One subject I rarely write about on this blog is MrPhD. That is because, as Mr types go, mine is pretty good.
But lately I've been noticing something that makes me wonder, which makes me want to do a pseudo-quantitative analysis (I say pseudo- because it's a blog, and because I don't intend to run any tests of statistical strength).
I've noticed that it's hard to tell if we really share housework equally. I've also noticed that, while this is deeply important to me in my personal life and career management, most of my peers do not share housework equally (or at all).
Several of my male colleagues have a wife at home, and kids. The wife does all the housework in these cases, all the grocery shopping, all the laundry, and packs his lunch. He deals with things like car repairs. This is the very traditional arrangement, and more or less what my parents did.
It seems to work quite well for the men in academia. They seem to have plenty of time and energy to be postdocs, drink with pals and colleagues, publish lots of papers, get faculty positions... and never run out of clean underwear.
Some of my female colleagues have children, and in most cases they still carry slightly more than half the burden, along with a postdoctoral or staff position. The women I know who had children as postdocs have generally failed to get faculty positions, or decided not to apply. Only those who interviewed and got offers first, then became visibly pregnant, have managed to combine a faculty position with children.
Meanwhile, the older female professors who have children seem to have Extraordinary Partners, from what I can tell. But maybe they still carry slightly more than half the housework, cooking, daycare driving, etc. I can't say I know for sure.
And then there are those who are still single, and I'm not sure if that's more or less work than living with someone who does their fair share. Most of the time, I think it's easier to have a partner. We have different skills around the house, and it means slightly less struggling on my part to reach the shower head when it's clogged... but when I think about it, sometimes I do feel like I'm doing more than my fair share.
Yes, you can argue (as MrPhD does) that it's because I care more. I am not a neat-freak, but I am allergic to dust, so I do more housework related to that than I would like to (had I been born allergy-free, oh how I wish).
And you can argue that it's partly just perception. We all feel like we're doing more annoying chores than we want to, therefore it must not be fair.
But I was offended the other day when we went out with some acquaintances, and as sometimes happens, someone our age (whom I didn't know) emphasized how MrPhD should quit his postdoc and get a job that pays more, so I could stay home.
I thought about what I would do if I stayed home. I thought about what I do when I do stay home to work, or when I'm sick. And it's true, I do more cleaning when I stay home. But it's not my first choice of activity! It's not as if I'm out having fun and thinking, "Gosh, I wish I didn't have so many fun things to do so I could have more time to go home and clean instead!" Not even close.
And I can't ever see myself doing what my mother did.
Trapped in the house with small children, my father gone at work all day, she did what any good overachieving perfectionist would do: proceeded to work her butt off to make sure we had the cleanest, prettiest house there ever was. She went to such extremes (and I'll mention that she learned this from my grandmother) as to stretch out and make more elaborate certain cleaning rituals, to ensure that they would fill up all the time in a day. So that she would never have time to be bored, or introspective, and forced to admit that she was miserable.
But back to the neanderthals who were good-naturedly trying to "help" us with their unsolicited advice. This was probably the 3rd or 4th time it has happened. Each time a different guy comes out with these proclamations, and always men our age.
Ladies, we can't just hope that all the old men will die off. There are new ones born every day.
Admittedly, these particular guys are not scientists, and in fact they are in jobs where women are traditionally absent or always secretaries.
But they are also men who seem to know that women can and do work outside the home, even obtain higher degrees and pursue challenging, stimulating careers.
And yet. They still say these things. I hope they enjoy the look on my face, before I start yelling.
It's almost 2010, I have a PhD, and clearly I have been transplanted backwards from some unknown moment in the future when it's perfectly reasonable for me to want robots to do all my cleaning- oh yeah, and the career for which I have spent my entire adulthood training.