Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Women, Work and Woe

Broadsheet has two posts on women and work for you to read on this beautiful spring morning, just to get you all gloomy and irritated. One of them links to a Boston Globe opinion piece which has a most fascinating and sellable theory: that women are the reason why Americans now work longer:

IT'S ALMOST the end of National Women's Month and I have a big confession: I think we women ruined the workplace.

Ouch. I don't want to feel that way, but take a look. Once upon a time, when a woman took a professional job, she worked a 60-hour week on average. Her boss was a man and she thought she had to prove herself. She didn't make any more money than the guys who worked 45-hour weeks. She thought this was the glass ceiling, so she started working 65 hours instead. Still, she made no more money. She did, however, get promoted to head of her department. She was the lowest-paid department head in history, so she worked even harder.


This woman's road in life has been dour. She does not know she is insecure. She really believes she has to work nights, even though she is perpetuating a system that is terrible for her children. As she became more bitter, she made everybody work longer hours, called more staff meetings where she did all of the talking, insisted that the boss should see her department working the latest. Plus nobody in the neighborhood can stand her anymore, because she thinks that stay-at-home moms are her free babysitters. She calls the seven hours when she leaves her kids with you a "play date."

I've been Making A List of all the things uppity women (meaning feminists) can be blamed for: divorce rates, latchkey children, juvenile delinquency, female alcoholism, boy's problems at school, girls' early sexualization, the collapse of the U.S. military (both because the girls are in there stopping male bonding and because who would want to fight for uppity career women), female depression rates, male depression rates and so on. Now I can add ruining the work environment to that list.

In that alternative world of All-Powerful Feminists everything pretty much is our fault, because we are all-powerful. We could easily cure depression, make all children happy and safe, make work meaningful and part-time for all individuals. That we don't do that or establish world peace or cure cancer and AIDs shows how horrible we are.

Nobody else can do any of those things. No, anti-feminists can't ask for a more humane work environment. Men can't ask for a more humane work environment. They just can't. And yes, it is those horrible women who caused the very long working hours in financial occupations (the ones with the longest hours in this country), even though they are rarer than hen's teeth there. Because, you have to understand this: Feminists are all-powerful people. It might look like we have very little power, but that just shows that we can even hide our omnipotency from the eyes of mere mortals.

Clear now? I have to adjust my empress-of-the-world crown before I comment on the second Broadsheet post. That one links to an abstract of a Canadian study which finds that -- what a surprise -- female lawyers with small children bill fewer hours than other lawyers and that male lawyers with small children bill more hours than other lawyers. Also, male lawyers with small children at home are more likely to have stay-at-home partners who take care of those small children.

I cannot remember a single study that hasn't found these sorts of results, by the way. (I so wish we wouldn't have to reinvent the feminist wheel all the time.) The crucial point is one I have mentioned many times before on this blog:

As long as women are viewed as responsible for most of the unpaid labor at home, this is what we are going to find. The only solutions to it are to either make child-rearing a more gender-neutral task or to start paying a salary to those parents who stay at home. The latter might make more fathers interested in the option, and even if it did not it would help the women who take time off from the labor force. They'd have money for retraining, for example, to get those courses which allow them perhaps to be promoted one day. Or at least allow them to find a job when they return to the labor market.

The study did find something new: women without children had the highest billable hours. It is fascinating to see how that finding is fleshed out in the comments of the Broadsheet post. We have a long way to go, baby.
A Post-Script:
Whether "billable hours" is a good measure of productivity is also debated in the Broadsheet comments. I don't really want to get into a discussion of average, marginal and total products here, but the problems with measuring real productivity in fields such as medicine or law are tremendous, because the output is difficult to quantify and to attribute to various workers in the firm.