Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why I'm a Feminist

USWest writes "My generation of women, as we move into our mid 30s and 40s have already figured out that you don't get to have it all. You can be a great mom with a moderate career. But you can't be a high flyer on both counts."

As a man who is a husband and now a father, I confront similar issues. In the 1970s and 1980s, women alone were confronted with a sad reality that they were expected to be career women and single-handedly raise a family while the men continued a workaholic lifestyle that left little or no time for involvement in the children's lives. Men of my generation began having kids in the 1990s, and we wanted something different. We want to be Dads. We don't exactly understand why prior generations assumed that raising children was primarily a woman's job.

But corporate life is set up so that taking the time to be involved with my child, sadly, means sacrifices on the career path. Workdays are rigid. "Face time" at the office is required. And there are plenty of men out there (and women who support them by staying at home) who are willing to play the old-fashioned workaholic game, sacrifice family, thus, out-compete me. And corporate America is more than happy to reward these people and punish those who want to balance family and work. In fact, women may find it slightly easier than men to do the balancing because a set of legal structures, diversity committees, and so forth is set up to try to make it easier for women to balance work and family. Men who do so are just considered slackers. It's frustrating. I was permitted six weeks' parental leave for my newborn, something that was part of my compensation package that I considered proper for me to use. Trust me - even some of the women from the boomer generation think that I'm just free-riding on a benefit designed for them. The older men totally don't get it. "When my wife had our first child, I was back to work that very afternoon blah blah blah."

Screw that. That attitude is why I will never vote Republican.

The problem we all face is that the workday has changed to be incompatible with family life In the 1960s and 1970s, nine-to-five meant just that. Today, nobody gets home before 7pm. Those two extra hours are most of family life. Yet to find a job that would allow me to go home so "early" (what my parents' generation thought of as normal) is an income and career sacrifice that is too costly. This all got messed up in the 1980s, as unions were crushed, wage and hour laws were beaten back, all creating a ripple effect that destroyed normal work schedules. The marketplace was allowed to reward "productivity" in terms of those who would work longer and longer hours, at the expense of those who could not or would not. Thanks a lot, Ronald Reagan. Thanks a lot, boomer generation.

So that's why I consider myself a feminist. And why I'm a liberal. And why I consider the Republican party hostile to real family values. Family values means creating a world where we honor, respect, and reward family life. Honoring family life means that we have to work, through legislation and the bully pulpit, to force corporate America to open flexible schedules and back away from the expectation that "getting ahead" means working 60 hour workweeks with no vacation. Simply put, US corporations strongly favor the traditional workaholic man / stay-at-home wife over modern family life. They dishonor families and punish family life. We are all poorer for it - our children most of all. And if RBR wants to know why I sometimes seem hostile to some aspects of "free market" capitalism, this is why.


USWest said...

Ah, but LTG, the up side is, as I said my comments on the Edwards/Obama thread, the Echos won't play the corporate game. They want to be mobile. They don't want to work in offices and they have the technology to that. And if companies what to attract them, they have to give them job variety. Echos are less interested in moving up than in moving on. They want to learn and do different things. Some of us Xers are the same way. The money will come. But I want to be interested in what I am doing. I don't want to stagnate.

As for rewarding hard work: there is nothing in our social system that rewards hard work. We have built a tax system that favors investment over labor. That gives more power to Wall Street than to Main Street. We pay CEOs huge sums of money for the strengths of their personalities, not based on their productivity. If you did that, the wouldn't earn anything.

I tell my employees that if they have to work long hours to accomplish their tasks then there is one of two problems: 1) they are being over tasked and they have failed to ask for help or to ask for a deadline extension when they need it. 2) they are being inefficient. My take is "what can I do to help you?" And I cut a lot of slack for personal issues because I know that once those are resolved, I will be rewarded with a dedicated employee. Maybe I am exceptional. But I learned this from watching other managers in corporate America. I have also seen those same managers get rid of people to took advantage once to often of their tolerance.

In fact, I work in government. Government pays OT even to management. And we have people who fart around all day and then apply for OT. They are gaining more in OT than on salaries. And when that gets found out, the response is to cut off all OT rather than punish people for fraud. Why? We have so many rules about punishment and firing that it is nearly impossible to do either.In the past, unions were there to hold their people in line and ensure quality work.

I love unions. My Dad was union. But unions today are either weakened or so solid against needed change (I'm thinking of the CA Teacher's Association)that they are failing in their duty to employees. In some instances, they have become more like lobby groups of special interest groups than representatives for their employees.

I could go on. But I think, LTG, you will see the work environment change and the oldies move on . . . if they ever do!

USWest said...

Another note:

we have to redefine what we call "productivity". It isn't how many widget we produce in an hour. With services replacing heavy industry, we need to face up to the fact that you can't just bean count anymore. And "more" is just "more", it isn't better.

I think people have been tossed around and burned too much by corporate America and I think you will see that fewer people are playing the game. Look at how many people are opting for the insecurity of free-lancing or starting their own business (where they work even harder than they did before) than the insecurity offered by corporate America.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I strongly agree with LTG's sentiment. I want to add that much of the problem is cultural on many levels.

Some corporations expect their salaried employees to work 80 hours a week and give up everything. Some entire professional groups have internalized this terrible imbalance, calling it a "work ethic" and heaping disdain on anyone who would "give" less. Some families pass these messed-up values down from generation to generation: they actually brag about how long they work in the office! Some parts of America are dominated by this kind of life.

But not all places are like this. I am a well-paid (I think!) salaried employee, yet I do not often spend more than 40 hours a week at work. Staying late every night is frowned upon where I work: It is viewed as a sign of an unhealthy (and likely unsustainable) work/life balance. And people notice, people talk. We are expected to give our families first priority: for example, taking one's son to the dentist is considered an unassailable reason to miss any meeting. My corporation even provides financial incentives for people to take their vacation days. And my company is not alone in pushing for a better environment for its employees. USWest appears to be an example of a manager who understands these things too.

As I write this, I know what some of you will think. "Sheesh! He has it too easy. That's not a real job." What I want you to realize is that such a gut reaction is clear evidence of the cultural problem that plagues our society, of the internalization of corporate values. (And I work hard, as those who know me can attest.)

So long as what LTG called the "traditional workaholic man" attitude persists, legislation will change nothing. I am hopeful that the Echo generation will start this cultural shift, and I have indeed met Gen Xers who take the attitude that, "the money will come." But I have also met young people who are very much in the old corporate mold. The battle is still in its early stages, I think.

USWest said...

Funny Dr. S, We both work in a way for the same people. Must be a civil service thing.

History Buff said...

Sometimes I think I must be a very strange person. I was born in 1959 on the edge of the boomer generation. My mother is a typical 1950s mom who stayed home with the kids and was also lucky enough to have a maid so she spent most of her time going to the beauty parlor and playing bridge. She still does this and I can't imagine why she isn't bored to tears.

I have never considered myself a feminist, probably because I never agreed with militant feminism. In a way I'm more of a Sesame, eventhough I didn't watch Sesame Street until I had children. I think that men and women should work together towards their goals.

I have a master's degree, but I only worked full time before I was married, partly because my industry was in a major downturn just before I got married. But also because I always wanted to have children and it was very important to me to be the one who raised them, not the day care center.

When I got married I started working freelance for a small firm (6 people) that does marketing research for real estate. I still work part-time for that company in a freelance capacity, from my home office. Thus making it so that I could be home for my children everyday after school. My children are older now (high school and college) and I'm still at home for them and they love it. They can come home and tell me all about their day, good and bad. And believe me, anyone who thinks that they should stay home with their kids when they are in elemetary school and then go back to full time work when they go off to middle school are doing their children a disservice, this is when kids need their parents most. I talk to my kids a lot about the way their friends relate to their parents and most of them feel abandoned. (I know, heavy guilt trip)

My husband tried for many years to have his own business with varying degrees of success, but what he found was that if he went on vacation the business floundered. Vacations and travel are very important to us. It's a great way to spend time with your kids and a great learning experience. So, he decided he needed to find a job that would allow him time for travel, so he became an elementary school teacher. It was a difficult road to get there and we had to make a lot of sacrifices, and we don't make a lot of money. We live modestly and save our money for travel.

I know this kind of life isn't for everyone, most people seem to need to have money so they can buy lots of stuff. I suppose that's our economic system at work. I have a friend that envies my life style, yet at the same time always talks about how you can't make any money doing the types of jobs she would really like to do. I think money also makes people feel safe. But I don't think anything can truly make you safe, so be brave and live your life the way you want to live it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with LTG that it is somewhat easier as a woman to take advantage of parental leave and other benefits because women are seen as the primary caretakers of their children, whether or not that is actually the case. (Almost) every single person I met when I was pregnant asked whether or not I'd go back to work. If memory serves, this question was not posed to my husband.

And many boomers seem frankly astonished that Gen X fathers change diapers, do daycare pickups, and "babysit" their own children. This is a positive generational shift, though some boomer women seem very resentful ("you girls have it so easy nowadays, your husbands do everything").

Accounting is an industry that a lot of companies ought to look to in getting and keeping good employees who have families. Apparently, most large accounting firms allow parents (mostly women) to work reduced schedule and telecommute in order retain good employees. They also do a lot to support nursing mothers and frequently arrange for on-site daycare. How sensible. Somebody ran the numbers, and realized that it saved money to keep good employees rather than training a new crop every few years.

-Seventh Sister