In the midst of the ongoing conversation about managing career and housework and who knows what else (happening here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and likely some places I’ve missed), ScientistMother wondered about one of the blogospheric voices that wasn’t taking an active role in the discussion. She mused in a comment at Isis’s blog:
Do we ever get a post from DrugMonkey about how he does it? He has kids and a wife (who I think is a scientist) but he rarely talks about balance issues. I’m sure its been an issue. Until the MEN start talking about its not going to change.
You have stated on your blog that you believe that gender equality in science is a good thing. Yet you rarely talk about some of the balancing issues or the parental issues. I have the link up that shows you think its important. Yet outside of that post originally done 2 years ago, you don’t talk about fatherhood or balancing fatherhood and partnerhood with science.
It is the power of the example. There were several areas in which I picked up either positive (“gee, that seems useful”) or negative (“not gonna go there”) PI patterns from this person. One of the former was this guy’s role as father and scientist. Whenever one had to find this PI, if he wasn’t around because of father duties his whole lab knew about it. “Oh, he’s at Opening Day.” or “He had a sick kid today, he’ll be back later”. or “He’s taking his kid to [SportingActivityX]”. This guy has a perfectly viable career with nice pubs, great NIH grant support, always seems to have at least 4-5 postdocs and a similar number of techs, serves study sections, organizes symposia, etc. In short, he’s well respected and does not appear to have paid any obvious sort of career price to date. This had a great impact on YHN as I was transitioning both as PI and father.
The power of this example for me was basically “Screw it, if he doesn’t worry about being known at work as a guy who takes his role as father seriously then I’m not going to worry about it either” . And I basically never worried about this sort of thing again. Now, I’m not going to claim that this is necessarily the smart thing to do, career-wise. The whole point here is an acknowledgment that there are people sitting in judgment of your career who do see too much parental-ness as being an indicator that you are not “serious” about science. But it is worth taking this rather minor risk for the greater good. After all, many of you have (or will have) female spouses with aspiration to scientific careers, no?
(Bold emphasis added by ScientistMother).
and then he continued with examples of how to set up a comfortable environment and one of his points was to talk mommy talk. Yet since then, he hasn’t posted anything on that. Maybe he does IRL. I don’t know. I’m just saying what he preached on the interwebs, he has not practiced on the interwebs
It will likely come as a shock to precisely no one that I understand both ScientistMother’s point and DrugMonkey’s position here. Indeed, I expressed that in a comment of my own at ScientistMother’s:
To be fair, though, talking about some of this stuff on blog can be really hard when you feel like your own house is not in order (sometimes quite literally). There needs to be a balance between baring all and sitting out the conversation altogether.
To which DrugMonkey responded:
Not really. I don’t see where bloggers have any obligation to jump into topics if they don’t want to. Furthermore, a blog persona is a constructed persona. There is no obligation that it hew closely to one’s IRL persona.
I’m going to explain my seeing-both-sides thing here, so as not to derail the very interesting discussion going on at ScientistMother’s blog. You are encouraged to go read it and participate in it (not just by me, but also by DrugMonkey).
OK, you may recall that my own recent post on housework and related duties was pretty thin on personal details as far as how the workload is shared at Casa Free-Ride. This is a place where I’m very sympathetic to DrugMonkey’s reluctance to offer up the details of his own experience as a roadmap or case study. My personal details here involve other people besides me. Sharing them might end up being useful to someone, but it could equally well disrupt whatever domestic tranquility there is at Casa Free-Ride.
Indeed, even if it didn’t, I would be providing you with the (current) impressions and evaluations of just one of the people involved in the multi-person operation that is my home life. I could not speak authoritatively as to whether the other parties involved think the division of labor is going well or badly, whether my efforts are adequate or fall short, whether my career and its particular demands and rewards is on balance a good thing or a bad thing for our home life and relationships with each other.
Respecting the life I live whose aspects may occasionally be reasonable to share on this blog means that there are other aspects of that life that probably need to stay off-limits for blogging. I reckon that would be true even if I were blogging under a pseudonym. Dissecting domestic relationships strikes me as a lot like dissecting a frog — it can be done, and you can learn a lot about it, but you cannot count on the survival of the thing you’re dissecting.
And dammit, I like my relationships.
This is just one reason I’m happy to say that it’s no individual blogger’s obligation to take on the task of writing about his or her work-life balance negotiations (or job search, or traumatic injury, or family recipe for dinner rolls, or whatever).
But, especially on issues like negotiating work-life balance (and dealing with the structural aspects of the issue rather than making it all a matter of individual decisions) if you want a widespread situation that is pretty sub-optimal to get better, someone is going to have to take it on. If the blogosphere is going to continue to do what a lot of us have found it can do in terms of providing us with community and a space to draw on the experience and insight of a lot of smart people working through similar kinds of issues, a general policy of declaring the subject unbloggable is going to leave us high and dry.
I’m inclined to say, given the gendered expectations when it comes to work-life balance — and how these end up influencing the workplace experience of even those women who are inclined to abandon such balance, or partnering, or parenting, in favor of their careers — that naming our experience and sharing strategies could be useful in dismantling the gendered expectations. I’m also inclined to say that, if this is a subject that only women blog about (or talk about, or strategize about), then it will continue to be conceived of as a women’s issue. This will mean that it will be harder to get men to take it seriously, whether in the workplace, in their relationships, or in the larger community.
One thing this means is that, for men who would like to see serious discussions of work-life balance that include men’s experiences and perspectives, there may be a tug-of-war of interests that needs to be resolved.
It would be good if more men would blog about (or otherwise discuss) issue X, but my own individual interests dictate that I not be one of them.
This is well and good, but if everyone makes the same individual calculation, no men are going to blog about (or otherwise discuss) issue X — and that would be bad.
Blogging about issue X is a hypothetical imperative, rather than a categorical imperative. It’s something you ought to do in order to achieve an outcome you value. If you don’t value that particular outcome, you have no obligation to pursue the action that would be a means to bring it about. If you dovalue that outcome, though, you may have a problem (at least of the ethical sort) offloading the responsibility for bringing it about to others.*
Here, I don’t want to oversell the value of discussing over doing. Maybe just living better patterns is more productive than writing about how to live better patterns.
But to extent that those better lived patterns stay more or less invisible outside the bounds of one’s household, the official story we get on How You Ought to Cope With These Demands of Having It All (Which Is What You Ladies Said You Wanted) remains the same old unhelpful reinforcement of the existing patterns that many of us have discovered just don’t work for us.
Thus, while respecting DrugMonkey’s decisions about his blog-topics (and how best to care for his off-blog life), I’m hoping that a few more of the men blogging about life in the tribe of science will make the calculation that Prof-like Substance did, and that PalMD did, and spend some more time blogging about this stuff.
*A categorical imperative is something you ought to do no matter what specific ends you may be interested in pursuing. In other words, it’s a duty that is always turned on. Kant said there was exactly one categorical imperative, to respect the rational capacity in yourself and others. As long as you’re doing that, Kant is officially fine with whatever else you may choose to do.