Adventures in Ethics and Science

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.

When DrugMonkey demurred, she followed up with a post at her own blog:

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.

In the discussion in the comments following her post, ScientistMother quotes from the post from the DrugMonkey vault she has in mind:

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).

ScientistMother follows this with the observation:

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Pat Cahalan
    June 15, 2010

    > 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.

    +1

    In particular, dissecting relationships is something that ought first to be discussed with the particulars, and an exploratory committee ought to start doing such a project behind closed doors prior to making this a public operation.

    To modify the analogy a bit, you’re much more likely to be able to keep an engine running while you disassemble parts of it if everyone involved is watching to make sure their fingers don’t get caught in the fan belt.

    You might find that a lot of the things that assumed were true weren’t, precisely. Some relationships can deal with such kerfluffles just fine in a public sphere, others not so much.

  2. #2 ScientistMother
    June 15, 2010

    thank you for articulating the need for men to start talking about, better than I did.

  3. #3 Kate
    June 15, 2010

    I wrote about this too, though obviously as a woman I am contributing to the conversation on the side that already has a lot of people talking (though I’d like to think I was fair, and my husband’s an academic, so I was showing his side of things too). Dr. Free-Ride, I appreciate how you articulated both sides here.

    But for what it’s worth, it was really meaningful to me to have PalMD and PLS speak up about this stuff.

  4. #4 aidel
    June 16, 2010

    There is a reason women are talking about this and their male counterparts are conspicuously silent. Women are still doing the lion’s share of unpaid domestic labor. Before I married my husband (who is one of the only male feminists I have ever known), we had a deal: 50/50 or nothing. No matter who is earning more money, away from home more, etc. As it turns out, I have been the primary bread-winner for almost the entirety of our marriage. I did stay home when our kids were babies because this was something extremely important to me — and although we were horribly poor, it was worth every minute. I still held him responsible for his share of the childcare and housework. The reason is this: our time is equally valuable, even though he has a post-graduate degree and I only ever completed a Tech school program (despite the *hundreds* of university credits I have amassed). The consequence is that it often happens that the floor needs mopping and my partner is uninterested and I am more interested in the book I am reading, so the floor simply does not get mopped at that time.

    It’s not a perfect strategy.

    When we could afford it, we had a cleaning service twice a month and that cut down on the arguments A LOT.

    Because the truth is, despite my husband being a class A feminist, all of those ‘little’ responsibilities like making the dentist appointments, 90% of the cooking, any serious cleaning that involves more than just clutter redistribution, even taking out the trash (he wouldn’t want to offend my feminist sensibilities) — all of it, and it DOES add up — falls to me. And I suspect that this is true for most women, whether they will publicly admit it or not.

    One possible solution is to hire somebody to do it or to pay up, brother. Another possible solution is to admit the fact that women don’t really need men anymore, and until we are treated as equal partners, until rape, violence against women and children, wars, and in many parts of the world the literal enslavement of women, including the enslavement and sex trafficking of girls, until the world of work is transformed into a woman/children friendly atmosphere and structure, until teaching is considered among the professions with the highest status, — until all of this kind of bullshit STOPS (because the only way it will is when MEN find it socially unacceptable), men, you can wash your own fucking socks and start working on an action plan.

    But this will never happen. Too many women still believe that their ultimate value arises from the value (read socio-economic status or even intelligence) of their male mates. Big mistake.

    Of course men don’t talk about it, ultimately it’s not their problem. It is incumbent upon the rest of us to make some serious noise.

  5. #5 driven
    June 16, 2010

    Last time I washed the dishes I was chastised for rinsing with cold water instead of hot.

    I don’t particularly mind doing housework, but I get a tad disinclined when I am micro-managed as I do it. So I relent.

    0->

  6. #6 Pat Cahalan
    June 16, 2010

    @ aidel

    > There is a reason women are talking about this
    > and their male counterparts are conspicuously
    > silent. Women are still doing the lion’s share
    > of unpaid domestic labor.

    That does not explain why men who do a comparatively equitable share of the unpaid domestic labor don’t talk much about it, either, does it?

    Not that I’m disputing your point (that women, as a class, are still doing the lion’s share of the unpaid domestic labor). I’m just saying that there have to be additional reasons to explain the overall circumstances.

  7. #7 DuWayne
    June 21, 2010

    I hate finding discussions like this days after…

    Of course men don’t talk about it, ultimately it’s not their problem.

    No, it is not because it isn’t my problem that I don’t talk about it, it is because I am not the only person in the equation being discussed. It really doesn’t matter that I am split with the partner who could be discussed either. We have two children together and in spite of being (not particularly amicably) split up, I will have to deal with her for the rest of my life.

    On occasions that I write about my family life at all, I write being a single dad who is currently dealing with a long distance separation from his kids. Mostly I write about what happens when we spend time together. This is not because what I could write about the division of labor when we were together couldn’t be useful – in part useful for telling men to get off their asses. This is not because writing in detail about the horrid experience of our split couldn’t be useful. Indeed it is precisely because of the very serious problems we already have since the split, that I am not going to exacerbate them by detailing, dissecting my relationship with my children’s mother.

    Split up or not, I need to do everything I can to foster a functional partnership with my ex, when it comes to raising our children. This isn’t something that is going to change significantly when the kids are grown, because they are still going to be a part of both our lives. And even if she dies before I do, it still wouldn’t change matters in any significant fashion. She is never not going to be the mother of my children. I am not going to ever engage in breaking down that relationship, because doing so would mean exposing a great deal that is relevant to my children.

    I am glad that some people are all about talking more about this. I am even happy to say that more men should be working out how to contribute equitably to the household. I do not however, feel compelled to delve into personal issues that affect others. I am comfortable writing about my own experience. I am even comfortable writing about my boys, for example writing about what a crotchety old man my two year old acts like. But I will not write about personal issues that are about others – to the extent that I avoid writing about the personal problems of my children, except in very general terms.

    It just isn’t my right to go there and it never will be.