When Work Just Works Out

[image from Art Sentral Asia.]

A few years ago, when I was in journalism school, a friend of mine went to a panel of members of the Pulitzer Jury hosted at the school. She asked the panel members how they had managed careers in journalism, the brutally long hours and low pay, with their personal and family lives.

The men, many of whom had worked at several newspapers around the country, said it had always just worked out. One said his wife was a teacher, and she could get a job anywhere. Yes, there were long hours and demanding schedules and sometimes assignments far away, but most of them said their personal lives had just turned out ok.

The sole woman on the panel, an editor at a mid-sized city’s most prominent daily, said, “Actually, I’m divorced.” For my friend, and, by extension, me, this was maddeningly telling. It’s not so much that the men on the panel had clearly, continually made career decisions with their own interests trumping everyone else’s. It was that someone, i.e., their wives, in their lives had routinely made sacrifices and they didn’t even realize it. No, things just don’t turn out ok. Someone makes them so.

I was reminded of that when I read Tom Colicchio’s blog entry about the first woman to win the reality show contest he judges, Top Chef:

“Right or wrong, men plunge into their careers without much thought about how they’ll navigate the work/family balance. They assume someone — spouse, parent, paid caregiver — will materialize to take care of it (and usually someone does.)”

I’ve argued before that childcare and other domestic work is undervalued, and it is. But why is it, on a cultural level, the women who realize this? Why do we still make sacrifices every day that in the long-run make us unhappy but that men (as a whole, obviously not all men) don’t even seem to notice? And what do we do to fix it?

Communicating better seems to be the first thing, and a better division of labor. Maybe we’ll learn about it through same-sex marriages. In the meantime, if you’re in a relationship or a marriage or a partnership of any sort, man or woman, think about whether you’ve ever thought about, constructively, the ways your career choices will affected your household before you make them. If you haven’t, I’ll guarantee someone has.

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12 comments to When Work Just Works Out

  • Tasha

    In defense (this is very very odd for me btw) the choices for men’s career can be more optimal financially speaking hence the constant lean towards their choices because of the atmosphere towards women in th workplace still weighs against them. This does not excuse the negligent attitude towards all the sacrifices that come with those choices.

  • Maybe men’s careers turn out to be more lucrative not just because of the sexist structure of the marketplace, but also because the tacit cultural assumption is that the wife will be the one to make the sacrifices in a two-career couple. If we’re both lawyers and I choose to work a less demanding job to maintain a flexible schedule for the faimly while my husband relentlessly climbs the corporate ladder, that’s decision we’ve made as a couple. And it’s a decision the culture applauds, unlike the reverse. My own husband makes significantly less money than I do (I’m a college professor) and doesn’t have a “career” in the way we think of that term because we made the decision that he should stay home with our children. We both get a lot of criticism for that decision.

  • aisha

    This seems so inappropriate to put here but here I go. On a particular reality show the wife hired help for a couple of days and showed the bills to her husband so he could understand monetarily what her work with the kids and taking care of home is worth. Now he should have just valued that on it’s own but it took having to pay invoices to be a little more understanding. At the end of the day this was just a reality TV set up but it does speak to the value women play in the home.

  • elliemaehoya

    amen!! that was deep!!

  • As long as the patriarchy is in place, men will be paid more not because they’re better or more focused or “the man of the family” or whatever, but just because they’re a MAN. And likewise, under the patriarchy, women are devalued and not considered and pushed aside and relegated to the leftovers because and only because they’re WOMEN. All the rest is just rationalizing that helps to keep the patriarchy in place.

  • rmf

    Funny that you say this. I had a friend in a similar situation who didn’t want to leave the city in which we lived but her then boyfriend (now husband) wanted to go to business school. She was up in arms for months and then because he didn’t get in where he’d expected, he decided to attend a training course in our city. This was billed as selflessness on his part, as he left his city (which he’d planned to do anyway) and came here. I pointed this out and was not appreciated for the observation. It’s true that we are often put in the position of either sacrificing our interests and/or power when pursuing interests or career goals while our significant others assume that this is the natural order of things. Almost happened to me too…hmmm…

    Thank you!!

  • I was in a meeting yesterday with a business school professor who mentioned a survey she conducted about workforce equity and domestic labor. In the study she asked men how household labor was divided and they estimated something like 60-40 (40 being his percentage), which seemed to imply a modest improvement from the past.
    However, when she asked them to list specific household duties and who performed them, the results were more like 80-20, with their wives overwhelmingly performing household labor.

  • “The sole woman on the panel, an editor at a mid-sized city’s most prominent daily, said, “Actually, I’m divorced.” For my friend, and, by extension, me, this was maddeningly telling. It’s not so much that the men on the panel had clearly, continually made career decisions with their own interests trumping everyone else’s. It was that someone, i.e., their wives, in their lives had routinely made sacrifices and they didn’t even realize it. No, things just don’t turn out ok. Someone makes them so.”

    I had the same experience interviewing men and women academic life scientists. For the youngest generation of faculty, the women were likely to be married to equally professional men (I don’t know about the hh div of labor though) whereas for the older cohorts, the women were likely to be single/divorced/childless and the men were likely to have wives who didn’t work or worked part-time.

  • [...] what’s the problem? When a woman won for the first time in the fourth season, Colicchio wrote pretty elegantly about the problems women face in professional kitchens, which aren’t too [...]

  • [...] what’s the problem? When a woman won for the first time in the fourth season, Colicchio wrote pretty elegantly about the problems women face in professional kitchens, which aren’t too [...]

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