The Dave Chappelle marathon on Comedy Central last Sunday was infinitely preferable to the default Sunday TV option in our house, the weekly “Snapped” marathon on Oxygen. I was cruising the recent wealth of public rumination on work-life balance when a skit came on about the “Player Haters’ Ball.”
The timing was perfect. My inner Hater starts revving every time I read an op-ed or feature in a major publication on the topic of Leaning In, Opting Out, Having It All, or Wearing The Pants. There were two new entries in this category that I was trying to read: Tara Sonenshine’s February 13 WaPo Op-Ed and Rosa Brooks’ “Recline!” at Foreign Policy. The franchise was resurrected yet again on GovExec yesterday by Olga Khazan.
Let me say right up front that I am jealous. I admit it. No major publications are asking for my opinions on these or any other topics. The authors of at least the first two pieces appear to have enviable pedigrees and/or advanced degrees, plus prestigious jobs, nice duds, and high-option childcare. My life isn’t chopped liver, but just looking at their author blurbs reminds me that I will never become a child prodigy. I hate that.
But the other reason I’m primed for hatin’ is because, 40 years after women started entering the professional work force in numbers, we are still being steered into the same conversations about the same bogus “choices.” All the authors cited above acknowledge en passant that the ability to lean out is predicated on a level of privilege that most people don’t have and that work-life balance is not merely an issue for women. Unfortunately, invoking the tired question of whether women should lean in or out of the workplace obscures the underlying problem: our major public and private institutions and employers ignore the effort that goes into the “unskilled” but essential activities that sustain human lives. We need to find a way to make that effort visible instead of stumbling into another argument about whether we ladies should be bringing home more bacon, frying it up more frequently in the pan, or both.
Employers persist in behaving as if completely different sets of people were responsible for one or the other, as if cooking and cleaning and child-rearing were all optional activities while the main thing was to go earn a paycheck. Sure, individuals may choose to reproduce or not, but people as a whole seem pretty committed to the activity. Once the progeny are there, providing for them and caring for them is mandatory.
My pet peeve as a Salary Mom is the lack of synchronization between the work day and the school day or between the work calendar and the academic calendar. Instead of talking about leaning in or leaning out, how about we talk about which schedule of business hours and school hours would best serve the needs of students and parents with the least drag on the economy?
(Speaking of work, I am off today, in case you wondered why I was posting mid-afternoon. Fear not, taxpayers.)