Pictured: Boring Women’s Work
This is going to be a quick (hopefully not “quick”) relatively link-free post. There’s literature talking about this, but I’m not going to drag it up right now since I really oughta be working. It’s just really been bugging me, so this is a philosophy/vent.
I have a four-year-old daughter. As a result, I organize my life to a significant extent around her schedule. Often, this means that I either can’t make things or need to schedule them around the fact that she’s got to get to preschool in the mornings and home in the evenings, I’m making dinner, and that early evening (between when I knock off work and when she goes to bed) are prime family time.
This is often at odds with my professional culture, not to mention culture in general, that drive me up the fucking wall. Recently, for instance, I was in a conversation about scheduling a meeting that several other attendees really wanted to schedule in the evening, during the week. I was already annoyed enough by the fact that I needed to justify at least three times during the conversation how, NO, you need to LISTEN, meetings at 5PM really suck for me because that’s when my daughter is coming home from preschool and we’re eating dinner and stuff. Later, it came back to me that one of the people involved in the scheduling had quipped that they were trying to set up this meeting with me, but it was hard because I had “babysitting duties.”
GREAT VENGEANCE AND FURIOUS ANGER.
OK, not quite, but still. A couple caveats: I know the person who said that, and I don’t think anything was meant by it and generally like this person. And in terms of formal stuff, my job is pretty good about me having a child (certainly much better than many other jobs under capitalist conditions of production) – I got my tenure clock stopped for a year, I mostly set my own hours, etc. So I have it much less bad than many.
But the culture around this stuff really sets my teeth on edge. I am not a “babysitter.” There are so many things wrong with this. First, while I am lucky enough to be married to a wonderful woman with whom I have a healthy relationship, I am not merely a backstop to her primary child-care duties. I really resent the implication that comes out, e.g., not only in the term “babysitting,” but in the way that if I say, “I can’t do Mondays, as my wife gets home late,” it mostly passes, but if I say, “I can’t do Wednesdays, I like to be home for dinner with my family,” it seems to be more looked-askance-at. Part of our healthy relationship is that we try our best, within the confines of our socially inflicted normative damage, to be co-equals in our parenting. Yes, of course, we don’t always need to be there both – but neither of us is “covering” for the other when only one of us is there.
Second, while of course I have obligations to my daughter (and trust me, sometimes I am playing “you be the King, and I’ll be the Princess” out mere teeth-gritting Kantian duty), that is not the primary reason, most of the time, that I spend time with her. I spend time with her because it is valuable to me to do so. Most of it is enjoyable! It’s really cool to hang out with someone who’s learning a lot of things about the world, and it’s fun to be silly with a four-year-old in ways that I’m not with other people. Even the parts that may not be “fun,” we’re building an Aristotelian friendship – I am trying to help her be a _phronemos_ and she’s helping me, cultivating virtues like patience and care in me.
Academia, for all its lefty cred, is not always the most congenial place to see things this way. It’s not just about my daughter – I recall one incident, when I was talking about the job market, when I was told by a colleague _in front of my then-fiancee-now-wife_ that I shouldn’t have a serious relationship until I had tenure, as otherwise it would prevent me from moving around as needed.
But of course it’s not just academia (and I want to reiterate that though this is a pet peeve, most of this comes up among people to whom I bear no overall ill will. Except the “no serious relationships” guy, fuck that guy, he was also just an asshole in general). Numerous times I’ll be out on the street with my daughter and get some variation on “it’s so nice to see a father spending time with his child!” That shouldn’t be laudable. It should be expected.
Part of what frustrates me, I guess, is that it doesn’t need to be this way. I don’t work on a nuclear submarine or in an ER. As I’ve pointed out to my students when I sneak in some feminism, the only thing that keeps me from bringing my daughter to work with me is social norms about the separation of the work and home spheres. I doubt that the quality of their education would be degraded if instead of meeting for 2.5 hours with only adults, we met for five hours, talked philosophy, ate a meal together, and played with our children (or took care of our elderly, etc.). Along with some colleagues, I organized a free philosophy class in Baltimore, that had “kid-friendly” plastered all over the proposal material I sent the organizers, and yet when I showed up to the first class with my daughter, I had to go home because they neglected to tell me that their space wasn’t lead-abated and so young children weren’t allowed in – I doubt if there was an issue with the content of the class it would have been relegated to an oversight in the same way. I gave a sharp student the suggestion (at her request for some literature on the ethics of care) to read one of my favorite books, Sara Ruddick’s _Maternal Thinking_ and she said she liked it, but couldn’t relate to a lot of it, since she wasn’t a parent – and yet, you know, we consume media about war and police procedurals as if they’re touchstone human experiences.
We’ve got a society that’s unfriendly to children in the public sphere, and expects women to take care of them in the private sphere because we made it that way, not because it has to be that way, and it hacks me off.