Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Children and Careers

The test I link to in the post below contains a question about whether women should put children ahead of their careers. The question is intended to find out whether you, my dear reader, are a social conservative. But it's a loaded question, naturally, because there is no follow-up question about whether men should put children ahead of their careers. That question is never asked. Then there is the loading caused by the word "career" which refers to the uppity educated women who shouldn't really have jobs. These questions never ask whether people in general should have both jobs and families. Or even both careers and children!

Some time ago the Washington Post had an article about Congresswomen with small children. The fetching headline was: "Mom's in the House, With Kids at Home", and the article discussed the many ways in which "balancing" mothering with being a Congresswoman is hard. The only reference to Congressmen with young children was this:

While plenty of male lawmakers have small children, the pressures and responsibilities don't seem to weigh on them the way they do on women.

"Men have this fixture called a wife that's going to take care of the children," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics. "We hear very often from women who are running or elected that they wish they had a wife, someone to deal with the children, have fresh food in the house, pick up the dry cleaning."

Men running for office get kudos from voters for raising young children, but women are often penalized for it, said Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster who has tracked voter attitudes on the topic for the past 20 years.

"For male candidates, people think having young children is a total plus -- people think, 'Oh, this is great, he's going to be concerned about family issues, he'll be more future-oriented,' " she said. "A male with young kids, everyone likes it -- men, women, seniors." For women, it's a different story.

The article tells us that there are ten women in Congress with children under 13. The article does not tell us how many men in Congress have children under 13, because it doesn't matter. Those men are not assumed to be in charge of the children, and mostly an absent father is not viewed as a major problem. But surely not seeing your father for several days a week can be as much of a problem as not seeing your mother?

The treatment of fathers in these stories is paradoxical. In one sense they get all the benefits of having children with none of the problems. In another sense they are deemed as totally unnecessary for their children except as providers of money to the family. They can be sent to Iraq to die and mostly that is not a cause for some great outrage. They can also go and pursue a career whole-heartedly, and that is not a cause for concern, either. Mothers, on the other hand...

I know that articles like the one I linked to must address the world as it is and not the way some feminazi goddess might like it to be. I also know that many of the readers are struggling with the same issues and want to read about the costs and benefits to these women. But the issue is always framed as having to do with mothers alone. Not the society, not the fathers, not the way we structure work. Just mothers are to bear the total burden on their shoulders. Even if it means that there will be no women of child-bearing age in Congress.