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Men, women, work and kids September 25, 2005

Posted by Winter in gender issues.

I’ve been thinking recently, inspired by a post called Sex and Power on Gendergeek, about work and childcare. In the comments, people discuss the extent to which things have changed for women in the workplace since the 1960s. This post is an extended repetition of my own inarticulate musings over there – I don’t feel I have much to contribute because I know little or nothing about employment policy or law and I have no statistics to quote at my fingertips – you’ll have to go to Gendergeek for the facts and figures. But if you can excuse the subjective opinions and generalisations for a moment, this is what I think has changed: the workplace is now more amenable to tough, ambitious, childless women, who are free to claw and stomp their way to the top of the male-dominated ladder (and as the Gendergeek post makes clear. It is still male dominated in almost every area). It’s difficult and women have to be “better” than the men they’re forced to compete with, but it is possible for some well-educated, usually middle class, women to do pretty well. By the by, Naiades and I went to a meeting last year with representatives from a company that wanted to work with the students’ union because they wanted more female graduates to come and work for them. However, they made it very clear that they were only interested in ambitious young women who would put their careers first. They did not want to hear about flexible working hours.

I’ve worked for a local authority, a charity, a high street retailer and a university and, no matter how hard I rack my brains, I cannot come up with one instance of a man having to give up work, go part-time or job-share, or in some other way compromise his career (i.e not take that promotion) because of his family responsibilities. There must be some, surely, but I’ve never yet met one. I saw many many women with children, however, struggling to keep up their careers or giving up and going part-time, or not pursuing promotion, because it was all just too much for them. Those who just about managed to keep it all together had usually co-opted the gandparents into doing a lot of childcare or managed to reach a high enough salary level before they had children and could afford professional childcare. I have met women who put their own academic careers on hold to look after the baby while their partner continued with his PhD. I work in an academic department where most of the male lecturers, and only one of the women lecturers, have children. I actually see very little equality in the area of childcare and work. The only solution I can imagine is to somehow break out of the norm of fixed daily work hours, which is inimical to family life for both parents anyway, fight for truly flexible hours, and the provision of high quality subsidised childcare.

I know there are a few men who make the positive choice to give up work entirely and look after the children, or do so because their work hours are more suitable to this task. As a child of hippy parents I and many of my friends grew up in family environments where fathers did much of the parenting, but they were all living actively chosen alternative lifestyles and strongly rejected the 9-5 capitalist work ethic.

So what I want to know is this, has anyone come across a man who has had to compromise or give up his career for his family? If so, I want to hear about it.

Anyway, I will write more properly researched posts soon, but I’m working on the Mind the Gap body image zine at the moment. Hopefully you should see some of that in the next couple of weeks. On that note, Twisty has a great post on fashion. She’s promising us a post on fashion and misogyny soon – I can’t wait.



1. Andrea - September 25, 2005

I have never known a man who had to compromise his career for the sake of his children. I think it’s because motherhood is treated as a vocation, and fatherhood as a hobby.

By the way, Winter, what is it that you teach, if you don’t mind me asking?

2. Winter - September 25, 2005

I’m a PhD student, but I tutor first year undergrads in English Literature.

3. Andrea - September 25, 2005

Cool. Your students should be glad, I would love to have a feminist lecturer, but my department is mostly made up of eccentric middle aged men.

4. Winter - September 25, 2005

Heh, thanks. They are not always entirely appreciative. One year, I got a “We do too much feminism” comment on the feedback form. But I usually manage to get a few of them inspired.

5. Emmy - September 26, 2005

I agree with Andrea’s comment on the differences between perceptions of male and female parenting – vocation versus hobby. I’ve seen examples of a parenting double standard in the workplace – if a man has to, say, leave a meeting early to pick up the kids he’s a good father (aw…) but if a woman does the same thing, she’s just a bad worker. It really grates.

P.S. I’d love to see a student write “too much patriarchy” on a feedback form!

6. Winter - September 26, 2005

Yes and I’m sure there are many occasions when “Too much patriarchy” would be an appropriate comment.

I was quite surprised when I realised that I couldn’t actually think of one single example of a man forced to compromise his career for his family.

7. TP - September 27, 2005

I do know one man who has been forced to compensate for his family. He has two children, and a very ambitious career driven partner.

She (pretty much) forced him to quit college and drop any ideas he had about having a career of his own to stay at home with the kids.

Thinking back there were a lot of negative comments made about her forcing him to do this, and the fact that he had to do it.

For the pessimist in me the idea of giving up your ambitions and career for your family means that should your family unti break down you’re stuck with no expereiince, no job and few prospects. It would certainly be difficult to get work that paid enough to keep you housed and look after the kids.

I’m for state funded child care, but I don’t see that happeneing very quickly – there will be a lot of rich men with women in their lives that care for their kids kicking up a stink about taxes.

8. Winter - September 28, 2005

Yes and I think a lot of women still find themselves in precisely that situation when their relationships break down.

I guess it’s not surprising that people were cross about the guy having to give up his job, but it’s very telling. I don’t think anyone should be forced to make those kinds of sacrifices, but women are expected to compromise. Sometimes I’ve commented to people that it’s rather a shame when some woman gives up her career to look after the kids, and the people always say “Oh, but she wanted too, it’s her choice!” I think that’s a little naive. There is always an element of choice in everything we do, but I except it’s often a “choice” backed up by necessity.

9. Naiades - September 28, 2005

i’m sure people only see the ‘good day’ thing because it’s a novelty and people don’t see it very often. if it was common for both men and women to do this kind of thing, there wouldn’t be a contrast between male and female workers in the way they behave with respect to their family commitments. employers would be forced to get used to it and make provisions to help people out.

10. Winter - September 28, 2005

You know, it never occurred to me when I first came to read feminist theory that feminism was anti-sex! I presumed, and still presume, that it’s about taking back female sexuality from misogynistic and patriarchal dicourses which try to dictate their version of sexuality to women.

I think that people have been so brainwashed into associating pornography and patriarchal visions of feminine sexuality with sexual liberation that when feminists argue against these representations, they say we’re anti-sex and get away with it.

We would, of course, argue that they don’t really represent female sexuality of any kind.

R. perhaps we should collaborate on something on this subject?

11. Naiades - September 29, 2005

i’d like to do a few collaborative posts, this is probably a really good place to start


12. Winter - September 29, 2005

Oops i posted that comment on the wrong post. Ha!

13. Naiades - September 29, 2005


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