental units to be able to be present to raise their kids and not have their careers significantly compromised. (Should note: this graphic represents what is required by law. sure, some employers have maternity benefits, but if you’re not lucky to have such an employer, the only thing a woman can use is the required 12-week UNpaid Family and medical leave. Many universities do not have maternity benefits for women faculty. Go figure.)

I wish I could discuss further, but the truth is, I’m exhausted and have had a day long headache. I’m planning a birthday party and warm birthday memories for my son who will turn 7 on Friday. I’m planning to be gone on a road trip, just me and the kids, for two weeks, starting Monday. Where I will leave my kids with my mom, so that I can fly to Denver and give a paper, which isn’t quite done yet. And I may have to go into campus tomorrow. I also want to pick more strawberries to make jam so that my kids don’t die of cancer from grocery store jam. And I’m afraid if I wait ’til I get back, strawberry season will be over. And one of the things I want to do before I begin a two-week road-tripping adventure with my kids is to sew a bajillion drawstring bags for all their car crap that I got them at Target today so I don’t rot their brains by letting them watch DVDs non-stop. (After I sew a personalized birthday Tshirt for my son.)
A day in the life…

first encounters with queerings

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Suzanne Cusick’s essay, “On a Lesbian Relationship with Music: A Serious Effort not to Think Straight,” was first published in the 1994 volume Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, a ground-breaking book in queer theory in musicological circles. I first encountered Cusick’s essay last semester in a proseminar (a one-semester introduction to the development of the fields musicology and ethnomusicology). This essay was lumped into Gender day. I read it at 2 am, while trying to cram in all the readings for the next day’s seminar. I couldn’t sleep afterwards. It floored me. How is it that, nearly 20 years after it was first published, I am only now finding this? I recently reread it a few times to try to unpack its impact.

I think it affected me so much partly because, for the first time, I read something that really explored the connection between the person and the scholar, in a deeply profound way. She offers the possibility early on: “I needed to understand what relationship, if any, I could suppose to exist between my being a lesbian and my being a musician, a musicologist (69).” Perhaps her statement causes us to take a step back. Before considering the co-existing identities of lesbian and musicologist, we can possibly acknowledge that other aspects to our personhood matter to our musicological identities–that the private and professional can mingle, that we are somehow physically present with the music.

I have read a lot of personal reflections. And I have read a lot of postmodern criticism. I have even read combinations. But I have never read anything quite like this essay.

The content itself is very fascinating. Cusick defines what she means by “sexuality,” that “it is a way of expressing and/or enacting relationships of intimacy through physical pleasure shared, accepted, or given (70).” How this definition intersects with “lesbian” and “musicality” has to do with what Cusick calls “the enacted structure of the power/pleasure/intimacy triad and the gender of the beloved (71).” In other words, when we think about ways we enjoy music, we pause to consider, in that moment, who has the power: who is the lover and who is the beloved? Is the music, the lover, and the listener the beloved, in the weaker position? When we are performing music, do we become the lovers? In this expanded view of sex (something other than reproductive act), the notion of music as lover, or beloved, challenges us to consider what music is, how we listen to music, and what kind of place it has in our lives.

But I think it is something beyond content that I am so fascinated with. It’s how the personal is situated in all the intersections of lesbian, musicologist, criticism, music. I’ve always been interested in these kinds of intersections–though the details are different for me: woman, mother, Christian, musicologist, emerging critic(?). So how is it that I only just now encounter queer theory? a nearly twenty year musicological void in my life? And as I explore more about how the body is expressed critically in scholarship with my work in disability studies, I think I will find these new friends very helpful.

Is feminism still alive?

Maybe this seems like an odd question in light of my post a few days ago.

Recently I was sitting in a seminar, and the topic of feminism came up. Students (women, I might add) said that it was kind of an old topic, and really, we’ve moved on, and nobody wants to be belabored anymore by whether or not to use “he” or “she” as a general personal pronoun. The general consensus among the students was that we’ve moved on and talk about it any more seemed forced.

I didn’t let the comment slide. I did call into question such blanket dismissal. First, it seemed to come from a place of privilege. Here we were a room full of graduate seminar, with the percentage of students greatly favoring women. Women are in the academy, at long last (really?). Second, the women making these comments were young and in the privileged position of selfishness–that is, they only have themselves to worry about. (I do love my colleagues, don’t get me wrong.)

I found it interesting, then, that one colleague sent out this article to our class, “Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research.”

I actually happen to kind of “know” the author of the article; I’ve been following her blog for eight or nine years. Academic research is only for people with connection to academic libraries. Databases like JSTOR have subscription fees so high that only academic libraries can afford them.

One of the academic people groups who understands this reality acutely are mothers. Mothers with PhDs (or with grad experience) who are home with kids and without access. They can’t advance their careers, because they can’t do research. They fade out of research, out of academic careers, some willingly, some wistfully, some both. As if the balance isn’t difficult enough, barriers to access exacerbate a system already difficult to maneuver.

Maybe feminism is irrelevant to a woman who can live like a man, but when the woman has start to dividing her time and make normal and good life decisions, then greater issues come into play. Maybe the advocacy position needs to be tweaked, which, to me, is kind of old news, but apparently, it’s still a relevant question if a room full of my dear colleagues thinks it’s irrelevant.