Work-Life Balance 3: Less Navel-Gazing, More Scholarly And Institutional Structure Analysis!

First post in this series can be found here.

Second post in this series can be found here.

In my second post in this series, I gave the men a cookie, and commenter rpf accused me of...gasp!...being too nice!

I believe this is the first time this has ever happened.

rpf quoted me and commented thus:

"If I were a married man with children, I might well be leery of blogging about how I negotiate the home balance with my spouse on my science blog, even if I weren't concerned about privacy or protecting a pseud, because I'd be afraid of pissing off my spouse, and pissing off the feminist blogosphere. That's my cookie to the men science bloggers who have ever even gotten as far as thinking about blogging about work-life balance: Zuska feels your pain."

You're being too nice. We need a culture in which men accept equal responsibility for household obligations (really, more responsibility, since they are responsible for violence against women and the patriarchal structure of our economy) and are open about it. If that means that they get their asses handed to them and called out on their privilege until they get it right, well, nobody said that learning is supposed to be enjoyable or painless. They aren't oppressed people, they don't need anybody else to make them feel welcomed in these discussions. If anything, they need to learn what it's like to be unwelcome.

No cookies for them.

Well, of course we need a culture in which men accept equal responsibility for household obligations. Accept? EMBRACE!!!!

The question is, how is this to be achieved? Not, I submit, by lowering our buckets again and again into the Well of Personal Experience and drinking deeply of its waters alone. If some men choose to blog about their personal experiences, I am sure it would be great, and welcomed, and we would all learn something.

But really: do you not think it is possible for someone to write about work-life balance in academia without talking about one's personal home arrangements? You know, like as if it were a scholarly subject? Think about this. Do not some of us write about, say, cancer without going into detail about a loved one's experience with chemotherapy? Or about drug use without talking about a family member's personal substance abuse issues? Or contraception without disclosing whether or not anyone in our household sports a scrote tote? I assure you, it is possible to talk about work-life balance in a blog post without saying "and here's how we do it at my house, without which information, I could not have written this blog post".

"But I don't know where to start!" cries our poor male sciblogger. If he is not to just blab all over the internetz about how last week he took his kid to the playground and then washed some dishes and his wife is an awesome woman whose intellect he totally respects, what should he do? Well, here are some ideas. It is possible to do things like: book reviews (here's a recent one that came highly recommended, I'm dying to read it), commentary on articles appearing in places like the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed, commentary on how science mags are or are not doing a good job of covering work/life balance (as Isis recently did), observations on interesting institutional practices around work/life balance issues (one need not necessarily comment on one's own institution). Say, you could kill two birds with one stone by reading IHE's Mama PhD blog and then writing a blog post on something there that interests you while simultaneously pointing out that IHE has done a major FAIL by neglecting to have a Papa PhD blog.

I mean, for pete's sake, one could even consider some issues around work life balance to be ethical. Couldn't one pose hypothetical scenarios and explore them and invite readers to comment?

There are gazillions of mini-case studies (though not by that name) published in the Chronicle and IHE of science couples talking about how they make things work. You can look at them, and talk about them. There are a gazillion books with short pieces about famous couples in science, or narratives from women in science talking about how they arranged their lives and work, where the men in their lives are sometimes more, sometimes less present. Men can read these things and comment on them just as well as women can. But for some reason, they seem not to. I guess because that stuff is just written for women.

The ADVANCE portal has a whole section devoted to collecting linky links from all over the internet on the issue of work life balance!! Why, you could spend hours exploring them! I bet you'd find one or two things there to blog about. Or you could just post a blog full o' links.

From one of those links, I found this page, with this interesting quote:

The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reports that as of 1996, 45% of the working population was from dual career families ( Given this fact, the relative lack of support of dual career couples in academia is even more notable.

You know, 45% of the population is not working in academia. So clearly, this is not some unique problem that only academia has to struggle with.

But here's another thing that occurs to me: work life balance is not just all about married or soon to be married heterosexual couples. Single people - men as well as women - have work life balance issues too. People without kids have work life balance issues. Gay couples have work life balance issues.

And work life balance issues look different if you are the faculty member who is trying to figure out how to balance work and life versus if you are an administrator - department chair, dean, provost, whatever - trying to figure out how to create responsible policies for the unit you are charged with, to accommodate the sorts of work life balance issues your staff may encounter in the normal run of things. Since most of those administrators have been, are, and continue to be you men, it behooves you to consider the work-life balance issue from that point of view. Because some of you are going to end up administrating our female asses, and we would like it if you had a freaking clue. Say, whaddya know, here is something I found via that ADVANCE portal site! Those crazy ADVANCE people! Taking government grants, collecting information, and putting it out on the web for people to find and use. If only the people would.

Work life balance in academia versus government versus industry - what are the differences and similarities? Where does one go for resources? What's available, in print or on the web?

What are the balance issues like for someone who is dealing with the care of an elderly parent, or a family member with a chronic illness? Or struggling with a chronic illness one's self? Everybody wants to talk about childcare as if this is the major and only work-life balance issue but it so totally is not.

If you are new in town, and alone, how do you go about building up your new web of contacts and people you can rely on, and not just sinking into a pattern of work, work, work all the time?

If you are managing a small department, how do you plan for contingencies such as if one of your faculty members is suddenly struck with a debilitating illness or requires an operation that will take them out of commission for an extended period of time - how will you cover their absence? Do you know what policies are available to support them in their leave time?

What about graduate students and postdocs? What institutional policies are available to cover and protect them, both from the vagaries of life and from overzealous or wackaloon PIs? There are some PIs who think it is perfectly reasonable to email their grad students and postdocs at 11 p.m. on a Saturday evening demanding a status update on something or other and expect instant response. This is a work-life balance issue. How are the relatively powerless grad students and postdocs to protect the boundaries between work and their private lives? Who is responsible for teaching PIs to respect the boundary? How is it to be done?

NOBODY has the market cornered on all of these topics from their own lived personal experience. You could devote a whole blog to work life balance and never ever talk about yourself. The main point I want to drive home is that there is no need to, and many good reasons not to. Problems of work-life balance, while experienced personally, originate structurally and institutionally. They need to be scientifically researched and analyzed.

Yes, we do need men talking about this issue, and sharing their perspectives, but I don't really give a rat's ass whether or not DrugMonkey or PZ wash the dishes or scrub the toilets at their respective houses, or whether they hired a cleaning service to do so. I don't care to know those details about Isis or Dr. Free-Ride, either. Anybody who wants to share personal information on their blog is giving the world a gift no one has a right to ask them for. The perspectives I'm interested in are: how do we make sense of this tangled patriarchal mess? What policies have worked, which ones have not, and why? And in what situations? (Here's an interesting IHE piece on a low-stress tenure environment...) How can we adapt the good ones for this or that situation? What materials are available for sharing? How do we create lasting institutional change that leads to more supportive environments, environments that promote the success of a more diverse scientific workforce?

That's the real work-life balance issue, in the end.

Now: I have managed to write three posts on work-life balance, despite a distinct lack of work to balance with my so-called life. None of those posts drew on my deep Well of Personal Experience, except to note that I have no job, I like gardening with native plants, and my husband is employed. Scienceblogger dudes of the world: it is now your turn.

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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…
In the midst of the ongoing conversation about managing career and housework and who knows what else (happening here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and likely some places I've missed), ScientistMother wondered about one of the blogospheric voices that wasn't taking an active role in the…
While I loved Jeanne Garbarino's recent post, "Want to promote women in STEM? Leave home life out of the discussion", and agree with probably 90% of it, I think it unfortunately goes from one extreme to another with some of her recommendations. Garbarino notes several reasons why she thinks it's…

I am not a dood. I am a working woman with 3 kids and a stay at home spouse who has, quite possibly, never cleaned a toilet and can't even see dirt. This means our balance is I work, he deals with kitchen issues, I clean the rest of the house.

It works, oddly enough. Cooking and cleaning the kitchen is a mess 'o work, not to be mistaken for a mess o' potamia.

What bugs me is that there is a magazine called "Good Housekeeping". Eww. You couldn't pay me to read that. Why isn't there one called "Good lawnmowing", or something equally fucked?

By Teragram42 (not verified) on 23 Jun 2010 #permalink

Well, I've discovered at least one male scienceblogger who indirectly writes about his own personal work-life balance by using a set cryptic symbols. When he has cleaned the house, he posts clipart of a broom. And when his SO cleans the house, he posts a broom with a red line through it. Or so I have inferred through weeks of study.

Seriously, today I was chastised by my dean for not spending enough time on a diversity-in-science service obligation, even though it is summer, I'm not being paid, and my two kids are out of school. I really appreciate your voice of reason here, Zuska, because I sure am not hearing it from anyone in my regular life.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 23 Jun 2010 #permalink

I mean, for pete's sake, one could even consider some issues around work life balance to be ethical.

Lol, yes, but of course not by the ethical standards of the superdudes in my field.

They are too busy being geniuses and saving the world. Why should they blog about some stupid problem that non geniuses (like women) have. What do you mean ... that women shouldn't focus on serving and glorifying them? But ... but ... it's for the benefit of the world! How dare you insinuate that they are in any way unethical! You should bow before them! Their time is so precious!

"I guess because that stuff is just written for women."


also, real men bake their own cookies. :)

(*nom nom nom*)

By DrScienceDaddy (not verified) on 23 Jun 2010 #permalink

My sister had to read a textbook called "Men's Lives" for her women's studies degrees (take that, WATM whiners!). There was a lot of study about housework and who does what how often (for hetero couples), and tactics men use to avoid doing housework...that kind of stuff. It was pretty interesting. Faking incompetency is popular.

Thanks for the shout out to the Advance portal and program activities!

The question of revealing personal details versus commenting intelligently on books/articles/other blog posts is interesting. I write on motherhood and mothering a great deal from my perspective as a women's historian, and I have a lot of commenters who have been vexed by the fact that I don't reveal whether or not I am a mother. But, their vexation is precisely why I don't--for example on discussions of breast feeding, everyone feels very passionately about their own personal experiences but I don't think that's helpful when interrogating (for example) the implications of the Breastfeeding Imperative among women of particular class and educational backgrounds. Whether or not I have ever breastfed an infant is irrelevant, since (like the scibloggers) I'm writing from my disciplinary training and expertise.

In short, I agree with you, Zuska, that discussions of one's household management are not only unnecessary, but they're necessarily n=1, and who really gives a crap about one example? People can do better than that if they read and try a little harder.

My SO tries very hard to avoid any conversation on household chores. If pressed very hard, he will say that I do way more than my fair share and he's a bastard. Although he believes this, it is like pulling teeth to get him to do anything besides mow the lawn.

Projecting my SO's attitude onto scienceblogger dudes: they can't write about work-life balance in abstract because facts found in their writing could be used against them by their SOs. They have a sweet deal and don't want to jeopardize it.

Well Lyrl, maybe you should give him a bill for your services. Make a time sheet. If he knows he isn't doing his share and makes it so hard for you to get some help you should at least be fairly compensated for your effort. It would only be fair.