I should be in bed. Petunia and I both have colds. I feel roughly like death warmed over, and she spiked a fever today and had to come home from day care. I'll be taking her to the ENT tomorrow afternoon, per his instructions that he needs to check her tonsils every time she has a fever. Good times.
But, someone is wrong on the internet. Or, more precisely, a doctor named Karen Siebert has written some things in the NY Times that I don't quite agree with. Or, even more precisely, the reactions to her post (see Historiann and Dr. Isis, for example), have me thinking about why my reaction to her piece was more negative than my reaction to the related commencement address that sparked last week's rant post.
Leaving aside my practical and selfish objection that I love our pediatrician, who keeps part time hours, so anything that might have driven her from the medical profession is necessarily a bad thing... I think I am just fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of a free society trying to dictate the details of how its members should arrange their family lives. I posted similar, but not fully formed, ideas as comments on Nicoleandmaggie's post about "choice feminism". As I said there, I find this tendency to judge, and try to dictate, how other people manage their work-life arrangements to be an extremely offputting feature of some left-leaning blogs, much like I find the tendency to judge, and try to dictate, other people's reproductive and marital freedoms an extremely offputting feature of a lot of right-leaning commentary. To the right wing, I say get out of my bedroom. To the left wing, I say get out of my kitchen.
That doesn't mean I'm fully comfortable with the large numbers of female doctors opting for part time hours, particularly if that becomes seen as the only way for a woman to have a medical career and a family. But there is a difference between encouraging young women to aim high and demanding that they fit someone else's idea of what a successful woman's life looks like.
Just like there is a difference between getting to a point in your life, looking at your unique circumstances and deciding that you need to make some changes and looking ahead and making
changes based on problems that "they" tell you are in your future.
I see nothing wrong with looking at the facts about the prevailing culture in a profession and deciding that it is just not for you, even if you find it interesting. Back in grad school, I changed my focus area because I was blown away by the unmitigated arrogance on display at the first conference I attended that covered my original focus area. But that is not the same as looking at an entire career path and saying that there is no place in it for mothers.
I also think that it is worth reminding people that a lot of what "they" say is just plain wrong. Surveys in which people actually track their time use show that people routinely inflate the number of work hours they report when just asked how many hours they work in a week. (I don't want to take the time to dig up a precise reference for that, but take a look at Laura Vanderkam's 168 hours blog and book.) At the very same time I was wading through a bunch of posts and real life comments about how it was "impossible" to combine motherhood with a career in science, three mothers won the Nobel prize in one year.
My longest employment stint at any company was at the contracting/consulting company I joined between my second and third biotech companies. I lasted 5 years there, which included the birth of my first child. It is also the most male-dominated company I've ever worked for. (Evidence: the wait list for a locker in the men's locker room was something like 10 years. I got a locker the same day that I asked for one.) When I first tried to look into my maternity leave options, I couldn't even find the word "maternity" in our employee handbook. And yet, it was the place at which I had my best work-life balance. Due to the particular way we charged our hours, there was flex time that everyone used. I cut my hours to 35 per week for awhile (with a corresponding cut in pay, of course), and suffered absolutely no loss of status. But "they" all tell me now that it is a cutthroat place, not at all good for women. I'm glad I didn't know what "they" said at the time I took the job.
I think the key reason that work-life balance was so good at that company was that it wasn't seen as woman's issue, or even a parent's issue. Everyone took the flex time. Lots of people had unique arrangements for their hours. Maybe there is something to learn from that.