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."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Becoming a Feminist

When a man says he is a feminist people usually laugh. Only women can be feminists, you see, because a feminist is not someone with a philosophy but a particular kind of woman. When a woman says she is not a feminist, she is not indicating a particular philosophy, but disassociating herself from and putting down the liberal women who she thinks of as feminists. Not being a woman, some of this back and forth is foreign to me. But I digress.

I think one of the subjects most sorely neglected in this country is the struggle for women's rights. I didn't really learn about it until law school. Most Americans, if they know at all that women didn't earn the right to vote nationally until 90 years ago, assume that the second-class status of women was a matter of social custom. They do not imagine that there were Jim Crow laws for women. In fact, it was so much worse than Jim Crow. Most Americans also seem to think that earning the right to vote eliminated any legal subordination of women - it is this attitude that defeated the ERA as somehow unnecessary. It remains vital. It is resisted precisely because it will still wreak a revolution. The fact that suffragettes were not given the right to vote by nice progressive men, but rather were beaten for it in the streets, imprisoned, went on hunger strikes, and were vilified as whores and homewreckers - even that is just a small part of the story.

There is no room to summarize the story here, but let me make a few comments. Until shockingly recently, the law viewed women, sailors, and minor children as more or less the same class of persons who needed extra protection and lacked vital rights. I include the 'sailor' thing because it's true, but it's not all that relevant. Women could be, and were, married off before the age of majority by their parents' consent alone, whereupon they entered into coverture, the legal death of their personalty. As they used to say "man and wife become one flesh, and the man is the master of that flesh." This stuff may seem like ancient history, but dower and curtesy were good law well into the 1970s, laws that prevented a woman from bequeathing property, giving her instead a life estate only in her husband's property and vesting it in his heirs. Not only was divorce practically unavailable, but a married woman, being unable to own property, could scarcely provide for herself in the event of divorce. And it was both lawful and universal that women were barred from almost every decent profession and, when admitted, lawfully paid far less and discriminated against in every respect. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, second in her class at Stanford Law Schoool in 1950s, was offered a secretary's job at a law firm; no better was to be offered. Abortion laws are an continuing expression of the notion of coverture, that a woman is not really competent to make decisions about what takes place within her own flesh.

So I urge everyone here to go to the library or Amazon and get a good book on the struggle for women's rights. Even most women are likely to be shocked at how much has changed. Then think about how much is left to do. At my law firm, a bunch of old men stood up two years ago at the all-firm meeting and announced that they were very interested in "women's issues," which they then ticked off: things to do with childcare, pregnancy, time off. I was appalled, as were others. That is 1980s talk, what Reagan-era conservatives call women's rights. Note that Condoleeza Rice never had a family. Today these things are "family issues." Imagine the shock of my employer were I to announce as candidly as I practice it that I absolutely intend as best I can to be a co-caregiver for my child along with my wife. Men are still presumed to be able to outsource all these "women's issues" to (female) housekeepers, nannies, spouses. Success in the legal profession, to name just one, is almost impossible for any man who would seek to follow what is derisively known as the "mommy track." Feminist activists have been about in securing the right to have a "mommy track" at all, although you can't really expect to be promoted unless you are willing to "work hard" - i.e., to be available 24/7 and willing to work a schedule totally incompatible with family life. For this they are callse feminazis and socialists. Men who try to take this path are considered lazy, not team players, or have their sexual orientation questioned.

Conservatives universally consider accomodations for breastfeeding women or men who want to take care of kids as socialist intrusion on their absolute right to design a work schedule and expectations that can only be performed by men who outsource all childcare responsibilities or women who have no children. That is where the fight is now. And nobody is taking it on.
Being a feminist is still very important, for both men and women, because we have still a lot of work to do. I guess I'm just getting a little tired of the idea that I'm being "nice to my wife" by picking up the kid from daycare if she is sick once in a great while. Or that I am "babysitting" when I take care of my kid. Feminism, it has been said, is the radical proposition that women are human beings. This is still a big deal.


Dr. Strangelove said...

It just goes to show that corporate values are not family values. The right to take family leave, the right to a family-friendly work schedule, the rights of non-traditional families to be respected... These are shaping up to be the biggest labor issues of 21st century America.

Pombat said...

I called a friend out the other day because he said that he spent his Saturday night "babysitting" whilst his (stay-at-home-mum) wife was out with a friend. "Who were you looking after?" I asked, to which his response was "the kids" - meaning his kids. I pointed out that looking after his kids is not "babysitting", it's "fathering" (thank you very much!).

Anyhow, that's a bit of a digression. Personally, I don't tend to label myself as a feminist now, because it has so many strange connotations, depending on who you talk to. I mostly prefer the term "equalist" (for want of another, better, term), as I believe that all people should have equal rights, in all arenas from the financial to the political, regardless of their gender, race, sexuality, hair colour, or favourite fruit (yes, I'm being a touch facetious, but your favourite fruit has as much bearing on how well you will do a job as your choice of e.g. sexual partner as far as I'm concerned).

I also choose "equalist" because I don't think that the argument is solely about womens' rights anymore. Yes, there is still a long way to go in a lot of areas for women to reach equality, but equally, there's a long way to go in certain areas for men to reach equality. The perfect example being the one you mentioned LTG, of your desire to be a proper co-caregiver to Law Talking Baby - the fact that everyone assumes that you will not be primary or even co-caregiver to the bub isn't just an issue of them being anti-Seventh Sister's rights, but also being anti-your rights, to be able to take on that role - with full support - despite it being a traditionally female role.

Divorce law is another place where men don't have equality either - has anyone here heard of a woman having to pay alimony to her ex-husband? Because I haven't. And in the majority of cases, the children are given to the mothers - is this a womens' rights, a mens' rights, or a people's rights issue? Is it subjugating the women into the 'lesser' role of child-raiser, or is it deriding the men by saying that they lack the ability to raise children? Or is it a combination?

When it comes to family values, and rights to work that supports them, whilst I'm going to be expecting support from my workplace once I have children, we just have to be a bit careful that this doesn't swing too far over beyond equality - there are people who have deliberately chosen not to have a family after all, and it seems rather unfair to me that they may have to pick up slack created by my attending to family commitments. I don't know the answer to how this should be worked out.

Dr. Strangelove said...

If, as a society, we value families, then we will make proper accommodations for them. Those among us who do not choose to have children still must pay for schools, and do not benefit from tax laws that favor those with multiple dependents; likewise adjustments will be necessary in the workplace.

I do not mind those small sacrifices. And regardless, we are rather far from swinging too far in the other direction at this point anyway.

But I agree with combat that this also goes beyond women's rights. It is about men's rights and responsibilities as well. When one's employer does not respect one's right to take care of one's child, that is an issue of parental rights in general.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Oops, i mean to write, "But I agree with Pombat..."

Freudian slip? Too much of my job on the brain?

Combat said...

Maybe due to how LTG and I argue - by which I mean cordially disagree of course - at times? ;-p

Anonymous said...

Having been on both sides in the workplace, I think some of the nonparent/parent conflict is due to bad management (though there are certainly parents who take advantage of the situation).

For instance, I had a boss who would routinely want me to stay until 7pm when my co-worker (in a slightly junior position)
absolutely had to leave at 5:30 to pick up his daughter and could do so each night.

While I didn't have any particular time commitments that prevented me from working 11-hour days, I didn't want to and didn't think they were necessary. Better management would have let me shift my work schedule and split tasks more evenly so I didn't feel like I was being abused.

I'll comment more later, but Law Talking Baby is demanding a lingonberry scone.

-Seventh Sister

The Law Talking Guy said...

I just watched a harrowing segment on the Chris Matthews show with two women touting a book called "Womenomics." The thesis of the book is that professional women have more power in the workplace, so they can and should negotiate accomodations so that they can balance their "two jobs." I love these people who are still fighting the 1980s battles. The book should be called "Familynomics" and be about any employee, regardless of gender.

The real problem is that US professional workplaces presuppose a much longer workday than the 40-hour-week. This job expectation is fundamentally incompatible with family life. It simply needs to go away. I recall a former boss telling me that the firm needed to "come first, before family and friends, sometimes even before your health." That is insane. And the marketplace does not seem to drive these expectations away. I think government may have to.

And that's because in part of what Pombat alludes to when she talks of others without kids being asked to "take up the slack." First, the only "slack" is in the unreasonable work expectations. Second, she's right - we shouldn't be telling people with other life interests outside the office that theirs are not as important as those raising children. That's not right.

I am reminded of a very dear friend who is a partner in a New York law office. Although his wife is very well educated and ambitious, they agreed that she should be a classic stay-at-home wife. To succeed, he has to work most nights till 9pm or later, and many weekends. That is incompatible with a democratic family life. Since his earning power far eclipsed hers, it was the only reasonable option. This is why so few women succeed in these jobs -they don't have the cultural option of asking their husbands to be domestic servants.

This angers me a great deal. I will likely end up leaving private law practice over the next 5-10 years precisely because there is so little place for a man who wants something other than the "dedicate your life to the firm" grind. The fact that some women can negotiate a sort of second-class mommy-track for themselves is cold comfort. Keep in mind that we're talking about agreeing to earn 1/2 or even 1/3 of what the "dedicated" partners are. (In my office, for example, I know one woman partner on a "reduced" schedule earning a little less than $200K, whereas the "full time" partners earn $500K or more).

FYI, I asked for such an accomodation for myself last year. It was eventually approved in theory, but then the whole thing was basically ignored and it never happened. I wasn't too surprised, because a few weeks before my child was born one of the female partners who was delighted to inform the (women) employees about the firm's new parental leave policies wondered openly why they were being offered to men. Slackers.

That's the issue - bringing back the 40/hr workweek for professional jobs. It existed largely before the Reagan years of the 1980s, by the way. Billable hour expectations for lawyers used to be 1200-1500/year - now they are well over 2000 in most places. Salaries also climbed dramatically in the field. This is how we (post 1980s) enforce the subjugation of women. Working class women have to choose between work or family because they can't afford day care or nannies. Those who can afford them in the middle class are told that they may choose to get home at reasonable hours only at the expense of their careers.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I should say upper-middle-class in the last paragraph. Sorry. I'm aware these are issues of privileged people. But we should keep in mind that the work expectations for the top earners become the standard for the rest.

Raised By Republicans said...

I divided 1500 by 46 (which would give you 6 weeks of vacation) and came up with 32.6 hours a week. So I presume that billable hours and actual hours worked are not the same thing. This does not surprise me at all.

Out of curiosity though, how many hours does a lawyer typically work to generate one "billable" hour?

RE: the subject at hand, I know several women who earn more than their husbands and all of these women are academics. In about half of those cases, the husbands are stay at home dads. Perhaps academia is becoming a kind of refuge for professional women.

By the way, I've also seen the "firm uber alles" attitude in academia. Interestingly, the two worst offenders I've worked with are both women who make much more than their husbands. In academia this attitude manifests itself with an insistence that the work week average about 55 to 60 hours and that all social activity be exclusively with colleagues from "the department" (what academics call "the firm.").

USwest said...

No one is mentioning the family that goes beyond kids. I have no kids, but I have a family. My mother is 86. I have a 17 year old niece, I have sisters. I am not the primary care giver for all these people, but there are times when I must attend to them above all else.

Many men and women are taking care of family members and the like and this can be as difficult and challenging as children. That is why they call it "Family leave" rather than parental leave.

Congress is looking to pass a bill that would give new parents who work for the Federal government 1 month paid maternity leave. I am not sure if this will extend to fathers, but knowing the government, it mostly likely will. Currently, you can take up to 3 months unpaid. However, I believe that you are expected to exhaust all your sick time and vacation before you can set aside family leave. That's so wrong!

Democrats are limiting this to federal employees but hoping that the trend will catch on and that private employers will eventually do likewise. This is the positive type of "mission creep"

This seems to be a re-occurring strategy . . . use the government in the market to push the private sector to do what it should be doing anyway. Make government a player by making it competitive.

And LTG, you aren't alone in your distaste for 12 hour days. Many of us consistently refuse OT becomes a habit that then 1) hides the true amount of working being done 2) gives employers an excuse NOT to hire additional staff. 3) Makes room for a lot of cheating. People are lazy half the day and then sit around in the evening drawing OT. And stupid managers approve it because that is easier than fighting over it. 4) its feeds the egotistical attitude that the more time you spend at the office, the better you must be. In my view, the more time you spend, the more inefficient you must be. But I don't work the legal profession. I have a friend who is a partner and she is always at a deposition at 6 p.m. and then her case load is such that she is reading paperwork often until midnight at home. Then there are partner meetings that will go until 7 p.m. It's nuts.

Pombat said...

This is why I work in the bit of the government where I do - I will not do twelve hour days as a normal day, I will not work unpaid overtime every week, I will have a work-life balance in which I actually have a life.

My contract includes a 38hr work week, and I stick to that. The exception being when there is urgent work that absolutely has to be done - requests come in sometimes that have to be completed, and for those I will happily work 8-12hr days seven days a week (I find it hard to do long days on Sundays). Those requests are infrequent though, and at no point is that level of work expected during a 'normal' time. I'll also make an exception for really interesting work, although it's not an intentional exception - I sometimes find I've really gotten into something and suddenly it's way past hometime!

This has of course meant that I haven't earned as much as I could have done in another profession. Had I been willing to do the stupid hours per week, I could have gotten into something like investment banking, and be worth a small fortune right now (the one bonus with working stupid hours is you have no time to spend money, so have enforced savings!). But that didn't appeal.

USWest - I agree about your more office time = inefficient point (for careers such as mine; I can see those in professions such as law needing more time, because you can only read so fast); and you raise a very good point about family leave, and needing to look after people other than children. The public debate seems to have defined "family" as parents + kids, and excluded all these other relatives, which is wrong.

Paid maternity leave is creeping closer in Australia, although sadly it does seem to be "maternity" leave, rather than "parental" leave. If feminism had truly succeeded, men would be just as entitled (legally and by societal acceptance) to time off for a new baby as women are. It's important for both parents to bond with the baby after all - I've seen plenty of relationships change from good stable ones to dysfunctional families because the father winds up feeling abandoned because the mother is devoting all their time to the child, which he's not 'allowed' to do, and so he compensates by working harder to fulfil 'his' role as the provider, whilst the mother feels the father isn't helping with the baby / isn't around enough, and inadvertently acts in such a way as to push him away, whilst she spends more time with the baby. End result? Bad situation for all involved, possible divorce. And all because both parents are just reacting naturally to the situation. A society which values both parents' contributions as parents, giving both leave, and destroying this pathetic corporate idea of people being 'good employees' or 'on the mummy path', could only help, I'm sure.

Raised By Republicans said...

Pombat, what is the feminist movement like down in Australia? I've heard a lot of stereotypes about how patriarchal Australian culture can be and I'm curious if these stereotypes are based on fact or just Crocodile Dundee movies.

Pombat said...

Hmmm, hard question for me to answer to be honest RbR - I'm not particularly involved in it.

Since moving down here from the UK I've seen a fair bit of the country though, so can probably make some observations:

In the outback, i.e. the more farflung bits of the country (inc some rural ones), the stereotypes pretty much fit. I've been to a few places where I didn't really feel respected nor safe as a (lone) woman. I'm thinking of places such as the opal mining town Coober Pedy in SA (populated mostly by male opal prospectors, probably shouldn't've gone there alone in hindsight); a lot of the NT; mining communities; anywhere that you'd expect to find rednecks or a male dominated population. Country pubs too - even walking into them with Spotted H has caused a few double takes, although hard to tell whether because I'm a woman coming into the bar or because I'm a woman they'd not seen before.

Workwise I've only worked in a few places, and whilst I have had issues with arrogant men treating me like a moronic nobody, they were whilst I was temping, in stereotypical 'moronic nobody' roles, and I don't think they were gender related. In my other, 'real', jobs, I've never had any issues (either here or the UK). Having said which, I'm currently at the state Dept of Transport, and I am finding that most of the women here are in 'support' roles, so I don't always feel like I'm being taken seriously - I think there's some lingering sexism here that I'd have to 'prove myself' a good deal more than if I was male. Never experienced this in my other government role in Aus.

Of course, I always have to temper my observations with the fact that I'm tall (5'9"), confident/outgoing, have a voice on the deeper end of the women's scale (rather than a high pitched giggly one), and feel pretty comfortable in male dominated environments. The way I act leaves no room for thoughts that I might not be taken seriously - I expect to be treated as an equal, and so the vast majority of men do treat me as such. Especially when I start talking about rugby with them :-) I actually find I have more problems with the women I work with, who all seem to assume that I want to discuss the latest handbag sale (and of course know where all the shops they're discussing are), or swap cooking tips, or coo over the latest pictures of someone's baby Winston Churchill (I don't automatically think all babies are cute. Some are, some are fugly!). It irritates me greatly that they're happy to stereotype me like that (letting the side down!), and part of the irritation is a worry that the guys around here might slot me into that stereotype too.

I've heard tales from working friends of other companies, with an oft-used adjective being misogynistic, accompanied with urgings not to work for them. Maternity/paternity leave is still a big issue, mostly because the government hasn't actually done anything much about it, so the companies can get away with being phenomenally crap (it's only recently that I realised how far behind the UK the Aus maternity/paternity leave status, or lack thereof, is). Lots of tales of jobs for the boys, glass ceilings still existing, that kind of thing. And these coming from very successful intelligent women, although maybe that's the problem - we still have a whole generation here who grew up in the days when women were seen not heard, much like you have.

As far as day to day life in Melbourne goes, I don't think it's an overtly sexist place. Again, my height quite possibly helps - most guys aren't going to try barging in front of me in a queue - but I think it's generally ok. There's the odd jerk who'll make a sexist comment / leer at someone / whatever, but that's because they're a jerk.

Pombat said...

Having said which, we're suffering from the same don't-let-men-near-your-children crap that places like the UK & US have. For example, if a man starts work at a childcare centre, there'll be uproar from the mums, and demands of knowing his full history, family status, etc etc. Not so for a new female employee. I feel like I'm more likely to be 'allowed' to talk to a random child on the tram or at the market than Spotted H is - I can smile, pull faces or wave without being glared at, I doubt he could (which is daft really, since a kid is more likely to trust & go off with a woman than a man in my opinion). It does worry me what message this is giving to the boys at these centres.

So, I guess in summary my feeling is that the feminist movement here is much the same as similar countries - UK, US, etc - with the same suite of problems/imbalances, and the same set of (ridiculous) expectations on people based on their gender (man=provider, woman=wants kids, etc). There's all the same arguments about 'raunch culture' and objectification of women (recently a brothel owner was actually prosecuted for slavery, due to having trafficked women, which is a step in the right direction - prostitution and brothels are legal here [which I have mixed feelings about], but there's clearly a big issue in that there are some men who will happily 'use' a sex slave). In terms of the public arena, we don't have that many clear coherent voices - just as in other countries, the movement has broken down into various factions, it seems almost like we're all being pitted against each other - women vs men, and further divisions of different types of women/men against each other.

All that said, I think we're moving in the right direction, and we've certainly got things a lot better than people in many other parts of the world. No reason to stop here though.

Pombat said...

(two comments because apparently the limit for comments is 4,096 characters...)