Did gender equality stall?

2372365284_58edae8164_mI am writing this while on the train for a work-related trip. It’s Saturday. My kids are with my husband, off on an excursion to Baltimore’s children’s museum. While this set-up is not necessarily typical for us (he probably works more hours, and I do more childcare), I didn’t send him with detailed instructions. I didn’t remind him of what our kids eat and don’t. My only mommy moment, really, was shoving a second pacifier in his pocket. That’s just hard-won experience.

So that is the mindset in which I have been re-reading Stephanie Coontz’s recent op-ed in the New York Times on “Why Gender Equality Stalled.” Coontz is one of my favorite historians. She’s well-versed in the realities of how women spend their time, and has a specialty in women’s magazines (I interviewed her recently for a piece I’m writing on such magazines from 50 years ago; Coontz wrote A Strange Stirring, a look at where women were in 1963 when Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique came out).

Coontz recounts the usual statistics: women continue to earn less than men despite being increasingly better educated. While the majority of Americans disagree that the male breadwinner-female homemaker situation is ideal, there’s been a slight uptick in recent years in the percentage who do. Most women claim to want to work part-time; women’s labor force participation is off of its highs. Looking at all this, Coontz argues that “The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.”

Why is that? Coontz argues that the demands of work have intensified. “As of 2000, the average dual-earner couple worked a combined 82 hours a week, while almost 15 percent of married couples had a joint workweek of 100 hours or more.” Couples say they want egalitarian marriages, but when the demands of work and life become intense, they revert to the fall-back position, which is that the woman is supposed to make the accommodations. She’ll try to work part-time, but when that doesn’t work, “Female professionals are twice as likely to quit work as other married mothers when their husbands work 50 hours or more a week and more than three times more likely to quit when their husbands work 60 hours or more.” She argues that there need to be more family-friendly policies.

I like family friendly policies, too (and don’t get me started on the Yahoo! no-more-telecommuting memo), but I think there are some other issues to consider here. For starters, there’s not necessarily clear evidence that our average workweeks are soaring. The BLS’s monthly surveys tend to put the average civilian workweek at 33 hours. That doesn’t sound too taxing. Using American Time Use Survey figures of married parents (calculated 2003-2006), the average couple in which both parents work full-time has a combined 78-hour workweek; the average couple in which mom works part-time (which many women do) and dad works full-time have a combined workweek of 62 hours. I’d put the average somewhere between those two numbers. But let’s use Coontz’s average of 82 hours. If dad is working 45 and mom is working 37 hours (reflecting roughly the differential time use surveys find), and mom and dad are both sleeping 8 hours per night, dad has 67 hours per week for other things, and mom has 75 hours. This is a lot of time.

But what about those 100-hour couples? Speaking as someone in that camp, I can also report that one can still have space for other things. This week my husband and I will both work out multiple times. He took our 3-year-old to school yesterday. We took the kids to a little party at the YMCA last night. The two of us went out for dinner. A 50-hour workweek, if one gets 8 hours of sleep per night (which many people in this camp claim not to get), still leaves 62 hours for other things. If that 100-hour workweek is split 60-40 (and I can tell you, from research and from the time logs I see that 60 is pretty close to maxing out on regular workweeks) then one party is still getting 72 hours for other things. The other has 52. This is a lot of time for “balance” or whatever the buzz word is.

I don’t deny that women married to men working 60 hours per week are more likely to quit their jobs. For starters, these 60-hour-per-week jobs are often well paid. Mothers may assume that if they don’t have to work, and they’re not in love with their jobs, why should they? Personally, I think it’s best to find work you do love so you want to stick with it, but not all women are in such situations. But beyond that, I think this reverting to tradition in the face of pressure is not just about corporate friendliness or unfriendliness, it’s also about the narratives we tell ourselves.

Remember our lawyer from a few months ago who had an awful day, and so quit with a dramatic time log? I proposed alternate narratives, where quitting her job wasn’t the only solution. Unfortunately, as a society, we are still uncomfortable with the idea of mothers working, and so when things get crazy (which they can!) the tendency is to identify “working” as the problem, and so the job has to go.

I’d love to see society change more in the direction of gender equality. But in the meantime, women who want egalitarian families and professional flexibility should remind ourselves that we are not helpless victims of social pressure. We can be our own advocates.

One of the best ways to do that on the personal side is to maintain the ability to earn a good enough living to support yourself and your children at a high standard. That way, you maintain negotiating ability within your marriage. When things get rough, you quitting is not the most obvious answer.

As for work, rather than wait for an official work-life balance agreement with your company, you simply do what you want, and figure that if you come in 15 minutes later because you went to the gym after dropping your kid off at school, but your work is stunning, you probably won’t get fired. Firing people is actually pretty tricky. You build up a broad enough professional network and enough career capital that you maintain negotiating ability within your job, too. You’re in enough demand to work how you want. If Yahoo! ends its work-from-home policies, and you want to work from home, you call up that other tech company that keeps trying to bring you over. They hire you after a quick interview via Skype.

None of this is easy, of course. But who said life would be easy? We have our tricky moments, of course, but I want my kids to see that mommies can, in fact, lean in even after having kids. And dads can too (with a binky in the pocket). 

Photo courtesy flickr user thesoftlanding. We’re more of an Avent household, not a Nuk one.

51 thoughts on “Did gender equality stall?

  1. I like Stephanie Coontz’s work as well.

    I think there are two aspects of time change that affect upper middle class professionals compared with the BLS average. I say this based on discussions with a couple MIT PhD’s I’ve “matchmade” as well as other friends.

    1) Commute times in large urban areas have increased compared with a generation ago.

    2) Jobs are harder to get, so staying by family, especially with two careers, is harder. People are having kids later. This means that families that would have had grandma to help out in a pinch now spend time caring for Grandma. (buying groceries, managing finances, attending doctor appts, etc.)

    Most people pushed out for family reasons aren’t actually fired- they’re positions are cut as part of constant corporate mergers or policy changes, like that at Yahoo.

    I think the “maintain other options” position works well in urban areas but less well in rural or outer suburban ones- who really wants to go from a 5 minute commute to a 60 minute commute?

    In my discussion with the MIT PhD’s, I’m realizing my friend who is a teacher, who started teaching at age 22 and is part of the state public employee retirement system, will likely have a higher lifetime standard of living than they will, due to the ability to live near her parents in a moderate cost of living area, her pensions, and her additional decade of paid employment.

  2. Huh, very odd re: Yahoo. I recently went to a talk from a guy at Stanford who found that the work at home option increases rather than decreases productivity at a call-center in China.

  3. I don’t find your comment that it is so easy for 100 hour couples with three young kids to be realistic or helpful. If women want to have kids and work 50 plus hours and really parent well, they need – a nanny, plus very good expensive daycare, plus a marriage that is extremely egalitarian in every way. This is just not the case for most women in America. If it is the case for you (and I doubt that you and your hubby split things 50-50) that is great.. but saying how easy it is I don’t find that that helpful. Post your log and own the fact that for most women who are as happy as you seem to be often the nanny is the second husband.. that is everyone needs a stay-at-home wife and for women this involves a third or often four or fifth person in the marriage that many folks just don’t have access to for a variety of reasons. As a small business owner, long term u nemployment nad hte fact hat medicaid is not pegged to work among those making between $50K and 100K has made it very hard for us to find employees. I run a business and have young children and am very driven; but I do not have 1 friend in my age group in the same boat, not one. My friends in my professional circle have 0 kids or their husband’s are stay at home dads. As married entrepreneurs, We make it work but it is a struggle every day and to say is is nothing is not really helpful ; ) We need a way for grandparents to get tax credits for babysitting, we need weekend and after hour reliable babysitting say at the local y where you can drop your kids and go for a date or work those long term strategic weekend hours etc. and that just doesn’t exist. leaving your child with a nanny you barely know is it’s own problems etc … for me what would help would be weekend and after hour care at the local y. also grandparents and something like tax credit or some financial incentive for men to do full 50 50 in home and work life… also I would eliminate the long term unemployment and increase medicaid to more americans but peg it to work. no work no medicaid. that would help female entrepreneurs etc.

    1. @Cara- I don’t know where I said it was easy. I think I actually put in there that sometimes it wasn’t, but why should we expect life to be easy? Not working isn’t easy for many reasons. Scaling back your career often turns out to make life not easy because then you’re facing the possibility of being under-compensated and not having as interesting or autonomous a job.

  4. I mostly agree w/ Laura & Stephanie Coontz. I’d make the case, though, that gender equality has stalled partly b/c of women themselves. I live in a conservative Midwest suburb, I’m a man who’s been my kids’ primary caregiver for a while. My wife is the breadwinner, I worked part-time when the kids were younger & work close to full-time now. My arrangement hasn’t affected me all that much professionally, but it has come at a high social cost. Many of the moms around here do not deal well w/ a man on what they regard as their turf & they have not been very welcoming toward my wife either (I assume b/c we don’t fit the mold very well). And I’m talking about mostly college-educated women who had some kind of professional job (and still do in several cases) before having kids. Corporate America changing its ways is part of the equation re. gender equality, but that’s far from the whole story. I’m sure this will cause a stir, will check back later & elaborate more if need be. Thanks for the article, Laura.

    1. @Harry- thanks for your comment, and your perspective. I am sure that families that break the mold don’t always find things easy, both on the work front and the social front. There are moms groups but not dads groups (except in certain places). There are, of course, vast changes taking place on the margins, but I’m sure many parents would still be surprised to see, for instance, a preschool class dad.

  5. Laura,
    I attended a conversation between Anne-Marie Slaughter and Shirley Tilghman on Friday afernoon at PU. The missing piece in much of the dialogue around this issue is not successful women telling other women they “can” or to “lean in” but rather sharing “HOW” they have made it work. I never doubted that I could I was just profoundly shocked that I struggle so much with the “how to” motherhood/ working parenthood. Your bringing together and sharing of the how is really useful and I hope that some the women calling for the next wave of feminism partner with women like you to provide the tools and knowledge for navigating the how!

    1. @Katharine – I looked at getting tickets to that event but by the time I clicked through, it was sold out. I agree that the how is very interesting, and sharing strategies is a key part of that. One of the reasons I keep harping on the “168 hours” concept, and being aware of where time is going, is that in the absence of concrete data on our lives, we are very prone to believing cultural messages — like that working parents never see their kids, that part-time work creates the right “balance,” or that being a successful working mother requires chronic sleep deprivation so you’ll never be happy, etc.

      1. Part-time means different things in different fields. I think the government uses a standard of 30 or 35 hours/week for “full-time” work, which my employer would consider “part-time.” And “full-time” doesn’t mean 40 hours other.

        1. @TG – of course it means different things. However, I tend to look at actual recorded time diary studies as opposed to how many hours people think they are working, or even may be expected to work. BLS ATUS data — which is the most accurate data we have — puts the average married mother who works part-time at somewhere around a 19-20 hour workweek. The average married mother who works full time has closer to a 35-hour workweek. I’m not sure if you remember my post about the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review article comparing people’s estimated workweeks and actual recorded, time log workweeks. As people claim extreme workweeks, the numbers aren’t even close. People who think they work 75 hours a week are, on average, logging 50.

          1. I think our difference is whether we count “mandatory time at work” (such as waiting for someone else to be done with a report or experiment we have to review that day) as work or as non-work. I count it as work; I think you didn’t.

            At a former job, they managed projects so poorly that people wound up sitting around 3 AM waiting for each other to finish individual sections, rather than taking 3-4 work days (with meetings and other obligations) to finish the task.

          2. @TG – with big diary studies, if you say you’re at work, you’re working. The researchers on these time diary studies don’t attempt to pass judgement on the value of what you’re doing — it would be too complicated. So if you’re at work until 3 a.m., you’re working until 3 a.m., and those hours would be counted. I’m sorry your former job was managed so poorly as to require that.

      2. It’s interesting, to me, when I became more aware of where my time was going, I realized that I didn’t spend that much of it on work that I enjoyed. A lot of my time was spent on figuring out what the he** I was supposed to be doing, getting bored or frustrated with that “figuring out” process, and/or not liking the answer, and then procrastinating.

        I probably only did, on average, 30 hours of productive work per week when I was working “full-time.” Now I’m working for pay part time, and I’m working about 20 hours a week at the part-time paid job, and doing more housework, but I prefer it and feel more productive and more settled.

        I found that I really dislike the support aspects associated with office work: scheduling, administration, budgeting, filling out forms, making small talk with coworkers, commuting, making lists and spreadsheets, making phone calls. It wasn’t that I spent that much more time than anyone else in a similar job on tasks like that, it was that I’d so much rather do laundry, clean the house, or just get my hands dirty and actually make something or fix something concrete. I’d even rather clean my bathroom. That surprised me.

        I’m finding this cultural narrative for educated people in general, and women in particular, says we are supposed to want to work with our minds and our words and not our hands and our actions. And I am surprised by the extent to which that way of working doesn’t make me happy.

        1. I resonate with this! I garden, schlep wild meat to the butcher and prepare it and prepare our own jam in large part because I like to eat well.

          The fact that childcare would take up most of my income is also a factor, of course. But I don’t especially like cleaning. And 2 loads/laundry/day is enough…

        2. @Karen – I wrote a post about a week ago touching on the idea of progress being important to workplace happiness. If you can see yourself making progress toward a goal that matters to you, you’ll likely be happier (or at least that’s what Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer’s study of 12,000 scored workplace diary entries indicates). So that’s one of the reasons I love writing — I see progress toward a finished piece. You can see that with work done with your hands, too, of course — and I don’t think there’s necessarily a stark divide there on mind/hands. Certainly there’s plenty of art that involves both, architecture, design, etc. I enjoyed doing layout when I worked on that side of magazines/newspapers. Certainly, people get that in hobbies, and hobbies are a great thing to make time for in the 62-72 hours we’re awake but not working.

          1. Oh absolutely, I love hobbies. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve gotten more into playing the violin in the past several years: it’s a great use of both the mind and the hands working together. And I recently got out my old sewing machine. With the exception of a dress I made my daughter when she was about 2 (she’s now 13), I hadn’t sewn anything in 30 years, and that made me sad. A friend even had to remind me how to thread the machine and wind thread on the bobbin, but once I got it started I remembered that I really enjoyed sewing and wanted to do more of it. I made a stuffed frog. And I agree about writing, too. I’ve been doing more of that since I quit my full-time job. For example, I “won” NaNoWriMo last November by writing 50,000 words of a novel. When I was working full-time, I had to pick and choose. I made time for the violin, practiced about an hour a day, took lessons, played in an orchestra, all amounting to about 10 hours per week, but that was all I could make time for.

    2. That sounds like a really great event. I love listening to smart women talk about these issues, even if I don’t agree with all of their opinions. On the lack of the “how” information: I occasionally blog about the details of how my husband and I make our lives work (we are a two career, two kid family) and I have to say, I find myself avoiding it these days, because of the mean-spirited comments I sometimes get when I do those sorts of posts. They are not the majority, not by a long shot. But even one really mean comment on a post with so much personal detail is disheartening and I have a hard time letting it go. And then there are the comments that aren’t really mean, but that point out all the reasons why my methods won’t work for every woman, which leads to all sorts of extra words about how I know I’m so privileged, and of course if X, Y, or Z were different, I’d have to do A, B, and C differently, too… and well, it just isn’t worth it. Blogging is a hobby, and so I write about other things, instead. I don’t have the energy to spend defending my life online. It is sad that this means that other women looking for ideas about how to make working motherhood work don’t get to learn from my mistakes, but I only have a certain amount of fight in me, and I’d rather use it on actually succeeding.

      1. @Cloud – I know. I enjoy reading about people’s personal schedules, but I’m always disheartened by some of the comments, usually along the lines of privilege-checking (apparently some people believe that if you earn good money, you’re not allowed to have opinions), or self-righteous (“I’d never outsource parenting!” when, you know, you’re not) or else people who are generally beat down and so want to believe that no one else can have a good happy life. I don’t know what it is. That’s fine if you want to be miserable because society is stacked against you. Of course, there’s sexism (and a host of other -isms) but some people also want to focus on how to do the best they can in their own lives on Monday morning. You can work for social change and also do what you can to make your own life work. These are not either/or propositions, and it’s a fallacy to claim they are, just like claims that you can’t “focus” on your career and your family life simultaneously.

        1. Well, there’s a difference in terms of privilege checking when someone says “here’s what I do” and someone says, “it makes no sense that everybody else doesn’t do this”. The latter *does* require a bit of privilege checking.

        2. I just had a much longer post get eaten, so much more quickly this time:

          I like your view point and focus on the potential. However, when reading your posts (generally), a few things stand out to me.

          (1) With regard to negative comments when you post about how to sepnd time, in your case, Laura, people may be reacting to your frequent use of the word “you” coupled with your thoughts on what others should do. You’re naturally going to receive some flack on that.

          (2) I’d really like to see more dissection on figuring out priorities rather simply saying that you have X hours after sleep and work. A while back you wrote about having time to do it all because you watched the Olympics, at the cost of other things that were important to you. To me, the post was about priorities. If anything, it cleared showed that people don’t have time for everything.

          (3) I’d really love to see more time makeovers with people who have more challenging blocks. (i.e., long commutes, fixed hours in the office, regular therapies and appointments for children, etc.)

          1. @WG – I’m sorry your post got eaten. I hope that was not my website causing the problem. “You” is kind of blogging convention; it’s required in my CBS posts (as opposed to the imperial “we”) though I could see how people might dislike the tone (for instance, that sentence would sound more accusatory with “I could see how you might dislike the tone”).

            I’m always happy to write about priorities. I’ll see how I can address that in coming posts. The reason I tend to use the numbers is that many people don’t think of it that way. People feel busy and so the first excuse is “I don’t have time” but the reality is more often about logistics, habits, etc.

          2. I appreciate this comment, esp. point 3.

            I’m a working single mother of two. So, yes, while my weeks have the same 168 hrs as everyone else’s, there’s precious little time to do much of anything beyond just getting through the day. Gender equality isn’t an issue in my house…it’s all me, all the time.

            I have the luxury of a relatively cozy middle-class lifestyle, but childcare + mortgage eats up more than 2/3 of my take-home pay. Add in other bills and I’m dipping into savings every month at this point. So I can’t “outsource” much more than I am. And like I said, I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

            Yes, all of this is in some theoretical and practical space a “choice” but I think it’s critical to recognize that some folks have much more flexibility than others…

            Laura, I thought about contributing to a “time makeover” to your latest project but absolutely did not want my real name in the book.

          3. The part about “regular therapies and appointments for children” in point 3 is crucial. I would love to see you do a time makeover for someone with a kid who has special needs. It’s hard to work around appointments, therapies, IEP meetings, etc., plus the fact that it just takes LONGER to do everything with my kids. With a husband who works long hours and travels frequently, I’m currently finding that even my very flexible job is hard to keep up with. And my field happens to be less lucrative than his, so any negotiating power I might gain from earning money myself is almost nonexistent. But I love my work, and I hate to give in to the narrative… so my sleep is suffering lately.

  6. I have a few thoughts on all of this. I liked Coontz’s article, but thought it was incomplete. But then, it was an article in the NYT, not a dissertation, so of course it had to leave things out.
    My first thought is: fixing pay equality would probably be the policy change that has the most impact. But that’s hard to do.
    2. We won’t have gender equality until average and mediocre women can succeed as well as average and mediocre men. I don’t think we’re there yet, on a lot of fronts. As long as women have to be a superstar performer and/or a time management whiz to have a good career while also having kids, we’re not there.
    3. Along those lines, I’d love to see a breakdown of how much “real” work is accomplished in various length work days. Lets break it down by gender, too. I see those surveys showing women have shorted work weeks, and I know that is true in my family: I average 40, my husband averages 45. I suspect we’re both getting roughly the same amount of work done, though.
    4. The person who invents a reliable way to judge the amount of work produced by “knowledge workers” would be a hero. Hours worked is a very poor substitute.
    5. Finally- the thing I thought was really missing from Coontz’s article was a discussion of the way that plain old-fashioned sexism factors into women’s choices. If you feel thwarted at work, the idea of quitting to do something else is very alluring. And it is not just the big, overt sexism that is a problem. If your confidence is undermined by watching the men around you advance faster than you, you probably won’t ask for or take accommodations like a flexible schedule or the ability to make up some time at home after the kids are in bed so that you can leave early to pick them up.

  7. Oil change. children’s dr appointments. your work to do list versus what arrives on your desk after you get to your work list. exercise, sleep, sex, as part of being a healthy mentally fit person. the media and society in which we live in which women have to be the high achievers cloud mentions and also be very very unconcerned about what others think or feel to get what they want. when you tell everyone in a america that being a woman who is self actualized is weighing 100 lbs on the red carpet and spending 5 hours having perfect house, perfect body perfect looks, you do limit her in what is sexy, powerful and can contribute about her. we still live in this society even though we are not covered in burkas. when we own that we can affect the change we need for the next wave feminism for the truly modern society to which we all aspire. what we need is the HOW of all this for those of uswho want to work 50 plus hours and have a more egalitarian society.

  8. “This is a lot of time for “balance” or whatever the buzz word is.”

    Ha! This is why I appreciate your perspective on these issues, Laura.

    And yes, we CAN be our own advocates, and we must, if change is going to continue to happen. (And I’m with you–I believe Coontz is wrong this time, and that it will continue.)

    I couldn’t help but think of Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men while reading this article. She goes into detail (unless I’m confusing what she wrote in the book with what she said at a speaking event I attended) about the dynamics of highly educated, dual-income marriage, and how it’s extremely common for high-performing men to marry high-performing women, who then end up quitting their jobs. It’s like a status symbol, to push your very successful wife out of her career. Hmmm.

    1. @Anne- there are probably some who consider it a status symbol, but I imagine there are jerks in all occupations, income levels (and genders!) While some guys might enjoy being so important that they pushed a high-performing wife to quit her job, others get a lot of mileage out of telling their clients and colleagues about what their wives do, having her professional contacts to add to their own, etc. Another thing women can do, professionally, is to work with and help guys in the latter category.

  9. @Anne Bogel – Regarding “It’s like a status symbol, to push your very successful wife out of her career”…it’s a status symbol for whom? I’ve seen alot of cases where both the husband and wife viewed her staying at home as a status symbol. Very few of the women who stay at home/work part-time for childcare reasons in my neck of the woods were “pushed.”

  10. I think one of the main problems is that we still glorify working 60+ hour work weeks. I truly believe that most people are not productive beyond 40 hours, at least not week after week, and that working more hours all the time smacks of exploitation. I know you and your husband often (always?) work more hours but I still think that the majority of people should be able to have a good solid career w/o always putting in over 40 hours per week. So many hours are wasted by people who create more work to fill up the time, or are correcting mistakes, or holding pointless meetings that start late in the afternoon, etc..

    I engaged in a mini-discussion on a personal finance blog,where the gist of a post is that anyone who thought working ‘only’ 40 hours a week should not complain about how hard it is to get ahead. From the comments, it was easy to see that most people equate more hours to productivity. It’s sad that we’re still judged on facetime and hours rather than on the quality of work we do.

    This type of thinking however really makes it hard for women to stay in the work force, or for that matter, anyone who values time with family or a life outside of work.

    1. @OilandGarlic – my sense from looking at my time logs is that I get the core tasks of my job done in 40 hours. It’s the other stuff — networking, reading, marketing, prospecting for new ideas, even commenting more here in an effort to keep conversations going and readership up! — that takes extra hours. Not too many extra hours, but probably 5-10 each week. The problem is that those are important hours in terms of building up career capital for the long term. They are very easy to cut when life gets busy, but I’ve tried, as much as possible, not to cut them. There are other things I don’t do. I don’t have a commute, for instance, which is a big productivity boost (seriously, Yahoo!) I don’t watch much TV. I know that shows like Downton Abbey, Mad Men, etc. exist, and know their rough plot lines from what people tell me at social gatherings, but I have never watched them. I don’t watch movies — it’s not something that’s important to me. I also have very little in the way of housekeeping rituals. We outsource some of it, and some of the rest of it just doesn’t get done very quickly. Some people can’t do anything else if there are dirty dishes in the sink, if the bed is unmade, if shoes aren’t lined up by the back door, if there is a giant pile of laundry, if the cushions are ripped off the couch and made into a fort. I just leave it if I’m busy. All of this opens up time to still do a lot with the family, exercise pretty seriously, volunteer, socialize, and work 45-50 hours/week.

      1. This is the tension… if you are driven and want to work, those 5 to 10 hours are hard to make if you have young kids… I really liked the film zero dark 30 and the fact that it was done by a female director with a female lead..b/c you see her drive, her attempt to really be professional and not sexualized and also her isolation and loneliness.. most women dont stay home b/c they want to they do so b/c they don’t have the “fight” in them that is currently required to juggle… and as women we probably should own that and work to change it not only for ourselves but for other women, etc. some people can work from home but most can’t be managed from home… etc. so there is a continuum but I don’t really believe educated women are happy with no job outside the home and I don’t believe that women who work more than 40 hours a week with young children are 100% ok with that choice and there are things we could do to make it more ok…so it is a work in progress.. i applaud you for bring up the question and encourage you to keep writing on the how of it etc and things that workfor you b/c I appreciate it as your reader ; ) !

  11. Interestingly (or not), other internet companies are also surprisingly bad about working at home and telecommuting. My husband works for Google, and they don’t allow regular working from home either.

    They might allow it in occasional, special, case-by-case circumstances, but they have a policy similar to Yahoo’s and they’ve had it for years. So Google isn’t going to be poaching any Yahoo employees over this issue.

  12. Laura, I enjoyed reading your response to this interesting article about the current state of feminism. Many comments point out that the children and their needs aren’t discussed, or women who have just given birth, and all of these are valid concerns.

    However, I appreciate that you have refocused the issue on “the narratives we tell ourselves.” As some of the earlier commenters have noted, the current business culture glorifies working a lot. I’m a lowly community college instructor and could easily put in 40 hours for my full-time job, then add 5-7 hours for my second job, and then add 2 hours a day for writing. But I have a toddler. Something has to give, and right now it’s my writing, which isn’t earning any money – yet.

    Right now, my husband is a stay-at-home father with our two-year-old. His being at home has allowed me to further my career and has allowed him to go to college – for the first time in his life.

    At first, I felt extremely conflicted about leaving my toddler at home. I felt like that was my job. One day, almost in tears, I asked my husband if he felt guilty for working.

    He said no, that if you are providing for your family, you should be proud of that, not guilty.

    I still feel twinges of guilt some mornings, but have adopted this more “breadwinner” attitude. It is my job to earn my current salary, but also to excel in my career so I can hold on to my position and perhaps earn more later on, ensuring my family is provided for.

    Thank you for your provocative and engaging posts, Laura!

    1. @Leah – thanks! I’m guessing that a big issue with women’s narratives right now — and part of what stalls the revolution — is that many people don’t see earning money as part of mothering. They see working as somehow detrimental to mothering, or at least separate. But kids need time and money, and as you put it, providing for your children can be a part of parenting you’re proud of.

  13. I have a lot to say here, and can’t, because hubby is away at orientation for his shiny new job and it’s 11pm and the kids have decided to sleep in series rather than in parallel.

    But this line bugged me: “That way, you maintain negotiating ability within your marriage. “. Really? Negotiating ability in a marriage is dependent on financial contribution? That seems pretty shallow.

    I think it’s perfectly possible to have a marriage where you agree, together, that one person is going to take on more kid stuff and less money earning, and the other will do more money earning and less kid/house stuff, and I don’t think either one is more “valuable” in the marriage.

    The crux of all these “do paid work for the sisterhood” argument that doesn’t ring true FOR ME, is that both my husband and I believe that we should do most of the kid wrangling stuff,as mundane or maddening as it might be. We don’t want to send them to 45 hours of daycare a week or even get a nanny to come stay at our place. It just doesn’t work for *our* vision of parenting. I get that it works for other people, and those are the people who lead companies. We’re just not them.

    The load will let up as the kids start school, and then we’ll ramp up our own paid work. But right now we’ve arranged it so that we ‘trade off’, ie one of us is around all the time. (And it’s not always The Wife.)

    Maybe we’re anomalies, and I’d guess we are, since we considered all the alternatives equally – male breadwinner, female breadwinner, both part-time, etc. It’s a shifting balance for us and will constantly change over the next several years.

    What I’d love to see is not just the usual definition of “flexibility” like telecommuting, etc. but an understanding that people’s lives and priorities change, so popping in and out of the workforce, or ramping down and up, is easier and accepted rather than “career limiting”.

    1. @ARC – congrats to your husband on the new job! I hope he’s very excited about it. I don’t think one should necessarily do paid work for the sisterhood. There are plenty of other reasons, some of which you’ve written about, like giving your husband the freedom to figure out what he wants to do with his life. There’s a quote in the Coontz article (which I no longer have in front of me) noting that a woman’s choice not to maintain her own earning potential means that her husband has to support her, which removes his choice — something many women don’t want to do. I, too, wish it were easier to move in and out of the workforce over time as people desired. This would make for far closer to a “perfect” labor market, in which any unit of time can be exchanged for money as people want. At the moment, we’re a bit sticky — often, time can only be exchanged for money in units of 40 (roughly) hours per week, in a continuous fashion. That’s a waste of human capital, since there are no doubt people with skills whose lives don’t look like that.

  14. @ARC, I am sure that in individual circumstances some men can view minding children as being an equal contribution to the household and not “use” this against their wives. Each partner brings things to the relationship and these things SHOULD be viewed as important.

    However, over the course of a marriage one, or both, people may change. If a woman has been out of the work force for many years, this can (not WILL, but CAN) leave her very vulnerable, with little ability to advocate for things that her husband does not want. And then what can she do?

    Ultimately, overall, working for pay gives women more options and more bargaining power. All relationships are influenced by power dynamics, like it or not, even if it is the case of both partners choosing to lay down their “weapons”.

    1. It is true that we’re pretty sure that increased labor force participation by women has increased the divorce rate, because women are no longer stuck in crappy marriages in order to keep a roof over their heads.
      Now, my husband doesn’t worry his pretty little head over money, but empirically, for most couples earnings power has some sway.
      Nava Ashraf has some very interesting experiments in developing countries in which they boost the woman’s earnings power (in some villages etc.) and see what happens to household bargaining.

  15. @ARC – Yes, negotiating ability in a marriage is influenced in part by each partner’s financial contributions. If you call that shallow, fine…I call it reality. If marriage involves shared expenses and assets, then it pretty much has to involve income, too.

    1. I don’t deny it’s *part* of it, but the statement above made it seem like the whole picture, ie all power comes from money earned.

  16. From Sigrid Unset’s 1932 novel Ida Elisabeth, the speaker is the lawyer Herr Toksvold:

    There will never be more than a small percentage of either men or women who can create for themselves a field of work which they could not exchange for another without feeling it as a sacrifice. But because a few women have succeeded in making themselves a position which it would be a sacrifice for them to give up if they married, perhaps nine times as many are forced to go out and do a full day’s work as breadwinners, and to do the work of a mother and housekeeper the rest of the twenty-four hours, or as many of them as they can stand on their feet without dying for want of sleep. Because a few females of the middle class have discovered that it is a disgrace to be kept by a man.

  17. @ARC – It’s not easy to ramp your career up and then just get back in once you’re out of the workforce for so long. It’s not impossible but for many women I know, the price is a financial vulnerability that is kind of scary, no matter how “equal’ the marriage.
    My husband and I agree that non-paid and paid work is super important; however, for myself, I do know that when I earn more I do spend more on little luxuries and also spend more on gifts for my side of the family. I wouldn’t feel as comfortable giving money to my parents if all the income was from my husband, even if he also cares about my parents. So even in something like this, there is some decision making power tied in to my own earnings.

    1. Yeah, I should clarify what I meant. I guess Laura’s statement made it seem like the *only* negotiating position in a marriage is the financial one. IE you give up any “power” if you have no financial contribution. I think in a *good* marriage, it’s a combination of things, not just one’s financials. And I thought the referenced article was discussing American professionals, not the developing world where cultures are very different (and in many cases, the women didn’t even choose their own husbands!)

      And I do get that it’s scary to give up money earning entirely, but I think that’s true for men and women. I’m guessing the SAHDs probably have similar issues with it.

      1. @ARC – thanks for bringing up the developing world cultures part. One thing we should always keep in mind when lamenting problems here is how much better we, as American professional women, have things than, oh, just about any women in human history.

        The thing with money is that it’s an externally recognized currency, whereas family contributions aren’t in the same way. In a good marriage, none of this matters, but the problem is that not all good marriages stay good in the face of traumas, tragedies, external stresses, etc.

        Wealthy Single Mommy explains how she found herself needing to support her children in circumstances that she absolutely could not have foreseen: http://www.wealthysinglemommy.com/you-cannot-afford-to-be-a-sahm-mom/

  18. My husband and I do quite well for a 50:50 split – it’s not always absolutely even but it works. We discussed this before we had our son. I have a lot vested in my career (years upon years of school) and wanted to be on the same page that I would continue in my career. Our household works.

    The issue is that while my job is flexible enough to account for the sick kid/snow day scenario; his is less so. Upper management can’t understand why his wife can’t deal with it. *sigh* So change has to come from employers of men as well….

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