How do you re-engineer society?
You can incite a revolution; you can change leaders; you can implement new policies, or, you can obliterate gender roles.
If social organization and social harmony depend on the way people fulfill the responsibilities that inhere in their assigned roles you can re-engineer society by changing, even eliminating those roles.
In many ways, changing gender roles is more difficult. You cannot dictate the change from above; you need to persuade large numbers of people to ignore common sense and everyday experience.
This form of cultural revolution begins with a sleight of hand. You convince people that equal means the same. If men and women have equal rights it must mean that they are the same.
If enough people believe it, you can create a tyranny of sameness, a world in which no gender differences are allowed.
Anything a man can do, a woman can do. If she can’t, the fault lies with social conditioning.
This implies that in a marriage it is no longer permissible to have separate spheres of authority.
In the past women tended to have authority within the home and men exercised it more often outside of the home. The new thinking says that this arrangement did violence to both men and women. It treated two equal genders as though they were different and as though their differences were consequential.
In today's gender neutered world, marital responsibilities are shared equally. It reminds one of Solomon’s proposal to two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child.
Solomon suggested that, if they could not decide, he could cut the baby in two, giving each a half. Share and share alike....
In the new marriage, men and women divide tasks equally. Neither spouse has authority over what happens within or without the home. Of course, neither has full responsibility for either area of family life.
Of course, this tends to produce inefficiencies, but true believers do not care.
She does half the childcare. He does half the childcare.
He holds down a job. She holds down a job.
Radical thinkers believe that this is the ideal toward which the human race is inexorably trending.
They insist that those who live out the dream of equality end up happier, healthier, more successful and more sane.
So goes the dream.
Reality lies elsewhere.
A few weeks ago I reported on a Norwegian study of divorce rates. The researcher, Mr. Hansen, showed that when couples divide housework equally they are 50% more likely to get divorced.
Does that mean that you shouldn’t try out such an arrangement at home? Not at all.
It means that you should exercise caution before making your life into a social experiment.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that workers who take advantage of flex time received fewer promotions and fewer raises.
Keep in mind, flex time was supposed to allow happy egalitarian couples to manage career and family.
It was the feminist dream. Both spouses were going to share equally in childcare and homemaking; both spouses would have full and satisfying careers.
If a parent was needed at home, then flex time would kick in. One or both spouses could telecommute, work at home, take extra time off and so on.
Radical thinkers have explained that these happy spouses would also be more effective on the job.
For the most part they are not.
The Journal reports on the study:
If managers see the move as an expression of high commitment to the job or an attempt to boost productivity, it reflects positively on the worker, increasingly the chances for raises and promotions. But if management assumes an employee needs the flexibility to manage his or her personal life, that worker suffers in the boss’s estimation.
If your duties on the home front compromise your focus and cause you to be less effective, you will perform less well on the job.
It’s not about whether or not you can do your job on flex time. It’s about how well you can do your job when your mind is divided. It's also about how your performance compares to that of others who work harder at their jobs.
None of this means that you cannot try flex time if you like. Be my guest.
Flex time involves risk. You are risking that you will never be as good as you might have become if you had been more focused.
Life is about making deals. In this one you will be trading potential greatness for a cause.
If you understand the nature of the exchange, you are, obviously, free to engage it.
If you think that you can have both flex time and greatness, you need to give it some more thought.
[Addendum: The Economist reports on this study here.]