But what if you meet a man?

by Eszter Hargittai on July 23, 2006

Interesting anecdote in the comments to this post over at Science + Professor + Woman = Me. This is a conversation between the commenter and her chair, a man, about getting the signature for two graduate students to join her lab.

    Chair: I’m not sure that I can sign off on your being the advisor for these students.

    Me [Pam]: Excuse me? (Background: two new federally-funded three-yr grants, each with a doctoral stipend available for a student)

    Chair: Well, how do I know you are not going to meet a man and run off and be with him?

    (I kid you not, he said that).

    Me: You don’t. But how do I know that you aren’t going to meet a man and run off with him, and abandon the department?

    (He didn’t think it was funny – but he signed the forms.)

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Switch-Hitting | Cosmic Variance
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{ 78 comments }

1

Stephen M (Ethesis) 07.23.06 at 7:45 am

I rather think it was delightful in repost.

Glad he signed the forms.

2

Andrew 07.23.06 at 7:45 am

Reminds me of the best response I ever heard of to a sexist interview question (circa 1983):

Male partner: Do you type?

Female interviewee: Yes. And I fuck, too. But I don’t get paid for it.

She got the job.

3

Michael Becker 07.23.06 at 10:04 am

That is the absolutely perfect response in that situation. God, that’s funny!

4

koshem 07.23.06 at 11:59 am

A story about a remote village has a villager get out to the field one day and suddenly a strange animal shows up. The villager says “there are no such animals.”

It turns out that the villager is wrong. The animal is “her chair.”

5

abb1 07.23.06 at 12:14 pm

Is it true that there are still male-only bars in Ireland?

6

Slocum 07.23.06 at 12:36 pm

OK, just for the hell of it, let me play devil’s advocate here. Yes, we all know that the question was unbelievably sexist, boorish, and beyond the pale. The dept chair should have known that it was unacceptable to ask it.

And yet–highly educated women DO drop out of high level jobs at much greater rates than men. Many annoying NY Times lifestyle pieces have been written to illustrate the phenomenon. Yes, the chair should have known he was not allowed to ask the question, but let’s be honest–he had rational reasons for wondering. Don’t blame him for that — rather blame the women who get advanced degrees and then, just as their careers are poised to take off, marry and give it all up for fifteen years (if not permanently).

Even if ‘How committed are you?’ is forbidden, ‘Just how committed is she?’ is a rational thought.

7

J. Ellenberg 07.23.06 at 12:47 pm

It’s a big leap from “women do X at a higher rate than men” to “It’s rational to worry about outcome X when, and only when, the candidate is a woman.” I suppose it depends what you mean by “rational” — if you mean “not a symptom of psychosis,” fine, but that’s a low bar to clear. At the very least I’d say chair’s rationality was distorted by overfidelity to stereotype.

8

bi 07.23.06 at 1:01 pm

Yikes. The age-old conflict between work and family keeps rearing its ugly head. If only people will stop equating “committed” with “workaholic to the point of having no life” (and no, that’s not very rational in my books)…

9

Peter 07.23.06 at 1:55 pm

And yet—highly educated women DO drop out of high level jobs at much greater rates than men. Many annoying NY Times lifestyle pieces have been written to illustrate the phenomenon.

Those Times pieces have almost always been based on anecdotes rather than actual data.

10

Slocum 07.23.06 at 2:16 pm

Those Times pieces have almost always been based on anecdotes rather than actual data.

Yes, but:

“Among Stanford University’s class of 1981 57 percent of female graduates had left the workforce, while just 38 percent of women from three graduating classes at Harvard Business School were still in fulltime careers, the research showed.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/BUSINESS/03/15/optout.revolution/

One the one hand, these are the elite who you’d expect to be most committed to careers, but on the other hand, these women are more likely to have spouses whose earnings make such labor-force non-participation possible…

11

Jon H 07.23.06 at 2:16 pm

slocum writes: “And yet—highly educated women DO drop out of high level jobs at much greater rates than men”

I suspect this creates an artificial distinction between why women leave jobs and why men leave jobs.

If the person is leaving your employ, does it *really* matter whether the person is leaving to raise kids, or leaving for a career opportunity?

Men do the latter *all the time*. As do women.

12

Jon H 07.23.06 at 2:31 pm

“Among Stanford University’s class of 1981 57 percent of female graduates had left the workforce, while just 38 percent of women from three graduating classes at Harvard Business School were still in fulltime careers, the research showed.”

But how many such graduates have never changed employers?

Again, from the employer’s perspective, what practical difference is there between losing an employee to housewifery and losing an employee to a job at Google?

There really isn’t any difference at all.

13

Jon H 07.23.06 at 2:38 pm

“There really isn’t any difference at all.”

Actually, there is a difference now that I think about it.

An employee who quits for reasons of domestic bliss is likely to be available if necessary, perhaps on a consulting basis. An employee who moves to a new employer probably will not be able to offer that kind of assistance.

14

Cala 07.23.06 at 3:01 pm

The Times stories tend to be based on anecdotes.

But suppose it were true, statistically (though jon h gets it right)? What on earth would that accurately tell the chair about his colleague?

It seems to me that whatever data a statistic might yield will be practically insignificant next to the fact that she has presumably competed for and won two new research fellowships.

15

daithimacmhaolmhuaidh 07.23.06 at 3:04 pm

Is it true that there are still male-only bars in Ireland?

No. At least one male only golf club though.

16

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.23.06 at 3:38 pm

“Again, from the employer’s perspective, what practical difference is there between losing an employee to housewifery and losing an employee to a job at Google?”

The chair’s question is appalling, but the answer to the above question is pretty simple. Losing employees to other employers is one factor. Losing women to housewifery is an additional factor. The first factor is equally likely for both sexes (at least it is thought to be, is it really?). The additional factor is more likely for women. The combination of factors is thought (in popular wisdom, I certainly don’t have any statistics on it) to make it more likely than a woman will leave than a man.

17

Kelly 07.23.06 at 3:52 pm

Oiy.

Can’t even believe people are defending his question as valid. People can leave at any time, for any reason – that’s why you make decisions on who you promote and give responsibility to based on their performance, which should indicate their commitment to where they are.

18

paperwight 07.23.06 at 4:00 pm

I am enjoying the apologist “yes, but” conservatives like Slocum and Holsclaw. The subtext for them, of course, is that a) it’s right and proper for it to be the case that women leave formal careers for motherhood (or in Holsclaw’s more benighted construction, “housewifery”), b) that’s also a natural feature of the world, unrelated to social or other arrangements, and c) that it may be slightly less than genteel to ask the question, but really, that’s an artifact of silly strident PC feminism.

Let’s imagine a different interchange:

Chair: I’m not sure that I can sign off on your being the advisor for these students.

Me [Dan]: Excuse me? (Background: two new federally-funded three-yr grants, each with a doctoral stipend available for a student)

Chair: Well, how do I know you are not going to murder a man and run off on the lam?

(I kid you not, she said that).

Me: You don’t. But how do I know that you aren’t going to murder a man and run off on the lam, and abandon the department?

(She didn’t think it was funny – but she signed the forms.)

After all, men are statistically much more likely to commit murder than women… or at least that’s the popular wisdom.

At one point, I took conservatives seriously, but it becomes progressively more difficult when Slocum and Holsclaw are representative of even the better sort of thinking on offer from that crowd.

19

abb1 07.23.06 at 4:20 pm

…more likely that a woman will leave than a man…

Also a Gypsy is more likely to leave, because these folks are known for not liking to be staying at one place for long. And blacks might steal something to buy drugs and big gold chains.

A WASP male is the safest bet for sure: good work ethics and all.

20

otto 07.23.06 at 4:28 pm

Frankly there should be better fall back systems for grad students whose advisors leave for whatever reason. One good step in that direction is to have a committee of three advisors. If you do have only one advisor and they leave you are in trouble. Of course, sometimes you are in trouble if they stay…

21

Dr Pretorius 07.23.06 at 4:29 pm

I imagine that being faced with this sort of an attitude on a regular basis might be a significant contribution to more women leaving then men. At any rate, if I had to deal with this sort of thing I’d be more willing to be the domestic partner if the choice came up.

22

Glenn 07.23.06 at 5:48 pm

Not to reignite the mommy-wars, but it seems that there are actually two types of inequality going on here.

1) The guy is a boorish ass.
2) Unequal societal expectations about gender roles make his question, while still boorish, not entirely implausible. If a woman has kids it is often expected that she will stay home and care for them, thus making woman in general a larger employment risk. This is basically Hirshman’s thesis, almost precisely as advanced by Lizardbreath over at unfogged.

It seems to me that Slocum and Holsclaw aren’t so much pulling a “yes, but” as they are zeroing in on #2.

23

eudoxis 07.23.06 at 5:52 pm

Chair: Well, how do I know you are not going to meet a man and run off and be with him?

Unbelievable. Where is this at? What a foul jerk.

Good comeback, though. This reminds me of a friend of mine who works in the communications department of my conservative institution. The chair of the board once made a comment on her “manly” dress back in the days when women did not wear pants to work. “What if I were to where a skirt to work? What would your reaction be?” She replied “That depends, [Sir], I’ve never seen your legs.” It earned her a promotion.

24

Dan Karreman 07.23.06 at 5:55 pm

Sebastian,
Why is house-wifery not a position? I agree that house-wifery has a low value added (anyone can be one) and is possible to rationalize through kindergartens and other more efficient set-ups but surely house wifes provide a social good?

As far as I can see, there is no material difference, from an employers perspective, why a person leave. They still need to be replaced, regardless of reason for leaving.

On an aggregate basis, I think that women tend to migrate more on the labor market. This is mainly due to that women tend to have less secure positions (temp work, part time positions). I suppose that commitment rarely work both ways.

25

Pam 07.23.06 at 6:33 pm

I feel the need to stop by and say hello. I must say that I’m surprised with some of the comments defending my chairman’s question: I can find nothing acceptable about it (I love the murder analogy). It was an irrelevant question – irrelevant to my capability to mentor the two students at hand (who went on to graduate with solid publications – one is now an assistant professor and the other is in an industry position).

I feel that some of the comments above sidetrack the issue – it’s not about why individuals leave a position (that’s a personal decision and a personal choice) – it’s the inappropriateness of the question itself. Ironically, a colleague in the department – a male with five doctoral students in his lab – left several months later for law school and gave only two weeks notice. Abandoned his graduate students almost completely. Did that make my chairman ask men prior to ‘signing off’ whether or not they were going to abandon their student’s for another career? I seriously doubt it.

I’m in a medical school in the south – a PhD in basic research. The chairman only last another year – he had a stroke and died – but his right hand guy took over the department and after several gender complaints was reprimanded and sent to gender equity training – but is still chairman.

I’m in another department. Life is better.

26

Matt Austern 07.23.06 at 6:34 pm

The fallback systems when an advisor leaves are either (a) the student follows the advisor, or (b) the student finds another advisor. It’s really hard for me to imagine a third alternative. (I’ve known people in both categories. One of my fellow students in grad school had to find another advisor because his advisor died. It probably set him back a year—but really, I can’t blame anyone. Departments can’t forbid faculty from dying.)

Like others, I find Pam’s story outrageous. Her comeback was funny, but the situation wasn’t funny at all. Think about it a bit: her department head was prepared to kill her career, for no reason other than her sex. (And if you don’t think that being unable to supervise grad students would be a career killer, you need to think a bit harder.)

This is precisely the kind of blatant, unsubtle sex descrimination that conservatives are fond of telling us is just a thing of the past. I know better than to think that sex discrimination has disappeared, but I have to confess that even I’m shocked that a department head would think it’s normal, would have so little shame about being willing to fire someone solely for being a woman that he would even say it to her face. Does he really think that’s normal and provessional behavior? Is this the sort of comment he would be willing to put in writing?

I certainly hope that our good friends from the right who are busily defending sex discrimination in employment as normal and “rational” will, at least, stop saying that sexism is something that vanished decades ago. They really can’t have it both ways.

27

David Sucher 07.23.06 at 6:39 pm

“…he had rational reasons for wondering…”

Well then if there are legitimate reasons for concern then it is easily and gracefully resolved by having all teachers sign a contract to finish out whatever term iof employment is in question.

But it must also happen that a senior professor will take a new job at another school. What happens to the grad students then? I assume that the departing prof can still advise or they get new advisors or some combination. No?

28

derrida derider 07.23.06 at 7:09 pm

Or let’s imagine another interchange:

Chair: I’m not sure that I can sign off on your being the advisor for these students.

Me: Excuse me?

Chair: Well, you being black, and given that blacks are imprisoned at many times the rate for whites, how do I know you are not going to be imprisoned?

I’d be discreetly recording every important interview I had with such a boss (MP3 players are wonderful gadgets).

Statistical discrimination (as the economists call it) can be individually rational but is always socially harmful, and of course plain unfair.

29

mythago 07.23.06 at 7:09 pm

Yes, the chair should have known he was not allowed to ask the question, but let’s be honest—he had rational reasons for wondering.

No, he didn’t. I suspect that if the chair had asked a black male graduate student “How do I know you won’t give this up for the gangsta life?” you wouldn’t be rushing to offer New York Times puff pieces as evidence that the racist speculation was understandable. When it’s women, though, that’s okay.

30

Bro. Bartleby 07.23.06 at 7:25 pm

Just in!

The chair did meet a man and ran off with him, and abandon the department!

In a tizzy with the brewing scandal, the department made Pam the new chair. She is now sitting on week days, and runs about with a man on weekends.

31

Slocum 07.23.06 at 7:35 pm

I am enjoying the apologist “yes, but” conservatives like Slocum and Holsclaw. The subtext for them, of course, is that a) it’s right and proper for it to be the case that women leave formal careers for motherhood (or in Holsclaw’s more benighted construction, “housewifery”)

You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. In fact, my wife has worked full time in a professional job during the entire time our kids have been growing up. Because I work in a home office, I’ve had the flexibility to do more than my share of child care (and didn’t just happen that way–I went that route in large part because it offered that kind of flexibility). Sick kids? Home with me. Summers? Home with me. Helping out in the classroom? That was usually me, too.

My wife has several female colleagues who work three days a week and we have quite a few female friends and acquaintances who fit the ‘opt out’ pattern. From time to time, she’s hinted that maybe part time looked good or maybe a pleasant, less stressful job would be nice. My response has always been — if you’re thinking about us downsizing our lifestyle, OK, let’s talk. But if you’re thinking I earn enough that we can afford to live the way we do now while you kick back and relax — forget about it. My wife and I have one of the more egalitarian marriages I know of — and I’ve pushed more for that than she has.

But a lot of woman do choose the ‘Mommy Track’ route, and given that fact, it is understandable that employers wonder about committment — that’s all.

32

Slocum 07.23.06 at 7:43 pm

No, he didn’t. I suspect that if the chair had asked a black male graduate student “How do I know you won’t give this up for the gangsta life?” you wouldn’t be rushing to offer New York Times puff pieces as evidence that the racist speculation was understandable.

Highly educated black males virtually never switch to gang-banging. But many highly educated women (if you believe the Stanford and Harvard MBA data, MOST highly educated women) do ultimately opt out of full-time careers.

I’m not saying that employers should be able to ask women if they’re going to run off with a man (or if they plan to get pregnant) — I think it’s appropriate those questions are not allowed. But I am saying that one doesn’t have to be a sexist Neanderthal to wonder if a female candidate is committed to her career. In fact, one doesn’t even have to be a male supervisor to wonder about that.

33

paperwight 07.23.06 at 7:51 pm

Shorter Slocum: Some of my best friends are housewives.

34

eudoxis 07.23.06 at 7:57 pm

By the time women reach tenure, few will decide to have children, and if they do, it’s rarely more than one, and fewer still, will drop out. The chair’s comment to a graduate student wouldn’t be as blatantly obnoxious. The high cost of children on a woman’s career in academe is during early training.

35

mythago 07.23.06 at 7:57 pm

First you claimed that the evidence was in the NYT’s articles, now you’re claiming that there is some unnamed “Stanford and Harvard” data (what a collaboration) on MBAs that tells us that “most highly-educated women”, not just MBA holders, opt out of full-time careers….er, at some point.

This, in your opinion, justifies a department chair telling a faculty member with grants and funding, seeking doctoral students, that he is reluctant to approve to her working with these students because he fears she may run off with a man and leave the department entirely.

“But won’t you just get married and quit?” was something said in my mother’s day by men who didn’t want to hire women. Apparently the practice still has its defenders.

36

eudoxis 07.23.06 at 7:58 pm

“Few will decide to have children”, that is, if they are childless.

37

Michael Kremer 07.23.06 at 7:58 pm

Slocum et al:

Whatever the evidence may be about highly educated women in general, I doubt that there is much or even any corresponding evidence about women *physics professors*. We aren’t talking Stanford BA’s or even MBA’s here. We’re talking people who have probably invested six or more years after their BA’s in career training. That requires a love of their profession of a quite different order of magnitude.

38

Michael Kremer 07.23.06 at 7:59 pm

I should add that physics professors, unlike MBA’s, really are in it for the love of their profession.

39

Pam 07.23.06 at 9:00 pm

I don’t see how data on MBA’s is even a remote comparison to someone who has gotten a PhD and postdoctoral training, and quite frankly – it frustrates me that this even requires a debate – it just isn’t (wasn’t) acceptable. If men (and even women) are looking at (other) women with this attitude – as if they have one foot out the door even at the beginning of their careers – no wonder many of them aren’t taken seriously and aren’t offered the opportunites they should be to get the foundation to suceed.

40

Helen 07.23.06 at 9:48 pm

But a lot of woman do choose the ‘Mommy Track’ route, and given that fact, it is understandable that employers wonder about committment—that’s all.

Aieee! This is the fallacy so many people fall into. Remember every employment survey finds people who are “under employed”. For many women, being on the “Mommy Track” is due to the limited options they have due to the family-unfriendliness of many workplaces, and the lack of availability of good, affordable childcare. This can have an impact on the decision to have children, too. Women who work and don’t have children, or women who have children and don’t work enough to be seen as a good employee, haven’t necessarily chosen their particular path. (See Leslie Cannold, “What, no Baby?”)

41

Helen 07.23.06 at 9:50 pm

I am saying that one doesn’t have to be a sexist Neanderthal to wonder if a female candidate is committed to her career. In fact, one doesn’t even have to be a male supervisor to wonder about that.

If this kind of thinking is still pervasive among middle-class males, it really shows how much feminism is still necessary (as opposed to all done and dusted, as some younger people seem to think!)

42

Glenn 07.23.06 at 10:44 pm

“Aieee! This is the fallacy so many people fall into. Remember every employment survey finds people who are “under employed”. For many women, being on the “Mommy Track” is due to the limited options they have due to the family-unfriendliness of many workplaces, and the lack of availability of good, affordable childcare. This can have an impact on the decision to have children, too. Women who work and don’t have children, or women who have children and don’t work enough to be seen as a good employee, haven’t necessarily chosen their particular path. (See Leslie Cannold, “What, no Baby?”)”

Isn’t the point that, because of screwed up social systems (“the family-unfriendliness of many workplaces”), certain things are both rational and sexist? Obviously we would want to reform these systems, but insofar as much as those systems still exist, people are placed in the difficult position of either choosing to be irrational or damaging the cause of equality.

This is certainly not the only thing, or even the main thing, going on in this example, but it is a factor in many similar cases.

43

dr ngo 07.23.06 at 10:49 pm

21: Frankly there should be better fall back systems for grad students whose advisors leave for whatever reason. One good step in that direction is to have a committee of three advisors.

Department of “Yes, But …”: Back in the day, I knew a PhD candidate at Yale who had the requisite committee of four professors, all very distinguished. Went to the Philippines to do his dissertation research (on a Fulbright, as I recall) and when he returned all of them were gone: two retired, one moved on to another college, the fourth died.

There are no guarantees in (academic) life.

(FWIW, all of those involved were male. I told you this was “back in the day”!)

44

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.24.06 at 1:15 am

“I am enjoying the apologist “yes, but” conservatives like Slocum and Holsclaw. The subtext for them, of course, is that a) it’s right and proper for it to be the case that women leave formal careers for motherhood (or in Holsclaw’s more benighted construction, “housewifery”)”

A) I’m not defending the chair’s statement at all. I was answering “Again, from the employer’s perspective, what practical difference is there between losing an employee to housewifery and losing an employee to a job at Google?” (#13)

B) I used housewifery because I was responding to its use in #13. It is hardly my construction.

I’m not an apologist for the chair. He is boorish. I’m not even totally convinced that the number of women who leave for other jobs plus the number of women who leave for home exceeds the number of men who leave for other jobs plus the number of men who leave for home.

45

mythago 07.24.06 at 3:13 am

Gosh, it’s heartening that you’re not “totally convinced”. The question is why you would think that there is any reason for a department chair to presume that a faculty member is so likely to get married and ditch her job that he should openly question her about it.

The only ‘evidence’ anyone has offered here:
a) There are some NYT articles about stay-at-home moms who used to be employed.

b) A bunch of women who graduated from Stanford and from Harvard’s B-school 25 years ago are no longer in ‘fulltime careers’. (Why, or the numbers of male classmates in the same position, is left out completely.)

46

reuben 07.24.06 at 3:51 am

I’m very far to the left on this issue, and by my reading, neither Slocum nor Sebastian are defending the chair. They appear to be saying that the chair is sexist, but that because of the way things currently are structured in US society, his sexism is not entirely irrational. (PLEASE NOTE: I don’t think either of these two commenters – or me – is equating rationality with goodness or justice.)

Scandinavian countries lead the world in woman-friendly policies, but as numerous academics have noted, even in Sweden, eg, there are major issues related to gender equity in the workplace. Most Swedish women work in the public sector, because it is more “family friendly”, and a relatively small percentage work in the private sector, where hours are longer. As the not exactly right-wing Gosta Esping-Andersen notes (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0199256438/026-1725159-5131631?v=glance&n=266239), in countries with good leave and family-friendly work hour policies, women tend to be more expensive to employ than men, as things currently stand, because women in these countries take long maternity leaves and are more likely to ask for shorter hours while their children are young. So the private sector shies away from employing women, while the public sector does not.

The key phrase in what I just wrote is “as things currently stand”. In Scandinavia, rather than trying to force everyone to work longer hours, (which is what happens in the US, and which usually leads to women rather than men sacrificing their careers),there is some movement to increase men’s caring responsibilities, so they are no longer markedly “cheaper” to employ than women. Whether this will happen or not, I don’t know. I hope it does. But as things currently stand, even lefty commenters acknowledge that in the most left-wing countries in the world, structural factors still lead to rational hiring decisions that cause women to be under-represented in the least regulated section of the marketplace.

Back in the US, even the most regulated sections of the economy are probably little more regulated than the least regulated sections of the Scandinavian economies. I don’t know if female PhDs with tenure have more “job stickiness” than do female MBAs. I expect they do, but don’t know of any data. So perhaps in this particular context, a sexist departmental chair would be no more economically rational to favour men over women. But moving outward from academia to the broader picture of gender workplace equity on a societal level, this is a major issue. The culture of long hours and minimal governmental support for caring responsibilities means that, on the whole, women are more likely to leave work for a family reason (eg the birth of a child) than are men. I think that this is an outrageoulsy unfortunate thing. Decrying individual examples of sexism is right and good – I’m sure we all agree on that – but surely the benefit of having someone such as Slocum or Sebastian point to the economic rationality of sexist decisisions is that this will hopefully get us into a useful, broader discussion (such as that at unfogged sometime ago on Hirshman) about how to tackle the real problems, which are those of structure rather than individual sexism. (The latter is surely still more widespread than we’d like to think, but it is the former that is really shafting American women.) Unofortunately, the US’s culture of outrageously long work hours and nearly non-existent affordable high quality childcare mean that many women (with MBAs or whatever) make the “rational” decision not to stick it out in the workplace as long as they would like to. (How many times have I read a blog comment from a highly educated woman saying, “Staying home is my choice!” Uh yeah, I’m sure it was, but if we lined up 1,000 families with two highly educated parents, one of whom is staying at home with the kids, isn’t it somehwat suspicious that at least 900 of them make the one choice, and only 100 make the other?)

Structural factors and historical legacies make it more “rational” for these women to stay home than for their husbands to, and those same structural factors and legacies make it “rational” for hirers, whether in the US or in Swedish private industry, to think that women of child-bearing age are more likely to leave (or in Sweden, to take leave) for family reasons than are men of a similar age. That’s a crying shame, and needs to be redressed through structural changes to work – in my opinion, at least.

I don’t know whether Slocum and/or Sebastian would agree with that – the latter at least being far more free market-oriented than I am. But I really don’t think that either of them are defending the chair or institutional sexism. (Though I do suspect that Sebastian at least would defend the culture of long hours.)

47

reuben 07.24.06 at 3:52 am

Cripes, sorry for the length of that post!

48

The Ridger 07.24.06 at 4:35 am

So, what’s wrong with just asking everybody, “Are you prepared to stay for the full three years this will require, regardless of what may come along that looks better to you? Their futures will be depending on your commitment.”

49

Slocum 07.24.06 at 6:13 am

First you claimed that the evidence was in the NYT’s articles, now you’re claiming that there is some unnamed “Stanford and Harvard” data (what a collaboration) on MBAs that tells us that “most highly-educated women”, not just MBA holders, opt out of full-time careers….er, at some point.

I provided a link — here it is again:

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/BUSINESS/03/15/optout.revolution/

If this kind of thinking is still pervasive among middle-class males, it really shows how much feminism is still necessary (as opposed to all done and dusted, as some younger people seem to think!)

You’ve got it exactly backwards. I’m not sure I know any other men whose wives is working full-time partly for the reason her spouse thinks that supporting the family is equally her responsibility and expects her to do it regardless of whether she would find part-time work (or no paid work) ‘more fulfilling’. By the same token, I’ve always taken on child care as being equally my responsibility. “Whatever you decide to do is fine, honey” is NOT equality.

And the idea that women ‘opt out’ because society doesn’t provide proper support for them is ridiculous. When you’re talking about Harvard MBAs, paying for child care was never the issue. In general, these women could easily have paid for the best of childcare (including a live-in nanny), but they were also able to choose stay-at-home motherhood (which then often morphs into early semi-retirement as the kids head off to school). Let’s be honest, maybe it’s a trap, but it’s a pretty hard deal to turn down, and lots of well-off, highly educated women don’t.

And, in fact, where there are government ‘family friendly’ policies (as in Scandanavia), women are less likely to be fully committed to private-sector careers. In the U.S. necessity is the mother of equality. When long paid maternity leaves are provided, women take them, and from the company’s viewpoint, this raises the cost of employing women, and from the individual’s point of view, these are exactly the kids of work interruptions that are the first steps off the career path. Combine that with the fact that, in the U.S., women are more likely to find themselves to be the higher earning spouse and, therefore, ‘stuck’ with the responsibility. I would argue that the data suggest that Scandanavian-style family policies tend to make the sexes less rather than more equal.

What I’m hearing here is that society (and men) should support any and all options women might choose (committed full-time work, full-time work with interruptions, part-time work, or no work) AND employers should be forbidden from taking any of this into account but rather should be required to treat women just like men in terms of their assumptions about working patterns. Call me an egalitarian rather than a feminist — but THAT’s not equality. That’s not a deal that men ever enjoyed. Does feminism ever require women to take on new responsibilities? Or is it more like a labor union for women trying to negotiate the best possible deal?

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reuben 07.24.06 at 6:29 am

When long paid maternity leaves are provided, women take them, and from the company’s viewpoint, this raises the cost of employing women, and from the individual’s point of view, these are exactly the kids of work interruptions that are the first steps off the career path.

This is exactly wrong, Slocum, at least in the context you discuss it in, ie Scandinavia. Countries with extensive maternal leave (ie the Nordic ones) also have the highest full-time employment rates for women with more than one children. Countries with less leave are those most likely to see women drop out of the workforce once they have kids.

It is also fair to note that gender wage inequality is far less prevalent in Scandinavia than in the US, despite the public-private split in Scandinavia. I defended what you said earlier, but what you are saying about Scandinavia does not appear to be informed by a robust knowledge of research. (And no, that one Newsweek article doesn’t count; it was wrong in about 15 different ways.)

As for your definition of equality, it appears to be a formal definition that only relates to about half of the total share of [societal] labour (TSOL).(Rosemary Crompton is particuarly good on this, if you’re interested.) Under American-style norms of limited benefits for both male and female workers, the reality continues to be that women overwhelmingly sacrfice their careers, because they are (unlucky enough to be) considered responsible for vast majority of society’s unpaid labour needs. As soon as we men, on aggregate, start doing as much non-paid labour as women do, and start taking the same risks they do re putting long-term labour market success on the backburner in favour of the needs of the family and/or spouse, then sure, formal equality in hiring practices and benefits will be fair, in terms of the total share of labour. But we’re nowhere near that point yet, despite what you do in your own home, and it’s men who mostly benefit from that reality. The workplace is only one part of the equation.

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reuben 07.24.06 at 6:49 am

Does feminism ever require women to take on new responsibilities?

Erm, feminism has largely been about women striving for fair access to the paid labour market. I’d say getting a job counts as taking on a responsibility, wouldn’t you?

What has happened, though, is that the labour market has not adapted to the modern reality of mothers who work in paid employment. Nor, on aggregate, have men. You may be an exception to the latter (and good on you for it), but women are still overwhelmingly responsible for unpaid caring work, in addition to now being responsible for far more paid labour than under the single breadwinner model that the US system is largely based on.

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brooksfoe 07.24.06 at 8:10 am

under the single breadwinner model that the US system is largely based on.

Was, reuben. Was. If the single breadwinner were still the model, then wages would have risen commensurate with what’s needed to support a family on one salary. They haven’t; it’s assumed that both parents will work. The question of who will take care of the kids is the thing that seems to have escaped us all.

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brooksfoe 07.24.06 at 8:21 am

Countries with extensive maternal leave (ie the Nordic ones) also have the highest full-time employment rates for women with more than one children.

Not the Netherlands. There, for whatever reason, the narrative seems to resemble the one Slocum outlines: women with children are more likely to take long leaves and, more important, to go back to work only 3 days a week, under Holland’s generous flex-time rules. The Dutch cite this as a major reason why they have such a severe glass-ceiling problem, with very few women in prestigious corporate positions, compared to the US.

But one possible significant factor here is availability of child care, which is scarce and underfunded in Holland compared to France and Norway. It’s my understanding that this has something to do with the strong role of the Christian Democrats in supporting social-welfare legislation. They prefer that women receive stipends to stay home and raise their own kids, rather than funding generous state-supported child care.

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reuben 07.24.06 at 8:24 am

I said ‘largely based on’, brooksfoe. I agree with you that in many ways we have switched to a dual breadwinner model, but in terms of gender equity, we are still left with the legacy of the single breadwinner model. That’s one of the key reasons why time poverty is high, for instance. We have dual breadwinner assumptions (and legislation) with regard to equal opportunities in the workplace, but, with regard to unpaid caring responsiblities, the US, more than many nations, still relies on norms predicated on a single breadwinner model. And women disproportionately bear the cost of that lack of transition from norms and ideologies and legislation that fit old realities to norms and ideologies and legislation that will fit the new.

Note that in Nordic countries, for instance, there has been a fuller switch not just to economies based on two-earner households, but to the support systems those households require. In encouraing women to work, the US is dual breadwinner, but in idealising female domesticity and not providing government support for unpaid caring roles, the US still clings to single breadwinner assumptions.

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reuben 07.24.06 at 8:28 am

The Netherlands has a completely different approach to the Scandinavian countries, so when I say ‘Nordic’ or Scandinavian’, I’m not including it. Nor do most researchers who study work-family balance issues.

Cheers

56

eudoxis 07.24.06 at 8:43 am

A few years ago, Mary Mason and Marc Goulden looked at the effect of children on the academic career of scientists in the UC system. Their puplication “Do Babies Matter” was repeated in the popular press and was much discussed in the circles of many female scientists.

There is another article by the same authors titled “Marriage and Baby Blues: Redefining Gender Equity in the Academy” in the current Annals of the American Society of Political Science. The whole July issue is devoted to this topic.

There is a considerable attrition of women in the science academy when they have children, even if they have them after their PhD. The early years of post-doc and assistant professorships are very demanding and the competition for grants requires an unearthly devotion to work that leaves little to no room for family life. It’s much simpler for women without children or women with only one child to reach tenure.

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Slocum 07.24.06 at 8:48 am

I’d say getting a job counts as taking on a responsibility, wouldn’t you?

Depends — does her family really depend on the income? Is she free to leave the job if she no longer finds it fulfilling and thinks she might prefer to do something else?

And women disproportionately bear the cost of that lack of transition from norms and ideologies and legislation that fit old realities to norms and ideologies and legislation that will fit the new.

I would argue that women disproportionately enjoy the benefits of that ‘lack of transition’. Among the upper middle class women in my area, there are at least four patterns:

no paid employment
part-time employment in a pleasant, respectable, but low-paying job
part-time employment in an occupation for which they have professional training
full-time career

All of these choices are considered acceptable and ‘normal’ — none are strange. And it is also normal that the women are expected to be free to choose which of these paths to follow and that their spouses are expected to accept and support their wives’ decisions. Their husbands have nothing like this kind of freedom — only option #4 is really normal. Other patterns are sometimes chosen out of necessity (the wife’s income is substantially higher so the husband stays home when the kids are young), but the men are not free to choose the other patterns just because they decide they want to.

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reuben 07.24.06 at 9:21 am

Look Slocum, as I say, I defended you above when I thought that folks were shouting you down for deviating from a party line. But right now I’m going to gently disengage from further conversation – I really don’t want to get into a conversation only about upper middle class women in your area- that’s such a tiny slice of the gender equity pie, and not one I have time to devote to right now. (I’m at work, and have already missed a deadline.) No offence intended; it’s just that the interwebs are full of this upper middle class stuff and I don’t have the energy to add to it right now.

But I do think what you say at the end brings up an interesting issue. Why do you think men’s choices are so constrained? Could it be because women’s are? If the US did a better job of offering high quality childcare and family friendly hours to all families, then the choices available to both mothers and fathers would expand. Women with children would be less constrained by the responsiblities of unpaid caring, and thus more able and likely to stay in the full-time job market, and, because of that, men would have more opportunities to devote more time and energy to unpaid caring themselves. (I suspect that if most families had the option, both parents would work 35 hours a week or so, rather than mommy or daddy staying home with teh kids while the breadwinner clocks up 60 hours per week.

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Slocum 07.24.06 at 10:03 am

I’m going to gently disengage from further conversation – I really don’t want to get into a conversation only about upper middle class women in your area- that’s such a tiny slice of the gender equity pie.

Fair enough–but the patterns of the women I know are entirely consistent with those of the female Harvard MBAs (in fact, there may be some who are members of both sets). I think there are good reasons to think the patterns I’m talking about are not idiosyncratic but representative of educated women in the U.S.

Why do you think men’s choices are so constrained? Could it be because women’s are? If the US did a better job of offering high quality childcare and family friendly hours to all families, then the choices available to both mothers and fathers would expand.

No, I really don’t agree. The availability of high-quality childcare is just not an issue for these people. They can afford high-quality day-care / preschool (and often use it for a few days a week even when the wife is not working). They can afford au pairs. The patterns I’ve been talking about reflect women’s choices, not necessity.

What’s more, I would say that government family policies (paid maternity leaves, subsidized child care) are as likely to maintain and extend stereotyped sex roles and sex-segregated occupations as overturn them (which I believe is consistent with the experience in Sweden — occupations that are highly sex-segregated).

Right now, the pattern of men being primary caregivers for children in the U.S. is unusual, but no longer bizarre. But I don’t think it would be happening at all if it weren’t for the fact that families are left to their own devices.

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Beryl 07.24.06 at 10:24 am

Why do you think men’s choices are so constrained? Could it be because women’s are?

Yes and no. My experience (academic mathematics) is hardly typical, but, now pregnant, I will shortly have to make some choices. My husband has agreed to stay at home (he teaches but is primarily a writer) but that is a choice as well, not a result of some constraint. Daycare etc. is available. If I choose to take a lengthy leave, however, his own choices will be constrained. Anecdotal, to be sure, but I suspect not unusual.

61

MIchael Kremer 07.24.06 at 11:51 am

eudoxus: It seems to me significant to ask whether the attrition of women in university science education is a matter of women voluntarily leaving their jobs (the fear expressed by the department chair in the original anecdote), or a matter of women with children finding it difficult to secure jobs, or retain them (as in failing to get tenure, which means losing your job).

The first piece you cite makes it sound like the latter scenario is the correct one for most cases. I haven’t looked at the second more recent piece that you cite. And I won’t have time to do so. But can you summarize the results relative to the question I’ve asked here?

62

RickD 07.24.06 at 12:03 pm

Jiminy cricket some of the comments here are breathtakingly stupid.

“But many highly educated women (if you believe the Stanford and Harvard MBA data, MOST highly educated women) do ultimately opt out of full-time careers.”

Ever hear of a “glass ceiling”? People like the boss in the story make the glass ceiling self-perpetuating. In any case, Pam was not an arbitrary woman whom the boss had no information about. She had already gotten the funding for the three students. THAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE THE HARD PART. What that means is that she’s already convinced the granting agency of the validity of her research proposals and HAS ALREADY COMMITTED TO FUNDING IT.

There is no “well, but blah blah blah statistics blah blah blah” argument here that is valid at all. The department chair is a dinosaur. He’s hopelessly out of touch with the reality of the professionalism of the people he is supposed to be supervising.

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Pam 07.24.06 at 12:07 pm

Thank god the person above (Rick d) brought this discussion back to where it should have been 9 years ago: it was an unacceptable comment. It’s not about all of the other stuff – it’s not about MBA’s or the challenge’s of having children and being a professional, it’s only about what is appropriate behavior – and how to treat a colleague with respect. We almost dignify his question to me with all of this discussion.

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Steve LaBonne 07.24.06 at 12:22 pm

We almost dignify his question to me with all of this discussion.

I was going to say something like that but hesitated to risk further dignifying it by adding to the discussion… thanks to rickd for the breath of sanity.

65

Planeshift 07.24.06 at 12:30 pm

One aspect not yet covered here is the implications this example has; If otherwise intelligent and highly educated people working in a comparatively progressive institution can display such blatant sexism, then what hope is there for the vast majority of people in low paid, temporary jobs (or unemployment).

66

Barry 07.24.06 at 1:24 pm

Slocum: “Fair enough—but the patterns of the women I know are entirely consistent with those of the female Harvard MBAs (in fact, there may be some who are members of both sets). I think there are good reasons to think the patterns I’m talking about are not idiosyncratic but representative of educated women in the U.S.”

Slocum, a statement like this should, IMHO, remove what little credibility you had left.

67

Planeshift 07.24.06 at 1:36 pm

If otherwise intelligent and highly educated people working in a comparatively progressive institution can display such blatant sexism, then what hope is there for the vast majority of people in low paid, temporary jobs or unemployment.

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Aidan Kehoe 07.24.06 at 2:45 pm

Pam, #64: you say this:

The dept chair should have known that it was unacceptable to ask it.

And Slocum agrees with you; from #7:

The dept chair should have known that it was unacceptable to ask [the question]

The point he’s putting forward is distinct from that, viz.:

[…] Even if ‘How committed are you?’ is forbidden, ‘Just how committed is she?’ is a rational thought.

If you think that shouldn’t be addressed or discussed, I have to say that although normally not a fan of Steven Pinker, I’ve always liked his formulation that everything should be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it’s presented with some degree of rigour—that’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.

69

Steve LaBonne 07.24.06 at 2:51 pm

Even if ‘How committed are you?’ is forbidden, ‘Just how committed is she?’ is a rational thought.

Umm, rickd already explained quite eloquently why in the particular case at hand this is a VERY VERY LONG WAY from being true. Perhaps you don’t have any clue about what it takes to get two scientific research grants funded in the US these days… or perhaps you don’t have any clue, period.

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Aidan Kehoe 07.24.06 at 3:33 pm

Umm, rickd already explained quite eloquently why in the particular case at hand this is a VERY VERY LONG WAY from being true.

Nothing online involving words in capital letters is eloquent, no more than someone boiling over with rage in close conversation can be. And nothing in any context involving a writer confusing pronouns is eloquent.

Asking about Pam’s likelihood of leaving her position to move to a more prestigious university would have been entirely in order; asking about the likelihood of her leaving for personal reasons would have been entirely in order; phrasing it as this academic did was not.

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Steve LaBonne 07.24.06 at 3:35 pm

Right, let’s not deal with actual content, which might be inconvenient for your position.

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Steve LaBonne 07.24.06 at 3:42 pm

P.S. Let’s review the situation- perhaps if you read very, very slowly, Kehoe, you might get it. We’re talking about a junior faculty member who has done exactly what she was supposed to- go out and get funding for her research, including support for the grad students who are essential for doing that research. In the other corner we have her department chair, who is threatening to derail her career by arbitrarily preventing her from fulfilling one of her essential funcrtions, supervision of the very graduate students whose support she has, at the cost of great exertion, secured. There is no possible rational justification for that, no matter what inane question he had in mind. Nattering about grammar in the face of the utter stupdidiy of your position only makes you look like an even bigger tool than you otherwise would.

73

Slocum 07.24.06 at 4:09 pm

Slocum: “Fair enough—but the patterns of the women I know are entirely consistent with those of the female Harvard MBAs (in fact, there may be some who are members of both sets). I think there are good reasons to think the patterns I’m talking about are not idiosyncratic but representative of educated women in the U.S.”

Slocum, a statement like this should, IMHO, remove what little credibility you had left.

Ah, I love being beyond the pale–it’s peaceful out here. My anecdotal data are consistent with published research for which I provided a link. Both point in the direction of at least as substantial percentage and probably a majority of such women opting out of full time work.

So how did I ‘remove what little credibility I had left’ how? By just making stuff up? No — apparently by heresy.

Look–in the U.S. in this era, many educated women choose to leave the full-time workforce. Not because they have no other choice, not because they’re forced out, not because of financial constraints, not because of social pressures — but because they WANT TO and because they CAN. Deal with it.

How about another link — is there no credibility here, either?

“This isn’t only about day care. Half my Times brides quit before the first baby came. In interviews, at least half of them expressed a hope never to work again. None had realistic plans to work. More importantly, when they quit, they were already alienated from their work or at least not committed to a life of work. One, a female MBA, said she could never figure out why the men at her workplace, which fired her, were so excited about making deals. “It’s only money,” she mused. Not surprisingly, even where employers offered them part-time work, they were not interested in taking it.”

“But elite women aren’t resisting tradition. None of the stay-at-home brides I interviewed saw the second shift as unjust; they agree that the household is women’s work. As one lawyer-bride put it in explaining her decision to quit practicing law after four years, “I had a wedding to plan.” Another, an Ivy Leaguer with a master’s degree, described it in management terms: “He’s the CEO and I’m the CFO. He sees to it that the money rolls in and I decide how to spend it.” It’s their work, and they must do it perfectly. “We’re all in here making fresh apple pie,” said one, explaining her reluctance to leave her daughters in order to be interviewed. The family CFO described her activities at home: “I take my [3-year-old] daughter to all the major museums. We go to little movement classes.””

http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=10646

I know lots of these women — they make perfectly good neighbors, but I wouldn’t want to be married to one of ‘em (and happily I’m not).

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Barry 07.24.06 at 5:00 pm

Slocum, you removed the last remaining trace of crediblity by using upper-middle to upper class women as your baseline. And then scrubbed things clean by using an NYT ‘anecdotes about the upper class’ lifestyles article as a reference.

75

mythago 07.25.06 at 8:34 am

My anecdotal data are consistent with published research for which I provided a link.

No, slocum, they’re not. You provided a link to a business-magazine article, not to “published research”. That article looks at a handful of women who graduted from elite institutions in 1981. It does not compare one of those groups to similarly-situated men. It does not, actually, say ‘these women quit because of a man’–from all we know, and consistent with the rest of the article, they grew frustrated with sexist supervisors blocking their career path. Which, by the way, is consistent with my anecdotal experience.

You can point to your wife all you like, slocum, and sneer that we should “deal with” the notion that some women leave the workforce. I’m still waiting for you to explain why this justifies forcing women (only) to prove to their bosses that they should be allowed to do their normal job functions. And I wonder who really wanted Mrs. Slocum out of the full-time workforce.

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Paul Gowder 07.25.06 at 11:39 am

J. Ellenberg and crew: are you familar with the fallacy of division? You might want to become so.

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Rebecca Allen 07.25.06 at 6:37 pm

Excuse me, but aren’t questions like this ILLEGAL? Nobody seems interested in the likelihood that the department chair broke the law.

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mythago 07.25.06 at 7:41 pm

The questions themselves are not actually illegal; discrimination is, which is why it’s dumb to ask questions that make it plain you’re discriminating.

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