Monday, January 24, 2005

Woman's Work

Thank you all for your thoughtful input stemming from Summers' comments specifically on the 80-hour work week required to do science. I appreciate everyone clarifying their points and apologize for misquoting or misrepresenting. As I said in the post just previous to this, this is an emotional issue for me (not sure why, just is). Anyway, I agree that perhaps one ought to expect an 80-hour work week or more for jobs at prestigious universities. But if, as most of the commenters argue, you can't work 80 hours a week and be a mother, then all the mothers are excluded from that work. I hope I'm stating that correctly, but I think that's what some of you are saying. I said somewhere that perhaps a mother could work 80-hours a week if she weren't the primary caregiver, but as Ben pointed out, that's usually not the case. So what do we do? Accept that most mothers are not going to become great scientists? Maybe. Are we missing an important viewpoint by not having more mothers as scientists? And what happens when a female scientist becomes a mother, thinking she can handle both, but then can't? Do we just accept that? Maybe we do. I'm sure similar things happen to men--job expectations are greater than they thought, a family illness comes up, etc. and suddenly he can't do the job anymore. The issue I have with the whole conversation--not necessarily with any particular arguments anyone has made--is that I think it sends a message to women about what they can and can't do. If Ben is right, and most women want to be mothers and they're thinking about what career to pursue and also thinking about being a mother and they know that being a scientist involves an 80-hour work week which can't be balanced with their desire to be a mother, then they might exclude that as a career choice.

And there are other careers like that as well. It's a biological fact that women reproduce. But it's a sociological issue about how we as a society deal with that fact. Some people might advocate for dealing with it within each individual family. That's fine--a perfectly logical solution. I'm simply advocating for the conversation to take place about what society's role might be in preventing some women (mothers) from pursuing certain careers because there are barriers in place that conflict with her role as mother. Maybe that makes me want a warm and fuzzy world. Frankly, I'd like that. I want to help people; it's just my nature. But I certainly don't want to prevent anyone from working 80 hours if they want. And I certainly appreciate the results of some of that work.

I haven't the answers to these issues, but I'm very thankful that Ben, Vera, Suzanne, and bitchitude were willing to share their thoughts and help me shape my own.