27 December 2005

Male privilege

It makes me sick that this (Boston Globe) is still news. Or even still an issue. But the article doesn't really help. Sure, it mentions that "the responsibility for this lab-vs.-life conflict lies with institutions" and that "[t]he primary barrier, they say, is the conflict between lab and family under the grueling demands of today's academic culture." And, sure, it pays lip service to what I won't deny are extremely important initiatives and programs like "paid maternity leave and child-care scholarships for doctoral students." But the article doesn't come close to addressing root causes.

Why is it graduate student Debrah Rud who is featured in the article? Is there a Mr. Rud? (or, for all I know, another Ms.?) If not, then the university and the government should do everything they can to support the Rud family. If so, then make him take care of the kid.

No, that's too strong. In today's society, most families need two incomes to support their children. And it's a crime that Harvard childcare is too expensive — Harvard should provide free childcare for its grad students (well, for their children, natch) if it really wants to be the most competitive research institution in the world. But why is this article about a woman? Is there really no male grad student at Harvard, who recently had a child, and who is struggling ballancing time with his family and time at work?

No, probably not. Because we don't expect men to make that time. Balancing work and family has always been a job for women. Sure, it's great that women are entering the workforce, but heaven forbid they give up their seminal role as primary caregiver. Thing is, articles like this only normalize that dichotomy.

Lord knows I'll be thinking hard about whether to have kids, because I fully intend to have a career. But if I'm in a reasonable position, say with a tenure-track job that looks like it might make me a full professor, then, yeah, I'd love to have a family, and I'd even plan on scaling back my time at work to take care of my children. I plan to work carefully with my partner to make sure that we both have the time we need with the kids, and that neither is shouldering either burden — as primary caregiver or primary breadwinner — unfairly. If it really is the case that one of us is honestly much more interested in one of those roles than the other, then it's not unreasonable for us to go that way, although I'm guessing that the lifestyle I will end up leading is a two-salary one. But all too often both members of heterosexual couples want to have kids, and both wish they could spend more time at home, and it's the woman who ends up doing so. And in so doing she threatens her career, and he doesn't have to.

The studies comparing successful women and successful men are extraordinary. Look at the rates of who has spouses who basically stay at home to support them. Look at the rates of who has children. Men can have families and jobs without worrying; women cannot. And that's a problem in our society that needs fixing.

And it's the men who need to fix it.

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