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You know, we catch a lot of flack around these parts for being too "political", and for straying away from "science". Well, that's a big load of crap, and two posts by Isis show why. It is impossible to separate politics from science from personal life, at least on one level. Now, perhaps I've become more conservative with age (although I doubt it), but certain parts of the discussion really disturbed me.

The rhetoric turned to some classical 70s-80s feminist themes, which can be rather useful, but as with most ideologies, trying to hard to cram all the facts into the theoretical framework leaves neither undamaged. Of course, I'm writing as a male who has experienced many of the benefits of the so-called patriarchy, but folks, it just ain't that simple.

We all need to keep utopian ideas in mind. It give us hope, something to strive for. But in our real world, there will be no revolution, no turning-on-its-head of our society and its norms---and that's a good thing, as dramatic revolutions never seem to work out quite the way they are intended. Change---change that is acceptable to individuals, and not forced upon them in re-education camps---comes incrementally.

Let me tell you the first thing that made me nauseated (from Isis):

[A prominent scientist] was visiting the MRU I was attending to give a seminar and I heard it casually mentioned that she had four children. After her talk I had the opportunity to attend a group lunch with her and during a lull in the conversation I asked how she managed to raise four children while managing a large lab and holding down a slew of research funding. She told me quite abruptly that her children and her work were separate entities. She keeps no pictures of her children in her office and does not display their artwork. She told me that she does not want people to walk into her office and immediately identify her by her family instead of her science.


A few years later I met a very prominent female physiologist at a seminar, except this time I was about 12 weeks pregnant. Again, it was mentioned that she had children and during a group meal I brought up the issue of raising children as a scientist. She told me that the only way her career worked was because she was able to send her children to live with her parents during the school year. I was devastated and seriously doubted my decision to become a mother or continue as an academic scientist. Then again, I had already sealed the deal, as it were.

What a crappy role model. This is the real world, and in the real world every family, every individual is different. Financial needs often determine which parent is staying home more, and this is not just the influence of patriarchy. My wife and I chose careers whose earning potentials are very different. You could argue that she was pushed toward hers because she's a woman, but she like it and she's damned good at it and it's important work. You could argue that mine is paid better because it's male dominated, but you'd be wrong. In my profession, about half of medical students are female. They face different challenges than their male colleagues, but there here and there stampin' out disease. They're also becoming mommies. As physicians, we work together intimately enough that it would be very hard to hide the fact that you're a parent, and we'd all think it quite strange if you tried.

What kind of message would it send to my female residents if the female attendings "hid" their motherhood? Who's the oppressor now?

Life is work. It's hard. And finding balance, for both parents, in a world where we all have to earn a living and put food on the table, and have time to cuddle and care for our kids is sometimes nearly impossible. But nothing about that is ever going to get better if we tell our younger colleagues that it truly is impossible.


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It does seem a shame to put such a stark separation between work and family. The married professors (male and female) in my physics department usually have pictures of their families in their offices, and I don't think it would occur to anyone to think less of their work.

Thank you for this Pal. I think it is fantastic when men encouraqe women to be open about issues of family and motherhood. I think so often we repress talk of these issues because we are afraid people will take us less seriously. But, then, women are deprived role models that might help them more successfully integrate motherhood into a successful career. Thank you for being an ally.

Are you sure that the only alternative to "females stay at home" is "the lowest paid of the couple (ie. usually the female) stays at home"? If so, then you have a serious lack of imagination.

In other countries, dare I say "more democratic and civilised" countries (take that with a bit of sarcasm please) we have this thing called "rights" which enables people to both have families and careers. They can be humans as well as producers. This benefits all workers regardless of gender - but especially women of course, because the idea that "one parent gives up her career" in our society - a patriarchal society where men are normally paid more than women - not having these rights are even more detrimental to women.

Paid secure parental leave as a right and affordable child care: A solution that benefits all :) It's easy, it solves so much, it does not take away anyone's priviledge, only a fool of a government would reject it.

Greetings from a Skandinavian who currently live in the US and therefore have to seriously plan when and whether to have children as we do not have any rights in the US that allows us to be both parents and workers (in science or whatever).

Only commenting on the first part of your post:

It is an odd critique of scienceblogs. Most here conduct research, get published in journals, and teach classes at various universities; you've given enough "pure science" to the world already. Your quota is satisfied.

I thought the entire point of scienceblogs was to have blogs from scientists and blogs are, by their very nature, varied in nature. Oh, some post science in blog form, and some would rather blog on whatever crosses their mind or email inbox, but unless someone is seriously considering draconian top-down blog standards, such variation is here to stay.

By Jason Failes (not verified) on 27 Dec 2008 #permalink

"You know, we catch a lot of slack around these parts for being too "political""

'Slack'?! Do you mean 'flack'?!

Having got my early morning whine out of the way,I can now think clearly! It seems to me that there are two things going on here. The first is the Republican mantra that taking smart, reasonable, and proper care of children is welfare and should be eliminated at all costs, even if that cost means depriving ourselves of a well-educated, well-loved, healthy, and imaginative next generation.

The other issue is that as long as patriarchal religion is allowed to dominate our society, anything matriarchcal (or othherwise) is going to necessarily take a back seat and we're never going to be free to do the right thing.

Whenever I hear stories like this, I thank my lucky stars for Asperger's syndrome. If I was ever subjected to any sexism in my science career, I was too oblivious to notice, and I'm glad for that, because it would have really caused me a lot of depression. My heart goes out to anyone having to deal with unjust discrimination, even from their so-called role models!!!

I think what highlights the foundation of the issue are two simple questions:

When was the last time any of the guys here were asked how they integrate fatherhood and demanding careers?

Did any of you worry about how you were going to be both scientists and fathers?

Maybe some of y'all have been asked that question or did worry about that, but you'd be extraordinary. Most women *do* worry about these things and do so because it *is* difficult. We just rarely have the luxury of saying, "Oh, my spouse is point man on that." Normally, we just assume that most of the load will fall on us and, if we're lucky, our husbands will "help". Some of us are blessed with men in our lives who take half the work. Most of us are not.

See, being both/and is simply expected for men while for women it is still largely seen as an either/or. The pioneers who are attempting to change that, like Isis, deal with pressures which those who come after them hopefully will not be subjected.

Normally, we just assume that most of the load will fall on us and, if we're lucky, our husbands will "help".

"Normally" has two meanings, and this sentence reads quite differently depending on which you use. The danger lies in reading it not as "most often" but as "how it should be."

This isn't a quibble, nor hypothetical. Those roles are traps for men, too -- and any (or all) of us can be guilty of enforcing them.

The pioneers who are attempting to change that, like Isis, deal with pressures which those who come after them hopefully will not be subjected.

This is not a new frontier, and even imagining that it's the work of anyone's generation to "make the world safe for women" is a formula for failure. Not only that, but IMHO the constraints of mortality will always force tradeoffs on us, and some of those decisions will be heartbreaking.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 28 Dec 2008 #permalink

The pioneers who are attempting to change that, like Isis...

I am feeling awfully unstable up here on my pedestal. Pal, if I fall off will you catch me?

I am a product of the women who came before me and I hope to influence how the women after me are regarded. That being said, I disagree with DC. I may be incapable of making the world "safe", but it is my responsibility to try to make the world safer. That's why I'm here, you crazy kids.

It is incredibly annoying that human concepts...like business and science...are not actually built on human models. Like sometimes we are sick...or have children...or god forbid lives.

This business of science is for humans...by humans....and it's about time some people realised it. So thank you for your post.

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 28 Dec 2008 #permalink

Did any of you worry about how you were going to be both scientists and fathers?

Every goddamned fucking day. What a stupid, parochial, sexist thought.


That being said, I disagree with DC. I may be incapable of making the world "safe", but it is my responsibility to try to make the world safer.

Sorry, but I'm afraid your attempt to disagree with me has failed miserably. The "world safe for women" was a historical reference to Woodrow Wilson.

As for "making the world safer," I refer you to R. Tarfon: "It may not be for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to refrain from it."

As long as I'm quoting Avot I may as well add one for the academics:

Do not say, "I will learn when I have time, for you will never have time."
By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 28 Dec 2008 #permalink

"This benefits all workers regardless of gender - but especially women of course, because the idea that "one parent gives up her career" in our society - a patriarchal society where men are normally paid more than women - not having these rights are even more detrimental to women."
Thank you! Exactly!

At just about every feminist campus group and professional organization I've ever belonged to, there were invariably many many women kvetching about how hubby was "babysitting" the kids--you know, as a favor, so Mommy could go to her Ladies' Night thing. These great feminists who were happy to stir up a racket about equal pay and maternity leave and so forth were not able to effect practical change (i.e. fathers doing a fair share of childcare) in their own homes.

I asked an older scientist, a childless geophysicist about this. Her observation was that society as a whole automatically assumes that Mommies are responsible for children no matter what--furthermore, that women, all women are assumed by society to be responsible for any and all children anywhere, even when they are total strangers to the child in question. She pointed out several examples where women who were complete strangers, yet happened to be in the vicinity of a child at the time of a horrible accident, were held legally liable for failing to protect the child, even when the child's own father was also standing right there.

Her point was, if you're in an argument with your spouse over whose job it is to take out the trash, you can ignore the trash until one of you gets so disgusted that they capitulate. You can refuse to do your spouse's laundry or eat off paper plates if they won't do their share of housework. You can keep your bank accounts separate to keep your spouse from spending irresponsibly, and you can move out if your spouse isn't paying their share of expenses.

But once you have a child, if it's hubby's turn to pick up Junior from day care and hubby forgets--hubby will get a pass and you won't. A Mommy who forgets to pick up Junior from daycare is The Worst Mommy Ever, but a Daddy is just absent-minded and busy. Mommy is the one who pays all the consequences for inadequate parenting in most societies, and Daddy is pretty much off the hook. It doesn't matter if you agreed in your personal relationship to be equal parents, the rest of society doesn't see it that way--so all agreements are really only courtesies that dissolve the instant the father is feeling discourteous.

The instant that both parents are legally and routinely considered equally responsible for their children and both go on parental leave as a matter of course (as opposed to an exception), working mothers will be better off.

Really, Pal? You actually think every day about how to pull off being a father and a scientist? Or do you just think every day about how to be a parent? Because from what I've seen, men actually don't worry about their fatherhood negatively impacting their job, to the point that maybe they *just should stay home with the kids*.

Every single day, my wife and i have the same worries. Every single day that i miss taking her to school, that i don't sit down to dinner with my kid, that i don't get home until she's asleep, i worry that i'm fucking her up for life.

Every time i stay away from work to go to a school function, or to spend extra time with her, i worry about the patients i'm not seeing---will they come back, will my income drop. I worry about my hospital position---will i be seen as less dedicated, or a slacker.

You need to take off your blinders.

PalMD, it's attitudes like the one you have about fatherhood that give me hope for this world. But know that you are the (growing) minority.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 29 Dec 2008 #permalink

PalMD, it's attitudes like the one you have about fatherhood that give me hope for this world. But know that you are the (growing) minority.

Well, I don't want to go all RMN on you with "who is the majority." However, in my (semiconductor design) department the "kids, things we do with them, and making our professional lives fit around their needs [1]" topic is right up there with sports and politics as an over-the-cube-wall topic.

[1] Not the other way 'round. Then again, I work for some pretty cool people.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 29 Dec 2008 #permalink

in regards to this:
You know, we catch a lot of flack around these parts for being too "political", and for straying away from "science".
I strongly disagree with people who think that. If you want to simply read about science with nothing else mixed in, go get a textbook or a journal and stop your bitching. What makes science blogs interesting is the way they speak to the intersection of science, life, and politics.

While I get the need to vent about unequal parenting and the need to educate about the amount of work mothers have traditionally shouldered as primary caretakers, I'd also like to caution about doubting ("Really, Pal?") or marginalizing ("you are the (growing) minority") couples who do share the burdens of parenting. When we do that, we're reinforcing the "norm" that parenting is the mother's job--and making it that little bit harder for folks who are doing things right. Ideally, we want these people to be standing front and center, providing peer pressure for everyone else.

That, and it seems a bit silly to do it to a guy who's blogged about how Take Your Daughter to Work Day is, oh, the weekend.

I don't understand why people are so upset by those women keeping family and work apart. If it works for them and everyone involved is reasonably happy, who are we to judge just because it's not the choice we'd make ourselves?

"But nothing about that is ever going to get better if we tell our younger colleagues that it truly is impossible."

I think it is impossible.. and the change has to begin with acknowledging that. You can't have two careers and meet all the needs of your children, in a nuclear family. Something has to give, so compromises are made in all areas. It's not only the groves of academe: the whole of corporate America is predicated on the concept of a wife at home. This is batshit crazy of course, but that's the first thing to change.

PalMD, I swoon at your fatherly devotion! My husband feels the way you do-- constantly considering the welfare of and time spent with our son. I feel so lucky every single day to have a spouse who is so devoted to our family, our child.

To continue with what Lora said, it's relatively common for women whose male significant others are abusive and who have children to be charged with "failure to protect" if the man in question hurts or kills the child. To the best of my knowledge, no man has ever been charged with "failure to protect" in a case where his female significant other has harmed or killed their/his children. (Hell, Rusty Yates is walking around free and remarried, and he f*cked his wife to death, from one way of looking at it.)

I also would argue that the "economic decision" that means more often the lesser-earning spouse who winds up staying home with the kids is the female of the couple is a direct effect of the patriarchy. If none of these things existed -- the wage gap (women of equal credentials being paid less than men for the same work), gendered valuation of labour (traditionally masculine jobs being valued more highly than traditionally feminine jobs), and gender-based occupational streaming (women being directed toward lower-paying jobs), I might concede you had a bit more of a point than you do.

By Interrobang (not verified) on 31 Dec 2008 #permalink

The trouble I see is that most of the modern, openminded, somewhat liberal types I know do seem to consider the feminist implications of the decision that one spouse stays home/spends less time at work. I consistently ask people why the father isn't staying home. The near-universal response is "well he makes more money." Often, this is acompanied explictly by "we considered doing it the other way" or "if she made more money, I'd stay home"... most of the people I know do at least think about this.
I usually nod and do not provoke further argument at this point (my goal is to make sure people never *assume* it's normal for the father to not be at home; not to make them feel guilty for choosing any particular lifestyle).

I usually do not point out that real societal change should probably start with reevaluating the capitalist mindset that more money should = more happiness.

And yet... truth be told, if we do a brutally honest calculation of "hours work/$ earned", careers like science and perhaps even medicine (at least in some [female-dominated, lower paid] specialties) are not optimal choices from an economic consideration.
So many of the people I know have actually already structured many of their major life choices in such a way that suggests they aren't in it for the money. Yet it's still the (female) lower-paid spouse that stays home... why?
I think what we're really dealing with here is a complicated set of societal expectations that assume women gain more personal satisfaction from children and men gain more from their career. I could be wrong... but the "it's all about the money" argument doesn't ring true in most of the cases I know of.