8.13.2006

So what about the men?

In my last post, I left open the issue of men and husbands and how they fit into the family/work/life balance for professional women. And, I suggested that those that blame the "lazy" or "uncooperative" men for the problems faced by professional women are missing the point.

And, I stand by that. It's not an issue of uncooperative husbands/fathers. It's a societal value system that is at the root of the problem. In most professional fields, including the legal field, there is an absolute failure to acknowledge that life exists outside of the office. Work is considered the end all and be all of life--rather than a means to an end. Somehow, the idea that work isn't supposed to engulf one's life has been lost in interpretation over the years.

The fact that most employers fail to acknowledge that their employees have lives and families outside of the office is a problem for all employees, not just the women. Those that suggest that the husband should tow the line while his professional wife works 24/7 are completely off base. The problem we face right now is that the one partner working while one is at home is the status quo that is necessary in order for one to succeed in most professional fields--science, medicine, academia, the law. And therein lies the problem.

It is inherently unfair to require so much time and commitment from employees at all stages of their life--so much so that the employee's spouse is required to work a reduced schedule of some sort so that life will be manageable for the couple. (I'll post about this next--there's a great post from another blog that suggests a formula for companies that would allow them to balance employee's outside commitments at different stages of their lives with their jobs.)

And, this doesn't just apply to people with kids. Most people will need time off at some point in their lives to care for an ailing spouse, parent, sibling, etc. or in order to tend to their own medical needs. And, people should not be penalized for doing so.

And yet, when a parent attempts to work a reduced schedule for a few years, s/he's absolutely penalized for doing so. As a result, professional couples are forced to do a cost/benefits analysis at some point after becoming parents that many times results in the woman stepping off her career track. And one of the main reasons for that is that the man would be penalized even more than the woman if he altered his career path in order to care for the children. Another reason is that the man, as a result of the sexism inherent in our culture, is more likely to be successful (and make more money) in his chosen career than the women, simply by virtue of his sex. So, many couples that are financially able to do so make a mutual decision to have the woman jump ship for a few years.

In some cases, it's because the man is a sexist pig. But, I would submit that in most cases, that has little, if anything, to do with the decision.

As an example, I offer you exhibit one: me.

My husband (let's call him "Joe") is less educated than I am and has only a bachelors degree. But, he chose a career that offers him far more flexibility than I did. And, his personality is far more "flexible" than my own. Joe is incredibly laid back--he's a walking gumby. And, he's an intelligent, wonderful, liberal, open minded man.

Right now, Joe is currently the primary source of income in our household. And, he cleans our bathrooms, helps with dusting and vacuuming, cooks 1/3 of the time (on the days that he's home), bathes our kids and puts them to bed on the nights that he's home. And, I manage our money 100%. I completely control our finances since he's just not good at it. And, he's fine with that.

Joe was our first child's primary caregiver until I left work. And he did a great job at it and was perfectly content. I made the decision to leave. And it was a really hard decision and a difficult time for me. But, he supported me 100%. His words when I told him that I wanted to leave my job were "I'll do whatever makes you happy. That's all I want--for you to be happy. If you're happy, then I'm happy." He's the best. I love Joe.

And, I'm now working part-time, on my own terms, which has made our life far more hectic, given that we're not putting our kids into childcare aside from our eldest being in pre-school 3 half days per week. My husband has shouldered much of the added burden, since he watches the kids while I work. And he's done so happily. He understands that I can only be out of the loop for so long and supports me, just as he's always done.

I wasn't forced out of my job by a resentful, sexist husband who didn't carry his share of the workload. I left because I wanted to. And, it was a temporary blip on my radar.

Why is it so hard for some of you to believe that other successful, intelligent women with advanced degrees like myself aren't in a similar situation? Why are you so sure that professional women are choosing to leave professional jobs because their cavemen husbands made them do it?

Doesn't it make sense that women who are independent, intelligent, driven and thus empowered, generally choose good, supportive mates? Do you really think that by virtue of society's inherent sexism that we, the privileged, over-educated, savvy, intelligent professional women have all been rendered incapable of making good choices for ourselves? That those of us that have attained that which women have been striving for all these years are still mindless zombies who have succumbed to the patriarchal hierarchy? That we're all really married to Al Bundy? Really?

C'mon. Give us a bit more credit! And, give the guys that chose to marry ambitious, opinionated, outspoken, intelligent women like myself some credit, too. They deserve it.

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