Supreme Court and the Single Girl

Dahlia Lithwick and Hanna Rosin have a great article up about the Supreme Court short-list — and notably the fact that it’s populated by “single” women. (Note: Kathleen Sullivan and Pamela Karlan are both in long-term relationships with same-sex partners). Sonia Sotomayor, Kathleen Sullivan, Pamela Karlan and Elena Kagan are all unmarried and child-free; Sullivan and Karlan are out lesbians, and Sotomayor and Kagan, like many other powerful unmarried women, are rumored to be (because why else would a woman be middle-aged and single?).

Lithwick and Rosin dive into the ridiculousness of the lesbian rumors and the focus on the nominees’ single status, as if not having children makes them pathetic. But the most interesting part of the article comes in the final paragraphs:

Another question raised by the predominance of unmarried women on the short list: What kind of woman does it take to get there? Several years ago, some conservative women economists set out to prove that the wage gap between men and women was a myth. Anita Hattiangadi, then of the Employment Policy Foundation, concluded that if you compare men and women of “comparable worth,” the wage gap virtually disappears. So what does “comparable worth” mean? It means the same education, experience, and life circumstances. Thus, Hattiangadi found that among full-time workers age 21 to 35 who live alone, the pay gap between men and women disappears. The only significant pay gap, she found, was between married men and married women.

Hattiangadi intended these findings to finally bust the “myth” of the pay gap, but, of course, they just clarified the real problem: Men and women are not very often in comparable circumstances. When they get married and have children, women’s pay shrinks. That means the only women who can keep up with men are the ones who work very hard, and they are often divorced or unmarried and childless. Thus, as we ponder a list of potential Supreme Court nominees, it’s hardly a surprise that the current short list is dominated by such women. And so the list is a Catch-22: The choices a woman may make to achieve stunning legal success are the same ones that may also someday preclude her from a Supreme Court confirmation.

Men actually see their income and job stability increase as they marry and have children; for women, it’s the opposite. The wage gap certainly exists, but it’s more of a “mommy gap” than anything else. In the United States, motherhood is culturally glorified, until it’s time to deal with actual mothers — and then they receive almost no state support, they’re underpaid, and they’re viewed as soft and less intelligent. And yet if a woman shirks her cultural responsibility to have babies by a certain age, she’s a spinster or a radical or a lesbian. And if she’s those things, well, she’s probably not fit for the Supreme Court.


Similar Posts (automatically generated):

46 comments for “Supreme Court and the Single Girl

  1. May 6, 2009 at 9:59 am

    It means the same thing it means for the Ivory Ceiling. If you want to get ahead, you have to essentially cut your balls off. (Well, ovaries, but I find that metaphor gets it across better to Teh Mens).

    The workplace in highly intellectual environments is still incredibly inflected by Aristotle’s mind/form bullshit, where women are body/form/mother/abject and men are mind/thought/rationality. To compete, you have to masculinize yourself. Once you’ve done that, you get whispered about as not having sufficently embraced that your True Nature is form (why didn’t she have children? clearly, she’s screwed up).

    On a more practical level, this works out in things like being looked down on for having to do “form” things, like be pregnant, take care of children–who, god forbid, might need to breastfeed in a meeting, or who might get ill, or any number of other things that we don’t like to account for.

    Gahhhh. End rant.

  2. mk
    May 6, 2009 at 10:14 am

    There was a really interesting article by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow in the Boston Globe covering some studies suggesting that having women in more powerful corporate roles may be associated with healthier (and more profitable) businesses. (Of course, many of the reader comments are atrocious, but that’s sort of another story.)

    I bring it up because I think a lot of this corporate model may be relevant to other spheres. And certainly the obstacles women face in business are many of the same obstacles we face in other spheres, like law and politics. Tuhus-Dubrow:

    The dissatisfied housewives of Friedan’s book are much less common now, and women have poured into all sectors of the economy, moving far beyond the secretary’s office. Yet they still encounter the infamous “glass ceilings” and “sticky floors.” The reasons are multiple and mutually reinforcing: tenacious associations between leadership and masculinity; women’s own priorities and obligations as mothers, which depend in turn on their spouses’ parental contributions; and a variety of subtle cultural barriers.

    (Emphasis mine.) If many of the obstacles are the same, could many of the outcomes be the same, too? Of course we could debate the validity of the studies Tuhus-Dubrow cites, but I wonder if there’s similar research going on in the political/legal world.

    For instance: how do firms with senior women partners (those exist, right? I’m not just being optimistic?) compare to firms without when it comes to successful cases? Can we compare the records of female district attorneys to their male counterparts? Successful appeals of decisions by male vs. female justices?

    (I realize this is a bit detached from the theme of single women in power, so I apologize if this is a derail.)

  3. sally
    May 6, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Stories like this make me so so so glad that I work at a place with plenty of women (who are mothers too) in positions of power. They make it clear that being a woman and a mother is no obstacle. I would never, ever want to work in a totally male-dominated environment, but I salute the women who went before me and did that. (Among them, by the way, Judge Sotomayor.)

  4. The Opoponax
    May 6, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Chava, your post also speaks well towards my field, tv/film production.

    A lot of the more successful women in my workplace are childfree. The women with young children are absolutely stressed to the max and don’t get a hell of a lot of support. I have literally heard a coworker of mine sitting at her desk at 7pm on a Friday night, talking to her 3 year old on the phone, having to answer the “When are you coming home, Mommy?” question, as her single childfree white male colleague is at the next desk picking up extra income doing freelance work in his down time.

    There’s also a lot of what you described as a stigma on “having to do ‘form’ things” – women are expected to dress down, never mention periods or pregnancy or anything like that, pump breastmilk in the bathroom, and basically be honorary men. I’ve seen young attractive women who had the nerve not to castrate themselves disparaged as susie-come-latelies who’ll be barefoot and pregnant married to some producer in 5 years, so why bother to treat them humanely…

    And then on the other hand the single/childfree women are seen as castrating harridans who are all business.

  5. Tara
    May 6, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Even though the content of this post saddens and enrages me, thank you for posting it. AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

  6. Flowers
    May 6, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    One thing that really bugged me about the article was the claim that Kathleen Sullivan is “single.” She’s a lesbian who wears a wedding ring and has a partner. She is not allowed, by law, to marry her partner. Does that really make her “single”? I think it might make her “unwed”, but she is far from single. In law school (where she was my professor), we always thought of her and her wife as being married. And Pam Karlan has a long-term girlfriend, too.

    I guess I just don’t like “single” being used to describe women who cannot legally be anything else, (since “single” is being used to mean “not legally married” in the article).

  7. May 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Yeah, that annoyed me too, Flowers.

  8. shah8
    May 6, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    This is a major cause of demographic issues in Japan and maybe Italy. It’s a major problem worldwide. One reason why is that some people, really, really, *really* need their hatorade to get through their day, and children are often the easiest avenue through which they can hate on others because it compromises the parent’s ability to voice issues and exercise free will.

  9. james
    May 6, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    (a) I personally think the increasing steps that are being taken to accomodate parents in the workforce are pernicious. It’s not ‘hate’ it’s a legitimate complaint about a modern attempt to reinvent the family wage, where men got paid more because they had a family to support. Only this time around people with children are getting additional benefits because of something unrelated to what they’re employed to do. It’s discriminatory and an affront to equal pay for equal work.

    (b) As for marriage, I think your example of the lesbians managing to be married and doing perfectly well proves that heterosexual women really are their own worst enemies. The fact most women end up second best in their own marriages is a predictable consequence of their tendancy to marry up. It’s problem of their own making. If you marry up and then find you’re not the one wearing the trousers then you’ve really no-one to blame but yourself. Hirshman’s absolutely right on this.

  10. mk
    May 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Blink. Blink.

    james, did you really just say that heterosexual women tend to “marry up”? And, eh, what do you mean by that?

  11. james
    May 6, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I mean they tend to marry people wealthier than them. I think the technical term is hypergamy. Part of that’s the effect of differences in pay between men and women caused by gender, but most of it is the effect of differences in pay caused by age gaps between spouses.

    Of course, logically, half of all lesbians must marry down.

  12. Mezosub
    May 6, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    mk, look at wikipedia for the definition of “hypergamy.”

    That’s exactly what james is referring to.

    The only thing james left out of his post is that hypergamy is socially and culturally learned (rather than a behavior that occurs in the absence of social reinforcement).

  13. May 6, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Wow, I don’t even know where to start, James.

    How about the idea that we aren’t talking about paying women more, or talking about paying them at all–we’re talking about changing the idea of what a “professional” workplace has to look like, and breaking through the myth of the perfect worker, with nothing that decreases his or her productivity. People have families, and they can be equally productive without fitting into the 9-5, be in the office in your suit, no babies, breatfeeding, or other mothering acts allowed mindset. We’re not talking about discriminating against you, we’re talking about NOT discriminating against caretakers.

    This is also about valuing mothering, and breaking women and society out of the mindset that we have to be in the home to do it.

    As for your comment about women marrying up. Yes, women tend to marry their equals or “uppers,” socioeconomically and educationally speaking. What of it? Are you seriously suggesting that you are entitled to “wear the pants” (oh, the masculine metaphors) in a relationship if you come from a higher class background or make more money? Yes, in a two career marriage, usually the woman’s gets put on the back burner. But how, exactly, is that our fault? Especially when people like you insist that it is so UNFAIR if we be allowed any leeway in Mothering While Working.

    Fwiw, I’d rather be the gender that marries up than the one that seems to find some sort of icky enjoyment in marrying those much younger, less educated, and poorer than they are. (no, not all men do this, just illustrating the absurdity of your assertion).

  14. Maureen
    May 6, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    On a more fun note:

    I’d been tacitly supporting Kathleen Sullivan for SCOTUS just because she co-authored my Con Law casebook. This morning I find out she’s openly gay. Even better. Now I find out she’s de facto (but not de jure, sadly) same-sex married? AWESOME.

    Seriously. Her confirmation hearings would be made of win, with all sorts of Republicans trying to use code language to get around the fact that they don’t want *anyone* Obama would think of appointing without looking homophobic to Jane “my interior decorator is FIERCE!” Republican.

  15. May 7, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Oh, I don’t think they’d even bother with code language for that one.

  16. May 7, 2009 at 7:43 am

    yeah, I agree with belledame. they don’t feel their constituency needs them to use code language, they’d probably come out with, “do you feel like your living situation is a good example to religious patriotic American in this country?” or they’d find a way for their Fox flunkies to run some awful segments on it.

  17. The Opoponax
    May 7, 2009 at 8:20 am

    We’re not talking about discriminating against you, we’re talking about NOT discriminating against caretakers.

    But Jim having to pitch in and help his female coworker with her workload so that she can leave at a reasonable hour and be an active parent to her child is DISCRIMINATION!!1!! I mean, if that bitch didn’t have some nasty-ass sprog at home, she could handle her work her damn self! Why are we hiring people who obviously aren’t up to the job?!!!!!!!

    &c.

  18. May 7, 2009 at 10:00 am

    But Jim having to pitch in and help his female coworker with her workload so that she can leave at a reasonable hour and be an active parent to her child is DISCRIMINATION!!1!! I mean, if that bitch didn’t have some nasty-ass sprog at home, she could handle her work her damn self! Why are we hiring people who obviously aren’t up to the job?!!!!!!!

    Wow. That’s just… wow.

    James has a point, even if he misidentifies the source of the problem. And I think you miss that point entirely.

    Discrimination in the workplace boils down to similarly-situated employees having to endure different work conditions. Someone who is being sexually harassed is enduring different work conditions than an employee who isn’t being sexually harassed. And someone who is being asked to work weekends and nights so that a colleague can tend to her children is being asked to endure different work conditions than that colleague, for the same pay (and remember, in the lawyer context, there’s no overtime pay).

    It’s not, however, that colleague’s fault, and that colleague will eventually pay for the time away from the office in one way or another — hence, the mommy track. But it’s also not fair to slag the person who’s stuck at the office because the employer and society doesn’t value a single, childless person’s time away from work as much as a married, childed person’s.

    The problem is really that parental accommodations are still seen as something for mothers, and as a way to appear to be enlightened without doing a damn thing to change the underlying corporate culture. Without a change in the underlying corporate culture, men with children won’t demand accommodation for themselves — and if their wives can take advantage of accommodations at *their* workplaces, then they have no incentive to ask for flextime or what have you. And if men with children don’t ask for a more flexible workplace, what chance to single, childless folks have?

    You can mock the resentment of someone working past midnight on a Friday because “I have a date” isn’t considered as “good” a reason for leaving the office as “I have a school play.” But why should you? It’s *not* fair to that employee, even if it’s not the fault of the parent-colleague. So why ask that employee to just suck it up without complaint?

    So, yes, in a way those sorts of “family-friendly” policies *are* pernicious, but not in the way that James thinks they are. They’re pernicious because they don’t really fix the problem of the mommy gap, and in fact further entrench it.

  19. The Opoponax
    May 7, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Firstly, Zuzu, you got that I was hardcore snarking, right?

    Secondly, I guess I just feel like people in general should see each other as peers/colleagues/co-conspirators rather than adversaries. I could be completely selfish all the time and leave the minute I’ve finished the bare minimum of my work as defined by my official job description, screw what’s going on with anyone else on my team. Or I can see that my co-worker is struggling to get her work done so that she can leave at a normal hour and spend an hour or so with her kid before bedtime, and I can try to lighten that load for her. Because my coworker and I are friends, and I like her, and I hope that when/if I have a kid someday, someone else will help me in the same way. And because others in the past have helped me with my work when I was in the weeds or needed to leave early.

    I know this is pie in the sky woo and all, but shit, can’t we at least try to be fucking decent to each other? If it takes an office policy to enforce that, then so be it.

  20. Emma
    May 7, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Yeah, that annoyed me too, Flowers.

    So why doesn’t your post correct the misinformation? You report Sullivan as being single, too, without attempting to provide accurate information. Your claim that it “annoyed” you is unbelievable. Also, “annoyed”? You usually get much more outraged about inequality than that. Is your heterocentrism showing?

    At least take the time and effort to blog accurately.

  21. May 7, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Well, Emma, because it is technically accurate, insofar as “single” is used in the article the same way it’s used on legal documents — to connote “unmarried.” It annoyed me that the authors of the piece didn’t mention Sullivan’s long-term de-facto marriage, but they were addressing the media’s portrayal of the SCOTUS nominees. I think it’s accurate to say that the four women mentioned have all been portrayed as “single” meaning “unmarried.”

    For the record, it does make me very angry that “single” is the only status that same-sex partners can claim on legal documents in almost every state in this country. But no, I didn’t become outraged at Lithwick and Rosin for writing a piece that failed to include an important detail in its picking apart of a certain media narrative. I was annoyed, so I said I was annoyed.

    And really, you seem to only comment on posts to criticize my support of Barack Obama or my apparent lack of outrage over whatever it is you decide I should be more outraged about. Why are you still bothering to read?

  22. May 7, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I’ve said for years that the wage gap isn’t between men and women. It’s between mothers and others. Mothers earn less money than single childless women, single men with or without children, and married men with and without children.

  23. May 7, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    @ zuzu–

    I am with you that men with children need to demand a more flexible workplace. However, I think you miss that pregnancy and breastfeeding happen to women’s bodies, and only women’s bodies. Being able to breastfeed–not just pump– at work is not asking you to work nights and weekends to take up our slack. Leaving work early,and then working from home, is not asking you to pick up our slack. Setting the tenure clock back a year is not somehow giving us an “unfair” advantage.

    Women should not be asked to either essentially sterilize themselves, or give up their careers. This idea that your and James’ comments show, that somehow once we have children we become magically less productive, and take advantage of single people and their dates? Crap. Misogynist crap.

    Because, even if when women reproduce they temporarily lower their productivity, we as a society should value women and children enough to say, you know what? Healthy, happy babies are important. Happy, healthy 52% of the population is also important. So maybe we should prioritize things like childcare, maternity leave, and lactation support and acceptance.

    After early childhood, men could and should be equally involved. But we need to break out of this idea that there is a binary choice between caretaking and succeeding at work. The idea of “work” is what needs to change.

    Obviously a big part of this is that the partners of primary caretakers need to be more supportive. But the nuclear family is hell on two career child rearing. We need the grandparents, aunts, and uncles to pitch in– and yes, also “socialist” substitutes for those of us not lucky enough to have that kind of family.

    Fwiw, I currently have no children. I would like children before I get too much older, for various physical reasons. Academia is not supportive of the idea, and as you may have picked up, this pisses me off.

  24. karen in kalifornia
    May 7, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Jill, I’m with Emma on the “single” bit.
    As I was reading your post…I’m thinking, “Yeah, but how do we know whether or not any of these women are in a relationship or partnered?” See, I am in a relationship. Have been for 30 years and until recently, there was no way to “legally” say otherwise. Well, California has had LEGAL same sex relationship for 5 years now. DP is listed on many forms and all regulations which apply to hetero spouses apply to DPs. SOOOOOOO those two women DO HAVE A LEGAL relationship and they ARE NOT SINGLE. Please, a footnote from a “straight” supporter the responsible thing to do.

    BTW, except for IRS forms, I will not fill out any forms, deal with any surveys, etc which do not allow me to notate my LEGAL relationship although “unmarried.”

    BTW2, there are now 5 states lesbians CAN be married in now.

    BTW3, and really all I needed to write is, married is not the only legal relationship lesbians can enter into these days.

  25. May 7, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Secondly, I guess I just feel like people in general should see each other as peers/colleagues/co-conspirators rather than adversaries. I could be completely selfish all the time and leave the minute I’ve finished the bare minimum of my work as defined by my official job description, screw what’s going on with anyone else on my team. Or I can see that my co-worker is struggling to get her work done so that she can leave at a normal hour and spend an hour or so with her kid before bedtime, and I can try to lighten that load for her. Because my coworker and I are friends, and I like her, and I hope that when/if I have a kid someday, someone else will help me in the same way. And because others in the past have helped me with my work when I was in the weeds or needed to leave early.

    It’s not a matter of cooperation and helping out one another. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in a law firm (and since we are talking about lawyers/judges, it’s relevant), but it’s never a matter of a few minutes here and there. It’s hours and hours and hours — because partners just love to spring work on associates at the last minute, work that will take all night (and I mean *all* night) or all weekend, or force a cancellation of vacation plans, and may be nothing but busy work meant to make sure you know the leash is on tight.

    So if my colleague, who gets paid the same as I do, is exempted from that kind of last-minute, nights-weekends-and-vacation time, yes, I’m going to resent it. And I’m going to be right to resent it, because it means that we have different working conditions for the same job.

    But I would not be right to lay any blame at the feet of my coworker, just as she wouldn’t be right to lay blame at my feet when the firm decides that she’s not putting in enough time and she doesn’t get promoted, or she doesn’t get put on the kinds of projects she needs to to get ahead. Because the problem isn’t with us, it’s with the firm and with the firm culture and with the societal expectation that because she’s a mother, she has to handle all the childcare, and because I’m not a mother, I don’t deserve any sort of consideration for the life I have outside the firm.

    However, I think you miss that pregnancy and breastfeeding happen to women’s bodies, and only women’s bodies.

    Wow, that’s just insulting. You think I *miss* that? Honey, I have 40 years as a woman on this earth. I haven’t overlooked that.

  26. May 7, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Sorry, but when you say things like this:

    “The problem is really that parental accommodations are still seen as something for mothers, and as a way to appear to be enlightened without doing a damn thing to change the underlying corporate culture.”

    It makes me think that you do, in fact, miss it.

    Also, I’d like to know where:
    “those sorts of “family-friendly” policies *are* pernicious” comes from. I don’t know where you work, but I don’t see a tide of family friendly policies sweeping *my* workplace, or hell, that of any other woman I know.

  27. May 7, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Since you’re having a little trouble following the bouncing ball, let me spell it out for you:

    In any workplace that offers any sort of “family-friendly” accommodation (reduced hours, flextime, family leave, greater leniency wrt missing work due to family obligations, etc.), the workers who will take advantage of those policies, 99 out of 100 times, will be women with children.

    Because the only people who take advantage of these accommodations are women with children, these accommodations become identified with mothers.

    Therefore, the expectation is that anyone who asks for these kinds of accommodations will be women with children.

    Because women with children will ask for these sorts of accommodations, that means that there is no corresponding expectation that men will ask for them. If men have wives who stay home, they have no need to ask for the accommodations. If their wives work, the expectation is that the wives will seek the accommodation, because working women with children are the ones who make use of the accommodation.

    Because women with children make use of these accommodations, they tend to suffer at the workplace when it comes to promotion, seniority and pay.

    Men may feel that if they ask for accommodations, they too will suffer career setbacks. And besides, their wives can ask for accommodations and the kids will get taken care of somehow, so they have no reason to ask for a more humane, flexible workplace and work for a corporate culture that values its employees’ personal time.

    Because men with children see no reason to work towards a more humane and flexible workplace that would benefit everyone, and because employers value the personal time of parents more than non-parents, the employees who do not have children at home also have a disincentive to seek greater accommodation.

    Accordingly, the cultural expectation that women take care of children and make sacrificies of their career for their children — and that men do not — gets further entrenched.

    So mothers get mommy-tracked, and their employers don’t have to do a thing to change the corporate culture, because they can just sit back and tell themselves that mothers *choose* to spend more time with their kids, and that they’ve made accommodations. Then they pat themselves on the back for their “family-friendly” policies, and at the same time wonder why they don’t have very many female partners.

    But by all means, ignore the role of the employer in all this, and ignore the cultural pressures on everyone involved. And accuse me of not understanding that women give birth.

  28. May 7, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Women should not be asked to either essentially sterilize themselves, or give up their careers. This idea that your and James’ comments show, that somehow once we have children we become magically less productive, and take advantage of single people and their dates? Crap. Misogynist crap.

    You keep missing that I keep saying that the employer is the one who grants greater time off to mothers, thus forcing others to take up the slack, and then turns around and pulls the rug out from the mothers for taking advantage of “family-friendly” accommodations.

    You keep wanting to gripe about the coworkers who are legitimately cheesed off at having to stay late or do extra work. Why do you disappear the employer?

  29. May 7, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Zuzu — just checked out this thread and as another 40 year old (OK, 41) and someone whose body “pregnancy and breastfeeding happen[ed] to,” two words: you rock. You laid out the dynamic by which “helpful” policies without larger paradigm shifts simply compound the problem.

    And while I don’t, like James, blame women for marrying up statistically more frequently than do men, I take his point that this creates certain dynamics and that Hirshman got that right. Women carry babies for nine (8 in my case) months and (sometimes) breastfeed. But after that, the decision as to whether the childcare will be split often comes down to which parent is viewed to be less professionally viable. And many times the preganancy leave and breastfeeding, while affecting that balance, don’t make the ultimate difference between who gets cast in the “bulk of the housework/childcare” role. That difference often gets set in stone much, much earlier.

    Again, not blaming women for marrying older or more economically viable (often the two are related). When I met my now-husband, he was both — not hard to do as I was on commission and hadn’t made a dime in six months. As luck would have it, that dynamic shifted before the baby came along, creating an easier path towards negotiations that, had timing been different, could have had a different result.

  30. shah8
    May 8, 2009 at 4:46 am

    zuzu, I think you are rather spectactularly missing chava‘s point. It seems like you are operating along the lines defined by your legal/corporate experience and the effect that being a woman affects your career’s perspective, when chava is making a rather more broadbased meta-argument around the structural ecology of group dynamics directed at some output. She is thinking niches and you are seeing some kind of competing agency, as far as I can tell.

  31. May 8, 2009 at 9:16 am

    So let’s you point by point here:

    1) I do not “disappear” the employer. I griped at the attitude your and James’ original posts showed as coworkers. I.e., there is a false dichotomy between caretakers getting certain breaks for being caretakers, and non-caretakers getting hit with a truckload of extra work.

    Why did I think this:
    James:
    “Only this time around people with children are getting additional benefits because of something unrelated to what they’re employed to do. It’s discriminatory and an affront to equal pay for equal work.”
    Zuzu:
    “And someone who is being asked to work weekends and nights so that a colleague can tend to her children is being asked to endure different work conditions than that colleague, for the same pay”

    Zuzu, you seem to be talking more about benefits when the children are older. I am talking more about infancy, but in any case. My question is still there: where is this tide of “pernicious” family friendly, gender blind policies for caretakers to take advantage of? As for it reinventing the family wage, James? My best friend was fired from her law firm last month because “the men had families to support.” So I don’t think it needs to be reinvented.

    2) I stated several times that men need to demand time off with their kids just as much as women do. To wit:
    * “After early childhood, men could and should be equally involved. ”
    * “But the nuclear family is hell on two career child rearing. We need the grandparents, aunts, and uncles to pitch in– and yes, also “socialist” substitutes for those of us not lucky enough to have that kind of family.”

    3) I get the sense that you are speaking from law and high level corporate culture, where certain stressors are different, and coworkers pay much more directly when the employer in effect punishes them for being there/being single. I think this again goes to my original point, that work culture is constructed around a heavily masculinized ideal of what an “appropriate” work environment is. In the work culture I am from, my coworkers are generally unaffected by whatever I choose to do. But I challenge you to find a university system with maternity leave, true blind setting back of the clock, etc, etc. This is, again, the masculine work culture, just in a different form.

    4) I don’t think that men just asking for time off will solve that. Single men, or men who choose not to ask for it, will continue to rise to the top in greater numbers until we change perceptions of masculinity.

    5) However, things being as they are, and given as at the very beginning, women do generally need the time off–I am still a strong supporter of maternity leave, etc, perhaps mandated at the federal level.

    6) I am immensely disturbed by the attitudes in this thread towards women marrying “up” or “equal.” Yes, people are being very careful to say that it isn’t our “fault,” but it is still worrisome. I am an academic, I married a doctor. Does that mean that he is likely to be more “professionally viable”? Well, in the sense that he’ll make more money, yes. Do I worry that I have signed my professional death warrant? Hell yes. Do I wish that my job, and his job, offered these mythical “family benefits” ya’ll are so up in arms about? YES.

    But what I disagree with here is the idea that if we marry down, men will take up the slack. My personal experience is that men as primary caretaker resent the living s** out of it, have no support system, and tend to want to go back to work. Again, construction of masculinity.

  32. May 8, 2009 at 9:17 am

    should be “let’s go,” not “let’s you,” apologies.

  33. May 8, 2009 at 9:24 am

    @ shah8:

    Yes, exactly, thanks.

    Sorry for the multiple comments in a row, Jill!

  34. Alara Rogers
    May 8, 2009 at 9:48 am

    But what I disagree with here is the idea that if we marry down, men will take up the slack. My personal experience is that men as primary caretaker resent the living s** out of it, have no support system, and tend to want to go back to work. Again, construction of masculinity.

    Statistically, unemployed men do *less* work around the house than employed men do. Unemployed women do *more* work around the house than employed women do. It’s hard to know for sure what the dynamic is (it may be that the cultural construction of masculinity including work as identity makes unemployed men depressed, and depressed people do less work period), but it’s also hard to avoid the theory that this is because men who feel emasculated by the loss of their job would feel *more* emasculated by doing “women’s work”.

    The number of available men who are willing to actually do the hard work of keeping a house adequately clean and caring for children, including tasks like managing the child’s social calendar, is much, much smaller than the pool of women who would really like someone who isn’t them to do that work. All the women who can marry down to get a househusband are probably already doing it, and most of the men who openly fantasize about marrying up are fantasizing about being able to stay home and play X-Box all day.

    I *tried* having a relationship with a guy who was younger than me, made less money than me, and had fewer career ambitions than me. He wanted to cook dinner every night. Which was great. Except that I am hypoglycemic and need to eat promptly, and he thought it was okay to sit around the house and relax for an hour or two after he came home from his retail job before he’d start cooking, but he’d get offended if I got myself something to eat because he wanted to cook for me. He didn’t clean, and in fact he barely managed to walk his dog on a regular enough basis to avoid me having to clean up dog poop.

    My next relationship was with a guy who was younger than the first one, unemployed, and had less formal education than the first guy… but he was ambitious and driven. because he was a single dad, I thought he would be a participating father who would do a lot of child care. He also liked to cook for me, and while we were dating, he would clean my house. As soon as we were in a long term relationship all that went away in favor of him working as hard as he could to make as much money as he could. The guy makes twice what I do and I am *very* well paid. Did I marry up? Uh, what part of “unemployed, five years younger than me and no college degree” would have implied up? I *tried* to pick out a guy who would step in and pick up the household slack any time I was working and he wasn’t, but this has not happened again since we moved in together. Whether he was making a third of what I made, or unemployed, or working from home, he has *never* done the child care, house cleaning, or cooking that I do, and while he does do a lot of home renovation projects, he expects me to help with them extensively.

    My conclusion from purely anecdotal data is that even when women are willing to marry down, they don’t get wives. So if you’re not going to get a wife out of the deal, why would you support someone? I would be fully on board with supporting a person who’s going to cook, clean and take care of my kids, but if all they’re going to do is play Xbox or write code that never gets sold, why would I want to be *their* support? And men fool you while you’re dating into thinking that they’re enlightened guys who will pull their weight, and then as soon as you’re in a long term relationship they dump all that shit on you just as fast as they can.

    This is unfair to guys. I’m sure there are many men who do their fair share of the housework. But I don’t know any, personally.

  35. Kristen J.
    May 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

    My conclusion from purely anecdotal data is that even when women are willing to marry down, they don’t get wives.

    Wow…a lot of sexist baggage in this statement.

    1) People aren’t robots or things. You don’t go to Costco and pick up a 10 pack of “wives” to do the chores.

    2) Women, IME, are socially conditioned to do a LOT of things around the house that are not necessary for the health, happiness and well-being of others. When I’m unemployed (as I am now…for the same reasons Chava’s best friend was let go from a law firm) I vacuum everyday. When the SO was going to school (and thus, in charge of household duties) he vacuumed maybe once ever week to two weeks. Same thing with dusting, disinfecting the bathrooms, etc. It’s bullshit work that’s been programed into our brains as necessary to being good “wives/mothers/women.” Men, in general don’t have that same programing.

    The expectation of a perfect house, a perfect kitchen and a perfect dinner aren’t fair when applied to women and they still aren’t fair when applied to men.

  36. May 8, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Kristin: I think that’s a very important point. One of the things I have to work on with my husband is letting go of certain expectations re:housework that are, frankly, not realistic for anybody and not even necessary. Still, the judgement when a stay at home man doesn’t do those things falls on the working woman, not the husband. She is emasculating him, why isn’t she doing a better job, etc.

    When it comes to children, though, I think it gets more complicated. If you are a stay at home parent, that *is* your job, and you should treat it like a job. Men (I think mainly through societal conditioning) have a lot of trouble doing that.

  37. Toonces
    May 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I think what zuzu is saying is that the focus of resentment and agitation for change should be on the employers who are creating the policies that benefit only those with (natural) families. It’s also those employers who fire the women taking advantage of those policies. It’s not fair that only employees with families be allowed to have a life and it’s not fair that we don’t properly respect the work mothers/caretakers do. The solution is not to ask coworkers to pick up slack (although it may be a nice thing to do sometimes) but to change our work culture. I don’t think it’s fair to accuse anyone of not being respectful towards or aware of the reality of pregnancy and motherhood just because their approach to the problem is to focus on the employers who have the power to create the dysfunctional work culture in the first place.

  38. May 8, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    zuzu, I think you are rather spectactularly missing chava’s point. It seems like you are operating along the lines defined by your legal/corporate experience and the effect that being a woman affects your career’s perspective, when chava is making a rather more broadbased meta-argument around the structural ecology of group dynamics directed at some output. She is thinking niches and you are seeing some kind of competing agency, as far as I can tell.

    If she had a point other than to call me ignorant of basic biological facts, perhaps you could point it out to me.

    In any event, the problem is the same whenever there is a pool of work to be done, a limited number of people to do it, and one of those people misses work because of illness, childcare or family obligations. And the problem is that the culture of work and social conditioning we have in this country is such that only women wind up taking time off for childcare. Which means that those women miss work, fall further behind in salary than their peers because they miss work, and wind up penalized because of it. And while family benefits are in theory available to men, they don’t make use of them — again, because of societal pressures and a culture of work which stigmatizes family issues as women’s concerns and a reluctance for men, who are job-identified and acculturated to think of themselves as providers, men are far, far less likely to even consider incurring the kind of career penalties that women routinely incur in order to care for their families.

    Which means that when a mother takes time off to have a baby, care for a baby, stay home with a sick child or go to school events — because it’s the mothers, and not the fathers who are doing such things in most cases — someone has to pick up the slack at work. And if you’re the one who is always asked to do that, you have a right to be angry about it. You just don’t have a right to be angry at your coworker rather than your employer, who could damn well hire another person or bring in a temp or rejigger workload so it’s distributed more fairly. This holds true in *any* workplace where one person being out means that other people have to pick up the slack.

    So while your point that I must be missing something because I’m speaking from my own experience in the legal/corporate world — imagine that, using my own experience! and in comments to a post about the legal/corporate world, no less — is noted, I reject it. Law firms might be on the more extreme end of the continuum, but they’re not on a separate continuum.

    As for you, chava, you are indeed disappearing the employer, because you continue to whine about those mean, mean childfree people who don’t like being asked to cheerfully take on additional work without additional pay, as if it were their responsibility to provide the family-friendly accommodations to the mother, and not the employer’s. And where you got the idea that I’m against such benefits, I don’t know. Unless it’s the same place you got the idea that I don’t know how babies are made, which would be from somewhere just off the seat of your chair.

    Pay attention to what Octogalore said — simply providing “family-friendly” (and do note the scare quotes) benefits without also changing the culture of the workplace to make it more flexible and fairer for everyone simply further entrenches gender roles, further entrenches the idea that the woman’s job is the one that is disposable, and creates further divisions and resentments among the employees. Which serves no one very well in the end. You may not think that men asking for time off would be enough, but even if it’s not sufficient, it’s damn well necessary, because women alone can’t change the workplace culture, just as we can’t stop rape by ourselves and we can’t end misogyny by ourselves.

  39. Kristen J.
    May 8, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Chava,

    I don’t disagree…I think men typically have been socialized to treat child rearing as a babysitting exercise while women typically have been socialized that it is an enormous responsibility that we are solely responsible for. Living outside of those expectations/socialization takes work on the part of both women and men…under the best circumstances…its a negotiation…a realization that we each have different priorities and an attempt to find a middle ground that meets the needs of both people without making one or the other feel like they’re subordinate.

  40. May 8, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Zuzu–

    I don’t really understand how repeatedly implying that I am an idiot helps your case here, but as you like.

    I did feel that your original post implied that women should not have any special consideration as mothers in the workplace. Hence, the breastfeeding and childbirth comment–i.e., IMO there is a certain amt of gendered caretaking that is inevitable due to biological considerations.

    But in any case, it clearly upset you a great deal. I never (and I think you know this) meant to say that you are somehow magically ignorant that women are the ones who give birth.

  41. May 8, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    And my html spectacularly didn’t work. Apologies. Repost below, hopefully fixed. Jill would you mind deleting the first one if you have a chance?

    So while your point that I must be missing something because I’m speaking from my own experience in the legal/corporate world — imagine that, using my own experience! and in comments to a post about the legal/corporate world, no less — is noted, I reject it. Law firms might be on the more extreme end of the continuum, but they’re not on a separate continuum.

    I did not say you were missing anything because you were speaking from that particular experience. I was in fact pointing out that it and academia (my experiance) are in fact rooted in the same basic issue, in my opinion, the construction of “work” and masculinity.

    As for you, chava, you are indeed disappearing the employer, because you continue to whine about those mean, mean childfree people who don’t like being asked to cheerfully take on additional work without additional pay, as if it were their responsibility to provide the family-friendly accommodations to the mother, and not the employer’s. And where you got the idea that I’m against such benefits, I don’t know.

    No, actually, I didn’t “continue” anything, I pointed out why I ever had the idea in the first place by citing your previous comments. But as you like. And I got the idea because you repeatedly said you are against family-friendly policies. Generally, that means things like maternity leave. I certainly don’t think that in situations where there is a pool of work to be done, single people should be obligated to do it without pay—and I never said they should. I would also point out that the employer is also taking a loss here—when he or she has to hire a temp or jury rigg the workload. Is THAT fair? But that is a whole different discussion about incentives and what we as a society value/want to subsidize.

    Pay attention to what Octogalore said — simply providing “family-friendly” (and do note the scare quotes) benefits without also changing the culture of the workplace to make it more flexible and fairer for everyone simply further entrenches gender roles, further entrenches the idea that the woman’s job is the one that is disposable, and creates further divisions and resentments among the employees. Which serves no one very well in the end. You may not think that men asking for time off would be enough, but even if it’s not sufficient, it’s damn well necessary, because women alone can’t change the workplace culture, just as we can’t stop rape by ourselves and we can’t end misogyny by ourselves.

    Well, duh. I’ve been saying over and over that we must change the culture of the workplace. I also never said that men shouldn’t start asking for time off as a first step. I just said that ultimately that won’t be enough.

    Look, the reason why I find this whole line of discussion scary is that it leads back to the typical Republican line of “Well, you CHOSE to have those babies, and that pay gap, and I [employer, coworker, fellow taxpayer] am being discriminated against if I have to help you.”

  42. May 9, 2009 at 9:35 am

    But in any case, it clearly upset you a great deal. I never (and I think you know this) meant to say that you are somehow magically ignorant that women are the ones who give birth.

    Well, except for the part where that’s EXACTLY what you said.

  43. May 9, 2009 at 9:43 am

    OK, here is the offending comment:

    I am with you that men with children need to demand a more flexible workplace. However, I think you miss that pregnancy and breastfeeding happen to women’s bodies, and only women’s bodies. Being able to breastfeed–not just pump– at work is not asking you to work nights and weekends to take up our slack. Leaving work early,and then working from home, is not asking you to pick up our slack. Setting the tenure clock back a year is not somehow giving us an “unfair” advantage.

    I can see how you read it that way. Clearly you don’t “miss” it in the oh gee, I never knew the facts of life way. In the original post I was responding to there, yes, it seemed as if you were against any kind of gendered bias in terms of who gets the breaks for caretaking. Hence, my response. I am trying to think here of a more polite way to phrase it–“Please remember that”? “I think it is important to remember that”? And it seems that you would have read them all the same way.

    As I said, you were clearly very upset, sorry to have hurt your feelings.

  44. The Opoponax
    May 9, 2009 at 10:23 am

    It’s not a matter of cooperation and helping out one another. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in a law firm (and since we are talking about lawyers/judges, it’s relevant), but it’s never a matter of a few minutes here and there. It’s hours and hours and hours — because partners just love to spring work on associates at the last minute, work that will take all night (and I mean *all* night) or all weekend, or force a cancellation of vacation plans, and may be nothing but busy work meant to make sure you know the leash is on tight.

    I have not worked in a law firm — I work in TV. Where, just like you describe, there can suddenly be relatively arbitrary seriously labor-intensive work tossed down to us by a producer, director, actor, network exec, or other head honcho type. I spent most of this week at work too sick to really be there, but there was shit I had to do, so I just kept medicating and pushing through it to get everything done.

    Last Friday, after an incredibly long and stressful week full of 13-14 hour days, I got handed enough work to keep me in the office until almost 10pm. This happened pretty much as I was shutting down for the night.

    As I was headed out the door to attend my own birthday party a few months ago, someone called and wanted some stupid petty thing changed which required enough work on my part to put the kibosh on celebrating my birthday with my friends (luckily coworkers pitched in on that one!).

    Because the producers want to do several days of reshoots and inserts after we wrap for the season (pretty much out of the blue with no warning), one of my coworkers is very seriously looking at having to cancel his vacation.

    I’ve come into the office on holiday weekends, canceled plans, had to miss out on about 80% of my social life. Right now I’m about to cancel the date I’m supposed to go on tomorrow because not being able to take a sick day or two last week means I’m STILL too sick to have fun.

    So, yeah, I understand where you’re coming from. Law is not the only work that exists, you know.

    But still, because of the crazy workload that can’t just be rescheduled or declined or blown off, everyone in my office can sympathize. And the folks who are all, “too bad, so sad, mommy wants to leave early…” look like even bigger dicks.

Comments are closed.