Men have it all

Someone shared this HuffPo piece on my Facebook feed:

The newly-combined global HR leadership team were coming together for the first time at the Zurich headquarters and the CEO was going to be opening the meeting and addressing the HR team. I was really looking forward to the meeting and the opportunity to focus on the growth and performance strategy and to hear what the CEO had to say about the role HR would play.

I then realized that my 5-year-old daughter’s birthday assembly at school would be taking place on the first day of the HR conference, at exactly the same time that the CEO would be addressing us. I had always had a full-time job and had remembered one piece of advice from another Mom: “Don’t ever miss the birthday assembly.” I went back and forth in my mind. I was concerned about getting off on the wrong foot with my new boss by not attending the start of the meeting, and wondered if would I be making a career-killing decision if I explained that I would be attending the birthday assembly and would fly to Zurich in the afternoon but would miss the CEO’s address.

Did you notice that somebody’s missing from this story?  Somebody else who could have gone to the birthday assembly?  Somebody with a penis?

You read articles like this all the time, usually under some heading that says, in many words or few, “Women can’t have it all.”  But what these articles call “having it all” and treat as an impossible fantasy  — being a good, loving parent without sacrificing work ambition — is what men call “daily life.”

And that’s part of the problem.  If you start from the position that raising children is a colossal amount of work, and that fathers are not going to participate in that work, then, yeah, women have some very tough choices to make.  But only one of those assumptions is a fact of nature.

 

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19 thoughts on “Men have it all

  1. thumbtheorem says:

    If the author wants to be present in person it is irrelevant whether a coparent will be present, has a penis, or exists.

    being a good, loving parent without sacrificing work ambition — is what men call “daily life.”
    This would be fine if society didn’t saddle parents of different genders with wildly different expectations of what being “good and loving” means, and if there weren’t too many dual-career couples where the woman does more than half the work and the man feels like he’s awesome because he does so much more than his colleagues with a stay-at-home-wife.
    I usually like your posts, but for International Women’s Day I would have expected something better than “what About The Menz?(TM)”.

  2. Eyal says:

    Perhaps I don’t understand what a birthday assembly is, but my wife and I both want to — and do — attend all our children’s birthday events.

  3. I completely agree with thumbtheorem that society saddles “parents of different genders with wildly different expectations of what being “good and loving” means” and I think this is a significant part of the problem. And it isn’t so easy to ignore this pressure from society, even if you want to and try to, as I have personally found. I notice myself feeling really bad when I think that over the course of week, for example, I have done less parenting than my husband, where it is almost impossible to imagine a man in my situation feeling the same. Among couples where both parents have similar work responsibilities, I think the woman doing significantly more of the parenting is the most common situation, and I’m sure that at least many of the men in those situations aren’t bothered by the inequality.

    Another huge part of the problem is the relative scarcity of men willing to take on parenting responsibilities on an equal (or even in the range 40-60 to 60-40) with their wives. I think the original post is suggesting that men will just (magically?) be so willing and that will solve everything. I agree that if men were so willing that would be a huge improvement towards work-life balance for women, and probably also help with the first problem I mentioned above. But it seems unreasonable to suggest that the theoretical possibility of such men is enough to eliminate women’s need to make tough work-life choices when such men are indeed hard to find. (Thank heavens I found one!)

    And finally, as an admittedly non-thorough litmus test to all those equal parenting dads out there, one question: Do you cut your kids nails?
    For more on this, see the New York Times article “In Sweden, Men Can Have it All”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html

  4. Eyal says:

    The issue I see with most women (in Israel) is not that they have to compromise their existing career, but that they choose a compromise career to begin with. Most women I know did not have kids until their 30’s so they had enough time to build a career, but somehow, many choose to be teachers/psychologists/social workers arguably because they are known to be more flexible with work hours.

    And sure, I cut my kids’ nails :)

  5. piper says:

    i usually feel a little too “regular folk” for this blog. today is no different. i don’t get the criticism. it seems like the post says Challenge Assumptions. and the criticism is These Assumptions are Embedded In Society: Be More Creative In Your Blogging. um, okay. let’s still challenge assumptions!

  6. piper says:

    also, i really like melanie’s nail question.

  7. Hilariously/terrifyingly, there’s an argument by a luminary of the Overcoming Bias scene that this would be a net loss for society:

    ‘Increasing preferences diversity within genders makes finding a compatible partner harder: if all women want children and all men want careers it is easier to find a partner who wants the opposite to you than if half of each gender wants each option.

    Making both genders equally likely to care for kids also has the downside that it will increase job-commitment mismatch by making it harder for anyone to guess ahead of time who will be committed and who will not.

    Given that both market and non-market work (housework and child rearing) has to be done, it’s possible that we’re better off socialising each gender to enjoy a different job. That way nobody need suffer a task they dislike. While in theory we could pick men and women at random and encourage them to value one or the other task, it is easier to socialise genders as a group; messages are easily targetted and made persuasive for gender groups in a way impossible for randomly chosen groups. This benefit is smaller if innate preferences or aptitude for market and non-market work are strong and cut randomly across gender lines (something I know little about).’

    http://robertwiblin.com/2010/04/11/is-it-bad-to-discriminate-against-fertile-women-in-employment/

  8. Frank says:

    What the hell is a “birthday assembly”? Perhaps my memory is failing me, but I don’t remember my school, and my parents, dropping everything, to celebrate my fifth birthday as a special event in school.

    Is it such a bad thing to skip such a birthday assembly? Why shouldn’t a parent skip it if she or he has an important business meeting in Zurich, or for that matter if she or he finds the idea absurd and cannot be bothered? And might it still be “bad” (the quotes indicating disagreement) even if the father agrees to go in the mother’s place?

    (Disclaimer: not a parent, please tell me if I am being naive.)

  9. JSE says:

    I don’t know what a birthday assembly is either, I think it’s a UK thing.

    To thumbtheorem and eyal — in this case, I can only go by the author’s testimony, where she talks about how much she was looking forward to the work meeting, while her description of her motivation to go to the school assembly was “another mom said it was the right thing to do so I felt that I should.” So I didn’t get any feeling she actually wanted to go to the assembly, but maybe I’m wrong!

  10. gowers says:

    I don’t know what a birthday assembly is and I’m British, so I think whatever it is is more specific than a UK thing. For anyone who passes the nail-cutting test, there’s an even more difficult one devised by Mary Beard, a well-known British classicist: have you ever sewed nametapes on your children’s clothes? I actually have, but only after reading her claim that that is exclusively a woman’s job and wanting to become a counterexample. (It would have been cheating just to sew on one nametape, so I’ve done it quite a lot, though I haven’t got to 50-50 on that one.)

  11. Bias says:

    @P. Greitzer: it might be hilarious or terrifying, but is that analysis actually wrong (in the factual sense, not in the sense of offending our ethical sense)?

  12. Yiftach says:

    I guess I am formally British now. Every Friday (in some or most) primary schools in the UK there is an assembly. If you had a birthday that week, your name is mentioned and people sing you happy birthday. This is a birthday assembly.

  13. gowers says:

    I had a feeling when I typed the word “sewed” that it looked strange. And it’s suddenly occurred to me that the word is “sewn”. I’m not sure what caused me to forget temporarily my own language. I suppose it shows that, attempts to avoid gender stereotyping notwithstanding, sewing isn’t something I think about very much.

  14. [...] from the authority they need to do their jobs doesn’t work. Not Mormon-related, but this is my favorite reaction to the endless refrain that women “can’t have it [...]

  15. Aaron F. says:

    @Bias: Since the analysis in question is supposed to be exploring a question of the form, “Is it bad to ___,” but it doesn’t seem to contain any sort of ethical argument, I’ve got a strong hunch that it’s not wrong, but rather not even wrong.

  16. Aaron F. says:

    @Melanie Matchett Wood:

    Another huge part of the problem is the relative scarcity of men willing to take on parenting responsibilities on an equal (or even in the range 40-60 to 60-40) with their wives. I think the original post is suggesting that men will just (magically?) be so willing and that will solve everything.

    I read the original post as suggesting that men are morally obligated be so willing, and that their lack of willingness makes them into effete, self-serving delinquents swaddled in the soft fleece of privilege. I must admit, however, that my only evidence in support of this reading is a few vague feelings about the writer’s tone.

    @thumbtheorem:

    This would be fine if society didn’t saddle parents of different genders with wildly different expectations of what being “good and loving” means…

    In the original post, I read “being a good, loving parent without sacrificing work ambition” as “being a good, loving parent [according to external and internalized social norms] without sacrificing work ambition,” and I took the author’s implicit message to be essentially the same as the one you stated explicitly in your comment. Now that you mention it, though, I’m not sure why I did this.

    @JSE:

    When I first read your post, I thought it was a subtle, sharp-tongued way of making a certain point. After reading the comments quoted above, however, I realized that it might instead have been a blunt, straightforward way of making exactly the opposite point. I know it’s a bit gauche to ask about authorial intent, but—well, which was it? And what cues in the text should I have been using to decide?

    (If it was the former, I agree with thumbtheorem that it was a bit thoughtless to assume the existence of a coparent with a penis…)

  17. JSE says:

    @Aaron: I _think_ you read my post the way I intended it, but I’m not totally clear on what you think I intended! “Effete, self-serving delinquents” is stronger language than I think is appropriate, but I do think we are (and should be) moving towards social norms in the US that ask men to do more work than they now do. Is that what you thought I meant?

    I assumed that a male partner existed in the article I linked to because the article included a picture of a person I took to be the author together with some kids and an adult man. It’s possible this was just stock photography but its placement led me to interpret it as the author’s family photo. In any event, the vast majority of these articles are written by and about women who are in straight long-term relationships in which the male partner is held to be unable to go to the birthday assembly, or make the sack lunch, or whatever. The ones that concern single women usually say so outright.

  18. Aaron F. says:

    @JSE:

    Is that what you thought I meant?

    Yup—thanks for your reply! “Effete, self-serving delinquents” is a caricature, of course, but I think I could tenably argue that all three sentiments are present at very low levels in the text. ;)

    I assumed that a male partner existed in the article I linked to because the article included a picture of a person I took to be the author together with some kids and an adult man.

    Whoa, I totally missed that!

    The ones that concern single women usually say so outright.

    That’s really interesting, and I never paid attention to it before. In hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if media profiles tend to call people out when and only when they have non-default identities.

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