Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Another day, another attack on another so-called stereotype.

It’s not the first time that feminists have attacked the traditional role of the male breadwinner. It won’t be the last.

The feminist effort to impose gender equality in the workplace requires that men should share household and childrearing chores with their wives. Call him Mr. Mom!

When it comes to nurturing children, some men do more than others. Most men believe that less is more. Feminists are puzzled by the disparity and attribute it to cultural stereotypes. The truth, I daresay, is a bit more obvious.

The workplace is a competitive arena. Some men want to compete. Others, less so.

The reasons are not very difficult to ascertain. A man who rises up a corporate hierarchy through his own effort becomes more attractive to women. A woman who rises up a corporate hierarchy through her own effort becomes less attractive to men.

Do the math.

Nowadays more men are choosing to become househusbands. It might be that they want to spend more time with their children, the better to bond with them.

Research now suggests that father/infant bonding is a good experience. Claire Cain Miller reports about it in The New York Times.

Studies suggest that a man who spends more time with an infant will develop a better rapport with the child. On the other hand, if spending more time with the child means less career success, the loss of prestige and income might have a negative effect on the child’s eventual socialization.

Imagine a child on the playground with his friends. They are comparing what their respective fathers do for a living. How would you like to be the child who hears his friends declare proudly that their fathers are doctors, lawyers, executives or firefighters… only to respond that his father is a househusband?

And yet, a man who does not like to compete or who is afraid of failing might feel that retiring from the fray is better than losing at manly competition.

If a man does not want to compete he does not have to drop out of the workforce. Nowadays, he can take an extended parental leave. Most companies now offer generous amounts of parental leave time. Unsurprisingly, women are far more likely to take more time off than are men.

Feminist thinkers believe that this shows the power of stereotypes. They do not see or do not want to see that it takes vastly more effort for a man to mother a newborn than it takes for a woman to do so. Is it the best way to allocate economic resources?

Miller reports on the experience of the Bedricks. Todd is an accountant at Ernst and Young. His wife Sarah is a schoolteacher. When their baby was born, Todd took the maximum allowed parental leave in order to free Sarah to teach school… that is, to help nurture other peoples’ children.

The result:

He developed an elaborate system for freezing and thawing his wife’s pumped breast milk. And each day at lunchtime, he drove his daughter to the elementary school where Sarah teaches so she could nurse. When she came home at the end of the day, he handed over the baby and collapsed on the couch.

At the limit, this is doable. But, is it the most efficient and effective allocation of parental time and energy? Is this couple trying to make a political point or are they doing what’s best for their infant?

For now, Todd Bedrick has returned to work and his wife has chosen to work part-time. Todd says that he would not have done it any differently. If he said anything else, he would not have been written up in the The New York Times.

But, if his wife is now working part-time, doesn’t this suggest that she discovered that the feministically correct allocation of marital resources was not best for her baby?

In the workplace, a man who walks away from his job for six weeks or more is often seen as less committed to his work, even to the point of being disloyal. But, is it just a perception or is it a fact that he has shown less commitment to his job. In either case, the results are predictable.

Miller reports:

Another study found that men who used flexible work arrangements, whether taking temporary family leave or working from home or part time, received worse job evaluations and lower hourly raises. The third foundthat men who requested family leave were at greater risk of being demoted or laid off because they were perceived to have negative traits that are used to stigmatize women, like weakness and uncertainty, not masculine ones like competitiveness and ambition.

To Miller’s mind, it’s all a matter of perception. She does not grant any credence to the possibility that a man who chooses to take a longer parental leave will be shirking some of his responsibilities, will be forcing others to pick up the slack, and will see his commitment to his company questioned.

She reports the consequences:

When men reduced their hours for family reasons, they lost 15.5 percent in earnings over the course of their careers, on average, compared with a drop of 9.8 percent for women and 11.2 percent for men who reduced their hours for other reasons.

Miller offers an example:

A lawyer in San Francisco worked at a large corporate law firm when his two children were born. Although the firm offered four weeks of paid leave to new fathers, a partner gave him a different message.

“One of the partners in particular made the comment: ‘How are you going to service your clients? What’s your level of commitment to the firm?’ ” said the lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve professional relationships.

The lawyer did take the full leave, after discussing it with his clients. Another lawyer at the firm helped with immediate matters and the new father was available to clients by email when he was at home. That is common for men on partner leave. Half said they did some work and checked email while they were out, the Boston College study found.

Ultimately, the lawyer said, the only repercussion was that his bonus was smaller because he had four fewer weeks of billable hours. He has since left the firm for another job.

Note the last sentence. We do not know how and why he left the firm. One suspects that his clients were not impressed by the fact that he had less to offer them and devoted less time and energy to their cases because he was changing diapers.

Would such clients be crazy or bigoted to believe that their issues deserve the full concentration and focus of their attorney? Would they be justly or unjustly aggrieved to see their files passed around the office to other attorneys who might not have as complete a mastery of their cases? Would they be justly or unjustly aggrieved if, when calling the office, they were given an attorney they did not know because their lawyer was driving his baby to his mother’s school for breastfeeding?

Perhaps more astonishing is Miller’s failure to ask more salient questions. Given her feminist perspective, she cannot bring herself to ask what women really want or even what is best for the family as a whole.

She wants merely to ensure that more women do more work outside the home. The rest is not her concern.

But ask yourself this:

How many women prefer to have their husbands taking care of their infants?

How many women consider themselves and their husbands equally competent at caring for an infant?

How many women believe that if their husbands take over caring for an infant, this is a negative judgment on their ability to nurture their child?

What will these mothers’ mothers and mothers-in-law think of them for abandoning an infant to the care of a man?

How many women would, given the option, prefer to stay home with their children?

In Feministland the question of a woman’s choices and the exercise of her responsibility to her children always have less weight than the mania about getting women out of the house and into the workplace.


Sam L. said...

Analyzing a situation from a particular POV tends to produce a solution/explanation along that POV.

Ares Olympus said...

re: Perhaps more astonishing is Miller’s failure to ask more salient questions. Given her feminist perspective, she cannot bring herself to ask what women really want or even what is best for the family as a whole. She wants merely to ensure that more women do more work outside the home. The rest is not her concern.

Does Claire Cain Miller considers her journalism as containing a feminist perspective?

I'm more interested in the whole wide question of paid maternity or paternity leave. I remember the first CEO at the company I work for used to joke something like that hiring a new woman meant she would be pregnant within the year.

I work for is an engineering company, and more men are engineers and most support staff is women, so its much easier to take leave from a support position, and if she has no career ambitions, then promotion isn't an issue.

I'd imagine in general, people who are paid hourly are there for the money, and professionals on salary have to show a different level of loyalty to gain the promotions they want, so are less likely to take full opportunities for parental leave, whether a man or a woman.

The article talks about "stigma" but I don't think that's quite right. It more seems to me to be a question of choice - people who are willing to accept smaller bonuses, promotions will take parental leave, and those who want to maximize their income will say no, and gain the advantages.

So for me the problem is how do we make a 'parental leave penality' more transparent? If "feminists" says there should be no status or income penality, then they are wrong at that level.

But seeing the world from the edge of a professional career, even with no children, I see endless problems, its hard to say no to anything, and many salaried workers are at least at work 12 hours/day, and weekends, and if you get used to that before you have kids, even ignoring parental leave, trying to be disciplined with setting firm limits on work time is very challenging.

So if "stigma" is real, then you could say FORCING high achievers off the job would do them good, and take some pressure off the rest of us to keep up with them?

But maybe it's easier to just learn how to say "no" when your commitment to family requires it and live and let live with those who will never slack off no matter how many laws tell them to take a rest.