Monday, 16 May 2011

Freedom or Obligation?

Note: all stats pertain to the United States, unless otherwise specified.

-Among adults 25 and older today, more women than men have finished high school.

-Female enrolment in post-secondary education had surpassed male enrolment by the early 1980s.

-Due to decades of female dominance in post-secondary participation, 20.1 million women now hold bachelor's degrees, compared with 18.7 million men.

-Among adults 25 and older in the US, 10.6 million women now hold master's degrees or higher, compared with 10.5 million men.

-In the US, 57% of students in post secondary education are women.

-As of 2009, 58% of all bachelor degrees were earned by women.

-60% of students enrolled in advanced/graduate programs are women.

-In America's largest cities, single, childless women 22-30 out-earn their male counterparts by 8%.

Everything's coming up roses for women. Woot! You go, grrrl! 

Okay, here's something else to think about: Men employed full time work more hours per week, on average, than women. Many experts insist this disparity reflects that "responsibilities for child care and other unpaid household work are still unequally shared among partners." In other words, women would work more, if they could. You know, if they weren't stuck at home with the young 'uns and all, changing diapers and scrubbing toilets.

However, in countries such as Sweden, where generous paid paternity leave is granted in conjunction with maternity leave, men tend to take only about 20% of their entitlement, and where possible, transfer the remainder of their leave to their wives/partners. 

Consider this: when my ex and I were first together, and discussing the kind of life we wanted to have, we agreed that we both wanted kids, and that we didn't want our kids raised in a daycare center. We both worked in the same vocation (we actually met at work), and I had enough experience in the job to demand the same wage as he did. Still, I wanted to be the one to stay home with the kids for the first few years. That time at home gave me time to enjoy my children, to watch them grow and develop, and to give them the intangible things that money can't buy. It also gave me the time to get enough work done around the house that when my ex got home, he got to enjoy the children too. As a couple, we sacrificed half our income so we'd be able to see family time as something wonderful, rather than something onerous. It also gave me time to add to the million words of crap conventional wisdom says all writers must get on paper before they get any good.

When I went back to work--when my older two were 3 and 4--I pulled 16-20 hour weeks compared to my ex's 40 hour weeks, with us working opposite shifts so someone was always home. This was also largely my choice--no way was I going to work outside the home if it meant I had to hand over half my pay (or more) so someone else could raise our kids for us. In our low income bracket, between the savings I could generate by cooking from scratch, hunting down deals, and not hiring out home maintenance work, it would have made better financial sense for me not to work at all, if we'd had to pay for child care. When all the costs of working were tallied, the moment daycare got added into the mix, I "earned" more by staying at home.

As a single parent, I still only work part time outside the home. Between the 20 hours/week I wait tables, royalties from my four published books, and rental income from the house I still own in BC, I earn about $40k/year. My kids and I live very lean, but we're getting ahead month by month. I could, and arguably should, work full time--it would add over $20k to my yearly income if I did--but if I did that, I'd barely see my children. With two of my kids in their teens, domestic labor is not a serious consideration--they can and will do their part to keep the house tidy and get themselves fed, watch their younger brother, keep the grass cut, and they don't need anyone to cattle-prod them into doing their schoolwork. The only thing stopping me from working more is that I value my time at home and with my children more than I value money.

Other mothers can and do feel the exact same way. If men in Sweden are handing over their paternity leave to their wives...why are they doing it? Is it because they don't want to stay home and change diapers? Or is it because their wives DO want to stay home and read stories to their kids, cuddle them, rock them, bond with them, watch them take first steps and hear them speak first words? Is it because these women feel stuck at home, or is it because they want to be home?

Consider my sister. She's a medical doctor working in administration. She earns a fuckton of money, as does her pilot husband. They have four children and a full-time nanny/housekeeper to take the majority of the domestic burden off of them. My sister has consistently made career decisions that limited her income, advancement, and seniority level in her job in order to have a balanced life that sees her spending more waking hours at home than at work. She opted not to specialize in plastic surgery (as many advised her to do), because it would mean years of eating, sleeping and breathing surgery, only to have her biological clock start clamoring at the exact moment she'd be finishing her residency.

Even in administration, she has declined promotions that would likely have seen her earning 50% more at this point than she does now, but would also have required her to spend weeks at a time overseas, and 3+ hours more per day at work when she wasn't abroad. Even though, in her ginormous income bracket, the cost of hiring additional domestic help would be more than offset by the increased income she'd have received by making her career her top priority. 

According to feminism, my sister's choices are a big problem. My sister's choices have led her to earn less than most men in her chosen profession, and apparently my sister has made these choices because she "feels stuck" with an uneven share of domestic and child care "responsibilities" compared to her husband, all because of gender norms.

However, my sister's husband has also chosen his jobs based on the number of hours he can spend at home with the kids. Rather than a "glory job", he opted for a stable position where the number of hours, and nights, spent away from home was limited, and which would allow him to relocate as his wife's career demanded. In other words, he's made the exact same choices my sister did, for the exact same reasons, and he sacrificed a good portion of his earning potential to do it.

Watching them at home is like watching a well-oiled machine, each of them taking on the chores that need doing and spending quality time in the evenings and on weekends with all four kids. Considering my brother in law earns $20+ every 6 minutes, his hours in the air are worth WAY more than any extra hours he'd have to pay someone to do laundry, cook meals and drive his kids around so the burden wouldn't all fall on my sister if he chose to work more. But the time he gets to spend with his kids is worth it to him. 

I have a few issues with the way feminism weighs career success. 1) It assumes the only conceivable way to measure career success is through earnings. 2) It assumes any pay gap owing to women making different choices than men are a result of women feeling "stuck" with child care. 3) It assumes any pay gap owing to men making different choices than women are a result of men "being free" to make their careers their #1 priority. 4) It reduces children's relationship with their working parents down to a single characteristic: the obligation of domestic labor. 

KIDS ARE MORE THAN WORK. For fuck sake, what's the point of even having them if you don't get to watch or help them grow up because you're working all the time?

Blaming women's tendency to choose to spend more time at home on the fact that "responsibilities for child care and other unpaid household work are still unequally shared among partners," means feminism sees kids in only one light--as a burden on parents, rather than a joy. According to feminism, women work fewer hours because they feel they HAVE to be home more, when I'd argue that women work fewer hours because they WANT to be home more. Participating in your children's childhoods isn't a goddamn chore--it's a privilege, and one not everyone gets to enjoy.

Especially men, who often feel that putting their careers first IS the only socially acceptable way of putting their family first. 

Warren Farrell coined the term "success object", and for many men, this is what their value in the sexual marketplace and in their own families boils down to. Feminism believes men have freedom and privilege because they earn more than women. But according to Farrell, "men often feel obligated to earn money someone else spends while they die sooner--and feeling obligated is not power." 

Back in Sweden, where men tend to opt out of their own paternity leave after only a few months, one needs to ask why? If they simply chose to forfeit their leave and go back to work early, one might argue they wished to escape the drudgery of being housebound, changing diapers and scrubbing floors. But men in Sweden don't forfeit their leave--they transfer it to their wives. From this, we can assume that women not only want to stay home longer with their children, but that they feel it is socially acceptable for them to do so. And that even men who may wish to stay home during their children's first months of life, still feel pressured to go back to work ASAP, to not allow their careers to stagnate while they spend their days rocking their babies and smelling the tops of their heads and enjoying all the other intangible benefits that are not measurable by feminist standards, but which many parents consider to be worth more than dollars and cents.

And now to circle back to my original statistics. The feminist contention is that women make the career choices they do because they feel "obligated by gender norms" to spend more time at home, while men have the "freedom" afforded by gender norms to put work first. I would argue that it is the opposite--that women make the career choices they do largely because of the freedom current gender norms give them to make choices that are right for them, and that if men consistently put work before family, it's often out of a sense of obligation owing to those same gender-based expectations. 

And what does that have to do with women's overrepresentation in post-secondary education? Well, if women make the choices they do because it's what they want...well, in Canada, we already have problems with shortages of physicians in many communities. How will that shortage be affected when 60% of the doctors graduating today take a year off work to have a child, and when they do go back to work, opt not to spend 60 hours/week in the office, but to spend more time with their families because they have the freedom to do so? If we can't get more men into post-secondary education, many professions will be in for a shake-up. 

In medicine, everything from the number of available spots in med schools to the number of physicians licensed by provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, is largely dependent on a traditional male "work-first" ethic that is going to have to change if we don't do something to eliminate the gender gap in post-secondary education. If male physicians tend to work more hours than female ones, it follows that the larger a percentage of women there are earning medical degrees, the more doctors we're going to need to provide the same services. 

According to feminists, this problem is easily solved by collectively guilting women into making the same choices men typically do. But is this fair to women? Is it fair to kids? 

And is it fair to men, who might make different choices in their careers if they didn't feel socially obligated to become "success objects", because everyone, including feminism, is telling them that money is everything and nothing else matters?


  1. I like your blog.

    I'm a woman involved with the MRM myself(I am far away from a traditional woman*) and I am sick and tired of feminists making the same tired arguments about a "pay gap". I perfectly understand why why I might earn less than some other psychologists.

    *I am a lifestyle Domme, shrink, and head of household. My husband is a bisexual androgyne and I am a pan-romantic demisexual. Yes, I am in support of this stuff, despite my oddness.

  2. Hell, I don't even know what half what you said actually means, but thanks. :)

    I have a deep appreciation for unconventionality, and anyone who has the ability to say, "Hey, what everyone is *supposed* to want just isn't what I want, thanks," while still living by an ethical code that means you aren't stepping on anyone else's toes. It really is so often about realizing that choices cost, and it's not fair to push the cost of them onto other people.

    Glad you're here, and hope you keep visiting.

  3. Here you touch on another issue that gets into the whole divorce-disparity thing.

    Due to a lot of factors--some maybe not entirely social but some which clearly are social--men often make the sacrifice of NOT staying home with the kids and instead take on the sole breadwinner role, then, wind up shocked with a divorce filing by a wife who he sacrificed everything for so she could stay home full time with him and now he's out of a home and is probably going to lose custody of the kids because SHE will be deemed by the courts to be the one to spend the most time with the kids because he made the sacrifice of letting her do that.

    There is an enormous sense of betrayal that comes from that. I won't go into my personal situation in too much detail but this is a very sore spot with me: a man who doesn't particularly want the pressure of being the sole breadwinner gets forced into it, then gets divorce filed on him and loses much access to his kids as a reward. Or, maybe he cracks under the pressure of being the sole breadwinner (which can be an ENORMOUS psychological stressor), and starts to develop emotional problems, or drinking problems, or whatever, and instead of saying "whoah, maybe this sole-breadwinner thing isn't working for us honey, what do we do?" the wife angrily blames him for being not enough of a man, leaves him, demands he continue to work just as hard to give her child support AND ALIMONY, and then (sometimes but not always) as icing on the cake starts acting as a gatekeeper to limit access to his children because "they don't want to see you anyway."

    Seen it. Many times. It's horrendous. You can see why there are men who just don't want to play that game anymore.

    If feminism is solely about protecting the interests of women, then this is understandable. If feminism is about equality and fairness, on the other hand, things like this should be seen as a very big deal.

    It is wonderful to see someone acknowledging that concentrating on career is an enormous burden, and one a lot of men feel forced to make even though it's not really what they want.

  4. Excellent post! It's interesting to see that in Sweden of all places, which as far as I know has a reputation of being VERY feminist-oriented and supposedly progressive, they are still making basically the same kind of work/domestic life trade-off that feminists sneer at as being "traditionalist" "oppression". You're absolutely correct that they terribly undervalue child rearing and see kids as nothing but a burden (probably one reason they're so adamant about women having the legal ability to have their unborn children dismembered for the mother's convenience so she doesn't have to be bothered with them).

    Not only for this reason but for many others I see feminism as about the most DISempowering ideology for a woman to have.

    And thank you Ms. Straughan for doing what you do!

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Commenting policy:

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