Perspectives on Politics just published a depressing assessment of the prospects for women in the academy, placing much of the blame for the glass ceiling on the “intractable tension between professional success and family duties.” The section of the article concludes:

“Virtually every woman with children [interviewed] noted the difficulties in balancing career and family. Mary and Gale remind us that family versus career is a human problem, not just one with which women wrestle.”

Hear, hear. While the authors conclude that there is little evidence that society or political science as a profession is taking it seriously as such, one might make the same argument about the study itself, which looks at women in the profession, rather than parents in the profession, including fathers, for whom – at least for that small but growing percentage who takes on half the work at home – may be even more disadvantaged career-wise. (It would have been great to see the sex-disaggregated statistics.)

The authors aren’t alone: a new Caucus within the ISA that is seeking to address family issues within the profession calls itself “Mothers in IR,” reifying the idea that parenting is primarily a women’s issue; at my insitution, the Child Care SubCommittee lobbying for more family-friendly policies is subsumed under the Gender Equity Committee rather than mainstreamed into the Benefits and Welfare process. No wonder the issue isn’t taken very seriously.

In my mind, all this is a huge part of the problem. That’s why, on Father’s Day this week, I was happy to see the New York Times report in-depth on families, mostly working professionals, who have come up with creative arrangements for splitting child-care 50/50 in order to support one another’s careers. The article presents a balanced view of the impacts of equal parenting on the career choices of both men and women, as well as many examples of how it can work and what employers can do to make it easier for fathers and mothers.

But. Even here, it matters quite a lot how you define “work” versus “fun” in child rearing. Dr. Sampson Lee Blair, a sociologist who studies work/family dynamics at University of Buffalo is quoted in the NYT article:

“The social scientist’s definition of child care “is attending to the physical needs of a child — dressing a child, cooking for a child, feeding and cleaning them,” Blair says. It doesn’t include the fun stuff, like playing and reading and kissing good night.”

Hello: I say, reading at night is work, too, for three reasons.

A) It is of value to the kid; it doesn’t matter whether it’s fun or not – I also love my job as a teacher, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get paid.

B) Sometimes, it’s not fun, lying in bed with a book at 8pm when you’re exhausted but know you need to get back up to troll around on blogs watch the Daily Show prep for class and have to struggle to stay awake while you do it – that can be work.

Part of the problem is that society wants to exclude from the definition of “work” anything that society thinks we’re supposed to want to do unconditionally out of love, regardless of how hard it is or what its actual economic value. This assumption needs to be challenged of caring work done by both sexes. My husband may love to garden and fix things, but that doesn’t mean I should discount these contributions to our household as “hobbies.”

In her (once again, inaptly titled) book The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittenden offers a better definition of the the economic value of the labor it takes to raise children well: the price you would have to pay someone else to do the work for you.

What if we calculated the cost of this labor of child rearing as a percentage of GDP?

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