Tuesday, October 18, 2005

women in the workplace

With our big move this summer, things have changed a lot in my household. For the first time since the birth of my older child, I have been working full-time outside the home. I like to say I'm getting paid full-time now, instead of just working full-time. After Sonny Boy was born, I spent a year at home with him (boy, was that hard - glad I could do it, but I spent way too much time wondering how moms actually got cleaned up and out of the house before 11am). I then spent the next 9 and 1/2 years employed half-time. I occasionally picked up some other part-time work, and then in ministry - there were definitely times I was working more than half-time (even though I was still primarily responsible for the kids and the house).

So - we moved. My husband has been taking care of the kids and the home since then, and doing some occasional substitute teaching. As thankless a job as that sounds for a woman so often, I know it's even more so for a man - everyone assumes he will go back to work "full-time" very soon. That's what men do, isn't it?

Hubby and I have definitely completely reversed jobs - and that is really fine (if I can just let go of the fact that my house will not be as clean as I would like - the man really does do his best). Since graduate school, I have maintained that women should have the choice to follow where they should go - into the workforce, staying at home, or any combo of those things. I know that during my years of working "part-time" I was not always taken as seriously or my work as valued as my full-time colleagues. It always felt disrespectful to me. I didn't value my work any less because I was not paid full-time or worked 40-50 hours a week (most weeks).

And so the NY Times entered the discussion of women in the workplace recently. They used anecdotal evidence (not hard, serious research) to state that overachieving moms (would I include myself - having a master's degree?) are choosing homemaking more than ever and are rejecting the workplace. In fact, actual research does not reveal this. I think about my friends (all of whom I would call over-achieving), and we are all living our lives in many different forms (and some of our husbands are as well). But my personal info is only anecdotal.

If you look at this week's Newsweek (which I did while waiting for my hairstylist this morning), the mag picked up on the NY Times article as a given fact.

Well, for all you over-acheivers out there - if you really want some hard facts, check out this rebuttal from the National Council for Research on Women. Women are making a variety of choices, and most of us from financial or family structure reasons - not because we can choose to follow wherever our heart desires. That's part of the American myth - that we can follow any dream - the circumstances of our lives more often than not dictate how we can pursue those dreams. (and I always hope we can follow our dreams - but the fact is that most women just simply cannot afford that or don't have the support network to do so)

I am heartened that women continue to break new ground. It does please me not to be in such an extreme minority as a woman in ministry as I was 15 years ago. But I think our real strides need to come in different areas. We need to work on issues concerning women and children in poverty. We need to make the workplace more flexible and supportive of a healthy lifestyle (Europeans have it - "full-time" people work on average 30 hours a week, as opposed to 40-50 here.) Finally, we need to provide more support for men and boys who choose not to follow the traditional male model. I feel blessed to have all the options I have had in various forms of work -but I know society does not support that for my husband and for many husbands. I have met a number of husbands staying at home either full or part time and doing it well - but we need to affirm that choice in every way possible. It may mean that I desecrate every church sign that reads "Mothers' Morning Out!" (okay, maybe I can just make a polite suggestion to be more inclusive).

Anyone out there dealing with some of these same issues?


restless said...

I know that i am fortunte to have the choice to stay at home, although i couldn't call it following a dream. After 8 years I'm still a bit defensive about not having a job "outside the home", when in reality i do. i volunteer, i tutor, i help in the classroom, i coach, i help other paid working parents with their kids when they can't because of work. Ten times harder for the stay at home dad. It take a special person to be able to be secure in that role. Hat's off to your hubby! Mine wouldn't even consider for a second - and yes i did ask him.

Katalina said...

Oh how I would love to work part time or even just 4 days a week! Unfortunately, being single doesn't leave me any choices. It's not that I couldn't afford the reduction in salary, it's the benefits that I need most!