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.
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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…

Campus is still there

In case anyone was wondering after my last post, campus is still there. I spent all day there today, probably the last time I can do that as the kids’ school schedules are wrapping up. I got work done; it was quiet. I visited with a colleague and bumped into another in the library. Just what I needed.

I live so far away from campus that it is very easy to feel disconnected here in the Boston countryside surrounded by farms. I do love living out in a small town nestled between CSA farms. It is so soul-nourishing to me.

And then I feel like a wimp for wanting the connection of a physical space. Shouldn’t I just want to do my work because it’s interesting and awesome? I think it also has to do with community. It’s not just work. Academia doesn’t make sense if it’s not a conversation.

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dare I eat a peach?

Hopefully this summer will include a beach.

For my monthly post, I feel like I need to say a word of wrap-up about my first year and a word about the upcoming summer. I don’t necessarily plan to have my posting frequency only once a month, but it turns out this way. I also wonder if such a post isn’t too banal? But in my many years of blogging, I’ve learned that to blog is to not forget.

In some ways, I don’t really need to summarize all that was my first year, because the story has kind of woven itself in previous entries. But as I sit here in the year’s aftermath, only a few weeks since the door closed on the semester, it already seems like a fuzzy reality. The most distinct impressions I have are of being frantic, frazzled, excited, and stressed out about money. And I settle back into the familiar reality of stay-at-home-mom, I sometimes wonder if Aimai-je un rêve?, did I love a dream? Did I really get to do all that cool stuff?

This is part of why I hate summer. I always have. It messes with my mojo. I have a huge to-do list for the summer, but it seems fake. I am having a hard time focusing. I plotted out my to-do list on a calendar of the next 13 weeks ’til the semester starts again. Thirteen weeks of feeling fake.

I’m planning a trip to campus in a couple of days. It requires Herculean effort for the whole family for me to spend the day in town. I don’t really need to be on campus for any particular reason, but I’ll get some campus busy work done while I’m at it. I’m partly going to make sure that campus still exists. I’m also going so that I can work from 9-5 in an office and hopefully chip away at my to-do list. I hope that as I mature as a scholar, the Home Me and the School Me won’t live at such odds. The School Me feels energized and productive. The Home Me feels oppressed by piles of laundry and distracted by my awesome garden and dreams of owning chickens and a Jersey cow named Sylvia.

The elephant in the room, though, is definitely the kids. Oh wait, it just sounds like a herd of elephants. (Or maybe it’s Elmer the Elephant). Sure, there’s the difficulty of finding time to get stuff done. My husband and I work this out. The public library has study rooms and wifi. I can walk there. We have a work room with a door that closes. I can find time and places, carved out of the nooks and crannies of summer. I’m having a hard time with the mental aspect. I felt like I deeply developed as a person over this past year, and I haven’t quite figured out how to jive this development with the mom who takes her kids to little league and the beach in the summer. In some sense, I’m bothered by this, did I miss something by not taking everyone along on this personal development path? How could I even have found the space or the energy? In another sense, I’m kind of fascinated by myself as a kind of anthropological artifact: how exhibit Mother navigates identity in a personal space and family space and tries to smush them together. (does the word identity even mean anything anymore?)

I’d like to think more about the way I construct my life to blend some of the boundaries that I have mentally constructed. I’d also like to accomplish my summer to-do list: studying for 2 language exams, an edition, a conference paper, another draft of an article, and one online class. I will try not to be distracted by my other dream career of sustainable agriculture. (Though, I must say, farming and academia have a lot in common.)

there and back again

A friend of mine is going back to grad school. She has three kids. She is where I was this time last year. Head spinning, excited, wondering how it will work, believing that it will work. Her situation is somewhat different. She is a scholar, but not going for a professional academic career. Nevertheless, our situations are somewhat analogous. We belong to class of women otherwise known as “Mama, PhD.” A category of women who find themselves at the same time in the academy and mothers.

Negotiating the balance is difficult. How could it not be? But I want to focus on one aspect of this experience: the reentry. I’m writing this for my friend.

It all starts when you have the bug that won’t stop buzzing. The thought that won’t stop thinking. Despite the fact that there are these wonderful little people in your life who could easily take every ounce of your attention and energy and for whom you would give your life, the voices of dead people whisper in your ears from the pages of books where they are immortalized. Then the stars align and temporal space joins the mental space. You have an idea and then an event gives you a time. Now all you need is a place. So, with an encouraging husband and unsuspecting children who probably assume that you will be there to play playdough with them forever, you fill out an application, try to remember all the institutions you once studied at, collect transcripts, write “remember me?” emails to potential references. This is a tough step, because you have to write these personal statements, in which you have to sound mentally together. When the essay prompt tacitly asks you why you want to go to graduate school, you want to tacitly respond, “because I’m going crazy at home!” But if you say that, on the one hand you sound like traitor-mom who doesn’t love her kids (and that’s not true), and, on the other, well, that’s not really a scholarly reason. So tacit questions and answers aside, you try to pick up thoughts that were left off ten years ago, and try to mesh them with the person you’ve become since those ten years. Not easy.

But then it comes. “You have been accepted…” That’s when life really begins to reel–as you have to move the dream into reality mode. In some ways you’ve been preparing for this, mentally moving in over and over and over again. And then it all works out, you have a place to live, schools for the kids, a schedule. You are almost there, my friend.

What I want to write to you about is the next step.

Then there’s the first day of school. It should be exciting, right? It’s not. It’s terrifying. I couldn’t remember so much. Yes, I could get myself out the door to a certain place on time. I did think to pack a lunch and a backpack–remember I am a veteran park-goer. But I couldn’t think of what to put in the backpack in the place of diapers. It wasn’t that I was trying to think of what to put in; it didn’t occur to me to think of packing school supplies for myself until I was nearly out the door, and I thought, “oh, I’ll probably need a pen and paper.” So I grabbed a half-used mini-legal pad and whatever pen that worked. Lesson Number One: get yourself some school supplies.

But then you get to a graduate seminar, and you have to sit and think and say smart stuff for three hours!!! Let me tell you, I don’t think I have focused my attention for that long at all since having kids. It took me a good six weeks to get used to this. I just felt smashed at the end of a seminar. I didn’t know what the professor was talking about. I had this vague idea. But it was like he was talking through a fog. I couldn’t even think to write notes; I didn’t understand enough to write anything down. I would leave a seminar feeling shaky and exhausted. Like leaving the gym after your out-of-shape body tried to do a massive aerobic workout. I sat on the train on the way home and stared. It took me a good six weeks to feel like I could think, to start remembering stuff, to figure out how to participate in class again. Lesson Number Two: go really easy on yourself; don’t expect to jump right back in.

By the end of the semester I felt like I was getting my groove back. There’s still these small details I remember here and there. But things were clicking well; I was an active contributor in my classes; and I was reading and writing interesting things. I thought I was “back.” I did need a Christmas break, but with the stress of the end of the semester and the pile of grading, I was working right up to the holiday. We visited with our families, and then I had an insane amount of extra work over the break due by the beginning of the semester. It was like Never ending end of semester mode. I began this second semester exhausted and wrung out. And due to the nature of my work, I felt alone and vulnerable. Several weeks into the semester, I had an encounter with one professor who asked about how my work was going, and as I began to explain all I was doing, he said, “um, come talk to me–let’s find you some support.” I have a lot on my shoulders, but I’m in a community. Lesson Number Three: don’t go it alone.

It’s this last lesson that has struck me most profoundly. I’ve had to make some unusual sacrifices to be part of my current department. But I knew it was a special place and that is why I decided to come. I was right. Not every department will support you the ways mine does (and I’m not talking dollar signs here). The mental drain I felt at the beginning of the semester has been rejuvenated by the encouragement of the community of scholars I’m in–my fellow graduate students and many of the professors in my department, not just the ones who are close to my areas of research. Not every graduate student has this blessing, as academia is full of its own quirky dysfunctions and politics. But I do, and there are some things money can’t buy. Lesson Number Four: find mentorship.

And so, my friend, I wish you Godspeed. You will find your way. I just wish our coffee cups were about 262 miles closer. (Yes, I checked the mileage.)

the way of things

These past few weeks have been tough. It is the way of grad school. Exhaustion, insecurity, panic, exhilaration, success–around the cycle goes. Add to it a bit of a cold and “real life” problems, it is enough to feel overwhelmed.

I’m struggling with the balance. Finding the time to do what I need to do, while taking care of a home, two kids, a husband, and a resident sister. Finding the time to teach the class I’m teaching.

I feel insecure. How will I ever make it? Can I do the work in front of me? Panic.

Exhilaration when I can do it. Enough adrenalin from the success to send me back into the cycle.

Trying not to feel too despairingly that after a nearly seven year hiatus, I’m struggling to remember all the in’s and out’s of early 15th c notation. (Sure would be nice if the songs at least had a mensuration sign, though. sigh.–at least there’s a staff: perspective)

Exhaustion.

je pleure

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been working on an abstract for a conference. It’s supposed to be about technology, music cognition, and society. So I decided that now was the time to explore the puzzle piece of the cochlear implant in the story of the deaf musical experience.

I have written so many drafts of this abstract, each trying to get at the cognitive and cultural nuances of the experience. I met with a professor this afternoon to help me talk through it, and before i knew it, i was sitting there sobbing in his office talking about how I took Ellis to his first concert last Friday night, and how he hated it. (Nevermind the practical considerations: it was after 8pm; he’s 6.5 yo; and it was a recital for violin, soprano, and piano.) Part of me felt crushed, that I wasn’t going to be able to share music with him–that the CI wasn’t going to mediate that experience for him. It wasn’t the right music to listen with the balloon we brought.

This professor is very good at asking questions that break down personal barriers that I confront in the deaf music project. I cry. He offers me a napkin and some dried fruit. Then I get back to work, learning how to negotiate the personal and the researcher.

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.