Many women (including myself) are faced with the family-or-career tension to varying degrees. We’ve read about these stories in The Atlantic, New York Times, and most recently on Slate.com. Many of us know this issue personally. Maybe we aren’t literally choosing a career over a family (or vice versa) but perhaps we’ve pushed back when to start “trying,” switched to a less rigorous career path, taken a small hiatus from the rat race, or immersed ourselves in work resulting in little time to meet a potential partner in the first place.
While these articles provide valid points about uphill battles women face entering the academic sphere (or other traditionally male-dominated fields) they speak to a specific subset of women – privileged, high-powered, highly ambitious, often married (or with a partner), etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but examples and stories from executives, academics, or other powerful women suggest that this issue is most fraught among women at the top.
Not all women (and I’d venture to say most) are trying to be the next CEO or tenure track professor but many are still faced with varying degrees of “choosing.” The onus is usually on the woman to arrange a career situation that will accommodate a family. For women who have a choice to take on “second tier” jobs (such as adjunct professor) still find themselves in much better positions than the vast majority of women. For single parents (like my late mother) choices become a precarious word.
These rallying cries for better job opportunities among extremely privileged women of reproductive age just aren’t getting me revved up even though I am one of them (doctoral student). It takes focus away from addressing cultural expectations about who should be responsible for raising children. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said in the TED video above, “we’ve made more progress in the workforce than we have at home.” This is true but we’re measuring career progress against male-established standards such as job position and type, pay, and advancement opportunities.
Again, nothing inherently wrong with this but there are other ways to measure progress in the work place.
What’s missing is the imperative to change cultural expectations for working fathers. When it comes to making gender progress in the child/home front, we can’t expect change without addressing the work front as well. Why is it that few jobs offer family leave for men? Why do men face greater stigma for leaving work to assist with childcare? Why are men expected to return to work almost immediately after their child is born? These are only a few concerning questions I’ve started to discuss with my husband recently.
I believe an increasing number of men, such as my husband, want to be more involved in raising children and worry about how to navigate a hostile and intimidating work culture toward family-oriented fathers. If we want our husbands and partners to take on more domestic or “traditionally female” roles (so we can focus on our careers), shouldn’t we (men and women) also advocate for structural changes in the workplace for men?