Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Casualties are Female

Dr. Crazy has a really great post and follow up, to which Historiann has responded about how things tend to turn out for women in academia. That is, women can't have it all--career, family, life--if they choose academia as a career. Men, both she and Historiann argue, never have to make the kinds of decisions women do about privileging family over career or vice versa. Maybe men should, but they don't and people don't ask them whether they're going to quit or slow down when they have kids nor do they ask men who haven't married or had kids whether they're going to. It's just assumed that whatever men are doing is fine and dandy.

While Dr. Crazy (and some of her commenters) lament the holes that not having a partner/family have left in their lives (while acknowledging that they feel pretty satisfied), I find myself at 41 lamenting the career hole. I wonder if what I've done career-wise will add up to anything. I wonder if I will ever be in a full-time career again. I wonder if I want to be. Which makes me wonder if there isn't something in our culture that makes us think we *should* have it all. I'm a firm believer in moderation and balance and I think most work of any kind is short on moderation. The more intellectual the work, the less moderate it is. I think I'd be going crazy right now if I didn't have some work. But I think, at this moment, I'd be equally crazy if I didn't have my family life. But that's only two things. There are others, as this quote from a recent David Sederis story, points out:
Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove.

“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.

This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

I think I've got the family one on and the work on. Friends? Not sure. Health? Working on it. Can you have them on low? I'm not sure. And I feel like it shifts quite a bit. For a while, I was focused on work and friends. Then, friends and health. Maybe I'm kidding myself.

One thing I do know is that I sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to juggle them all. Maybe women are striving for this balance more than men. Anecdotally, how many men do you know who manage to have even two of these burners going? Most men I know, including Mr. Geeky, focus mostly on work, with family a close second. Friends? Health? Only a handful.

I commented on the second post about negotiating the juggling act with Mr. Geeky and how I don't always do such a good job of delegating non-work stuff to him. I'll admit that it infuriates me sometimes the ease with which he can simply ignore what's going on outside of work. I have never been able to do that. The few times I have, I've been bitten in the ass. And I think it's because I didn't concretely say to him, "Hey, I've got to focus on work for the next x days. You need to deal with this and this." Certain things are easy to manage, like scheduling kid pickups. But making sure the laundry gets done, remember permission slips, preparing meals? Mr. Geeky is more inclined to let those slide until I'm back to taking care of it. Unless I specifically tell him not to let it slide. In other words, I'm the default house person and the default position is difficult to change. Part of that is me and part of that is him. I would hope that the default would change if it needed to.