where do I get these ideas anyway?

Apologies for monopolizing Scatter blogging.

[begin incoherent rant]

I’ve been reading Arlie Russell Hochschild’s books, The Time Bind and The Second Shift. They are depressing. Not only are workers overworked, they overwork themselves–they don’t want to take advantage of family-friendly policies, they want overtime, they want to buy into the organizational culture of the 10 hour day that rewards face time over results. Part of it is insecurity underlying the assumption that if they don’t, they will be undervalued as a worker, and lose their job (salaried workers), part of it is needing the hours (hourly wage workers), and part of it is feeling more valued at work and more relaxed at work than they do at home, where the household tasks and childcare are undervalued and unrewarded.

From the perspective of this workplace law scholar, that sucks. It hovers on the edge of illegal, when female workers are sidelined into the “mommy track,” or are not hired/promoted based on their reproductive capacity and gender stereotyped assumptions about their commitment level to the organization and future productivity. But more than that, I just hate this culture of over-working as a measure of human worth. Mainly because I totally buy into it myself, even as I write scholarship that resists it! I feel a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance, let me tell you. The ones who suffer most from the culture of the ideal over-worker are the children, of course, and their mothers. Female workers suffer the most from this time bind–they tend to do a disproportionate amount of the daily household work and childcare. This is not only due to cultural, societal expectations imposed on them (and in most cases, abetted by their partners, who may not share fully in the duties) but also internalized by the women themselves. Even when their partners or extended family members offer to pick up the slack, some female workers resist outsourcing the householdy duties of child-rearing and house-keeping. Some of the narratives in the book make it seem as though the female workers didn’t feel sufficiently valuable unless they were performing 100% in both their jobs and the household–an impossible task, let me tell you, as a former nanny and day care worker. Not even stay at home mothers are the best mothers, necessarily. But it is hard not to think of a certain idea of a “good mother,” and feel guilty if you don’t live up to that.

Sigh. I keep saying this on my blog, but my work depresses me. Not only because I am coming to view the problem as intractable, but also because I realize how many ideas I have internalized myself. I hate the idea of outsourcing the rearing of my child or the maintenance of my household–but I probably will, if only to keep my sanity and do my job and have the time I spend with my husband and child be “quality time.” I hate the idea of working until I pass out to get tenure, but I bet you I will–I will write articles arguing for flex-time and a <40 hour week, but I will probably work, as I do now, 60+ hours. I hate the idea of factoring the tenure-track system into my decision of when to have a baby, but I bet you I will. I hate the idea of spending more time away from my family than I want, but I bet you I will. I hate the idea that I don’t feel sufficiently valuable as a woman/person unless I have the perfect house and family, but I often do. Where do I get these ideas?! Why are they so immobile?

I’ve been with my partner for not too long a time, but already we talk about this a lot, since we both work a lot (he is in private industry) and have started to resign ourselves to the idea that working next to each other until 1 am as “quality time.” He often gets late night assignments to turn back crunchd numbers by the early morning. Argh. We’ve already had talks about how we would raise kids and work hard to get the money to outsource the “thankless tasks” of household maintenance, which make me wonder how devalued household work is, and aren’t I just passing the costs to another person, likely another woman, and probably a racial/socioeconomic minority? I feel bad about that too. Finally, what is up with me that I don’t feel like a good partner unless I have some elaborate home cooked meal ready, when he has made it clear that he is perfectly fine with the simplest meal that I throw together in 20 minutes, and indeed, during paper writing hell, will cook for me or get me take out? What is wrong with me?! What was the point of all the feminist theory and anti-discrimination law I’ve been studying for years?! I write scholarship that argues for change at the individual, institutional, and societal level–not just hearts and minds, but policies and laws, and it seems to me that I have to start with changing myself.

Sorry if this was too long a rant and too much information. I don’t want you guys to think of me using this blog as a psychologist’s couch. But really, I often feel like a totally dishonest scholar, arguing one thing and living the complete opposite.

Anyway, back to work for me for a few more hours, and then he will come home late, I will have ready steak and pasta with butter and cheese on the side (he vetoed the more elaborate dish I was planning), and we will watch one episode of Firefly and  pass out, and we will wake up at 6 am and start the cycle again.

[/end incoherent rant]

6 thoughts on “where do I get these ideas anyway?”

  1. Not to add to your rant, but I think society in general has a lot to do with it. When was the last time you saw a cleaning commercial on TV that showed a man doing the cleaning? The current Brawny paper-towel commercial even talks about having to clean up after your husband has cleaned up. I like to refer to it as the “According to Jim Syndrome.” Men are fat lazy slobs who get to marry hot stay-at-home wives. And we see this over and over again on TV and internalize it just as much as young girls looking at fashion magazines. [Alright, I’m not a sociologist, but that’s how it looks to me.]


  2. I think that the lack of self-awareness – or inactive self-awareness – of sociologists is one of the most interesting things I’ve been exposed to since getting to this side of academia. I’m in the same boat as you – I study work, get angry about everything you described, and… am in my office at 2am. But I’m equally fascinated by sociologists who are strong believers in organized religion, or who teach social problems classes without addressing the socially constructed definition of “problematic”. I mean, we presumably know better. So why do we still do it?


  3. This MAY be a rant, but it’s a very well articulated rant. I’ve been working on issues related to women in academia at the university where I am a graduate student, and it’s become clear that whatever changes we manage to make in policy, it won’t matter unless the culture begins to embrace the value of things like flexible time and more sane work-weeks. But how do we take that collective plunge of acceptance? Anyway, thank you for this. At least we know we’re not struggling with these issues alone.


  4. In the spirit of WAY TMI, I will tell you that my hubby (of 16 years!) and I had this problem in grad school too. He was a painting contractor — physically exhausting and no desire to clean much at home.

    So one day (in a fit of rage) I made a list of household chores that needed to be done weekly. This was designed to eliminate the “I did it last” conversation (though i could always win by throwing the trump — have you EVER cleaned the toilet in this house?!?!? We had lived at least 2 years).

    Anyway — the list was extensive and included making a casserole, soup, or some other inexpensive main dish to sustain us through the week. Then we sat down and chose the ones we could stand to do. One at a time — like a draft. When we got to the really crappy ones, we switched modes to “assigning” the rest by taking turns.

    Worked great for while. We had Sunday night inspection which became kind of fun. Then we had Darling Child #1 and decided if we didn’t get a cleaning person, we would be one of those stories where someone killed all the rest of the people in the house. It is cheaper than marriage counselling (which I also enthusiastically endorse).

    Now with both Darling Children and tutors, and lessons, and school events (hey, it is MATH NIGHT TONIGHT!!!), and the pressure of all that, my concern is who to hire. Nickeled and Dimed suggests I should pay cash. The law and my beleif in benefits, insurance, etc. says go for corporate (more expensive and less to the worker) service.

    So you see, even when youthink you have figured out one of these crazy messes, another pops up to fill the gap.


  5. I have papers to read (sigh) but can’t resist a couple of quick remarks. I’ve never been very domestic, but once upon a time the division of labor between spouse and me was that he would do fancy cooking and pick up the living room, and I would clean things and do a share of the cooking. We’d divide chores, but over time my list would be the unpleasant things that would actually get done, his would be the things he wanted to do. Then when he quit his job, I said: “As your friend, I know why you want to quit. As the person who shares finances with you, I’m not pleased. I am not going to do any housework while you are unemployed.” He said, “Deal.” What was fascinating to me is how quickly I turned into a stereotypical man when I KNEW none of the responsibility was mine! I never noticed when things got cleaned up, only when they were dirty. For his part, spouse knew that the magic cleaning fairy was not going to do the work, and he got into the habit of keeping things fairly clean.

    When he went back to work, we had a much more even psychological balance about the housework. Unfortunately, over time, this even balance has meant that neither one of us does much. He cooks and does the dishes. (Except when we go out, which is often.) I do the laundry.

    We did without a cleaning service for a long time, but have one now, so there is a basic level of sanitation maintained in the kitchen and bathrooms, and the floors get vacuumed at least weekly. Even with the service, clutter piles up all over the place and dust accumulates where the cleaners can’t get past the clutter. It’s embarrassing to invite people over.

    Kids were a more complicated different story.


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