Alison responds to Anne-Marie Slaughter

Happy Fourth of July!

And what I'm actually writing about here is that I now have a monthly column in Charleston's City Paper, our local indie publication.  The first one came out today:  "Society Makes It Nearly Impossible for Women to Have It All."

Let me know what you think!

(Cross-posted at Girl w/Pen, another place where I do a lot of writing.)


Cindy said...

What I find most interesting about your article is the statement that women (and maybe men?) do not talk about their children as they feel it may undercut their commitment. Is this a phenomenon isolated to academia? I work in the medical field and my husband in computer science and neither of us find this to be true in our profession. Are we th isolated professions or is academia? Or neither?

Alison said...

Cindy, as always I appreciate your comments.

So the answer is lengthy. I had only 750 words to work with in the column, which made me simplify.

I don't think being careful talking about children is isolated to academia. In fact, in my job, it's only a phenomenon in certain places. I try to talk openly about Maybelle to my students, because I want them to see that people can have children and careers. And I talk VERY openly with my colleagues--like, "Hey, she has diarrhea--what should I do?" kind of openly. It's really with my superiors that I'm careful. And not all of them--some are fantastic, but others I'm not sure of. So I'm careful.

I'd be interested in other people's feedback on this question (the feedback over a the City Paper site is a bit sketchy, so leave feedback here.)

krlr said...

I don't know how to separate this post from the one on busyness. We don't all have the luxury of writing 4-5 hours a day from an undisclosed location, a la Mr. Kreider. My employer pays me to be there 40 hrs a week. I'm not choosing money or time at work as existential reassurance, I'm choosing to feed & house my children. 40 hours + 2 young children = busy. Idleness is what my commute is for.

That said, I've never felt like I had to hide my family obligations - I have some flexibility & lots of vaka time to deal with MD visits, GI issues, etc. But I also know that I'm not moving up the ladder because I'm putting in 40-45 hrs, not 60 (well, that & my prickly personality). I can't really blame them for that either. If you're running a business, do you want the 60 hr/week employee who lives & breathes The Job, or the 40 hr a week employee who just spent 30 minutes on the phone trying to make an appt w/the pediatrician? The latter might be better rounded, happier, & less of a turnover risk (because of the mortgage) but at the end of the day sh** just needs to get done.

I guess the point is that I don't know if there IS an answer. Parenting is a time intensive gig. My job requires hours too. I patch gaps & make trade offs & let other people watch my kids during the week. We're happy but, oh dear god, are we ever busy.

Alison said...

Krlr, I don't know if there's an answer, either. But one thing I'll throw in is that in Slaughter's article, she talks about recent research that's showing that people who are efficient at their jobs--who get the job done and then go home--are actually better for the company than people who put in 60 hours so that they look dedicated. What you're supposed to do is get the job done, not spend all day and night there to be impressive. If research is showing that people with other meaningful commitments are actually better for the company, that's cool! We should recognize and appreciate that!

Kreider is also good about acknowledging that he's not talking, for instance, about people working multiple jobs to make ends meet, or single parents, because there's simply no way not to be busy then. And he says that's not "busyness"--it's exhaustion.

Another Chance to Get It Right said...

This is something I've struggled with long before Slaughter became a household name. I'm an MD/PhD student at MUSC, and therefore occupy both the S and the M of the STEM acronym. There is a lot of talk about the attrition of women in these fields, and I expected a lot more talk about it after Slaughter's article, but I haven't been able to find too many responses that have a STEM bent.

In short -- it is hard to have a family if you are in a STEM field. With science, you would think it might be easier than some -- it's relatively flexible (most PIs don't give a shit what hours you are there, as long as the total of those hours is at least 50, preferably more, as a graduate student or postdoc). But, having to put in those hours -- no matter how flexible -- puts pressure on family life. In the time I've been in the lab (3 years, counting), two postdocs have had children. Both struggled with the small amount of time provided for leave; if you have to take time off before delivery for complications, you could easily blow through maternity time. One of the postdocs ended up accidentally taking too much time with her second child, and therefore ended up paying at least 2 weeks of salary back to her grant. Speaking of efficiency, this postdoc regularly worked from 3 AM until noon-ish so that she could get her daughter out of daycare. The other postdoc, after witnessing that debacle, decided to forego maternity leave altogether and just take an unpaid leave of absence to have the 12 weeks with her newborn that she wanted.

Medicine is different; training is fairly flexible (especially 4th year), but you have the same problems with short maternity leave. And if you are a student or resident, the hours can be murder on you, much less your family. I think a lot of women end up waiting until they leave residency (while getting lectures about how 35 is "advanced maternal age").

One of my favorite quotes is by Rosalyn Yalow, second woman Nobel laureate in Medicine/Physiology, mother of two: "We must believe in ourselves or no one else will believe in us...we must feel a personal responsibility to ease the path for those who come after us. The world cannot afford the loss of the talents of half its people if we are to solve the many problems that beset us." I love that sentiment: that allowing attrition of women means losing half of our best minds. I've seen how having woman PIs makes a difference for the graduate students who have children while still in training, and that makes me dedicated to sticking around. I hope I always feel that way.