Thus Spake Zuska

Work-life balance: people have been talking about it.

Wait, that’s not right. Women have been talking about it. And have been talked at about it, by some people. Doc Free-Ride has a good round-up of a most recent skirmish of opinions on the topic in the sciencey blogosphere. If you have not been following this, please do give Doc Free-Ride’s post a read.

Where to begin?

Science Careers says all you married ladies with kids should hire housekeepers. And get over it already, will you?

Last year, when Carol Greider, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, learned that she had won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, she was folding the laundry. It was a seemingly trivial detail, unrelated to her science, but it got plenty of play in the press. “Is it true that you were doing laundry when you got that early morning call from Stockholm?” The New York Times interviewer asked the Nobel laureate in a conversational Q&A. That opening question underscored the fact that women researchers — even the nation’s top women — have domestic responsibilities.

No, I don’t think so. It underscores the fact that the media feel an overwhelming tingly urge they can’t resist to portray scientists who are women as DON’T WORRY THEY’RE WOMEN!! THEY DO HOUSEHOLD CHORES! AND ARE STILL PRETTY! NOT THREATENING TO THE NATION’S MASCULINITY, AT ALL!!!!!!!! ahhhhh! yeah! that’s better.

Anyway, Science Careers is urging you – yes, you, little lady! – to hire yourself a housekeeper. “No doubt some women scientists put a high priority on housework, but they are almost certainly few. For the rest, it might make sense to employ a maid, or whatever you call the male equivalent, to help with the housework.” Maybe you don’t put a priority on housework, but the world does, and will surely judge you as a failure if your house is dirty, or laundry unfolded, no matter what prize you win. The important thing is, your Nigel is off working as if he has a wife at home to take care of the housework, and if you want to succeed in science, that’s the model you are going to have to adopt. So you’d best hire yourself a wife sooner rather than later. And yes, it’s on your shoulders, because just as the housework is your responsibility, so too is the outsourcing of it. You can’t expect Nigel to help with that, either. No point in trying to critique any of that, or even in trying to talk to Nigel about it.

Well, this incredibly positive message was not universally welcomed. Resulting in a Very Special Message To You Whiny Bitchez For Men, about how I Really Thought All This Was So Obvious I Didn’t Have To Bother Saying Any Of It But Since You Nagged Me Into It, Here’s A Blog Post With A Non-Pology In Which I Explain How I Totes Get Everything About Gender.

“Special” messages for men, in my opinion, mean something like this: In the normal course of events, you would not have to divert your manly attention from important topics to something so trivial as work-life balance, with all its estrogenic whiff. But on this very special occasion, when the little misses have got their knickers all in a knot, perhaps we can, in our manly magnitude, agree that it might be nice to at least look as if we thought this issue had something to do with us.

The goal is for those choices to be freely made and not coerced. So men, and women: It’s up to you and your partner to set the terms, but please make sure those decisions are made as freely as can be achieved…you can ease those pressures by being supportive of your partner and helping them to choose — or, rather, to negotiate with you, from a position of strength, a domestic arrangement that works well for both partners.

This is very odd phrasing indeed. Be supportive of your partner and “help them” choose? “Help them” negotiate an arrangement? Like, when he “helps her” with the laundry and the dishes, which are her jobs? In a really equal arrangement, you’d be choosing and negotiating together. I completely respect the fact that Mr. Austin does not wish to be in the business of giving specific relationship advice to anyone – lord, who does, if they aren’t getting paid by the hour to do so! But how hard is it to write a sentence in which you at least pretend that two people in a relationship ought to be equally responsible for the domestic arrangements? Otherwise, that paragraph above is just a fancy rewriting of “it’s her responsibility to choose and negotiate domestic arrangements, and your responsibility to look soulfully at her and say ‘honey, I totally support whatever you choose to do’ and then maybe give her a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day.”

Well, I’ll tell you what I choose. I choose not to read one more dumbfuck article about how you, little lady, fortunate to have enough disposable income, need to pay some poorer lady to do stuff for you so that you can work the crazy husband-with-a-wife-at-home schedule that corporate America and academic science deems minimally acceptable, and get over the guilt already that society dumps on your head each and every day, and don’t even think of challenging the patriarchal norms of family and institution because we sure as hell aren’t going to acknowledge in the slightest that they exist in this article.

Next up: what’s the difference between criticizing how the media deals with the work-life balance issue versus asking/demanding that some particular man, or all male science bloggers, blog about how they handle work-life balance issues at home?

The third and final post in this series can be found here.

Comments

  1. #1 Adriana
    June 17, 2010

    Right on the money, Zuska! Beautifully written blog.

  2. #2 becca
    June 17, 2010

    I feel ya.
    I still feel minorly bad (not in a pity way, and not in an angry way, just kinda sad) that Jim, who seems to be trying in very real and meaningful ways, kept stumbling in to such irritating talking points. It was painful to watch from multiple perspectives.

    Truthfully, sad as it may sound, I’ve *never* had a relationship where I could honestly say it involved ‘choosing and negotiating together’- I think the equality has been there in some relationships, but not the synchronicity.

  3. #3 theshortearedowl
    June 17, 2010

    Okay…

    I get that it would be better if the world, and especially America, was less fixated on the idea that you should work every hour that God (oh yes, God) sends, or get your barefoot pregnant ass to the kitchen… but I am unlikely to be able to change this near-universal attitude to benefit my personal career and life.

    So what is your solution? Because, despite the Patriarcho-capitalist issues, and completely independently of Women (in Science)’s Weekly, I was leaning towards hiring a cleaner.

  4. #4 Set
    June 17, 2010

    I’m sorry if I have misread your comment Owl, but I think you may have failed to comprehend some of the underlying (and fundamental) points that Zuska has made in this incredibly incisive post. Perhaps you could re-read it and rephrase your question, cuz I really want to help!

  5. #5 Cloud
    June 17, 2010

    @thesortearedowl- as I see it, there are three choices for dealing with housework:

    1. Just do it and insist that your partner do the same.
    2. Outsource
    3. Lower your standards

    Personally, I do all three. My husband does housework. Without me telling him to do it. We wrote up a chores schedule and we use it. We write a weekend to do list together over beers on Friday night and then we check things off.

    We also have a cleaning service come once a month. I chose a service that pays above minimum wage and provides benefits to its employees, and I feel zero guilt about using it.

    My housekeeping standards were already lower than my husbands in most regards, so he has struggled with this more than I do. But it is possible to train yourself to just not care about the streaks on your windows or what not. I have been unable to train myself to feel OK wearing wrinkled clothes, so now I don’t buy clothes that need ironing.

  6. #6 Treespeed
    June 17, 2010

    So the womynz can be all smart and succeed in science, but they can’t have honest discussions with their spouses about an equitable division of household labor? As a former chef and son of a germaphobic nurse I do most of the cooking and cleaning and have to push to get my modern wife to do her share. That being said, blaming the media because you can’t work out your own relationship issues sounds pretty weak to me.

  7. #7 SetOculus
    June 17, 2010

    Treespeed, I would like to offer a translation of your comment:

    So the womynz can be all smart and succeed in science, but they can’t have honest discussions with their spouses about an equitable division of household labor?

    “I can sit on my ass and ignore all the girl stuff all I want and if wifey doesn’t take care of the discussion, it’s the bitch’s own damn fault.”

    As a former chef and son of a germaphobic nurse I do most of the cooking and cleaning and have to push to get my modern wife to do her share.

    “Blah, blah, bitch won’t pick up the house for me now I have to clean up and that makes my nuts fall off.”

    That being said, blaming the media because you can’t work out your own relationship issues sounds pretty weak to me.

    “I couldn’t be bothered to actually read, much less try to comprehend, this post.”

  8. #8 Kea
    June 17, 2010

    If I ever succeed in science, I will certainly consider hiring a housekeeper. That way somebody is being PAID to do the hard work. This is irrespective of whether or not I remain single forever, although given my low levels of tolerance for men who don’t do their share, it is likely that I will remain single. I have too many bad memories of my mother’s generation … when women did ALL the housework, and without being paid for it … that is to say, they were slaves.

  9. #9 SKM
    June 17, 2010

    blaming the media because you can’t work out your own relationship issues

    Wait–what?

    What blog are you reading?

  10. #10 D. C. Sessions
    June 17, 2010

    Interesting hidden assumption here: all single parents are women. Likewise all who are caring for their parents are women.

    Somehow media covering the subject have no problem assigning those roles exclusively to women — just like dishes, laundry, cooking, etc.

  11. #11 ambivalent academic
    June 17, 2010

    Another interesting assumption: that all women in science are in a position to *afford* to hire help. This might be a useful solution for faculty, but at the faculty level the number of women holding these positions is still well below half. Given that at least 50% of the scientific workforce at post-doc level and below are women (after which the pipeline leaks at a significantly greater rate), and that most post-docs and certainly most grad students are in no kind of financial shape to hire help, if this advice is meant to be a solution to the gender gap in science it seems a little like closing the barn door after the horses have already gotten out.

  12. #12 ScientistMother
    June 17, 2010

    you always know how to articulate things so well, though I admit I”m scared to see the next post….

  13. #13 ScientistMother
    June 17, 2010

    If anyone thinks girls/women are brainwashed into thinking housekeeping is our job, find me a toy store that has a toy vacuum cleaner with all the manly blue trucks, tools and lawn equipment. You’ll have a hard time finding one. Guaranteed you won’t have a problem find a pink vacuum, mini-kitchen, baby doll…but oh yeah thats what girls like to play with.

  14. #14 Comrade Svilova
    June 17, 2010

    The media’s framing is really annoying. Men who won’t take on 50% of household chores cheerfully? Don’t deserve to be partnered. Sigh. Can’t we ever leave the 1950s behind?

  15. #15 ambivalent academic
    June 17, 2010

    A clarification of my previous comment: “at least 50% of the scientific workforce in the biological sciences at post-doc level and below are women…” This is not necessarily the case in all scientific fields. Sorry to be exclusionary.

  16. #16 Kea
    June 17, 2010

    Yeah, in my field the percentage is close to zero.

  17. #17 theshortearedowl
    June 17, 2010

    @ Cloud

    Yeah, I was coming to those conclusions. Thank you anyway.

    @ Set

    I don’t have the peculiar (although bizarrely common) character defect of reading blogs I don’t agree with just so I can comment on them to tell the author so. Zuska rocks, and I like the message of the post. BUT, I do feel a bit trapped between wanting to fulfil my potential in my chosen field and not actually catching diseases from the state of my house. mrowl hates housework as much as I do, and we both would rather pay someone else to do it now we can afford it; but it makes me feel a little bit like the evil bourgeoisie.

  18. #18 LadyDay
    June 17, 2010

    As usual, fantastic post, Zuska!

  19. #19 Set
    June 17, 2010

    Ah, I get it, Owl. Given the economic realities of our current system, and the desire and necessity of many couples to have both people working full time or more, hiring help is hardly, IMHO, a bad thing.

    The underlying point, though, still stands. In many hetero couples, it’s likely to be the woman who gives a shit and organizes the household, either by doing all the work, doling out the tasks, or hiring someone. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is frustrating that the assumption is that the woman is the default.

  20. #20 Brenda
    June 17, 2010

    Why does washing need folding anyways? It just gets wrinkled again when i throw it in my clean clothes pile.

    damn you people who judge *me* by whether my stay home husband has done the washing recently.

  21. #21 Anonymous
    June 17, 2010

    The laundry thing totally pushes my buttons. I can complain about lazy menfolk til the cows come home, but I have never lived with a man who didn’t do his own laundry, of his own volition, without any “negotiating” on my part. It has always been a non issue even when we have had to schlepp our clothes down to the laundromat. Even my dad did his own laundry, at least since the early 60s (although I would love to know how that came about). Modern washers and dryers are nothing short of miraculous appliances. You stick your stuff in, push a button, and walk away. It’s a fucking miracle. So imagine my surprise to discover my (female) colleagues pay women to do their laundry for them (and their husbands) even though they own a washer and dryer. And the pay is always under the table. I just don’t get it. It’s not like they have to go out back to boil clothes in a copper kettle with a wood paddle and a scrubboard.

    The vacuum cleaner, on the other hand, is a tool of the patriarchy.

  22. #22 Cloud
    June 17, 2010

    @Anonymous- do you have kids? Laundry was never an issue in my life until I had kids. Each child added to a house roughly quadruples the amount of laundry.

    Even so, that’s not something we choose to outsource. But we’ve been tempted….

  23. #23 LadyDay
    June 18, 2010

    I have a female friend who grew up in such an affluent household that she didn’t even know how to turn on the vacuum cleaner until I showed her how the other day (and she’s in her early 40′s, folks). Moreover, the only reason why she was using the vacuum cleaner at that moment was because she had just divorced her husband and hadn’t hired an au pair to take care of the baby, yet, and someone had to clean the house after the baby made a mess. I seriously think she thought I’d offer to do the cleaning for her.

    Hiring help really is like getting a[nother] wife.

  24. #24 anonymous
    June 18, 2010

    A lot of this goes back to the issues you raised in your excellent post “the problem of the problem of motherhood in science.”. Work-life balance is a problem but not the problem, but all of the attention on it becomes self-reinforcing and the d00dz can pat themselves on the back for noticing that the ladeez are concerned about it. As long as everybody is talking about babies and laundry nobody has to stop and notice that women in other careers have kids and laundry too but still have higher percentages than science. Nobody has to contemplate the possibility that science is especially inhospitable be cause of the medieval attitudes of the d00dz. Everybody can blame laundry and dirty dishes.

  25. #25 skeptifem
    June 18, 2010

    My nigel does like 95% of the housework. He likes to stay busy and is much better than me at it. It is nice. I cannot imagine *expecting* that kind of service, though. Men who do are still assholes for that.

  26. #26 May
    June 18, 2010

    Anonymous: your post at #24 is what gets me about these articles too. It constantly assumes that women don’t want tech jobs because of work-life. That of course is part of the reason for some women, but the main one is because of discrimination in the field. It’s getting now that women can’t even get jobs in the first place.

    But I do understand the point of this article is that women are expected to take care of domestic work, when the question is why don’t the men automatically think about these things too?

    I guess train the men from the beginning of the relationship that you aren’t the maid.

  27. #27 Cara
    June 18, 2010

    That being said, blaming the media because you can’t work out your own relationship issues sounds pretty weak to me.

    Whom are you addressing, you poor little henpecked dear?

    (Has to do the housework, waaaah. Wifey won’t do her job, waaaah. Jab at the feminists because he’s too scared to have the much touted “honest discussion” with his own spouse, waaaaaaaaaaah).

    Don’t take your problems out on us, Junior. Tell your wife that stuff to her face, ya big toughie.

  28. #28 Dunc
    June 18, 2010

    In the normal course of events, you would not have to divert your manly attention from important topics to something so trivial as work-life balance, with all its estrogenic whiff.

    This is something I really don’t understand… I am a man. I have to have to job, but its sole purpose is to finance my life outside of work. It’s a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. I want my slack. Work-life balance is hugely important to me.

    Maybe it’s because I live alone and can’t afford staff… But then, I’d far rather work less and do the housework myself than work more in order to pay someone else to do it for me. Hell, I’m racking my brains to figure out how I can spend less time at work, so that I can spend more time baking bread and gardening.

    But you can bet your life that if I won the Nobel (as if!), no stupid journalist would be saying anything about my laundry arrangements…

  29. #29 Ildi
    June 18, 2010

    Maybe it’s because I live alone and can’t afford staff… But then, I’d far rather work less and do the housework myself than work more in order to pay someone else to do it for me. Hell, I’m racking my brains to figure out how I can spend less time at work, so that I can spend more time baking bread and gardening.

    I’d rather pay someone else to do the housework so I can spend more time baking bread and gardening.

  30. #30 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    Not only have I spent most of my adult life as the sole woman in a sea of men, I’ve also done quite a lot of quietly listening to what they say about their lives and hopes. One thing that never fails to surprise me is the prevalence of the fantasy among young men in the geek disciplines that if they can just find the One, they can have all the social credibility and rewards of fatherhood and husbandhood without changing how they currently behave. To be more specific, the fantasy says they can go on spending nearly all their waking hours on their current work and hobbies, but there will somehow magically be a pleasant home environment full of a beaming wife and children, abundant meals, sex on demand, and family and friends showing up to shower approval.

    There’s a startling amount of anger when a possible One who will make all this happen is found, but doesn’t cooperate. I’m still regularly bumping into a guy who turns purple with rage on seeing me because I brought the wrath of the administration down on his pushy stalking of a younger colleague. I don’t even want to think about the unrelenting parade of the ones who’ve targeted me. He expressed his fury in the exact same terms I’ve heard time and again, “But HOW ELSE AM I SUPPOSED TO” — acquiring the One is right and good, therefore to disrupt attempts to acquire the One is nasty and abusive, you big meanie.

    Not all of them are like this, of course. But I’m amazed this fantasy doesn’t even seem to be slowing down in persistence. Quietly asking questions of the ones who talk about such things but mercifully aren’t targeting me has been interesting. A running theme is a truly odd division-of-labor fantasy: Division of labor is perfectly fine. Me being a lopsided geek is perfectly fine. In a world that isn’t meanly prejudiced against geeks, I should be able to provide the geeky stuff in trade for someone else providing all the social stuff. Pointing out that marriage is fundamentally a social interaction and the proposed division of labor is essentially expecting a whole lot for nearly nothing in return tends to spark a lot of rage about how society is mean to nerds.

    Some listen though. I don’t think it makes much impression at first, but it’s a start.

  31. #31 Barn Owl
    June 18, 2010

    need to pay some poorer lady to do stuff for you so that you can work the crazy husband-with-a-wife-at-home schedule that corporate America and academic science deems minimally acceptable, and get over the guilt already that society dumps on your head each and every day

    This. Exactly, Zuska.

    And then there are the alternative explanations for not keeping up with the housework chores. Perhaps your house is too large, or you’ve accumulated too much stuff (definite possibility in many parts of the US)? Perhaps you shouldn’t spend so much time blogging/reading blogs/leaving comments all over teh interwebz? Perhaps your ego and sense of worth are wrapped up in appearing to be too busy and important to do housework? Perhaps you should sell that second property where you spend the weekends? Most of these explanations could apply to several of my faculty colleagues.

    If I’d had even the tiniest inclination to hire a housecleaner, it was squashed to nothingness after reading the “Scrubbing in Maine” chapter of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed. Of course, I’m not particularly successful or important(ELEVENTY!!1!11), I don’t have children, and I bought a small house that I can easily clean myself, so YMMV. Even if the “merry maids” are paid fairly, there’s still the issue of daily exposure to toxic cleaning compounds, in a working population that is largely female and of reproductive age.

  32. #32 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    Barn Owl, I’m with you on the too much stuff as a possibility, but discouraging women from talking about oppression is way over the line. It takes a lot of relentless work to counter the ever-present deluge of societal messages of “this isn’t oppression — you should *like* this. Clearly something is wrong with you. And that’s not a pattern, that was just one jerk. Don’t you dare talk to other women and find out you’re not the only one.”

  33. #33 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    My compromise on hiring a caregiver (I haven’t yet, but I might, because I live with a medical disability), is that if I do, she gets paid as much per hour as I do. That would mean private hiring, which is more work, but it would help keep either of us from getting the idea that her time is less valuable than mine.

  34. #34 Anonymous
    June 18, 2010

    Cloud, this is Anon at 21. Yes, I have two little kids and we all generate enormous piles of dirty laundry, and it still is just not an issue. It would certainly become an issue if we didn’t own a washer and dryer, but we do (as does everyone I know who hires someone to do their laundry).

    In a couple of months, I’m planning to teach my son how to do his own clothes – he’s clearly interested in it, maybe still too interested in the bubbles, so why not?

  35. #35 Barn Owl
    June 18, 2010

    Afraid this reply will be held up in the moderation queue, but-

    @ #32: Where in my comment did I state, or even imply, that women should be discouraged from talking about oppression? The point I made about exposure to toxic substances in the housecleaning industry is definitely related to the ways in which women are oppressed – in this case, women who have little or no socioeconomic power. Why trade one oppression (women in academia) for another (women in cleaning/service industries)? Both are wrong, both should be discussed and addressed.

  36. #36 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    On the laundry issue, the advice I heard from an engineering prof was that after the babies come, something might have to give, so pick whatever you are least picky about to outsource. She personally is picky about cooking, but not remotely about laundry, so she outsourced the laundry.

    I’m not sure if other people understand how much mental bandwidth is an issue. High-powered STEM jobs, where you’re paid to be a genius, require careful management of mental resources in order to be able to compete. Certain types of focus, certain types of memory, self-discipline, and many sorts of processing are finite resources. You only get so much, and can’t just go out and buy more. The professor who hired out the laundry may have not been trying to save time so much as mental bandwidth by getting rid of having to track where all the necessary items were in the clean-laundry supply.

    Interruptions are also a huge issue. A lot of engineering and science problems require front-loading your short-term memory with something huge and complex, just to be able to think about it effectively. There aren’t many or even any spare buffers for other stuff. Personally, I can step away from my work for a moment to change laundry from washer to dryer without freeing mental buffers and having to go through the time and work of re-loading them, but then I live alone. Nothing else will interrupt me along the way, no husband or children to ask for something and I turn the phone off a lot.

    One of the things I’ve picked up over time about that guys who think my being really smart is part of me being the One is that they think I’ll be happy to be flattered into using my mental powers for tracking all that stuff they don’t want to track, like whether the clean baby clothes are running out or how much milk is in the house or how to speak to the neighbors without sounding like an antisocial asshole. They get pretty upset when I make it clear that the only way I would consider a live-in male partner is if he took over all that for me, leaving my headspace uninterrupted for my other pursuits.

  37. #37 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    Barn Owl, you went there when you got snarky about blogging/commenting less. Anything that cuts off women from communicating with each other is furthering their oppression.

  38. #38 Barn Owl
    June 18, 2010

    Helen Huntingdon @ #37 – How do you know that I was being snarky about the participation of women in the blogosphere? That’s an assumption on your part; an incorrect one, I might add. Perhaps I was being snarky about men dinking around on the internet, or about anyone who is privileged dinking around on the internet.

    Speaking of which, I’ve got to meet with a couple of students soon …. ;-)

  39. #39 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    “need to pay some poorer lady to do stuff for you so that you can work the crazy husband-with-a-wife-at-home schedule that corporate America and academic science deems minimally acceptable, and get over the guilt already that society dumps on your head each and every day”

    This. Exactly, Zuska.

    And then there are the alternative explanations for not keeping up with the housework chores. Perhaps your house is too large, or you’ve accumulated too much stuff (definite possibility in many parts of the US)? Perhaps you shouldn’t spend so much time blogging/reading blogs/leaving comments all over teh interwebz? Perhaps your ego and sense of worth are wrapped up in appearing to be too busy and important to do housework?

    Barn Owl, given how you set up what you said as a reply to a passage about the behavior of certain women, but failed to specify you were now talking about men, the problem isn’t in my reading but in your editing. Or you’re just backtracking.

  40. #40 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    Oops, my apologies for the quoting failure in #39 — I should have previewed before posting. The first paragraph is Barn Owl’s selected quote from the original article, the second and third are Barn Owl, and the last is me.

  41. #41 Anonymous
    June 18, 2010

    Wow, Helen Huntingdon. Your comment at 36 is really … something. Can I nominate you as an honorary mansplainer?

    I’m sure most people commenting on this blog understand very clearly why “mental bandwidth” is an issue.

  42. #42 Endor
    June 18, 2010

    “Can I nominate you as an honorary mansplainer?”

    Don’t understand the term “mansplainer”, huh.

  43. #43 Cara
    June 18, 2010

    One thing that never fails to surprise me is the prevalence of the fantasy among young men in the geek disciplines that if they can just find the One, they can have all the social credibility and rewards of fatherhood and husbandhood without changing how they currently behave. To be more specific, the fantasy says they can go on spending nearly all their waking hours on their current work and hobbies, but there will somehow magically be a pleasant home environment full of a beaming wife and children, abundant meals, sex on demand, and family and friends showing up to shower approval.

    A running theme is a truly odd division-of-labor fantasy: Division of labor is perfectly fine. Me being a lopsided geek is perfectly fine. In a world that isn’t meanly prejudiced against geeks, I should be able to provide the geeky stuff in trade for someone else providing all the social stuff.

    Helen Huntingdon FTW. I like this so much I wouldn’t care if she WERE a man saying it. *snerk*

    What Anonymous isn’t understanding is Helen’s respect for all the unseen, unacknowledged social work that goes into coupledom in general and marriage in particular and that it’s usually women who do it all.

    Being a shy type myself, I felt pretty damned lucky to have a husband who not only did his share of the social work (since he had the brains to realize it was work) but understood how much I hated it. He also gently nudged me to do my share, which was okay with me because he actually respected me as a person as opposed to yapping at me to be a *proper* woman.

  44. #44 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    I guess I should help drive women out of engineering by not talking about how mentally painful the work sometimes is, thus silently reinforcing the message that they must be inadequate when they run into shocks about just how badly their brains ache.

    No thanks. I’m tired of seeing other women cry with relief when I tell them, “Nope, the sheer level of mental strain is normal. We all go through it, but we mostly lie about it.”

  45. #45 Cara
    June 18, 2010

    Meant to add “social and ‘tracking’ work” to the above because I think “tracking” is a great word for all the ongoing, piddly CRAP of household management.

  46. #46 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    “Tracking” is a great word for it, Cara. I’ve never been sure what to call it, but that fits well.

  47. #47 Anonymous
    June 18, 2010

    Actually, I understand very well that Helen respects the unacknowledged work that goes into coupledom. That’s great. What I object to is the notion that geniuses with high-powered jobs in STEM can’t afford to spend their precious mental resources on personal maintenance. This sounds just like the bullshit I hear from male scientists all the time. Shouldn’t our goal be that everyone contributes, including “geniuses?” And not to find a man (or an underpaid unbenefitted maid) who takes it all over for you, to leave your head space uninterrupted? Seriously?

  48. #48 Cloud
    June 18, 2010

    @Barn Owl- my cleaning service claims to be environmentally friendly, so presumably they don’t use toxic chemicals at all.

    That said, I’ve never audited them on that. But I did look over the list they publish of what they use, and it all looked fairly harmless to me and my background in chemistry.

    The anonymous who pointed out the self-fulfillingness of the explanation that women don’t go into science because of some problem with work-life balance is spot on, in my opinion. This explanation and the closely related claim that science is incompatible with motherhood drive me batty. I remember being scared by those explanations when I was in grad school looking ahead to my career. The reality has turned out to be far less scary than I feared. Yes, even with the mountains of laundry produced by two small kids. (@anon who brought the laundry thing up… I look forward to the day my kids can start helping with the laundry with great anticipation!)

    The real reason the pipeline leaks is SEXISM. Plain and simple.

  49. #49 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    Anon@47, I have no idea where you’re getting this from. The point is that everyone contributes in a fair society. I could have a male housemate without having to fight for my headspace, because he would take care of his own tracking and I would take care of mine. Careers would be structured so that everyone does their own personal maintenance.

    That reality doesn’t exist. So now what?

    Various people have mentioned what they do to deal with the imperfect world. I live alone, do my own stuff, and if I do hire someone, she’ll get paid as much per hour as I do. That’s one approach. There are other approaches, none of them perfect, because perfect isn’t available. I have no idea why you’re reading stuff into what people are saying that just isn’t there.

  50. #50 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    Oh, wait, I may have caught up to what all the sturm and drang is about. Is it the fact that some jobs exhaust more mental resources than others?

    That’s not elitist. That’s just how it is. Just like some jobs exhaust more physical resources than others. Both are finite. Both can be improved, but you still have to deal with the reality you only get so much per day and budget accordingly. Some jobs demand more of one or the other than is reasonable in a fair society. Fair would be nice. I don’t know where to find it though.

  51. #51 Cara
    June 18, 2010

    Shouldn’t our goal be that everyone contributes, including “geniuses?” And not to find a man (or an underpaid unbenefitted maid) who takes it all over for you, to leave your head space uninterrupted? Seriously?

    Anonymous, I’m not sure why you sound offended at Helen. She suggested that not everyone is really aware of the fact that piddly unclassified life stuff is genuine work, because lots of men have been conditioned to think it just happens and lots of women have been conditioned to just do it.

    I’m really not getting why you decided to snark at her for saying that; some commenters on this blog often AREN’T aware of that stuff (not least because some commenters mostly show up to troll).

  52. #52 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 18, 2010

    Is it true that you were doing laundry when you got that early morning call from Stockholm?

    D00dly d00d version: “Is it true that you were spanking your monkey in the shower when you got that early morning call from Stockholm?”

  53. #53 gnuma
    June 18, 2010

    I’m starting to think I need to pay CPP for the daily laugh. Thanks for articulating this issue. I read the article and agreed, well, shit, I need to hire some help! wo noticing the assumed disparity in household duties inherent to the article. In my own life, two babies and two full-time jobs (plus a dissertation on the finish by one of us) is entirely overwhelming, and getting some help seems the obvious thing to do.

  54. #54 Yvonne
    June 18, 2010

    Anonymous, Helen is talking about *human* limitations. The problem is while male geniuses are given the societal go ahead to focus their limited resources on their work, female geniuses are expected to do the same work, plus the housework, using the same human limitations and then are judged “not genius enough” when they can’t manage it all.

  55. #55 DerelictHat
    June 18, 2010

    Helen Huntington – Your comment at 36 is amazing. That’s how it is, that’s just how it is! It’s such a good expression, I hope you don’t mind if I parrot parts of it to explain things to some coworkers in the future.

  56. #56 Endor
    June 18, 2010

    “I’m starting to think I need to pay CPP for the daily laugh.”

    Seconded. Never fails to make me blow various liquids out my nose.

  57. #57 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    DerelictHat, by all means. It’s how I’ve explained to non-engineers in some workplaces that the engineers aren’t being rude, they’re being extremely courteous by a different set of rules.

    When your life revolves around careful budgeting of those mental resources, courtesy means you never interrupt someone if you can help it, but send an email or other communication they can check at their leisure instead. And if you do have to interrupt someone, you state what you need as concisely as possible, and clear out the second you get it. Small talk means the person you interrupted has to do a mental reboot that expands geometrically in time and effort for every second wasted. So the person who was happy to chat to you at lunch, but will barely speak three words to you before and after, is trying to be as courteous of your headspace as possible.

    When I put it that way, it’s usually followed by an, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I see. That’s what that’s about.”

  58. #58 Anonymous
    June 18, 2010

    Jesus Christ on a stick. I understand Helen’s point. I’m arguing that no one, genius or not, male or female, should get a free pass on basic personal responsibility or tracking or whatever you want to call the daily bullshit.

    And the notion of a genius is totally overrated.

    No more comments from me unless it’s on native plants.

  59. #59 History Punk
    June 18, 2010

    ” Maybe you don’t put a priority on housework, but the world does, and will surely judge you as a failure if your house is dirty, or laundry unfolded, no matter what prize you win.”

    As I explain to the male children I work with in special ed, people judge you by appearances, whether or not its fair, right, or even accurate, so you best make sure you look good.

    Zuska, as for the work-life balance thing, ask your male colleagues about it and they’ll inform you that men struggle with it as well.

  60. #60 Helen Huntingdon
    June 18, 2010

    Anon@58, since no one has suggested anyone deserves a free pass, your beating that strawman with such vehemence is more than a little puzzling.

  61. #61 Rob W
    June 18, 2010

    Thanks for this well-written post, Zuska, and the interesting comments from everyone!

    The headspace problem is very real; since having a baby my wife & I have been going through some real contortions on the work-life balance tweaks, because we both need significant concentration time in solid chunks (she writes fiction; I write software… either of us might take even an hour just to get rolling properly), PLUS one of us needs to be with the baby (generally equals no high-concentration work), PLUS of course there’s laundry (including cloth nappies), groceries and other driving-required errands, house maintenance, bill payment, meal prep & consumption, cleaning, external social tracking work, and yeah, can we get some time to hang out together as well? And we both work from home, with completely flexible schedules (though no paid help or grandparents nearby); generally, we have it very easy.

    At the moment I mostly do my work at night and just sleep less; I can function reasonably well with less sleep than she can. It’s not a great solution.

    But in our case, it’s notable that we have a much easier time negotiating the division of labor because our requirements are fairly similar (comfort level for house cleanliness, level of need for external socializing, etc.), and we’re aware of (and able to talk about) the work involved. She’s an amazing cook, so she mostly leads that charge (even when that means telling me what to prepare), and I can’t breastfeed; on my side I find optimization of routine tasks interesting, so I do diaper changes, laundry and most of the cleaning using my own special methods; for much of that I can involve the baby, which frees her for a bit more working time.

    Even once you both are aware of all of the work to be shared, even once you can have regular conversations on what needs to get done and how to divide it, there’s a definite hurdle to jump when one of you doesn’t really mind if the sink were permanently full of dishes, family birthdays passing unnoticed, and you ate pizza every night. The “power” goes to the more disinterested party by default. And we men have an easier time being disinterested, of course, because it’s sort of expected of us anyway.

  62. #62 Kea
    June 19, 2010

    Helen’s headspace point is so important. That’s why I live alone when I can, have no phone or car or furniture or other troublesome assets. It’s why I never bother with discount coupons or freebies or special deals of any kind. It’s why I keep my banking simple. Of course, when I need to find a cafe job to survive, this can make life difficult, but there is simply no other way to manage the mental space.

  63. #63 Samantha Vimes
    June 19, 2010

    I appreciate the anti-classism sentiments expressed by people here. But the people without degrees who work as housekeepers (or waitstaff, or cashiers, etc) don’t make their rent by their being no demand for what they CAN do. People in service industry jobs want a living wage, and to be talked to like we are human beings who merit respect. Being hired doesn’t have to mean being exploited, and the kind of people who worry about that sort of thing are going to be better employers than the entitled snobs who assume poor=stupid=worthless.

  64. #64 DerelictHat
    June 19, 2010

    You getting along well with that strawman you built there, Kea?

  65. #65 Helen Huntingdon
    June 19, 2010

    I think Anon had a really good point that got lost in all the strawman invective — some of what I said is very much like excuses men have used and do use for exploiting others. It’s a shame that point got lost by Anon’s bizarre insistence that such excuses were being made here. “This is what my work does to me, so others must labor in serf-like conditions to support my special genius,” is rather sadly prominent in the history of science.

    I was simply describing what certain jobs do to those who do them, and that it doesn’t leave enough left over for living a normal life. It’s a real problem that requires a real solution. Having a tizzy about how the problem wouldn’t exist if you were tough enough has been one of the major strategies for keeping women out of the STEM fields.

    I’d suggest that if someone is proposing they solve their problem in an exploitative manner, it’s worth considering they might be lying their heads off about the existence or severity of the problem in their case. Of course, you can run into funny definitions of ‘exploitative’ — quite a few men have told me that’s what I’m being by not entering the pool of women offering the benefits of marriage to a man.

  66. #66 MadGastronomer
    June 19, 2010

    I’m not in the sciences, but I opened a restaurant six months ago. I’ve been averaging 60 hours a week for the past nine months. I live alone, and I didn’t do housework even when I wasn’t working so much. You’re damned skippy I have a housekeeper — an independent, who chooses her products carefully, and who not only gets more per hour than I do, but brings in almost twice what I do yearly.

    Before I had a housekeeper, my house was such a wreck that my family was seriously concerned for my health. It upset my mother so much that once a year, she’d come clean the place top to bottom, despite me telling her not to. In the end, hiring a housekeeper turned out to be an essential expense for me, and I budget for it just as I do for utilities, mortgage or the counseling I need to manage my bipolar disorder.

    And that bullshit Zuska’s quoting at the top STILL irritates the fuck out of me.

  67. #67 Kea
    June 19, 2010

    I think a big source of misunderstanding here can be attributed to cultural differences. I fully support better wages for people in service industries. I also come from a relatively classless culture, where one’s background does not at all determine one’s future. I suspect that the same cannot be said for many people here.

  68. #68 Cloud
    June 20, 2010

    @Kea- my husband comes from New Zealand, too. He had a really hard time with the decision to hire a cleaner. I don’t think he’s comfortable with it even now, but recognizes it as a necessity in our lives for the time being.

    For what it is worth, I cleaned houses for awhile when I was (much) younger. Maybe that is part of why I don’t have a problem hiring someone to clean my house now? I don’t know.

  69. #69 Kea
    June 20, 2010

    Hi Cloud. Yes, I think that having had to clean large houses in the past is a big part of my desire to have a housekeeper … which as you know is just not something that people in my country tend to do.

  70. #70 caramama
    June 21, 2010

    This is my first time here and I’m not in the science field (though the IT world and consulting world are both similar in many ways), but I think I love you, Zuska!

    I came through a link at Cloud’s blog, and this post and discussion in the comments has been fascinating. It’s making me re-examine the work worlds in which I live.

    @May (comment 26): “I guess train the men from the beginning of the relationship that you aren’t the maid.”

    Might I also suggest that those of us with sons or nephews or godsons or young-boys-we-may-have-influence-over start the training when they are babies. I fully expect my son will learn how to do chores, share responsibilities with his sister and understand that women and men are equal partners in the house and equal workers in the workplace. Luckily for me, my husband also expects this and models sharing the responsibilities.

  71. #71 Carpenter
    June 21, 2010

    Holy Shit am I glad to see this post. Here is a small anecdote to brighten everyone’s day. I am a female postdoc in hard sciences. A few weeks ago I was at lunch at a table with 5 men ranging from grad student to emeritus prof. in my group. we were talking about womens pay grades and I was mentioning a bargaining effect that lowers womens pay. That is a prof can threaten to leave the university, get an outside offer, then use that offer to leverage up their pay. Men often have stay at home wives so can make a serious threat to leave, while women have husbands with jobs who do not want to relocate. Hence the complicated social structure results in lower women’s pay.

    So the guys I am at the table with, all of them freak out. They start insisting that nothing is wrong with women staying home. They star insisting their wives do more housework because they want to and because they care more. Then they insist women care more because of evolution, they want to take care of their kids more than men. These guys were straight up insisting that women love their children more than men love their children. Then they start saying not only is that the case but that there is no such thing as discrimination. “If there isnt hiring discrimination anymore, and yet you see less female faculty how else can you explain it other than a biological imparitive? “(Therefore women must do housework Q.E.D) These are physicists! After loosing my shit entirely I decided never to trust their scientific opinions about anything ever.

    What sucks the most is that they aren’t even old and will be dead soon, there was a grad-student for fucks sake. I also bet any amount of money that if there were 5 female faculty and any one of them they never would have said the shit they said. Luckily I did enough yelling for 5 women.

  72. #72 Carpenter
    June 21, 2010

    Oh yeah, these morons also said ‘hire a maid’ in the conversation about housework, then I said fine but who takes care of the maids kids/house. Then they said I was being sexist assuming the maid is a woman. !!!!!!!Of course she is, its a fucking pink collar job, and it people like these guys who created a world where maids are all women since housework is gendered feminine. I swear to God I almost punched these people

  73. #73 skeptifem
    June 21, 2010

    Wow, what assholes. I like how they report their wives thoughts and feelings back to you as if they can read minds.
    They were trying to convince each other as much as you, it seems.

  74. #74 SKM
    June 21, 2010

    @carpenter, all the freaking out just shows that it’s a problem and they know it. Denialism pure and simple.

    A for their age, yes, this problem is not just dying off with the older generation–it is actively perpetuated among the currently-young. Grrr.

  75. #75 Kea
    June 21, 2010

    You go, Carpenter. Of course they were physicists. Not surprising, since they are the ones with the most to lose.

  76. #76 Helen Huntingdon
    June 21, 2010

    I’m not surprised, Carpenter. I’ve heard much milder version from men throughout the STEM fields.

    My advisers always expressed great concern whenever I might have to interact with male physicists, because they’re regarded as the hopelessly retrograde cavern trolls of the STEM world.

    I can tell you that the last time I had contact with one, he stopped a group of us he was taking on a lab tour, abruptly and for no apparent reason, to explain to me slowly and carefully how to find the women’s room. He made no such announcement about the men’s room. The group exchanging “Can you believe how surreal this is?” looks didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest.

  77. #77 Asphericity
    June 22, 2010

    @Carpenter: You go, girl. Happy to report that I found a TT position in a physics department where such attitudes are not prevalent, but they are still depressingly common in the field as a whole. Keep yelling!

  78. #78 carpenter
    June 22, 2010

    yeah, I am beginning to thin my chosen subfield is for some reason particularly reto-grade.

    -”to explain to me slowly and carefully how to find the women’s room”

    Damn, I apologize for my field.

  79. #79 Kea
    June 22, 2010

    You are not alone here, Carpenter. I am well used to hostile physics departments. In one place, there was only one old emeritus professor who was nice to me, and I hardly ever saw him. When the female support staff would ask me to help with the tea he would say, “but isn’t that sexist?” and I would nod and smile. His wife once told me that he had been very sexist when he was younger, but he had learned from experience that women were capable. It is rare to meet a physicist who is truly capable of learning anything … dogma often rules their lives.