Thus Spake Zuska

Whose Issue Is This?

Sciencewoman ponders seen and unseen parenting responsibilities. In a discussion about parceling out responsibilities for a large project, the department chair expressed his desire not to unduly belabor a Department Dad because of his Very Special Parenting Responsibilities; Sciencewoman, however, he had no problem assigning the task to her. Until reminded by her colleague that Sciencewoman, too, is a parent. Why was Daddy’s time more worth protecting than Mommy’s? Well, one hopes the department chair has learned a lesson.

What really burns my shorts even more, however, are the resentful commenters who think that parents need to suck it up and not get “special treatment”.

For example, J says

I agree this was ridiculous, but I’d also be upset since I don’t think parents should be given special slack for the sake of the kids (even small kids) – at least not all the time. Everyone has things in their personal life they’d like to attend to, and I figure we should all share the burden, and make sure that at least over time things even out. So maybe I get a break on one service task because I can’t really do one element of it due to daycare/whatever child related thing, but I’d hope I would remember the colleague who picked up the slack that time so I could repay them in the appropriate circumstances.

Mike opines

I have no problem if working parents are given some slack as long as the workers without children are given the exact same amount of slack. It is far better that some things go undone than it is for one group of workers to be forced to do more than others without receiving additional compensation.

And mxracer652 says

Since work & children was brought up, why no discussion of how working parent (male or female) gets cut a ridiculous amount of slack because they have kids?

It’s just another form of preferential treatment toward one group.

and

ScienceMama:
Please explain to me why YOUR responsibilities are more important than what I do with the free time in my life? After all, your “responsibility” is a choice of which I have no voice in.

flygrrl:
It is simple economics. People who work longer and produce more are worth more money, therefore they get paid more. People with kids can’t work as long, therefore they get paid less. This is not some nefarious conspiracy.

Let’s tackle that “it’s all your responsibility, not my choice” and “you aren’t worth as much if you are raising kids”.

People with these views seem to forget that if society is going to continue, someone needs to have – and raise – kids. And that takes time and effort. And we need to somehow allow, as a group, for this task to be accomplished, because we all benefit. Even – especially! – those of us who don’t have kids. After all, the kid you’re raising today may be the person wiping my ass someday in the nursing home. I’m sure not going to have any kids of my own around to do it, and the cats are pretty worthless when it comes to things like that. What is it worth, to society, to have some people willing to take on the work of producing the next generation? It ought to be worth quite a lot, but so many people continually pretend that having kids is all “an individual choice” and has nothing to do with our collective selves.

Do working parents get cut a tremendous amount of slack because they have kids? Please show me the workplace where this happens. It’s sure not in academia, where one is expected to produce just as much research and published papers as one’s peers who aren’t devoting any time to raising the next generation. In fact, some women who take advantage of a university’s “stop the tenure clock” option find themselves penalized: their colleagues think that since they had all that “extra time” off from teaching, they ought to have produced more scholarship than normal.

Raising children is not a hobby, and your video game time is not equivalent in importance. That’s not to say that your boss should think it perfectly normal that you spend every waking hour at work. People who whine about singles being disadvantaged compared to those slacker parents forget that the larger issue is about how to make our workplaces more humane for everyone.

The whiners often see child-care policies as just about children. What we should all be talking about is how to design our workplaces so that they can accommodate all kinds of life issues, whether it’s a new baby (birthed or adopted), a devastating family illness, or the need to care for aged parents. Nearly everybody is going to encounter at least one of these at some point in their lives. The question is not “why special policies for those breeders” but “how do we accommodate the realities of life and make sure the workplace still functions?”

Advocating for parent-friendly policies is not just for those with children. Everyone in society benefits if people are able to raise children (to perpetuate society) and continue as productive members of the workforce. We all benefit from having the workplace recognize that people have lives, things happen in those lives, and we occasionally need time to attend to them.

We have to stop thinking narrowly about just what affects me, personally, right at this moment in my life. We have responsibilities to each other as citizens. I think we have a strong responsibility to speak up especially for issues that are not our “own” personally, because many times a person who doesn’t “own” the issue will be taken more seriously and can have more impact than a person who does. Men speaking out for gender equity, whites for racial equality, straight people as allies of gays and lesbians, and non-parents advocating for better parental policies – this is how we ought to approach the world.

In the end, it all comes down to justice, and if you are advocating only for your own self-interest, you are not playing the part of a good citizen. Whose issue is this? It’s yours, it’s mine, it’s everyone’s.

Comments

  1. #1 Becca
    February 13, 2008

    I couldn’t agree more on how you put the issue into context with the question “how do we accommodate the realities of life and make sure the workplace still functions?” I think this is really the key issue, and a lot of the ‘whiners’ you quoted would obviously be able to reach some common ground with you once everyone agrees to focus on that question.

    That said, I can’t help but sympathize at least a bit with the ‘why reward breeding’ perspective. At best, society needs to balance the drive to perpetuate society with the modern reality of overpopulation. If we are talking about what society should reward, taking care of the elderly and having a new baby are not necessarily morally equivilent. Not to mention that the former is typically considered ‘less fun’ than the later- and thus might benefit more from external rewards. Yet which are more common, maternity leave policies, or elder care policies? Broad ‘family care’ policies are vastly preferable to either.

  2. #2 Scott Belyea
    February 13, 2008

    I generally agree with you, but I’d point out that I got “cut a lot more slack” (both formally and informally) as a parent than as an adult child trying to help with aging parents.

  3. #3 Helen
    February 13, 2008

    “Raising children is not a hobby, and your video game time is not equivalent in importance.”

    This is just plain sick. NO ONE suggested that playing video games is just as important as caring for those who can’t care for themselves. What did happen is that one parent chose to equate what non-parents do with their time outside of work with video games, and other commenters have since run with that red herring. My mind is so blown I can barely figure out how to contemplate the sickening racist implications of this notion — evidently if I spent my time having white babies that would mean I have “real” non-work responsibilities, but teaching engineering to inner-city students of color doesn’t count.

  4. #4 deang
    February 13, 2008

    Agree completely. It’s a shame that few other Americans see it this way. The idea that one’s only responsibility is to oneself is bizarrely dominant in the US now, to an extent I never could have imagined pre-1980, or even at the end of the 80s, when it seemed that people might finally be realizing what Reagan’s celebration of personal greed had done to the country. And no it hasn’t always been this way – and it isn’t this way everywhere in the world.

  5. #5 yeahbut
    February 14, 2008

    “What we should all be talking about is how to design our workplaces so that they can accommodate all kinds of life issues, whether it’s a new baby (birthed or adopted), a devastating family illness, or the need to care for aged parents. Nearly everybody is going to encounter at least one of these at some point in their lives. The question is not “why special policies for those breeders” but “how do we accommodate the realities of life and make sure the workplace still functions?”

    I totally, totally agree with that. But I do also agree with the commenters you criticized. The problem is that the above isn’t what happens, the reality is that select group of parents get slack cut while the rest of us get left hanging for any number of other important problems that we need flexibility for. I think it’s the sense of inequality, rather than a criticism of the needs of parents, that was being voiced.

  6. #6 LJG
    February 14, 2008

    I agree with you completely deang. What happened to compassion, thinking about the other person’s point of view and feelings, walk a mile in their shoes, Golden Rule, that kind of thing? When did we all become a bunch of selfish complaining idiots? It REALLY makes me want to become a citizen of Canada, or anywhere else! The world sees us as a bunch of spoiled brats and it seems like our actions show that is the honest TRUTH!

  7. #7 Alexis
    February 14, 2008

    I liked what J had to say in the example you quoted, Zuska:

    “So maybe I get a break on one service task because I can’t really do one element of it due to daycare/whatever child related thing, but I’d hope I would remember the colleague who picked up the slack that time so I could repay them in the appropriate circumstances.” [emphasis mine]

    I take this to mean that J actually has a child and is thus not knocking giving assistance to parents, but is saying, “yeah, it is necessary sometimes for me to get a little help, but I should hope that I would have the decency to recognize that and offer it back to the person who gave it to me in the first place when they need it for whatever reason.” I like the balance and the reciprocity this strikes – it recognizes that life is busy and hard and that we all have a real and legitimate need for a little slack now and then, whether for kids, parents, illness, housing, or any number of other important reasons (not including video games).

    Personally, I think a lot of things could be made better by giving people more chances to accomplish the important things they need to accomplish. Healthy kids are a cornerstone to any society. So are a lot of other things, including healthy adults, people with enough money to live on, happy people, etc. etc. Having colleagues that have all of those things also translates into a better, happier, and more productive work environment for everyone. For that? I’d happily let a colleague off the hook to get to daycare early if they’d be willing to cover for me when I need to fly to Texas and sit with a dying grandmother for a day or two…before the damn funeral. Those are the things that make all of us more human.

  8. #8 Soha
    February 14, 2008

    Here’s the way I see it: Big picture. There is a disconnect between women getting their Ph.D.’s and becoming full professor–I don’t think that anyone can argue with that. In my experience, most of the women that “don’t make it” leave the tenure-track route not because they’re not smart enough or good enough scientists, but because they want to have children. In general, women are forced to make a decision that men are not. That’s the disparity, right there. Some women can do it, things are changing, etc. etc. But as a female graduate student who wants to have kids, it’s scary as hell. And it’s a dark, terrible secret. Showing interest in children is the kiss of death around where I work, at social gatherings I take great care to avoid any little ones because I know how disappointed/concerned my advisor and committee members (including female–no children) would be. This is not atypical, I’ve had (quiet, closed-door) conversations with women grad students at other institutions who feel the same way.

    If it were me, I wouldn’t want to weed women out this way because I would want to know that I earned my job and success because I was one of the best, not just the best of the people that didn’t bear children.

    I’m looking at my own life as an experiment. I’m a graduate student who has published plenty, won prestigious fellowships, secured my own funding, and am now working on a number of different research projects (in addition to my dissertation) and manuscripts. I also will try to start a family in the next few years. We shall see, maybe I’ll get weeded out and just think how much easier I’ll make it for people like MXRacer652, Mike, and co. to get funding, etc. without competition from me AND they won’t have to “pick up my slack”!

  9. #9 Helen
    February 14, 2008

    “That’s the disparity, right there.”

    Uh, no, that’s not THE disparity, but A disparity. There are other very real ones that make the deciding factors for other women.

    Look everybody, feminism only works if it’s inclusive. When we start leaving out the issues of part of us because we think some other issue is more important or more urgent and everyone should jump on the bandwagon of our personal priorities, we all lose. White-centric feminism or parent-centric feminism or curly-haired centric feminism all fail because through exclusion they build bigotry instead of fighting it.

    Reserving certain jobs or careers for those who don’t have significant non-work responsibilities or who look a certain way or who follow some nuclear family fantasy is a societal crisis, because it is starving those fields of the full spectrum of insight and creativity. We all need to work *together* to end that. But this “me first” garbage that places parental rights above others by saying they are somehow more urgent or more real or more whatever is just more bigotry. We need one job = doable by one person with real life responsibilities no matter who that person is.

  10. #10 Soha
    February 14, 2008

    Helen, you are right, that is A disparity, not the only one. And, you’re right, my decision to have children is such a big thing that I am struggling with right now, I was not inclusive to the others.

    I also agree with you that “one job=doable by one person…” But, for the sake of argument, do you think that that could ever happen? I mean, that’s how people get ahead a lot right, working harder and longer than other people? I guess that that is the crux of the whole discussion, how can people with other obligations compete with those who have few non-work responsibilities?
    In your #3 post, I’m not quite clear on why the discussion was racist?

  11. #11 Helen
    February 14, 2008

    “I also agree with you that “one job=doable by one person…” But, for the sake of argument, do you think that that could ever happen? I mean, that’s how people get ahead a lot right, working harder and longer than other people? I guess that that is the crux of the whole discussion, how can people with other obligations compete with those who have few non-work responsibilities?”

    Do I think it can happen? Of course. But not if people focus on divisive crap instead. Once we say, “But let’s pick one issue as more urgent and focus there,” we devolve to infighting over who’s issue is most urgent/important/pretty/sparkly/special.

    Let’s go there for a moment. As Scott Belyea pointed out above, it’s currently easier to get consideration for childcare than for elder care. However, as I think another commenter pointed out, having children is a choice, but having elders to care for isn’t. By the “most urgent first” logic, then, parental rights and concerns don’t matter right now, not until after we’ve solved elder care issues.

    Or another take on that one: At a workplace full of the upper middle class, clearly their children have as good a chance as any of making it ok, but my inner city kids do not. Therefore all parents should work extra hours so I can have more time to teach kids society is marginalizing.

    How do those work for you?

    “In your #3 post, I’m not quite clear on why the discussion was racist?”

    Commenters on the thread Zuska linked to chose to equate what non-parents do with their non-work time to “hobbies” and “video games” as opposed to caring for children, and Zuska chose to continue that red herring here in her post. This is bigotry of the foulest sort. It sweepingly says that elder care or teaching children not of our own race or anything else we do with our time is just hobbyism of no more importance than video games as opposed to sacred childbearing. It’s ageist, racist, and I don’t know what else.

  12. #12 Addy N.
    February 14, 2008

    What a great post! I totally agree with you, Zuska. I was recently approved for tenure and don’t really think that I’ve been given any sort of “break” because I have a child. And she was born when I was a PhD student. My committee didn’t pass me on my PhD defense out of pity. My department didn’t hire me for this job because they felt sorry for me that I had a toddler at the time. People that review my papers don’t know or care whether I have kids. The College and University P&T committees didn’t evaluate my dossier differently because I am a mother. The agency that funded my grant doesn’t know or care that all the co-PIs are parents. Just what sort of breaks do the whiners think that we are getting, anyway? Please tell me what these parental free passes are and where I can get one!

  13. #13 Helen
    February 14, 2008

    Ah, the “If it didn’t happen to me it doesn’t exist,” line of argument. If you do have a PhD, I’m surprised you’re willing to devolve to something so illogical.

    Discrimination happens. It happens against people who have children, and it happens against people who don’t.

  14. #14 Zuska
    February 14, 2008

    Helen, I’m not sure whose post you’re commenting on. It can’t be mine, because my post is not about trumpeting parental rights above all others, especially parental rights of middle class white people. My post is about (1) people who oppose parental leave policies are not acknowledging that parents perform a service that benefits all society and (2) people who oppose parental rights policies should realize that the issues they care about (elder care, manageable work lives that allow a real life outside the job, etc.) are not in conflict with parental leave but are all part of the same larger issue, which is how we will make workplaces more humane, acknowledge that people have lives outside of work that need attending to. That might include caring for elder parents, or teaching inner-city kids, or even (gasp) having leisure time to play video games.

    I will still maintain, however, that accommodation for child rearing is a more important service for society than someone’s video game habit. The two are not equal. That doesn’t mean leisure time for hobbies isn’t important; just that, in my ranking, making sure society is able to reproduce itself is slightly more important.

    Where you get racism out of all this is beyond me.

    As for the “if it didn’t happen to me it doesn’t exist”…well, that’s another point of this post. Whose issue is this? Everyone’s, whether it’s your personal issue or not. Just as all the other issues are. I recommend re-reading what I actually wrote.

  15. #15 Zuska
    February 14, 2008

    Of course discrimination happens against those who don’t have children, as well as those who do. It just takes different forms. It’s all part of the larger system of gender and racial inequity. I don’t think advocating for more widespread support of parental leave as part of the larger strategy to humanize our workplaces in any way denies that non-parents are also subject to various forms of discrimination. Sheesh.

  16. #16 Helen
    February 14, 2008

    Zuska, did you even read what I wrote? Nowhere did I say you were “trumpeting parental rights above all others”. I objected to commenters on the post you linked to and to you equating what non-parents do in their non-work time to hobbies and video games. It’s a horribly bigoted comparison to draw. As for where I got racism out of your choice to repeat that equating, I’ve explained that; which part didn’t you understand?

  17. #17 Zuska
    February 14, 2008

    I think you’re tilting at a windmill that doesn’t exist. mxracer652 said

    Please explain to me why YOUR responsibilities are more important than what I do with the free time in my life?

    “free time” to me implies leisure time activities, of which video-game playing is one off the cuff (and not comprehensive) example. If you want to tell me mxracer652 was talking about his/her work with inner city kids, okay, but I’m not buying it. I never said that all that non-parents do with their non-work time is hobbies and video games. I said that leisure time pursuits like video games don’t hold the same urgency for me that child-rearing does. That’s different. I think I also made it clear that advocating for parental leave is part of a larger program of advocating for people to have reasonable lives outside work – which includes time for them to do things like work with inner city kids. You have not made clear to me what, exactly, about advocating for humane workplaces is racist.

    Perhaps you haven’t attended closely over the years to detractors of parental leave. They often characterize peoples’ decision to raise the next generation as a choice much like deciding whether or not you want to pursue a hobby. They characterize it as a completely individualistic pursuit that only benefits the parents themselves. I have listened to these arguments over the years, and have debated people who hold these views, and it’s not too hard to recognize them in certain kinds of rhetoric.

    You said:

    It sweepingly says that elder care or teaching children not of our own race or anything else we do with our time is just hobbyism of no more importance than video games as opposed to sacred childbearing. It’s ageist, racist, and I don’t know what else.

    Okay, I never made that equation. YOU made that equation. Or you imagined that that’s what I’m saying. When in reality, my post talks about how those issues – caring for aged parents, having time outside of work to take care of things that matter – are in alignment with, not opposed to, advocating for parental leave. You are making up an argument that is not mine, and then railing against it. Interesting past-time for you maybe, but not terribly compelling for me.

  18. #18 Jim Thomerson
    February 14, 2008

    I started my professorial career at a fairly new regional university. Married male faculty members were given higher raises than unmarred male faculty members, “because they had a family to support.” I can’t say for sure what went on with female faculty members, although one faculty married couple each got a $5/month higher raise than I (married male with one child) did.

  19. #19 Helen
    February 15, 2008

    No, Zuska, you’re just defending your own bias and the bigotry in your own choice of words.

    You chose, not I, to ride the hobbies and video games line. Those words to describe what non-parents do with their non-work time did not come from mxracer652 or from me. The discussion all along has been about non-work time and responsibilities and how they impact the work environment, and you chose to follow the grossly bigoted notion that for parents this means childcare and for non-parents it means means hobbies and video games.

  20. #20 Zuska
    February 15, 2008

    Oh for pete’s sake. If you insist on attributing to me views I don’t hold and accuse me of making arguments I didn’t, and then find fault with me for my non-existent views and arguments, there’s nothing I can do about that. Enjoy yourself.

  21. #21 Helen
    February 15, 2008

    But you did choose your words that way, Zuska. That doesn’t come from me or anyone else, but entirely from you.

    I can’t “enjoy myself” reading this. For a couple of years now, I got used to thinking of you as a voice of sanity and reason, so watching you cling to bigoted word choices and defend them against all reason can only make me feel sorrow, not enjoyment.

  22. #22 acmegirl
    February 15, 2008

    I totally agree with you, Zuska, but I think you missed one very important part of the issue. I commented on Sciencewoman’s post as well. that I feel that it’s not only about making room for parental responsibilities. I think a big part of this is the idea that women who have children should be taking care of those children, and not doing other things. If we mothers would just stay home like we are supposed to, the problem would be solved. I can let most of the whining roll off my back, because if I need to be away from my lab because of other responsibilities, then I do it. If other people need more time for their “stuff” they should ask for it. It’s not my problem that someone else is lacking a backbone.

    What really gets me is the feeling that it has to be one or the other. Either I’m being a good mother or I’m being a good scientist. I worked my butt off to get into the top PhD program in my field. They only accept about a dozen applicants each year. My older child was 5 years old when I started, and my husband and I had already decided that we would try for number 2 after I was finished with classes and teaching. When we succeeded, I can’t tell you how many people either asked if or expected that I was considering leaving school, including my in-laws. WHY THE HECK WOULD I THROW AWAY SO MANY YEARS OF HARD WORK WHEN I’M HALF-WAY TO A DOCTORATE? Because a real mother would put her children first and forget about all that science stuff. And a good woman wouldn’t bother everyone with her hustling and bustling about trying to finish her thesis research while raising two kids. It’s too hard for everyone else to have to accommodate my extremely regular schedule and realistic goal setting. ARGH!

  23. #23 antijen
    February 16, 2008

    Quote: It’s too hard for everyone else to have to accommodate my extremely regular schedule and realistic goal setting.

    Oh yeah! And then they wonder why I don’t like 4 pm seminars. On a Friday.

  24. #24 Physicalist
    February 17, 2008

    Amen!!

  25. #25 mxracer652
    February 18, 2008

    Hmm, late to the party, but since I’m taken to task here goes:

    My definition of Free Time = time that isn’t necessary to deal with basic life necessities. Studying for the PE exam, grad school, cooking instead of eating junk, exercise, et cetera are all done in “free time”, unless you’re a full time student, then that is your job (I’m not).

    Those pursuits contribute nothing to society or the GDP.

    Back to the subject, as you said, occasionally needing time to take care of kids/parents/cavities is A-OK! Everyone I’ve ever worked with either made the time up at a later date, or took vacation/leave/personal/sick days. I’ll fight (or whine as you perceive it) for anyone to do so, hey, I even leave early one day a week for class. But I always make that time up.

    Persisitently (as in the original topic, daily) needing time and not completing the demands of your job = something’s gotta give. Hire a babysitter, find a different job, or FMLA.

    My own personal observation is that the demands of a large amount of careers out there do not mix with children/family things. Would you agree that in some cases, you cannot eat your cake and have it too (career/child(ren))?

  26. #26 mxracer652
    February 18, 2008

    Oh, Zuska, almost forgot, I think you’d find today’s xkcd � propos. It sums up a lot of the mentality of what’s wrong within science.

    http://xkcd.com/385/

  27. #27 Luna_the_cat
    February 20, 2008

    Helen — the conversation you refer to in post #3 went as follows:

    mxracer652

    ScienceMama:
    Please explain to me why YOUR responsibilities are more important than what I do with the free time in my life? After all, your “responsibility” is a choice of which I have no voice in.

    Schlupp

    On your answer to ScienceMama: Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? Um, maybe, because children are people, and video games are not? Jut my weird idea.

    Barn Owl

    [much about other social responsibilities]

    The assumption that “video games” fill the free time of childless individuals is so inane and judgmental that it doesn’t even warrant a snarky reply.

    *rolls eyes*

    me

    Barn Owl — wait, are you seriously trying to argue that children are not more important than video games? Because that’s the “weird idea” that you are criticising there. Did you not really read the Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? part?

    Schlupp


    Barn Owl, please note that my comment was written as a reply to another comment by mxracer652 that heavily emphasized the “choice” involved in what everyone does in their “free time.” That comment had “responsibility” for children in quotes, which does suggest mxracer652 proposes not to take this obligation seriously. So, I had got the impression – and I may have been as wrong as you were about my comment – that mxracer652 WOULD suggest that having kids is a choice like playing video games. Add to that the fact that a colleague recently did argue that the choice to have children was equivalent to the choice to play video games…

    Short summary: please track the conversation, and curb your outrage.

  28. #28 Mike
    February 20, 2008

    Your post was very informative zuska. You do not believe that people should be paid fairly for their labor. You called out my comment for stating that a person who works more should be compensated more. Do you think that a childless person is less equal than a person with children? Why should a childless person be forced to to provide more labor without increased compensation?

    There are two fair options.
    1. Those who take up the slack for those who have to take off should be compensated more.

    2. Those things which can not be done by those who have to take off just go undone.

    There is a biased option as well.
    People without children should be forced to do more labor without compensation because their labor is less valuable.

  29. #29 Zuska
    February 20, 2008

    Mike, you seem to be assuming that reproducing society is not valuable labor. Right now, all that work of reproducing society – done predominantly by women – goes unpaid. Accommodating parental leave and time off for elder care is explicit acknowledgment that these things need to be done and are valuable.

    It’s not a zero-sum game, it’s not parents against non-parents. We are all in this together.

    Mxracer652, my opinion is that we need to change our work practices so that people don’t have to choose between family and career. Many European nations are much more enlightened about how much time one really needs to spend on the job, and just how valuable reproductive labor is. They are willing to pay for it, in the form of lengthy paid parental leaves. They get – and use – huge amounts of vacation time. And their economies seem to hum along just fine with all this.

  30. #30 acmegirl
    February 21, 2008

    Okay, mxracer652, as per my comment (#22) thanks for being honest:

    My own personal observation is that the demands of a large amount of careers out there do not mix with children/family things. Would you agree that in some cases, you cannot eat your cake and have it too (career/child(ren))?

    It’s nice to see someone wear their misogyny on their sleeve. Seriously, though, that’s the essence of the problem. There is no reason why career and children shouldn’t mix. It does no benefit to society to have that separation rigidly imposed. In fact, it does great harm, as was pointed out by Soha in #8.

    On to this little gem:

    My definition of Free Time = time that isn’t necessary to deal with basic life necessities. Studying for the PE exam, grad school, cooking instead of eating junk, exercise, et cetera are all done in “free time”, unless you’re a full time student, then that is your job (I’m not).
    Those pursuits contribute nothing to society or the GDP.

    Is that so? I guess having a more educated populace does not benefit society. And having people move up the ladder to higher paying jobs does nothing for the GDP. And cooking. I can’t believe anyone would do that when we have vending machines filled with high calorie, low nutrient foods at the end of every hallway (make sure you walk there during your free time, though). Forget about excercise. Taking care of your body should be way down on the list of priorities. So much the better for society that we nice and fat and sick, as fast as possible, so that we can make way for the next generation. Who will be raised during somebody else’s free time.
    I’d like to see how a society run on that model would work. Actually, no thanks.

  31. #31 Ewan
    February 24, 2008

    In my experience, most of the women that “don’t make it” leave the tenure-track route not because they’re not smart enough or good enough scientists, but because they want to have children. In general, women are forced to make a decision that men are not. That’s the disparity, right there.

    WTF? Why/how am I – male, parent, tenure-track – somehow being given an exemption from any decisions here? [And if so, where is this pass and how do I get one?!] In what way does my need to leave at 5 to meet daycare closing differ from any colleague or competitor’s male or female? In what way is my gender *at all* relevant here? Or does my possession of a Y chromosome somehow create a universe where my parenthood is invisible and effortless?

    There’s one debate here about whether parenting is a ‘special case’ in terms of things that we choose to do outside work. There’s apparently a second debate where it’s being suggested that academic female parents get less slack than academic male parents, and have things more difficult – the above “choice” being one example. Well, (i) not that I’ve seen {in fact, quite the opposite – I get “can’t your wife do that?” too often}. For sure, my papers don’t magically get written when I’m at school reading to the class! And (ii) get real – I face exactly the same choices as to how to spend my time between children, research, teaching, and video games as my female colleagues with similar families do.

    Apologies, if desired, for the ire in my tone here. It’s bloody annoying, however, to be told that I’m part of the *problem* as an academic father who is managing to balance childcare and career, so far successfully!

  32. #32 acmegirl
    February 25, 2008

    Ewan,
    I’ve got two things to say to you:
    1) Brush up on your biology, because I’m sure it wasn’t you who carried your child for nine months, complete with all the daily discomforts of doing so, nor was it you who went through labor to bring the child into the world. Women who have children have to take time off after a birth to recover. For men, it’s a choice, that they can then get pats on the back for making, for being so supportive.
    2) If people are asking you “can’t you get your wife to do that?” how does that play out for a person who actually is a wife? It is a lot harder to be the one who is expected to do all the grunt work of raising children, while being simultaneously bashed at work for doing it.
    I’m glad you help out with the daycare pickups, and maybe you do an equal share of everything else related to the care of your child. But a lot of dads do not. And a lot of bosses, professors, and colleagues think nothing of dropping a woman down two or three notches on the respect scale the first time she has a scheduling conflict due to childcare arrangements. I’ve never been asked “Can’t your husband do that?” Instead I get the sighing, and the rolling of the eyes, and I know that suddenly this person has relegated me to the playground.

  33. #33 Soha
    February 25, 2008

    Hello Ewan et al.,
    From reading this whole string of comments I’ve been given a lot of different perspectives to think about with this whole issue/issues.
    My concerns are primarily with the first year or two of having the child. In particular: taking months of time off, having someone biologically dependent on me (I know, women don’t HAVE to breastfeed, but I don’t see it as much of a choice), pumping throughout the day, the challenges of going to conferences, and being less productive–thus disappointing my advisor and committee.
    My husband is like you are, he plans to be equal in this child rearing business. But I would guess that we won’t be able to split things (approximately) down the middle until the potential child is weaned.
    I don’t know how much slack is or isn’t cut to who and when, but I do think that things are changing for the better and will continue to change.
    I don’t think that you’re the enemy Ewan, but I do know that when my husband and I do decide to have a child I will be the one that HAS to take a few months off, undergo the physical changes, etc. We shall see….

  34. #34 mxracer652
    February 26, 2008

    acmegirl,
    You must have never worked in industry. I can think of at least two dozen careers which involve surprise travel, extended stays in different states or countries, mandatory overtime, working around someone else’s operating hours (evening/midnight shift), etc.

    You’ve never worked 7-16s, have never been a project engineer or manager for a regional/national/international company, worked construction, were on call for an installation start up or an outage, a test engineer, and on and on.
    You have never received a call at 8:00pm from your boss stating that you had to pick up the Project Manager, drive 4+ hours for an 8am meeting with clients the next day?

    So before you get out your jump to conclusions mat, you might just want to take a peek outside your shell.

    If you don’t like my definition of free time, feel free to make your own. I did not force that on you.

  35. #35 Ewan
    February 27, 2008

    Acmegirl, I think that you may have a set of assumptions that don’t hold…

    Acmegirl said:
    I’ve got two things to say to you:
    1) Brush up on your biology, because I’m sure it wasn’t you who carried your child for nine months, complete with all the daily discomforts of doing so, nor was it you who went through labor to bring the child into the world. Women who have children have to take time off after a birth to recover. For men, it’s a choice, that they can then get pats on the back for making, for being so supportive.

    Obviously I am denied the choice of whether I would wish to carry a child. No, I’m not considering myself to be discriminated against because of this fact of basic biology. {removes tongue from cheek.}

    As it happens, I took off far longer after my son’s birth than did my wife, by both of our choices and despite the fact that she had institutional support to do so whereas I did not. I gained no pats on my back; rather incredulity and comments on loss of productivity. Having obviously been there and shared them, I’m perfectly aware of all the consequences and discomforts of pregnancy, thanks.

    2) If people are asking you “can’t you get your wife to do that?” how does that play out for a person who actually is a wife? It is a lot harder to be the one who is expected to do all the grunt work of raising children, while being simultaneously bashed at work for doing it.
    I’m glad you help out with the daycare pickups, and maybe you do an equal share of everything else related to the care of your child. But a lot of dads do not. And a lot of bosses, professors, and colleagues think nothing of dropping a woman down two or three notches on the respect scale the first time she has a scheduling conflict due to childcare arrangements. I’ve never been asked “Can’t your husband do that?” Instead I get the sighing, and the rolling of the eyes, and I know that suddenly this person has relegated me to the playground.

    ‘help out with’ and ‘maybe do an equal share’? How quaint. Nope: please substitute ‘do all of’ and ‘do all of’ in there. And I’d be grateful if you would resist assigning to me a stereotype, thanks. But – to use your terminology – it is clear that “this person has assigned me to the workshed” simply because I happen to be male. Jeez.

    Soha –

    – I spent a very boring couple of trips in hotel rooms with screaming infant, washing out pump parts so that they were ready for my wife’s conference breaks :). And a lot more time going over to daycare with bottles of pumped milk – but it can all be managed, honest, even while getting tenure/moving to tenure-track. The physical side – well, good luck :). Not that I would wish to change places, but at least my wife had official, medical leave for the bedrest; I had to simply add in to my duties the added care for her during that time (sorry, that’s more of a response to acmegirl, really; your comment didn’t deserve a barb.)

  36. #36 acmegirl
    February 27, 2008

    Ewan,
    Props to you on being an exception to the rule. Nobody started out saying that you personally are a problem. But when you pop up saying:

    WTF? Why/how am I – male, parent, tenure-track – somehow being given an exemption from any decisions here? [And if so, where is this pass and how do I get one?!] In what way does my need to leave at 5 to meet daycare closing differ from any colleague or competitor’s male or female? In what way is my gender *at all* relevant here? Or does my possession of a Y chromosome somehow create a universe where my parenthood is invisible and effortless?

    you are assuming that all men take as full responsibility for childrearing as women are usually forced to. Gender is definitely relevant, here, and instead of grumbling about feeling slighted because you didn’t get a gold star, maybe you should encourage other men to participate as fully as you do. Because they don’t do so, a lot of women are left feeling that having a child means the end of their career.

  37. #37 Zuska
    February 28, 2008

    Ewan, it’s wonderful that you are so involved in child-rearing and that you take equal responsibility for things that need done. What’s not cool is that you react to a discussion of an institutional/structural barrier for women (women in general are expected to be responsible for childcare, women in general are held to a more critical standard when they take time off or adjust work hours to accommodate child-rearing) as if it is a personal attack on you, Ewan, personally. You may be a great example of how it can (and should) be done but you definitely do not help by getting personally insulted when women discuss the very real difficulties that attend having a child when one is on the tenure-track in academia, the difficulties that are specific to being female. No one said you were part of the problem. Why did you jump to the conclusion that you, personally, were being insulted and targeted as a scapegoat? You might want to think about why it’s so difficult for you to endure a discussion of why child-rearing is difficult for women academics.

    This is a typical example of how (many) men react to discussions of gender inequity with “but there can’t be a problem because I’m a nice guy!”

  38. #38 Ewan
    February 28, 2008

    Hmm. From where I stand, there was no perception of attack in the initial exchange; I was just incredulous that it might be believed that a lower set of expectations might be applied to junior male faculty (a class of which I happen to be a member) than of junior female faculty.

    So my response was not (intended to be) on my own behalf personally, but obviously I’m the exemplar with which I have greatest familiarity, and hence I can make statements of _fact_ there rather than hypotheticals with regard to universal group experiences.

    The quote that i was responding to – and quoted – was this:
    In my experience, most of the women that “don’t make it” leave the tenure-track route not because they’re not smart enough or good enough scientists, but because they want to have children. In general, women are forced to make a decision that men are not. That’s the disparity, right there.

    The first sentence may be true – not so in my experience, but ymmv; the second is obviously the one with which I have taken issue, noting that other than biological differences that are certainly beyond the capacity of any junior male faculty I know to change {once again remove tongue from cheek}, any differences in burden of childcare come from decisions by the parents rather than by any aspect of institutional structure or expectations. That is, to use my earlier response:

    Why/how am I – male, parent, tenure-track – somehow being given an exemption from any decisions here? [And if so, where is this pass and how do I get one?!] In what way does my need to leave at 5 to meet daycare closing differ from any colleague or competitor’s male or female? In what way is my gender *at all* relevant here? Or does my possession of a Y chromosome somehow create a universe where my parenthood is invisible and effortless?

    Acmegirl followed that up with:
    Brush up on your biology and It is a lot harder to be the one who is expected to do all the grunt work of raising children, while being simultaneously bashed at work for doing it. I’m glad you help out with the daycare pickups, and maybe you do an equal share of everything else related to the care of your child. But a lot of dads do not. And a lot of bosses, professors, and colleagues think nothing of dropping a woman down two or three notches on the respect scale the first time she has a scheduling conflict due to childcare arrangements.

    Did I take those as targetted at me, specifically, rather than at a class of folks? Sure, and I think that’s pretty obviously the intent. Yes, I was angry at being so stereotyped; more than that, I think it’s distinctly *un*helpful to snap at folks who are doing their best both to raise children and to increase awareness of the impact that parenting has on academic life. I do think that it’s further unhelpful to segregate the sexes in regard to that impact; it does not surprise me that I’m the minority here on that last, as it happens. To tell me that I’m assuming universal behavior (as acmegirl did in post #26) is kinda silly when I’m doing nothing of the sort – as above, I’m noting simply that (as always, in my experience and that of colleagues of both sexes with whom I’ve discussed this) there are no differences in the way that male and female parents are treated by academic institutions and chairs/deans/etc. So I definitely disagree with the basic axiom you just noted:

    women in general are expected to be responsible for childcare, women in general are held to a more critical standard when they take time off or adjust work hours to accommodate child-rearing

    because in my experience and that of my female colleagues it just ain’t so; I was trying to contribute helpfully to a discussion of Parenting* and academia. I’ll stop now.

  39. #39 acmegirl
    March 3, 2008

    mxracer652:
    Every one of the issues you mention (surprise travel, odd work schedules, emergencies at work, and the like, can absolutely be handled by someone with children, provided mechanisms are in place to ensure that childcare is uninterrupted. Do I think that employers and society should play a role in meeting that need? Absolutely.

    Ewan:
    Oh, I see. You are “incredulous that it might be believed that a lower set of expectations might be applied to junior male faculty (a class of which I happen to be a member) than of junior female faculty”

    I guess those of us who have experienced that phenomenon (including ScienceWoman, whose description of such treatment started this whole discussion) are mistaken.

  40. #40 Flicka Mawa
    March 5, 2008

    Zuska, this was very well written, and I agree whole-heartedly. It says much of what I want to say as well. Thanks for writing on this issue.

  41. #41 breitling watches
    August 27, 2009

    My husband is like you are, he plans to be equal in this child rearing business. But I would guess that we won’t be able to split things (approximately) down the middle until the potential child is weaned.

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