Work-Life Balance 2: On Stepping Up To The Plate
First post in this series can be found here.
The third and final post in this series can be found here.
ScientistMother really wants DrugMonkey to step up to the plate already. She says that DM laid out his own responsibility to deal, on-blog, with work-life balance issues and to share the details of how it goes down at his own home. Find the full quote in the comments at her post or here in Doc Free-Ride’s post.
As is generally the case, I have a few things to say about this.
For starters, I do not agree with ScientistMother’s interpretation of that quote. I have no idea what DM had in mind, but I think you can read that quote as him talking about his IRL practices as a PI, and offering them as an example for how other male PIs could behave to create an environment that makes it more comfortable for females in and around their lab to combine parenthood with careers. This is consistent with the DM blog operation of offering advice on how to do the whole PI thing. I do not see anything in that quote to suggest that DM is laying down an imperative, for himself or other male science bloggers, to talk about personal domestic arrangements regarding work-life balance. That, in fact, would be entirely inconsistent with him not offering lots of personal information about himself on the blog – if, for no other reason, for purposes of protecting the pseud.
To go on from there: I feel a particular icky feeling whenever anyone tells any blogger “you MUST write about X!” for a coupla reasons. One, I’ve been on the receiving end of that statement a gazillion times myself and it’s just ridiculous. Really? I must write about X? Hahahahahahahhaha! Any writer must write about whatever that writer must write about. You cannot choose a writer’s subjects for her or him. How happy would ScientistMother be if I showed up on her blog and DEMANDED that she MUST write about native plant gardening? NOW! Because it is urgent that the people be informed! Seriously, I am very passionate about native plant gardening. It is an important topic. Why do you not share my passion and outrage? Why do you not drop what you are doing and BLOG THIS INSTANT ABOUT THE LOSS OF OUR NATIVE HABITAT AND THE NEED TO TURN OUR SUBURBAN LAWNS INTO NATIVE PLANT WILDLIFE REFUGES, DEAR GOD, THINK OF THE BIRDS!!!… But I digress.
It does behoove us all to think once in awhile about what forces shape our interests. It’s at best disingenuous to say about an issue as gendered as work-life balance that you just don’t want to talk about it, without thinking a bit about why that might be so. I mean, the vast majority of male science bloggers seem to find that there is nothing they need to say about balancing work and life, whereas a whole lotta female science bloggers seem to feel the opposite. These are not just random personal choices based upon What I Think My Spouse Might Feel If He/She Reads My Blog, or What I Find Personally Interesting Which Just Happens To Never Be Work-Life Balance And That Has Nothing To Do With Me Being A Man.
Please note, I am speaking about science bloggers who are men as a group. As a group, men science bloggers tend not to blog about work-life balance. You can certainly find a post here and there. What we do not know, about any individual male science blogger, is this: What is he doing besides blogging? Is he commenting on other blogs when work-life balance issues come up, maybe under a pseudonym or as anonymous? Is he reading and thinking and learning, but doesn’t feel ready to comment or blog yet? Is he doing ally work in real life that we don’t know about, and his blog is narrowly restricted to a certain set of topics that don’t happen to include the particular work-life balance issues we might like to hear more male science bloggers talk about?
For any given male science blogger, there could be any one or several very valid reasons why he chooses not to blog about work-life balance (and other issues dear to our hairy-legged feminazi hearts). But is the issue even on the male science blogger radar screen as potentially blogworthy? When the answer is consistently “no” time after time, I think it’s of interest to ask why. And it does seem more likely than not, that it is NOT on their radar screens at all, rather than that 99.9% of male science bloggers have given serious thought as to whether they should blog about work-life balance and finally concluded it just wasn’t right for them right now, or didn’t fit their narrow blog focus.
But let’s say our hypothetical male science blogger has decided he must now jump into the fray, and begin blogging his little heart out about work-life balance. ScientistMother, or Isis, or me, or the whole feminist science castrating blogosphere has shamed him and in order to hold onto what’s left of his dick, he will write A Post.
A post about balancing work and family. He will speak of laundry folded, dishes washed, diapers changed, lunchbags packed, domestic duties carefully negotiated with his better half. Then everyone will be all “Aww, a dude wrote about balancing career and family! That is so awesome! He is so progressive! Things are getting better!” Some women (and maybe even the man) will gnash their teeth in despair about how he reaps praise for speaking of doing that which is considered her duty, that which, when she speaks of doing it, leads to snide remarks about mommy bloggers in the comments section and at social media conferences for the sci-bloggy twitterati.
And THEN some shrill bitter feminazi like me will come along and point out how the dude gets it all wrong, or misses some important point, or just wants a cookie for doing what he should be doing anyway. And some portion of people will be all “that is so right! that dude thinks he deserves a medal because he changed a diaper once!” and some other portion of people will be all “it is caricature feminists like you who are ruining Feminism For Everyone!” And some tiny portion of people might read both the original post and the critique post and think about what was said in the OP and the critique and what it all means. But by then the blogosphere has swept on to the next thing, and our man will probably go back to SOP, which involves not writing about Official Ladee Stuff, like balancing work and family.
Even if fifty dudes got together and wrote A Post, on the same day, about balancing work and family, it would still be like that Special Section on The Rare and Strange Creatures Known as Women-in-Science published annually by Glamour Journal. “And now, we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this special news bulletin…blah blah blah…gender…blah blah…work/life balance…blah blah blah…things are getting better…blah blah blah…Marie Curie reference….blah blah blah…young assistant professor with kids and supportive husband and cutting edge research program struggles to make it all work…blah blah blah…statistics….blah blah…useful websites…blah blah…things are getting better…blah blah blah…hire a housekeeper…blah blah blah…Now, back to our regularly scheduled program, presented to you in full from where we left off.”
No, a handful of men science bloggers taking some personal inventory is not going to change institutional structure, even if it would feel personally supportive to the friends and/or readers of those men science bloggers. It is not paradigm shifting.
Looking at this as if it is something that requires us to speak from a deeply personal space, keeps this issue a personal one, and therefore really risks obscuring the politics that surround it. It keeps it an issue that “belongs” to women, who are the ones who “have the experience” and the “right” to talk about it, after suitably notifying the spouse – but he doesn’t, because he doesn’t “own” the experience the way she does, even if he asks nicely if he can talk about it, because he’ll surely get it wrong, just like he does when he tries to do the laundry all by himself. In reality, it is a subject that is just as amenable to scholarly analysis and discussion as anything else we blog about.
I am not knocking the personal anecdote approach – it has clearly been deeply meaningful and helpful to many women to have that kind of information sharing out there in the blogosphere. And much of the best of that writing has been a scholarly exploration in its own right, of the lived experience of scientists who are women. What I am saying is, that is not the only thing that can be done.
If I were a married man with children, I might well be leery of blogging about how I negotiate the home balance with my spouse on my science blog, even if I weren’t concerned about privacy or protecting a pseud, because I’d be afraid of pissing off my spouse, and pissing off the feminist blogosphere. That’s my cookie to the men science bloggers who have ever even gotten as far as thinking about blogging about work-life balance: Zuska feels your pain.
But let me repeat myself: speaking from the deep well of personal experience and sharing intimate details of daily life is not the only way to write about work-life balance. This is fortunate, because work-life balance, life native plant gardening, is something I care about a great deal. Unlike native plant gardening, I currently have no experience with work-life balance. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. I have no work to balance with my life. And yet, amazingly, I am able to think in a critical and intellectual manner about the topic, and to care about the topic because I understand that it remains relevant to huge swaths of the population, even if it isn’t personally relevant to me right now.
Why, gosh! I am even able to recognize that work-life balance is an issue for Mr. Z, who has a job! And that dude is a man!
I’m fine with stirring the pot on the internet, but not in anyone’s personal life. That’s why I just can’t encourage any particular man to start blogging shit about what he does or does not do at home to help out the little missus – that’s a whole different project from critiquing institutional structures. So in the next post, we shall explore what possibilities remain to us to talk and write and blog about work-life balance, if we are not going to dip into the Well of Personal Experience.
Bunny Rock in Zuska’s Garden
Zuska is the kick-ass alter-ego of Suzanne E Franks. When not dispensing Zuska's wisdom, Suzanne can often be found gardening, reading, or having one of her thrice-weekly migraines.
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