Thursday, June 09, 2011

Don't Lean Back Ahead of Time and Other Rants I Posted Elsewhere

There has been some interesting discussion on Historiann's blog about whether or not it is reasonable to scale back your career plans as a young woman, looking ahead to anticipated difficulties balancing work and children. You know I have opinions on this, so of course, I left some comments. Nicoleandmaggie (who have two excellent recent posts on related issues) convinced me that I should turn those comments into a post, so I've decided to do that, while also pulling in some thoughts raised by Blue Milk's recent post on the upcoming "I Don't Know How She Does It" movie.

In a perfect world, I'd pull everything together into a neat little package, but, well, this isn't a perfect world. We're coming up on our second attempt to release a major new tool to the other scientists at my company, and I've got a lot of responsibility on that project, which means that I've been very busy and am spending quite a bit of time at home working.  But, I'm taking a cue from one of the quotes I love to use at work and refusing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and posting my comments from those other blogs pretty much as they were originally written. (The quote is from Voltaire, so is in French, but translates roughly to "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and is a quote every project manager should learn, because it is an excellent argument to stop futzing and just release the damn software already.)

Anyway, I first waded in on Historiann's post long after the thread had mostly gone cold, but a commenter called Emma had been so snotty about "mommies" that I couldn't stop myself from posting. And once I started, I apparently could stop myself from writing a really long comment:


I’m almost afraid to comment given the venom in some of the other posts, but hell, I’ve defended a PhD so I should be able to take it. Or I guess I could just not come back and read any flames.

Anyway, first of all- @Emma: the only people who get to call me “mommy” are my kids. Calling us mommies and daddies is unnecessarily demeaning. I get that you don’t like a lot of us, or the decisions we’ve made, but you might find that we could have a more civil, productive conversation if you didn’t start out belittling me.

FWIW, I don’t think anyone should have to work an 80 hour week. And frankly, the time use surveys say that mostly, no one does. When people log their time, they usually max out at about a 60 hour week. Which isn’t great, but is a lot less than 80. (I log roughly 45 hours/week on paid work, if you’re curious.)

But what I really want to say has nothing to do with the majority of the debate here. I want to go way back to the original post.

I liked the quotes from the commencement speech- I don’t have time right now to watch the whole thing. I think the quotes make perfect sense in the context of a commencement speech, and they are something that a group of presumably ambitious college grads need to hear and think about.

I remember being in grad school and agonizing over whether or not I could combine kids with my chosen career, which is at the intersection of science and IT. I plowed ahead, and I’m glad I did. Because now that I am here, it is nowhere near as bad as I feared. Also, from where I sit, the other option for motherhood- that of being a SAHM- doesn’t look “easier”. I am friends with some SAHMs, and they are just as tired and stretched as I am. I think that the tired, over-stretched feeling is a function of having small children, not necessarily of combining small kids and demanding careers. I actually feel very little angst about being a WOHM, and I don’t really see much evidence that my career is suffering. I’ve gotten raises and promotions post-kids, I’ve also applied for and been hired into new jobs, even though I don’t hide my status as a mother in the job interview.

I don’t really know why I am a happy WOHM when so many others are not. I’ve mused a lot about it on my own blog, so anyone who is interested can click over there, click on the “working motherhood” category and read away. But if pushed, I would put it down to a few things:

1. My partner is absolutely in this 50-50, without argument. We both eased off a tiny bit on our careers after our first was born, mainly in the “extras”- I don’t network as much as I should, he’s dropped his non-work coding projects. We both are starting to ramp things back up now that our youngest is almost two. Neither of us have seen negative consequences yet. In the grand scheme of things, 5 years or so of less intense career focus is not a big deal.

We both eased off a huge amount in the area of housework. We used to split that 50-50. Now we split it 15-15-70, where the 70 is a wonderful housecleaning service we pay. I look forward to the day my kids are old enough to factor into that split!

Of course, I’m not in academia. I can see how the slight easing up isn’t as much of an option there, given the timing of tenure decisions.

2. I don’t go in for guilt, either from the parenting side or the working side. I think guilt can become self-fulfilling. My kids see plenty of me. My work gets plenty of hours from me. Would each like more? Probably. Do they need it? No.

3. I happened to have my kids later. I had my first when I was 35. This was largely because I hadn’t met their father until I was 30. By the time I had kids, I was established in my career and in the position to request accommodations that made things easier for me. Also, it meant that I was making enough money so that there was never any question about whether it makes financial sense to work and so that I could do things like hire the housecleaning service I mention above.

4. I live in California. Seriously, say what you want about my screwed up, bankrupt state, but both my husband and I used our FMLA, and the right of women returning to work to have pumping space and time is protected by law, and has been for quite some time. No one batted an eye about me pumping at work.

(Not to fan the breastfeeding flames, but I breastfed my first for 23 months and am still breastfeeding my second, who is 20 months old. I pumped until 18 months and 17 months, respectively. I did not use formula for either. I believe the science that indicates breastfeeding is the best choice when it is possible, but frankly, the main reason I’ve committed so much to breastfeeding is that I like it. I honestly do not care if other mothers choose formula, but I do care if they’d like to breastfeed and are thwarted by work considerations. As @Nicole says, if the stars align, it is no big deal to work and nurse. Let’s stop bickering about whether or not breast is best and put in the institutional changes that would make it a genuine choice for anyone who wants to make it.)

I say all of this in full knowledge that I am privileged and that many, many women are not as lucky as I am. The answer to that is, in my opinion, not to dismiss my experience, but to take a hard look at our society and figure out how we can make my experience the norm, not an exception available only to the privileged few.

And part of that change is for young women not to do the sexists’ work for them. Charge ahead. Reach for it all. You might just get it. I did, and I’m so very grateful that I didn’t preempt that possibility 15 years ago, when the future looked so scary.


You'll see that I tried to fend off the inevitable charge that I am just an over-privileged woman who has only succeeded by squashing the less privileged women who work at my day care and clean my house... but it didn't work. (As an aside, why is no one ever worried about whether I have squashed the presumably less privileged men who work at my day care (yes, there are men working at our day care) and fix my car?)

Anyway, an anonymous commenter took exception, particularly because she is certain that my housecleaner does not have access to the benefits I had like paid maternity leave and time off to pump. I disagree. Both Nicole and Historiann had actually already done an admirable job refuting anonymous' concerns, but I was grumpy last night and replied as well (this is three replies stitched together:


Anonymous, you made a faulty assumption. I did not get paid maternity leave, either- just FMLA, which is paid in California and the usual 6-8 weeks disability, depending on mode of birth.

I’ll give you, though, that it is a lot easier to absorb the lost income (FMLA does not cover 100% of income) at my higher income bracket. But it has a cap, so I got a lower percentage of my income covered than a lower income person would have had.

And, not that you care, but I shopped around for a cleaning service that gives its employees paid time off and benefits.

Also, if the cleaning service has more than 50 employees, they are required to provide pumping space and time, just like all other employers with more than 50 employees.
In practice, they come and clean my house while I am not there. A lactating cleaner could take her pick of private rooms in which to plug in a pump and take the 15 minute break the law requires. Heck, she could take 30 minutes. I pay a flat rate, not by the hour.

[An aside added after the fact: I'd fire my cleaning service without hesitation if I ever got wind of them not giving their employees time to pump. I am not super activist on many things, but that is one I feel strongly about.]

I guess my last comment is unclear. The cleaning service pays their employees by the hour. I pay them a flat rate. I happen to know, from the few times I’ve been home during cleaning, that they finish my house in less time than the service sets aside for a cleaning- it is a small house and we aren’t utter slobs. So in practice, for the one particular woman anonymous chose to attack on this issue, in fact there is no reason that my cleaner couldn’t pump if she needed to.

And I’ll also say, because I’m having a beer while I do some work, and my programs are taking longer than I expected to run, so I’m cranky AND a little less guarded than usual…

The sort of comment that anonymous left is one of the reasons I don’t hang out on feminist blogs.

I’m your natural ally- I’m a professional woman who has benefited from prior generations’ feminism and knows it. I work in a male dominated field so I get frequent- almost daily, really- reminders of how far we have left to go. I’ve thought about what makes it possible for me to enjoy my life as a working mother, and I’m well aware that a lot of that comes down to the money I have- and I think that is wrong. I’m left-leaning and I cast my vote and even occasionally write my congresspeople with an eye towards extending the benefits I’ve received to women in other income brackets.

But apparently, I’m not feminist enough for some of you guys. I am wallowing in privilege and entitlement and I should be… what? Cleaning my own damn toilets? Piously refusing to take my paid FMLA because it is not available to everyone, just to people who work in California for companies that employ at least 50 people? Storming the barricades and yelling loudly to get this fixed? So cowed by my knowledge of the great weight of privilege that I have that I never post any comments?

How does any of that help?

I keep posting because I remember being a grad student and everyone and their freakin’ dog was telling me that I “couldn’t” combine my chosen career with motherhood and that work-life balance was impossible in the sciences. It scared me and almost made me drop out. I had no role models to look at to counter what I was being told- my professors were mostly male. I was the first (and so far) only person in my extended family to get a PhD. Most of my female classmates were saying they weren’t going to have kids or quietly making plans to go into the science-related careers that are perceived as more family-friendly. So I believed what I heard, but for some reason, I stuck it out, anyway. And now, here I sit, happily combining my chosen career with being the mother of two adorable little kids… and I’m so very, very glad that something made me stick it out. So I post to be the counter-voice for other young women who might be where I was 10-15 years ago.

But that viewpoint doesn’t feel welcome on feminist blogs. It seems to me that there is a large subpopulation that is so busy waiting for perfect solutions that they won’t accept the partial progress we have made, and just want to make women like me feel guilty. Well, no thanks, I’m too busy for that.


I know! Crankypants. But really, I'd honestly like an answer to what the commenters who seem to reflexively call privilege on me and any other woman like me who posts want us to do differently. Because I thought that I was living the life that previous generations of feminists fought hard to make possible. How does it honor their fight if I refuse to accept that life until everyone can have it? I, too, would like to see that life become available to more women, but just pointing at me and saying I'm privileged doesn't really do much to make that happen. What would?

(And anyway, how is this privilege defined? I get that I have white privilege, and now have upper middle class privilege, but I didn't grow up upper middle class, more like solidly middle class, so do I get some sort of privilege discount for having gone to average public schools instead of tony private ones until I hit college, and having gone through that college on scholarship? Or is it all pegged on my current income? How is this nonsense helping anyone????)

As I said back in my first comment on Historiann's post, I actually think that we should look at my experience and the experiences of other happy working mothers and try to figure out what makes our lives and happiness possible- and then try to figure out how we can extend that to as many women as possible.

But I guess it is easier to just call "privilege!" and be done with me. So I stick to the few feminist blogs that I find that don't have that dynamic- or at least don't have it often- like Blue Milk. Who happened to have a recent post about the "I Don't Know How She Does It" movie (and by extension, book). Full disclaimer here- I've never read the book, and I haven't even watched the movie trailer. I heard an interview with the book's author on NPR, and that is my sole direct knowledge of the subject.

But that didn't stop me from commenting! I was responding to a comment that mentioned the disturbing "working mother = unhappy household" vibe in all of this:


Yeah, I’m getting that, too. I’ve heard the author of the book interviewed and don’t remember thinking I’d run out and read the book. She was talking about the pressure to bring homemade baked goods to kids’ parties and I knew right then that we weren’t in the same sphere- we have take out food and big buckets of cheese puffs from CostCo and our kids’ parties. Maybe I’m not high-powered enough? Or is it because we hang out with the kids from day care, who by definition have two working parents?

And the “women in workforce = everyone unhappy” thing just pisses me off. We’re all pretty happy here at my house. Tired, but happy. I saw a great quote from Anna Quindlen on that- something along the lines of “Just because we say we’re tired, that doesn’t mean we’re unhappy. It just means that we’re tired.”


And then Erin had an excellent comment about the particular subculture of motherhood that seems to be on display in this book/movie, as well as in just about everything the NY Times ever writes about the subject, and how that doesn't match her experience. It doesn't match mine, either, so I replied:


You just explained why I can’t stand reading anything about motherhood from the NY Times and why Rosin’s articles generally make me angry. Maybe I would like them better if I viewed them as anthropology? Because they sure doesn’t describe my life. We, for instance, show up places with a 6 pack of beer not a bunch of homemade brownies. (But its good beer!)

I wonder how much is driven by a class of really smart, ambitious women who have chosen to channel all of that into their husband’s careers and their kids’ success? I’m just speculating, though.

@anna, I do remember that the book was set in London. But I wonder if it is the same subculture? Some aspects of NYC are more similar to London than to my locale…. Again, just speculating.

I find the different subcultures of motherhood fascinating. Does anyone know if there is anyone studying this and writing good books on it?


To me, these two threads are closely related, which is why I put all my replies into one post. That, and I'm lazy.  I think that the building up of unrealistic (and unnecessary) expectations and requirements around motherhood contributes to the cultural atmosphere that makes young women freak out a bit and start easing off on their career before they have even found a partner, let alone had kids. It feels like another giant self-inflicted wound, closely related to the guilt issue I've written about before.

So, wow. This post got long. But I'd be interested to hear what you all think about the "leaning back" phenomenon mentioned in Historiann's post, or the (frankly ill-defined) issue of privilege and how to extend the benefits I have to women who don't have as much privilege as I do, or the subculture of motherhood that seems to demand that you bring plates of homemade brownies to play dates. Or anything at all, really. Have at it in the comments.


  1. Anonymous5:39 AM

    See, perfectly formed, just like Athena. :)

    Our famous "roll our eyes" post takes on the idea that the guilt you're feeling is the fault of the folks who brought the homemade baked goods. And notes this "can't have it all" internet archetype is nothing new, at least not on the internet, and it does seem to be an upper-middle class big city coastal problem. Naturally that didn't go over well with a certain segment of the population who would prefer to feel guilty and attack people who would rather tell them that they have the power to stop. (What can we say, generations of working women have taught us tough love.)

    Anonymous posters who deny any privileges to professional women because working-class women do not have them, when they allow all men to have them, are merely tools of the patriarchy. If they did not want anyone to have privileges until all had privileges, then they would be Marxists. But they're not.

    I've also gotten attacked for class privilege, and I love the term "privilege discount" because I worked damn hard to get to where I am. Not as hard as I would have had to were I an underrepresented minority or my parents didn't value education. But I refuse to feel guilty for being awesome. Again, guilt is a tool of the patriarchy trying to keep people who have made it down. These anonymous posters don't attack Paris Hilton or George W. Bush. They're unaffected. No, they stick to middle class and working class folks who have dared, through hard work and luck, to rise to economic upper middle class.

  2. I loved this post. It made me happy :)

    Just from my experience in the last week or so (since starting my new job), I think I will be a happy WOHM too.

    There is only one mother I (used to) socialize with on a regular basis that is very much into having the perfectly cleaned house, making home-made everything, etc.. Needless to say, I don't hang out with her much anymore!

  3. I should say, I don't hang out with her because of those things --- but because she would try and make me feel guilty for NOT doing those things.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I read "I Don't Know How She Does It" a million years ago...back when I only had one kid. I haven't seen the trailer and I don't watch movies, so my comment is a criticism of the book, but mostly of the author's decision to accept guilt as a fact of life. Intro over, begin actual post:

    At one point in the book, the heroine (?) who is a banker and her husband who is an architect (I think) are discussing their nanny whom the mother adores. The nanny takes good care of the kids and the mother wants to give the nanny a raise.

    The father comments that with the raise, the nanny will be taking home more money than he brings in to the household. Obviously, the mother is the breadwinner and still the one experiencing the guilt.

    At this one comment, I nearly threw the book across the room. If everyone is so upset and stressed with the situation, why didn't the Dad quit his job and stay home with the kids? I mean, clearly, he has every right to work if he wants, but he was upset about the nanny's pay. If he doesn't want to pay her, why doesn't he try staying home? The mom was guilty about whatever. It seems so simple. And then, they could talk about how that's the natural solution and dismiss it for whatever reasons. But it seemed like the default was that the kids were the mom's job and the father's job was the income, and that's just crappy when it clearly was the opposite.

  6. @Cloud, you know I respect you and like you, so I say: fuck them. Fuck them right in the ass. Don't play their reindeer games.

    I personally can't abide bloggers who allow others to use their space to engage in unchecked One True Way-ism, to perpetuate false dichotomies, and who would paint the entire world in these unreal shades of black and white. Be careful about the internet company you keep. Sometimes the best response is silence, and choosing to focus on your own life. Carry on!

  7. Cloud, as a SAHM (who works from home, professionally, for 10 hours a week?!?!), there is very little in this post I can speak to from a first-person perspective ... except to say I really like the dialogue you explicated, and I agree deeply with the points you've made.

    The one thing I CAN speak to (and to which @Alyssa alluded a little bit) is the phenomenon of highly-educated, highly motivated women channeling their intellect and energy into child-rearing and homemaking. I think that is SPOT ON. That is exactly what I have done. I have 10 years of professional experience and a Master's Degree, and have poured my intellectual power into raising remarkable children and creating a warm and loving home.

    The "anti-Martha" backlash this gets is infuriating to me, because (like so many women's issues), the privelige of running my life this way is a CHOICE I have consciously made -- NOT a role into which I have been forced by the patriarchy. THAT is where the glaring difference lies. I CHOOSE to be "Suzy Homemaker" because it's the most fulfilling role for ME, not because I have turned my back on my gender, or sublimated my intellect. I take homemade baked goods to neighborhood cookouts because I am fulfilled by that method of exercising skill and self-expression. Not everybody is. My brownies aren't there to make ANYBODY feel guilty. I am proud of them because they are a tangible representation of my vocation, just as a paycheck or a good annual review is for a WOHM.

    This is why I cringe when someone says they wouldn't be a good SAHM because they like "intellectual stimulation" or would get bored. This implies that I must be intellectually understimulated (or so intellectually feeble that I don't require stimulation), and catatonic with boredom. It is my JOY to CHOOSE my intellectual stimulation (books, blogs, conversation, projects, etc.) -- none of which is any "less than" professional stimulation.

    The BIG caveat here is that I NEVER LIKED MY JOB when I was working professionally. I might feel fulfilled in a different way if I had been getting what I needed from my professional life, but I was NOT in the LEAST.
    I think this point is what underpriveliged women get stuck on -- they don't like their professional situation, but don't have other choices. I feel a moral imperative to help those women achieve success in area that are more under their control, which is why I'm a La Leche League Leader at a poor, urban hospital.

  8. So, maybe I should do posts of my comments elsewhere more often. @nicoleandmaggie = genuis!

    Great comments everyone. @Nuk, why did you delete yours? I read it in my email and it was awesome!

    I'm at work on my lunch "break", so will have to keep this short. But two things I want to say right now- I may come back and say more tonight.

    1. Blue milk is an awesome blog, so please no one think I'm saying her blog is a bad place to hang out! Similarly, I've gone and read some of Historiann's other posts and find them thought-provoking and good. So I may hang out there in the future. But I may only read the comments when I have time to get pulled into a discussion and am feeling up to being called privileged!

    @MrsHaley- I FULLY support your right to choose to run your life in your own way. In my book, you have no more reason to feel guilty than I do. And you'd be welcome to bring homemade cookies to my house anytime if you lived in my neck of the woods!

    Also, when I say I wouldn't be a good SAHM it is because I actually wasn't very good at it during my maternity leaves. I did better the second time around, when I had more realistic expectations, but still, I'm a better mother when I have the break provided by my work, and hey, bonus! They pay me well. I think that if I lived in a time when working wasn't an option, I would have been that annoying mother who ran all the neighborhood committees, etc.

    But that doesn't mean I think all mothers are (or should be) like me. Not by a long shot. And my poor fit as a SAHM has nothing to do with a lack of intellectual stimulation- it was more the constant, unpredictable, and often unfathomable demands on me that could turn me into a bit of a basket case and not the kind of mother I wanted to be. But that's a topic for another post, perhaps.

  9. Anonymous12:25 PM

    If you insist on writing out thoughtful brilliant comments on other folk's posts... why not capture them on your own blog too? It lets more people be part of the conversation.

  10. Great post, Cloud. And I love @nicoleandmaggie's comment: "I refuse to feel guilty for being awesome." and "These anonymous posters don't attack Paris Hilton or George W. Bush. They're unaffected. No, they stick to middle class and working class folks who have dared, through hard work and luck, to rise to economic upper middle class."

    Spot on. Seriously. A woman (heck, a PERSON) works her ass off in university in a male dominant field, then, in her career, is rewarded through promotions and pay raises and increased responsibilities for BEING AWESOME AT HER CAREER CHOICE, and suddenly lands herself with this "priviledged" label? WTF? This really chaps my ass.

    My parents did the best they could, but I paid for my university education. And I'm good at my job. Really good. I'm the youngest senior manager at my company and by a long shot. I got into management before I was 30. And I work at a company with 2000+ employees - they had lots of others to choose from. I am not, however, the only woman in senior management. There isn't a 50/50 split but the CEO of my parent company is a woman, and we have female executives scattered around enough that I don't feel there is a glass ceiling. So for all my hard work, and for all my AWESOMENESS (because, quite frankly, it wasn't working 80 hour weeks or even 60 that got me promoted. It was how well I work, not how much), I am somehow PRIVILEGED? Like @hush said, fuck them.

    And you are so right @Cloud, how does me cleaning my own house somehow help my cleaning lady get more benefits? It helps her to not have a fricken job is what it does. I won't echo all your points on this whole thing but I totally agree 100%. And a massive AMEN to the fact that no one thinks I should change my own oil lest I squash the rights of the "underprivileged" dude at Mr. Lube who does it for me. Eff that.

    I wish I had more time to read all these other blogs that you always talk about Cloud... I do but sporadically. Thanks for providing a summary here for me to rant about instead.

  11. Cloud - well said! And so real, and respectful. Brava.

    For me, feminism is about giving women more choices, right? So it infuriates me that modern feminists spend so much time criticizing women for just those choices, while men still get a free pass to do what they want.

    What I hate, too, is how our individual choices become some huge thing that impacts Society As A Whole. You want to work outside the home, you say? You're contributing to raising the next generation of delinquents, you worthless mother. You want to stay at home? Then you're upholding the patriarchy and destabilizing the position of all women everywhere. You want to work part time? They make up your mind, already; don't just waste your time in the 'Mommy' track/exit lane.

    Well, I call BS. What if we made the radical decision to each make the choices that are (to use the irritating turn of phrase so overused these days) 'best for our families' and (GASP!) make us happy? Because I think that if we moms are happy -- be it applying for patents, baking brownies, or (like me) slogging through computer code -- you know what? The kids will be JUST FINE. Society probably will, too.

    Everyone's comments are great, but @MrsHaley: I particularly love your eloquent description of finding your perfect personal fit as a SAHM. It resonates with me, because even as a WOHM, I'm happiest currently putting my kids and my accomplishments at home before my career. And I'm working only part time, too, at the moment. Which doesn't mean that I won't change direction at some point, swing back toward emphasizing my career, who knows?

  12. Anonymous4:51 PM

    That reminds me of another Voltaire quote... "Plant your own garden." Good advice for the crabs in a bucket trying to pull those of us who are guilty only of being awesome down.

  13. Thanks for putting these comments here! I mostly avoid the whole SAHM and WOHM thing, but it is interesting to see what people are saying.

    The whole concept of privilege amuses me. Why stop at money and opportunity? What about folks who are privileged with good health? How about people who can manage on only 6 hours of sleep? Being naturally good at math? Having really good teeth? All of these things can be the result of good luck, and sometimes it is just that your parents had lots of money.

    We should be looking at the success stories like yours and figuring out which elements of that we can help every woman obtain.

  14. More great comments, everyone. This is fun! I feel like I'm sitting around having drinks and talking freely with a smart group of friends.

    I want to add: when I complain about getting privilege called on me, I'm not so much criticizing the concept as the way it is being applied.

    I actually think the concept of privilege is a useful thing to help those of us who have had some advantages in life remember that people without those advantages have to work harder to get to the same place. For instance, in the class example, given the way our schools are set up and funded, a person from a lower income family probably had fewer resources in their schools growing up. This can have a big impact on college performance, among other things... so the fact that my schools had comparatively more resources gives me privilege (although not as much as someone who went to a fancy prep school). It is useful for me to remember that, so that I'll consider paying the taxes or supporting the structural changes that might fix that problem. Too many people just say "I worked hard for what I have, everyone else should just work hard, too!" and never look at how we can improve our society to make it more fair. (No one here is doing that, IMO- it is just an example.)

    But I don't think it is useful to shout down anyone who has privilege and dismiss their comments just because of that privilege. As I said in my original comments/post- I think it is far better to look at the actual privileges that accrued to someone (for instance, money in and of itself isn't a privilege- it is what money buys) and figure out how to extend those privileges to more people.

  15. Anonymous7:17 PM

    Privilege is a good thing to shout at this particular young lady:

    Not so much at a hard-working mom saying that yes, it is possible for future PhDs to combine career and family.

  16. Point taken, @nicoleandmaggie- some people really do need their privilege pointed out to them, I guess! I agree with what said in your comment on Historiann's post- there is a big difference between someone being ignorant of her privilege and wanting to remove what advantages less-privileged groups have managed to win and someone saying "hey, things worked out for me. I know that is partially because of my privilege- I wonder if we can figure out how to extend that to more people?"

    Also: I don't know what amazes me more about that post- the letter writer's apparent obliviousness to the advantages she's had, the fact that she's complaining about having had to settle for a Bryn Mawr education, or the fact that so many people can remember their SAT scores.

  17. Thanks for pasting your comments here, they're great. I particularly like this one:

    "But apparently, I’m not feminist enough for some of you guys. I am wallowing in privilege and entitlement and I should be… what? Cleaning my own damn toilets?"

    Would it be OK if it were a man who cleaned our house?

    Before I started reading blogs I had no idea some feminists had issues with women paying to have their houses cleaned. I just don't get it. Maybe we need t-shirts that say "I'm a feminist and I pay someone to clean my house". And on the back "I'm a feminist and I pay someone to cut my grass"?? Maybe not...

  18. @zed... hee hee hee at the t-shirt idea.

    Again @ Cloud, you said it for me. This is like sitting around having a conversation with friends over a few drinks. Except, as per normal - I'm reading blogs in my phone, in the dark, while I wait for Moo to be asleep enough to be moved off my lap and into bed....

    Theoretically, this should allow me to come up with something thoughtful...

    I guess my thoughts are that it is good to read other viewpoints, otherwise you forget they are out there. But, as I was attempting to explain to a project manager at work the other day, it doesn't matter how objective and quantitative you think your argument is, you can't "convince" people that your argument is valid if their belief system discounts your "quantitative" values in favor of their "qualitative" ones. And into those quotes, substitute whatever values you may come across.

  19. I haven't been around your blog for a while, so just saying 'hi' again. I did follow the whole thing at Historiann's and loved your comments.

    I am a working mom, I love my life and my choices, and don't give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about my child-rearing practices. I really don't. I love the daycare my No 2 goes to as it’s full-time care only — so as far as I can tell, all the families have two parents working full time. Everyone picks up their kids 5 minutes before closing. When there is a potluck, I see lots and lots of store-bought stuff so I don’t feel bad at all that I always buy the food too. I also frequently forget crazy hair and pajama days, and buy all the Halloween costumes.
    I love my kids more than life and they are the best in the world. They get plenty of me, which is what they need. So much other stuff about childrearing is just pure bullshit; its removal hurst no one.

    And I am also completely sick of all the talk of privilege -- it's so fucking ridiculous in my case that it's nearly amusing. Yes I am white, but I am not from the US; I immigrated 12 years ago from a teeny tiny country with a suitcase and $800 (which I borrowed and had to pay back) and admission to a decent PhD program. Now I am a tenured prof at a flagship state university, with 2 kids and a third on the way; I also make 2/3 of the family's income. And I even clean my own toilets -- imagine that! Everything that my husbands and I have we earned absolutely on our own. The talk about privilege should be used constructively to open people's eyes to hardships they may not be aware of, but is primarily used to shut people up. I am completely with you about avoiding blogs written or frequented by dogmatic blowhard assholes (of feminist and other stripes).

    Anyway, loved the post!

  20. Hi @GMP! Thanks! I drop by your blog from time to time, too and generally like what I read.

  21. Great conversation and I wished I had more to contribute. I did write one post about working women guilt (or my lack of..) but I find that most of my thoughts stay in draft form. I always feel there's just too much to write on that topic.

    I do wish that we could extend maternity privileges to more women (like longer maternity leave) like they have in most of Europe. I did not take a long enough maternity leave but I am fortunate that my state (CA) has FMLA and more benefits than most states.

    I think that in general, we pull each other down. We should all get more maternity (and paternity) rights, not less. It reminds me of people getting so angry at governemnt/public employees getting pensions instead of getting angry at big companies for getting rid of pensions. I know there can be pension "abuses" but let's lift people up, not down!

  22. bogart8:09 PM

    Here (belatedly) via the Grumpies.

    On the one hand, agree absolutely: sing it, sister.

    Fellow WOHM here and for the record, @MrsHaley, more power to you, also. I personally am grateful to WOHM mostly because my (one!) preschooler exhausts me with his ceaseless (if intellectually provocative) questioning. It's not that I need intellectual stimulation, so I go to the office. It's that I need (relative) peace and quiet, so I go to the office. And am darned grateful to be able to do so. But I am really very much an introvert who needs regular and noticeable amounts of time away from people (in addition to enjoying time with people), and (fortunately) not everyone is like me.

    @Cloud while I'm definitely in general agreement, though, I do wonder about the two-body problem. On the one hand this definitely doesn't need to be a "women's" problem. But on the other, being able to live in the same state (town!) as my husband and, as it happens, my mom, has tremendously facilitated my ability to be a good mother and our ability to provide/ensure good-quality care to/for our son. I have no idea how portable your career is; my chosen one (academia) wasn't at all, and I ended up re-thinking (and re-deciding) where I fit in it. I can easily see a logic to a young person's wanting a relatively "portable" job (K-12 teacher, nurse, lawyer) and ruling out any number of fields (or subspecialties) to achieve that -- and I think because of existing patterns and assumptions, it's often women who approach the issue from that (portability) angle. I'm not sure what the (big-picture) solution is.

  23. @oilandgarlic, I agree, we should have longer maternity leaves in general. The 6 weeks that you get if you're only able to take what is covered by disability is laughable. I was barely able to form coherent sentences 6 weeks after my first daughter was born! Also, I really hate how we time our "typical" leaves to end right at growth spurts (6 weeks and 3 months), which makes the transition to pumping even harder.

    @bogart, you're right, the two body problem is a tough one. I think that academia makes it harder than it has to be, though, due to its structure. I hear that medicine has started to try to figure out how to handle the two-body problem in assigning residencies, by letting couples peg their selections on each other. I don't know the details, though, or how that works in practice.

    Also, I think there is a difference between deciding you want geographic flexibility so selecting a different subfield vs. assuming that an entire career path is "impossible" to combine with motherhood, and ruling it out. I agree, though, that it can be a very fine line in some cases.

    Or maybe all ambitious women should aim to marry computer programmers, IT professionals, plumbers or other men in portable careers. I'm joking- but only sort of. The two body problem is, as you say, a TWO body problem.

    Of course, life gets complicated and plans may change based on changing ideas about what will make you happy- which is why I don't think we should judge anyone's decisions, really. I'm just *encouraging* young women to reach for the stars, to counter all the negative messages we get.

    (Which was a very long-winded way of saying I agree with you. Brevity is not one of my strengths....)

  24. I have so many thoughts, I don't even know where to start. I'm going to jump right in I guess...

    Let's you (Cloud and others) and I are privileged in some ways. Maybe we are white, come from middle to upper class, have parents who encouraged education, have good genes and big brains. Maybe all that is true. But as women, we still don't have all the privileges that men have.

    Let's consider the history of women, and that alone will show us how far we have come. Heck, no one blinks an eye at the fact that I wear pants and shorts most days! That was something that was NOT the norm when my grandma was my age. I think nothing of having the right to vote, have a job, speak my mind, and handle my own affairs in so many ways. We women have come a long way.

    Do some people think that one day every woman suddenly felt free to wear pants? One day it was unheard of and the next everyone thought it was totally normal for women to wear pants? No. No, that is simply not how it works.

    It starts out small. A few women, probably those of privilege who were more likely to get away with it without real repercussions, started wearing pants ocassionally. Then, more women (still those privileged white, rich women) started wearing pants. Then more, and more, until finally, it was normal to see all women of all races and socio-economic backgrounds wearing pants. In fact, I would even say it is the norm for women to wear pants, though no one thinks twice if a woman prefers to skirts and dresses ocassionally or even every day.

    We have achieved freedom in the pants-wearing category! Now if someone were to ask who wears the pants in the family, they can be taken only as a figurative (though still patriarchical perspective) reference.

    I work in IT, which is still a male-dominated field. Cloud, you work in both IT and science fields, which are both male-dominated. Even if you have the label of "privilege," so what? Isn't this how change works in the world? Those who can get away with it, usually privileged in some way or another, start forging the path. We prove ourselves to the men in our fields, the women behind us, and to ourselves. We show that YOU CAN do it.

    We are the fore-runners, or at least on the early side of the path-paving crew. We are making more of the norm. So that one day, a female college graduate won't think anything about her career choice. She will think to herself, as she pulls on PANTS for her job interview, "I can't wait to get this job in science/IT/academia because I WANT to do this! And when I have my family, I will be able to find my own balance in this career or decide to stay home with my kids. It will be MY choice."

    And that's why anyone who shuts down someone who is trying to boost others up as well as herself is an idiot. Feminism should be at its heart about making sure women (and men, but don't get me started on that) have the choice to do/wear/say what they want. Choice isn't instantly granted to all. We have to fight for it, one woman at a time.

    Also, @Mrs. Haley I always love to hear your perspective on these topics. You are a shining example of a woman who has to fight a lot of backlash to do what you enjoy doing.

    I, as with most things in my life, enjoy sides of both. So I enjoy being the WOH mom who has a messy house but fresh-baked (peanut-free) cookies ready for get togethers.

  25. And if my comment is longer than any of Clouds, do I get a prize?

  26. Anonymous2:41 PM

    @Cloud ooh ooh, I know I know. It's a matching algorithm designed by Al Roth at Harvard. I saw him give a talk on it. :)

  27. Sadie9:59 AM

    I know this comment is a year late and more than a dollar short, but I just wanted to say how happy I am to have found your blog! I'm a woman and a 2nd-year science Ph.D. student, and in the last few months I've really been hit by the "Can I really follow my chosen career path and have a happy family one day??" anxiety... It's SO reassuring just to hear that I'm not the only one worrying about this even years ahead of the creation of said hypothetical family. In particular, the line "now that I am here, it is nowhere near as bad as I feared" made me really happy to read (happy for you and for my own possibilities!). So thanks! I will definitely be following your thoughts in the future.

    1. I'm glad the post was helpful! Having kids and a career like mine isn't easy- but it isn't impossible, and it doesn't make me miserable. There are lots of things I'd fix about our system and our culture to make my life easier, but I don't regret having kids and I am glad I kept working, too.

  28. Anonymous3:54 PM

    Just wanted to say thank you for this post. Exactly what I needed right now. I'm a 29-year-old woman working as an engineer and I love my job. The constant suggestions that if I want to be a mother I will have to be less ambitious in my career are painful - starts to get to you no matter how much you think you know/hope for better.


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