Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Someone else's thoughts

My friend Anna emailed me with a few thoughts she had on this post. With her permission, I am sharing them with you here. I decided they deserve a place, even if I disagree with most of what you will read below.


I just had a couple of thoughts about your last couple of posts that I wanted to share with you.

Reading your posts about what the majority of women would do, I thought about an interview to George R.R. Martin that I read a while ago. The interviewer asked him how did he manage to write female characters so well, and he answered "Well, you know, I've always considered women to be people". :D
It may sound obvious, but I think it's worth a thought.

Women are people, and therefore I think their aspiration and their idea of happiness is as individual as any man's. Some people love being around other people, some don't. Some people prefer intellectual pursuits, others find satisfaction in manual jobs, etc. I think that is true for men and women alike.

It's a bit difficult to say what the majority of women really want or desire, because it's a question closely linked to centuries of social organisation that defined what was expected by women and what made her good and valuable in the eye of society (in this area, the options were much more limited than men's).

Generally speaking, a successful man was a man that could provide wealth to his family, with whatever means he chose, and a worthy woman was one that provided heirs and took care of the household. What led to the establishment of this organisation is a complex process that was brilliantly analysed, among others, by Simone de Beauvoir: her “The Second Sex” is a wonderful read, if you haven't read it yet, by all means do. You may or may not agree with the conclusions she draws (taking a wild guess, I suppose you won't :) ), but the whole analysis is so insightful and thought-provoking.

Anyway, the concept of patriarchal society was challenged by the industrial revolution, that put less emphasis on physical strength, that was not so important when it came to making machines function and later simplified most domestic tasks, by the World Wars, in which women took over many jobs traditionally done by men then off to war, then by the debate about women's rights and finally by the feminist movement.

The influence of these centuries is still strong, though. In the country where I live, for example, being a working woman (let alone a mother) is still a challenge. Men are better paid and preferred when it comes to payrises and promotions.

In most Western countries the women that work outside the house while the husband takes care of their kids are still a minority, and it is generally frowned upon (especially the husband, who is considered “unmanly”).
Besides, women usually have it harder than men when it comes to choosing between family and career. I agree with you when you say that the majority of women (but I would say people here) desire a family, but it's only women that have to choose between work and family.

That's because the way that work is organised (with rigid timetables and more stress on the hours spent in the office than on the actual result) is what is best suited to the traditional figure of the manager that spends all his time in the office and is only marginally involved in the education of his kids. Few women accept it, because it's not carved in them that the only way they can be "valuable" is through the wealth they provide (as it is for men). I think this behavior model is incredibly sad and humanly diminishing, both for men and for women. Even men are starting to challenge that: there are many fathers that want to be more involved in the family life (think, for example, about the divorced fathers that are fighting to have more equality in the time spent with their kids) so there's a bit of a revolution going on there as well.

But traditionally a man that spends all his time outside the house is not the target of imposed (or even self imposed) guilt, while a woman is.

The goal of modern feminism is not to drag women outside the house and make them choose a career that occupies all their time, but rather to arrange work so that women don't have to choose one path or the other, but rather find a variable "mix" that works for each of them. The attention should be shifted from time spent at work to results achieved with work.

The myth of "having it all" is destined to remain a myth if the work structure doesn't change. Now though we have the technology to do it: with mobiles, laptops, internet it's not that difficult to manage time more flexibly... now it's just up to companies to implement it (and that's taking a looong time).

Also because women are an incredible treasure for a company: statistically they're more efficient, more prone to multitasking (I bet you know why, being a mother! ;) ), more honest. Companies that have women managers, statistically do better.

Society should give the possibility to choose; however, if you think that your path is inside the house, and you decided this for yourself because you think that's what's good for you, I think that's wonderful. You had the courage to choose what was best for youself as an individual, and I applaud that. The "mix" I was talking about could be 100% private life or 100% career, but statistically (according to the theory of Gaussian distribution) I'd daresay the majority would be located around the middle area.

What makes me sad while reading the apparently neverending debate between stay at home women and working women is how every part usually tries to make the other feel guilty about their choices.
In all places and times, the main problem faced by human beings was to find their places in the world and there's not a solution that works for everyone. Making a choice, any choice, about how to live your life is difficult and validation by others seems important because it's reassuring. I think that women should stop fighting about who has it harder or who is doing a better job. I think we should try to be more supportive with each other. The goal of feminism should be to promote diversity in choices and profit from it, in terms of quality of living and openness to change.

We're all doing our best, and the solution that is heaven for one can be hell for the other.

For example, some families are ok living on one income, while others (and I admit, I am amongst them) would find overwhelmingly anguishing the thought of what would happen if that one income wasn't available anymore (also because, I don't know how it is in Israel, but here in South Europe the financial crisis hit us hard and losing one's job and falling under the poverty line is unfortunately a very concrete possibility that is affecting thousands of families). But that doesn't mean that one vision is better than the other, everyone must discover what works for themselves.

And I don't have kids, but from what I understood they learn the most from examples, so I believe that if their parents are happy and serene with their choices, whether they are working, stay at home, homeschooling or public schooling, they have the best chances to become balanced and serene human beings.

***

Well, as you can imagine, I have so many thoughts swirling in my head after I've read this that I feel as though I could sit and write all day, and still not cover half of what I would say in response. But of course, as ever, time is pressing, and I can't afford more than a few minutes today. 

Just a few points I find crucial: yes, of course women are individuals, with their unique dreams, opinions, pursuits, lifestyle... but I still believe that the nurturing side, the desire to set up and make a home, and raise children - all of which takes such a big part in a woman's life in so many ways - is universal, and far beyond what may be called social conditioning. 

Give some very small children a box of toys, and you'll see that girls and boys play in quite different ways. I have a relative who told us he isn't going to let his little boy play with dolls, because it's "unmanly". The notion made me laugh, because truly, the way of play doesn't depend on the toys. Our girls have cars, dolls, construction toys, stuffed animals, water guns... and they play like girls. Not long ago I caught them "mothering" a ferocious-looking rubber dionsaur with very long teeth. 

If a woman is home, taking care of her family, obviously she has many things in common with other women all over the world who are doing the same thing, but it doesn't mean her individuality doesn't blossom. She sets the tone to her house; together with her husband, she has the freedom to pursue the lifestyle they choose. Some will dwell in cities. Some will settle in remote places and set up a homestead. 

I partially agree with you about work hours vs. productivity. Around here, many men would like to get up and go to work early, and then come home early, but leaving early is frowned upon even if they have done all their work. So they stay at work until late hours, doing nothing in particular. Also, my sister-in-law, who is a teacher, told me about a new (and very foolish, in my opinion) educational reform, in the course of which fully employed teachers will have to commit to 8 hours of work per day, and checking exams and essays will be done at school, rather than in their homes, as was common until now. This will rob teachers (and most teachers here are women) of the flexible hours they have had before, which have enabled them to go home early to their children, then do some exam-checking and other paperwork in the evenings, at their leisure. 

Also, it is true that the Internet has provided many opportunities for being self-employed, and for setting up one's own business, than were available some 20 years ago.

Still... hours may be flexible, but they are hours. To work, either from home or outside it, you need to put in effort; you need to put in time. Obviously I believe working from home is infinitely preferable for a mother who wishes to remain with her children, but even this may put undue stress when there are a hundred-odd things to do in a day even without a business to manage. I am against the notion that a woman must accomplish something, anything unrelated to her home and family in order to be considered a truly worthy human being. Or there is the Super Housewife who grows her own food, sews her own clothes, makes her own soap, candles, cheese - all on a regular basis. All those are wonderful things, but not everyone can do them, at least not always! Around here, if I've taken care of the laundry and dinner, and all the animals, and done some reading and perhaps some crafts with the children, with a bit of cleaning squeezed in, I consider it a very good day. 

As for women being statistically better workers... I confess I am unfamiliar with these statistics, so what I'm going to say now is based on anecdotal evidence and common sense. Women, especially after they have children, often find that their heart and mind remain with their children, even when they are at work. I have personally witnessed women who hold very responsible jobs trying to settle disputes, help their children with homework and make sure everyone eats a healthy lunch, all over the phone. Women are pregnant, women give birth, women pump milk at work. Women miss their babies (and worry about their school-age children). I'm not saying women are bad employees, but I know I would probably be a bad employee. I would think about my children and about things that need to be done at home, and they would hold far more weight for me than any job I would be assigned to do. 

9 comments:

Cecilia Therese said...

There are a lot of things wrong with what this girl writes with here feminist ideals. In the first instance, yes women are individuals. We have the same amount of "dignity" as men. We are not the least the same though, regardless of the culture you study or how far back in time you go. Men are physically stronger and bigger. Their organs are larger. Their heart pumps blood stronger and they have a larger lung capacity. Their joints swivel differently than a woman (which is why the worst male thrower of a ball is better than the best female ball thrower, or they can run faster). Physically, men trump women.

What about hormones? There is a huge difference between male hormones and female hormones. Women are like a roller coaster of hormonal surges. Estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, insulin, adrenaline, etc. Men, not so much. Women have fertility for a short amount of time. Men have fertility until the day they die. All these hormones greatly influence the behavor and thought process of each sex. Men think in a linear way. Women think in a circular way.

Working women are not better than working men. I've worked with all men and I've worked with all women, and I've worked with a balance of the two. I've also had both male leaders and women leaders in all of the work environments. The best place I worked was with all men and a male boss. I knew what was expected of me, given a quota, and a timeline and left alone to work. The men didn't chit chat with me and distract me from my job. The worst place I worked was with a group of women with a female boss. The emotions were high. Gossip was everywhere. Backstabbing and viciousness were admired. I never knew quite what I was supposed to do and there was always something I missed. I could handle a lot of that but I really hated hearing the male bashing. The tearing down of the dignity of men. It hurt because not only were they talking about the men they knew but my father and brothers. It seemed so illogical that the root source of women's problems were men. It looked to me like they were their own worst enemy.

Falling below the poverty line isn't a death sentence. Nor is it a need for the woman to leave the home and her children to find work outside the home. I read a really good catholic blog called awomansplaceis.blogspot.com She is a SAHM to three children, runs three businesses out of her home while her husband goes to law school. She supports the family temporarily and is a huge coupon clipper to save money. They live on very very little and are very happy. And the businesses she runs are all sewing jobs and handwork. She taught herself how to sew and makes a living creating headcoverings (snoods), dolls and rosarys and chaplets.

There is a very good reason why the patriarch system developed. While it has been abused in the past (what system hasn't), it caters to the strengths and downplays the weaknesses of men and women. Each in their prospective rolls. It's an ideal system that can allow each sex to flourish.

Feminist (the type that are so adimate that women work outside the home) have made my life hard. I fought to be a SAHM and was graciously given the opportunity by my husband to do so. I made more than my husband when we married and yet in preparation we lived off his income and saved mine. Now that I'm home with two little boys, and very happy, I find it lonely because I'm the only one home on my street during the day. 100 years ago, if I lived in the type of community I do now with house after house on the street, almost every home would have been bustling with life during the day. Women would be hanging out the clothes on the line, neighbors chatting with neighbors over the fence, visitors calling on a friend, windows wide open, children playing in the yards or in the street, etc. Life used to happen at home all hours of the day. Now, life only happens on the weekend.

BettySue said...

What is entirely left out of this woman's letter is the children. I find this common in feminist articles.

Logic, common sense and science all say it is best for children to be raised by their mother. Not a baby sitter. Daddy runs second, but is still not the best for baby.

To put your fulfillment, comfort level and ego ahead of the NEEDS of a totally helpless baby is selfish and immature. Being a SAHM looks different for every woman, but it is possible for every woman to do it happily if they choose to.

No one likes living below the poverty level. NO ONE. But it is possible to do. Trust me. It is only the truly spoiled that think they would die if they couldn't buy fashionable clothes and Starbucks.

And "focus on productivity instead of hours"? That's ok for those in upper class jobs. But register jockeies, waitresses, the vast majority of working women must be in the shop when the shop is open. Period. There will never be flex options.

Katy M. said...

I am not sure what it says about the psychology of women (whether they are stay at home or work outide the home wives/mothers)that this continues to be debated ad nauseum. Do the working mothers keep debating their merits in order to salve their guilt? Why do the stay at home mothers keep arguing that their lifestyles are the only ones that are "right"? Do they secretly wonder otherwise? Who knows? All I do know is that I am blessed to know a slew of both working moms and stay at home moms who are committed to Christ, their families, and homes...and they are ALL doing a mighty fine job of it. We don't have to extinguish someone else's flame to make our own burn brighter.

Anonymous said...

Though I disagree with the beautifully written piece by Anna in Europe, I can understand the way she feels as this is what she has been brought up and taught by society to believe. Give her some time and experience...let her have children and see where her heart is pulled. I have seen many hard core 'feminists' who, after having children, have returned home because they realized that the ideals of feminism are not what will make them happy. Much of what they have been told is lies, and only going through it will open their eyes. True happiness will come when we give of ourselves to our families instead of living for self and trying to fulfill the ideals of some very selfish people.

An older woman

Dhurga said...

Cecilia, while you have chosen the path of a sahm, there are others out there who have chose to work outside of the home. I agree with the notion that women can't have it all but what she can have and certainly deserve is respect and happiness. My mother was a working woman. My father was an irresponsible fool. She brought me up, taught me values and principles, cooked and cleaned for me. Taught me my homework and was there at every point in my life. All this while she was working. She could have stayed home but she chose to work. And just because she chose to work, are you telling me that she's failed in life and that she was a bad mother and I grew up to be a horrid child? Because that is what is being indirectly stated. It is such an insult to me, that you would consider working women/mothers/wives as below yourself.

Anna, I love reading your posts. It's wonderful to see a woman like yourself living amidst such a turmoil world. Your convictions are something to be truly proud of. I have such great respect for you and how you run your house and bring up your wonderful daughters. However that is not something some women would feel (me). I prefer to work because I can. I earn just as well as a male counterpart and I love my work and the environment in which I work in. And I work because I love working. I come home and cook and clean as well. Perhaps not as good as you, but I try my best and I am content. I'm married as well. And my husband works too. I am glad for the choices I am able to make.

Overtime I have seen so many catty, judgemental comments from so many women on your blog posts. Why can't we just accept each other, treat each other with the same respect that we crave. Why the competition and holier than thou attitude. The one comment that really insulted every bone in my body was from a Betty Sue under 'The Same Work'. Respect, is it really so much to ask for? If we as human beings don't respect each other, what is the point of it all?

Please kindly do post my comment. But I will also understand if you do not.

Anna said...

Hi Anna,
I'm not going to reply to all your post because probably our positions are inconciliable... I feel we're starting from very different point of views (for example, as much as there are biological differences in men and women, I don't believe that women have a "natural" nurturing inclination, at least no more than men, it's just that culturally they've been educated from their very first years into developing it more than men)so probably there's not much point in going on forever and get mad at each other :)
I just wanted to add some links to the statistic I quoted because I feel otherwise my post would be incomplete and sound partial:

http://www.businessweek.com/2000/00_47/b3708145.htm

http://www.extensor.co.uk/articles/do_women/do_women.html

This is a summary of a very interesting book:
http://www.employeeonlinesurvey.com/news_knowledge.php/news_knowledge/6

Have a nice day!! :)
Anna



Mrs. Anna T said...

Dhurga,

Of course it's possible, and advisable, and even in a way our duty, to respect - and love - each other despite differences. I don't live in some little bubble where everyone think like I do. Some of the people I love the best think very differently on many things. Also, I have great respect for mothers who, by way of circumstances, raise their children on their own and provide for them. I realize that even if someone quite agrees with my views in theory, in practice it might not work that way in her life. But G-d has a magnificent plan for each one of us.

Cecilia Therese said...

Dhurga - I did not imply what you have stated. Directly or indirectly. My mom worked too when I was little and except for a few years getting a degree at a university to teach, she worked all through my teen years too. So, I'm not implying she was a bad mom or yours either.

Petunia's mom said...

I think Anna in Europe has an excellent point in that what is needed for office workers is flexibility in hours & location of work (e.g. office v home) for both men & women. I disagree with her on the productivity v. hours, though. Productivity requires hours. While certainly staying late for "face time" is antiquated and silly (tho it does happen plenty), working takes time and a significant amount of emotional energy. I speak as a mother who worked outside the home for nearly a year and recently became a sahm. While working I was very "double minded" both at work and also at home. I was not able to focus on my daughter the way that I believe I should. Perhaps other women are better able to do this than I. That's certainly possible. But I can tell you that every mother I talked to who was working alongside me felt the same way I did: distracted, double minded and wishing she could be at home. This was true for two friends whose husbands stay at home with their children just as it was for those with husbands who work. Obviously I wasn't speaking to every single mother at my employer but those to whom I was speaking wished they could have been at home.

European Anna, I'd encourage you to keep your mind open on this issue. Many women's hearts change after their babies are born or, indeed, when they are in the womb. Working while gestating, nursing and raising small children is not for the faint of heart. Even with an extremely helpful husband it is a grind and an uphill battle.

I'd also say that, while there are certainly some men that are more nurturing and certainly some women that are not the vast majority fall into the "traditional" categories. You can say it's bc of culture but I'd argue that culture is simply following biology. A woman's body nurtures her unborn baby; men are not capable of this. A woman's body nurtures her nursling baby as well; again men are not capable of this. All of this is simply our biological natures. And babies know it which is why they typically prefer Mama. And the whole nurturing the baby with our bodies thing? Both during pregnancy and with breastfeeding? Having done both while working full time I can tell you that it is not at all easy, even when you can take off work with no issue to go to your myriad of OB appointments during pregnancy and even when you have the "perfect" setup at work for pumping after you return to work. Even with a pumping room and the time to use it every mama except myself and one other mother was supplementing with formula bc she couldn't produce enough. And I was hanging on by my fingernails trying to get enough milk to get my dd through her first year. Several moms just gave up and went to 100% formula. Working full time has a direct negative impact on breastfeeding which has been well documented to have societal benefits.

Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying that I agree with both of you. Anna T is accurate in her assessment of basic human nature and European Anna is correct that both men and women need better options for being able to work and have a life as well, whatever said life might entail.