Friday, July 27, 2012

Weekend Reading: The I Wasn't Going to Talk about Work-Life Balance Edition

I was all set to take a little break from the ongoing work-life balance/can we really "have it all" discussion. I'm frankly a little exhausted by the subject and by the effort it is taking to not take offense at some of the comments and posts that imply that women like me are bad mothers who haven't really bonded with their kids or losers whose careers are tanking or other such nonsense. So I only clicked on links from reliable sources, so to speak, and even then I didn't delve into many comments threads.

But then I stumbled across such good links on the topic this week! And I wasn't even looking! So I have to share.

First, Oilandgarlic has two excellent posts. One was on work-life balance at career levels below the stratosphere occupied by Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer, and even below the lower troposphere where middle managers like me live and work. I agree that the almost exclusive focus on the possibility of combing a high-powered career with motherhood is wrong, excludes the majority of working mothers, and misses a big part of the story of mothers in the workforce. The second was on how sometimes a little imbalance is the right thing. This one really resonated with me- people will sometimes feel sorry for me for not having more time for "me" and my interests outside career and family. But I don't want to pursue those interests more than I want to spend my time on career and family, and I've found a "me" hobby that fits in around the edges (writing), so I'm happy.

Next, I think I found this article about the trade offs we make and how that relates to the discussions of Slaughter and Mayer via TheMamaBee's twitter feed. It is a really good article, and I particularly like how the author frames decisions about career in terms of whether the reward is worth the trade offs, whatever those may be.

Then, Bad Mom, Good Mom had a couple of really thoughtful (and thought-provoking) posts on "the nanny issue". Go read both for some more thoughts on the work-life arrangements of those of us working below the upper levels.

Bad Mom, Good Mom references some research on work-life balance in her posts. Nicoleandmaggie have an interesting post up on some related research: they answer a question I asked about a paper on the impact of fertility timing on career outcomes, which made a bit of a splash when it came out. (Thanks for answering!)

Andie Fox, who writes the Blue Milk blog, had a good article offering an explanation for why some mothers reacted so strongly to Mayer's plans for a short maternity leave. I think she has some very good insights, but I have to say: I've been feeling more than a little squeezed by the way the conversation has evolved. And a little sickened by the way so many of the women in the various comments sections seem to be rooting for Mayer to fail. Are they rooting for me to fail, too?

Finally, I was struck by the contrast in the reactions in the comments to AskMoxie's posts about Marissa Mayer and Janet Evans (particularly given SarcastiCarrie's comment on the second thread about the volleyball player who got back into serious volleyball training 2 months post-partum). Granted, Janet Evans got back into swimming when her kids were much older than Mayer's child will be when she is planning to get back to work, but it still struck me that people seem much more comfortable with mothers getting back into sports, even at elite levels where training is essentially a fulltime job, than they are with women getting back into the corporate world. On the second post, people seemed to mostly agree that mothers- even of very young babies- deserved some interests of their own, their own "thing". Well, my "thing" is my work.  (Incidentally, I feel a little bad for not leaving this comment on Moxie's thread, but I needed to cut myself off from that thread, because once I noticed this dichotomy it made me want to scream. Which isn't to say that I found anything offensive about either of Moxie's posts or SarcastiCarrie's comment- far from it. They were positive posts. It was the difference in responses from other people that jumped out at me.)

And continuing my slide into the more depressing links... I also really feel the need to share a few posts that really highlight the atmosphere in the tech/geek world that I mentioned in my post about Marissa Mayer:

First, there is an Ask Slahsdot post that is stunning in its ignorance and blithe assumption that casual harassment of a female team member is unavoidable. Apparently, some men think they need silly little games to remind themselves not to be assholes. Imagine how receptive the men in this department would be to a woman who publicly identifies as a feminist. The comment thread is one of the more depressing ones I've read in recent memory, although there are also some good smackdowns of the stupidity of the original question, from both men and women.

There was also a stunningly sexist article up on CNN about "fake geek girls," which I refuse to reward with a link. Scalzi has a good smackdown of that, but it is depressing that what he says still needs to be said, and it is depressing that if you read the comments on his thread, even some other women assume that typically attractive women need to prove their geek cred. Liz Argall, a women affected by this attitude wrote a very good post on the subject.

I'm sorry to end on a downer, but that actually feels appropriate given the cultural atmosphere on "women's issues" lately. It is clear that we've made a lot of progress. But we still have a long way to go.


  1. Anonymous1:03 AM

    Adding to the links... Historiann had a mailbag question that reminds readers how backwards certain parts of academia (including my institution!) are when a woman reproduces:

    And these are jobs for which a PhD is required.

    1. That is just depressing. Geez.

  2. Anonymous1:27 AM

    Another thought: Wouldn't it be nice if we spent as much time discussing the erosion of women's reproductive rights in this country as we spend judging women's reproductive choices?

  3. "It still struck me that people seem much more comfortable with mothers getting back into sports, even at elite levels where training is essentially a fulltime job, than they are with women getting back into the corporate world." AMEN!

    What's up with that? Why do we revere athletes while intellectualism is a liability? Is it that life really is just like high school? Is it that we loathe all things "corporate"? Or do we?

    Which brings me to how we as a culture fail to acknowledge there are different personality types. We're all hard-wired differently, and we could use a lot more understanding and acceptance of this reality.

    I'm cheering for Mayer, and for US Olympian high-jumper and mother Chaunte Lowe, who had her second baby in April '11 and went back to her training 48 hours after giving birth, and was back to training full-time 2 weeks after giving birth.

  4. Good grief, that AskSlashdot post was the worst thing ever. Apparently some men think that if they can't make sexist jokes, they'll have a soul-less workplace absent of all cameraderie??? I work in two groups, an experimental lab where I am the only female and a computational modeling lab where females are the minority (3 females, 12 males) and I have never experienced anything like this. And everyone seems happy enough. Ridiculous.

    1. The saddest thing is that the post stands out for having a more jaw-droppingly clueless initial question/article than most, but is not at all unique for having such depressing comments.

  5. Anonymous7:35 AM

    Oh man... I would like to point out the remarkable restraint that Scalzi's readers have (which apparently I do not share) for not pointing out that middle school must have been traumatic for poor Mr. Peacock.

    I don't think I'd want to attach that byline to an article that castigates attractive women. Just sayin'.

  6. Anonymous12:59 PM

    I read the CNN article, and I kind of think that many of the responses are missing the point, unless they've been to such a convention (ComicCon or similar). My sister was in town a few months ago for a gaming convention (she works in the industry). I made some crack about how she must have been very popular at the convention, and she laughed and made some comment about the "models" there. I thought she was just being hard on herself by saying that she didn't look like a model - but no, she informed me that there were ACTUAL models there. She told me that the various companies hire actual models to wear costume-y revealing outfits to attract guys to their company booth - and they were everywhere. So as far as I can tell, that's the career choice that the CNN article is reporting on - the author is not into the hired models at ComicCon who are supposed to attract men to their company's booth - and he'd rather go after real geek girls. I feel like some of the response articles have missed this point or haven't been to such a convention and seen this phenomenon (my sister was disgusted by it too). He's talking about women who get *paid* to dress like this at ComicCon (they probably are actually called "booth babes"). Anyway, just wanted to try to clarify.

    1. Anonymous1:05 PM

      Except he's not. He's lumping "booth babes" with attractive women who want to be ogled by geeks... which is pretty insulting even to think about as a concept (and has the underlying assumption that women's main purpose is to be objectified by white men, because why else would an attractive woman go to a geek convention?). Additionally, as Scalzi points out, so what about "booth babes"? Why not welcome them too?

    2. Anonymous1:06 PM

      Me again - there's much more context in the second half of this follow-up CNN article about the hired models at conventions:

    3. Anonymous2:09 PM

      Except, he's not just talking about hired models at conventions! Hired models are not there because they want geeky men to think they're attractive. They're there because they are GETTING PAID to be there.

      He has a very "eccentric" definition of "booth babe," and one that is pretty insulting and onanistic. [See forbes article for link to Peacock's blog post and commentary on his definition: ]

      I've really enjoyed the commentary Scalzi linked to in his follow-up post as well. They really nail exactly what is wrong with that article and how very insulting it is to women from a number of different directions.


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