Monday, September 14, 2009

Effort expended

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.

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At 8:13 PM, Blogger Becca said...

You could always tell them:
"In order for my husband to support me in the style to which I have become accustomed, he does not need to make just make 'more money' so I can stay home. He needs to make millions more, so I can build a lab in the house and fund my expensive flashy research and pay for childcare/maidservice/secretaries so I can have enough time to do my work"

At 9:19 PM, Blogger momphdstudent said...

I havent seen equal division of labour anywhere ever.. But I recently came upon a study that said something like "being married adds upto 7 hours of /week for a woman and reduces about 3-4 hrs of work/week for a man!" What on earth does that mean? This may have serious social consequences. Though as you did point out the division of labour is pretty similar to what existed in the previous generation, I think tolerance levels are dropping though. What my mom did with acceptance, I manage with a lot of cribbing and occassional screaming! What will gen next woman be like?

At 10:22 PM, Blogger cindylund said...

If you really want to test who does more chores, you should check out chorewars dot com. You can make a game out of it.

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those people are morons. If you have a good thing going with MrPhD, fuck 'em. Cheers.

At 1:25 AM, Blogger Kea said...

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 ...

OMG, no wonder we are alike. My mum wanted me to be the world's greatest housekeeper, after her and her 19th century grandmother, who worked as a housekeeper in an Irish castle. You can see why I don't like flatting with slobs.

At 2:28 AM, Blogger Schlupp said...

"someone our age (whom I didn't know)"

Eh, obviously he'd be saying this to people he's meeting for the first time. How many people are going to meet with him a second time? Not many, so he has to be fast.

At 2:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"emphasized how MrPhD should quit his postdoc and get a job that pays more, so I could stay home."

When people say this I think they usually mean to stay home and have a baby? That's been my friends' experience. One guy even said it straight out: "don't forget to have a baby".

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow! I can't believe someone would say that. I'm also a female postdoc but with a husband that makes real $ in a real job and I've never gotten that comment - from his friends or mine. But, if I did, I think it would be perfectly appropriate - especially in your case where I'm assuming you both make similar amounts of $ - to respond, " Actually, Harry is better at cleaning so I'd prefer that he stay home and I'll work." Everyone will smile and laugh but you'll have gotten your point across. You can even follow your 'joke' up with , "Seriously, though, I really enjoy my work and staying at home wouldn't work for me. But, when we get better paying jobs, maybe we'll hire a housekeeper."

I think anyone that realizes how much goes into getting a PhD won't assume a woman does this and then wants to stay home. Maybe some people do and that's ok, but most of us probably don't.

Good luck!

At 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate the "because you care more" excuse - my husband uses it too and it drives me crazy. He always says that he'd pick up his socks (for example) eventually, I just get to it first. I say he's just perfectly content to live in squalor. Uh oh, I think I just validated his argument :)

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

You all are hilarious! Great responses, all.

I'm totally going to do choreswars. I love it! Thank you!!

p.s. we totally need more things in life that keep track of XP.

p.p.s. somebody should make one called LabWars and then we can track our XP based on giving advice to students...

At 9:19 AM, Blogger FrauTech said...

I care less and yet I do more of the housework. I know you're thinking, how is that possible, but sometimes it's just easier to do the extra work instead of arguing about it or trying to keep track of who's done more chores this week. I work full time and go to school part time, while my husband just works. I get comments ALL THE TIME from people who ask first whether my husband works, and then ask why I don't quit work and focus on school. I mumble something about how hard it is to get by on just one income in this city, which is true. But the truth is, I think I'll always work. I'd rather HE was the one at home cleaning. I know if I went to school full time I'd be expected to clean more and do tasks I don't enjoy, I'd much rather focus my energies on a challenging job. In some ways I see the gender disparity improving by generation, by equal housework or expectations for the woman working outside of the home don't seem to be changing.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger yolio said...

The Mr. and I live apart for our post-docs. Having two apartments has made it fairly clear who does what exactly around the house.

Around our house, whenever something needs to be bought, I do all of the shopping. He had it in his head that shopping is "fun" and thus not work. I had to inform his that comparison shopping for a vacuum cleaner is a chore, period.

I have found two things to help in this area. 1) Division of labor is good as long as it isn't total. It is fine if he almost always does the dishes, as long as I do them occasionally and thus I know what it entails and how to do it right. It is fine if I do most of the household shopping, as long as he periodically does it, and understands what I mean when I say shopping isn't fun. And 2) tolerate some mess. A sink full of dirty dishes sitting around for two days may not be optimal, but it won't kill anyone.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Balancing Act said...

Thanks for the suggestion, cindylund. I just suggested it to my husband and we are going to recruit the kids. Maybe they'll do their chores to get XP. My kids love games.

I agree that many of the older profs had SAHMs to take care of them. I saw a study as late as 2007 that showed that the biggest difference between men and women in science is that men tended to have full-time at home support, whereas women were still responsible for at least half the at home support.

As for who does more in the chores situation in seemingly comparable relationships, it is really hard to gauge. Good luck, YFS.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Enginerd said...

Heehee Becca I like that response.

It's so upsetting when someone your own age, especially another woman, makes you feel like you've travelled back in time 50 years.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger biochem belle said...

It seems that my hubby and I are outliers... but then again we usually are :P

My hubby was fantastic while I was in grad school and starting my post doc this year. He definitely did more of the housework-it helped that he had 5 days off a week (due to working 24 hr shifts). Now that he is continuing to work while going to school full-time, he's doing homework during his time off, so I'm picking up more of the chores.

At 7:47 AM, Blogger whyme? said...

Another outlier here. My husband and I are both faculty (me at an R1, him at a liberal arts college). We have one child. She was six months old when I went on my first faculty interview (I asked for times to be set aside for me to pump at each interview and still got offers, so at least some departments are open to female faculty with families).

We split things relatively equally, I think. He does the bill paying, I do the big money oversight stuff. I do laundry and most grocery shopping, he does lawn stuff, straightening up the house, and cleaning in the areas the cleaning service doesn't go. He keeps track of doctor/dentist stuff for our daughter and I do that for our cats. We have a every other week cleaning service and a Roomba to keep the dust and grunge to a minimum. Every day one of us goes in early and the other gets our daughter off to school. Whoever went in early, picks our daughter up and supervises homework and makes dinner, which we all eat together. He just got tenure, I'm up this year...

Sometimes other women say how "lucky" I am. I always want to (and sometimes do) say I wouldn't have gotten married to someone who didn't think this was the obvious and fair way to structure our life together.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law is a cleaner and very into the details of it all. You can imagine what a disappointment I was to her when I showed more interest in acquiring a PhD than in cleaning the bath. At least men don't have to put up with that expectation.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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."

but how much time does the Husband spend on car repairs per week, every week, versus how much time does the Wife spend on everything else per week, every week. It really is not even a valid comparison.

My ex and I were both postdocs at the same time, and we had a pretty equal division of labor at home. He willingly did his fair share of the household chores and cooking. Now that we have broken up (unrelated to domestic chores or gender roles) he has now gotten married and has kids, and become totally traditional - his wife is stay-at-home, never had any career plans even before marriage, has no career plans for the future, lives only for the husband and kids...and he gets to focus a hundred percent on his career, having fun with his buddies after work, and have his laundry done too (we do still keep in touch so I know for a fact that he doesn't do any housework at home, he has told me so). He shows his appreciation to his wife by taking her on nice vacations or buying her gifts.

I see a lot of my non-science female friends - women my age - embarking on this traditional route too. I can almost predict the next 30 years of their lives. somehow to me it seems like they have all been brainwashed.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger GruntledPostdoc said...

> 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.

I just went out to dinner with several professors. One of whom was explaining how he rarely eats out because it costs more. And then went on to explain that he has a spouse who makes him meals every night. In other words, he has a full-service, stay-at-home chef who works for zero wages, and he then congratulates himself on his frugal ways. (In contrast, I guess, to the single, female graduate student who is right now as I write this eating a $5 take-out burrito here in the lab at 10:00 pm.)

What century is it again?


At 9:25 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I think it's fair to say you are very lucky. Consider if you had done everything right and didn't get any faculty offers because of sexism, but didn't find that out until years later.

Consider if your husband decided to quit science for something less flexible, maybe something with long hours or lots of travel.

Would you leave him eventually when you realized the burden of doing more than half the housework was eating away at your chances for tenure?

What if one of you became disabled due to a car accident? How would that change your lifestyle?

Consider if your child became ill, or your parents, and this throws your delicately balanced arrangements completely off their axis.

You're lucky, and I hope it stays that way for you. But don't think for a moment that it's purely due to your good choices. Many of us intend to make these same good choices. Not everyone is so lucky.

Anon 3:28,

Are you sure we don't have the same ex? LOL.

Others- I completely agree.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Cloud said...

My husband has always been an equal contributor around the house. After we had a baby, we had to rebalance chores- we both thought the other was slacking, but wouldn't really come out and say it. The thing that solved the problem was writing a comprehensive chores list- each of us put everything we do that we consider a chore on the list. We were all set to move some chores around, but it actually came out even.

Anytime a someone asks me how to balance career and motherhood, I tell them to pick the father well, because that makes all the difference. I'm a happy working out side the home mother, but that is because my husband is pulling his fair share.

I have had people suggest that I should switch to being a stay at home mom. Hubby and I both answer that the same way- it would make more sense for him to be the stay at home spouse, both from a financial and a temperamental standpoint. And he doesn't want to do it. This always shuts people up.

At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somehow, I sincerely doubt that whyme?'s letters of recommendation have ever included any reference to her phenomenal "luck". I bet she never leaves a conference without starting several new collaborations. I bet she submits a grant application, or two, every single cycle.

"Luck" will get a person one first author paper in Science. But don't you think she's gotten too far to be coasting on luck? Isn't it sexist, too, to suggest that a female scientist got where she was going by luck, not skill?

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon, I didn't say ANYTHING about whyme? getting good letters or interviews based on anything other than merit. I'm not sure why you extrapolated that when I was talking about real life luck, which is more what this post was about anyway.

I think that if you cruise along your merry way through your career and life, and don't run into so much bullshit that you can't ignore it anymore, you are lucky in some sense.

What scares the crap out of me are these women who have hit just the right balance, through a realistic combination of skills and yes, luck, but don't understand that many of us may have plenty of skills and put in just as much work (maybe more!) and yet we have had nothing in return but misfortune.

I've seen several other women bloggers (who shall remain nameless, you can figure it out) who act like any problems I might have as a female scientist are either imagined or my own doing.

But I could just as easily point out that I haven't had good luck. At some point, no amount of reasoning, reading, working, scheming will fix that. You could be the smartest person in the world, and still get screwed if the coin toss always comes up tails.

Some things are just out of your control. Shit happens randomly. Those who manage to find a partner (ding!) have a child (ding!) have faculty positions (ding!) in the same town (ding!) are smart, planned ahead, etc.... and extremely lucky. That's all I'm saying.

At 5:05 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc (former) said...

To give a guy's perspective (which seems to be missing so far): Our typical approach is to divide stuff up into things that need to be done and things that don't need to be done. Naturally enough, we do the things that need to be done and don't do the stuff that doesn't... On the other hand, it seems that womens' approach is to make a list of things that it would be nice if they got done. So there is likely to be some trouble regarding the "nice" but "nonessential" things..

Obviously these different approaches will often lead to situations where it looks like the guy isn't doing his fair share (from the woman's perspective), but I just want to point out that it can also lead to the opposite. E.g. in our case Mrs.APP(former) is a self-employed businesswoman and her business requires her to work in the evenings till late at night. It also means she is tied to her city and not able to follow the hubby to his various postdoc jobs around the globe. For these and various other reasons it was best for our kids to come along with me. So for many years a lot of the time I was effectively a single-parent for two teenage girls. Because of that I could probably claim to be way ahead on the chores-o-meter. But I would never say that to my wife because I was just doing what needed to be done (we both were). For sure the single-parenting gig put me at a disadvantage relative to my academic competitors. I'll also mention that, although my wife works very hard, her activities often involve socializing with business partners and customers over drinks :) So there you go.

At 5:43 AM, Anonymous scatterplot said...

It's interesting to compare how people deal with chores when living with partners versus flatmates. When you share a living space with someone you're not sleeping with, compromise is the expectation - the neater person must relax and accept that some untidiness comes with the territory, and the messier person must make an effort to keep the squalor to a minimum. It can be difficult and frustrating to achieve in practice, but I've never heard anyone tell a tidier flatmate that they should accept the other person's mess or get used to cleaning up after her/him, yet that seems to be a common reaction when wives have higher standards for 'clean' than their husbands.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

APP, I'm impressed that you did all that AND a postdoc. I can't even imagine being a single parent with two kids and a postdoc. I actually don't know anyone in that situation.

But I also want to say this: I really resent your assumption that men worry about what needs to get done, and women worry about what would be "nice". That, my friend, is the definition of sexism.

Personally, I worry only about what needs to get done. Is that because I'm actually a man??

Seriously, though, our arguments tend to be not about WHAT needs to get done, but more likely WHEN these things need to get done. How frequently.

Since most critical household chores have to do with health and safety issues, my feeling is that it's better to do them BEFORE we get ill, BEFORE we have mold, BEFORE we have ants, etc.

Yes, you could say it would be "nice" to avoid these things, but that would be completely ridiculous. Most of these things are literally "do it now, or get food poisoning".

I take a completely practical viewpoint to chores. Maybe in your interpretation, more men have a death wish-? But I think it's just a cultural expectation that if somebody else is around, maybe they will take care of it. By that interpretation, in your case you were the only responsible adult, so you did what had to be done.

I think the point made by scatterplot is the relevant one. MrPhD was much more considerate of his roommate than he has ever been of me. I'm not sure what that's about. Something about couples and unconditional love and how we take each other for granted, I guess.

At 1:46 AM, Blogger Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Ladies, we can't just hope that all the old men will die off. There are new ones born every day.

Brilliantly put.

At 7:29 AM, Blogger cookingwithsolvents said...

I'm male and a postdoc. My SI also has a job with large time demands. Her and I split housework on average 50/50 but it rarely is precisely that because from week to week one of us is doing a little (or a lot) more to support the other. Cooking together is one of my favorite things to do. . .some day I know it'll be a family activity.

She's fantastic. :)

I would feel "dirty" if my SI did all the chores. My momma raised me right.

I DO know successful female PhDs with a 'tired man behind them'. I know they may be the exception but I want to throw the data out there.

At 2:17 AM, Anonymous app said...


I was a grad student in a cold and damp country, and we had mold growing all over our (shared) house. I was always intrigued by how the different pieces developed, the changes in the shapes and colors etc. In particular there was this piece growing horizontally out from the wall above my bed, in defiance of gravity, like some kind of [beep]. It was a comfort to know that if we ever ran out of money we could always get an extra meal by harvesting the mold.

We (me and the other guys) took pride in providing a habitat for God's small creatures. They were never short of food, and our beds were a hospitable environment for them on the cold winter nights.

Our health was always fine, except on one occasion when one of the guys got sick and we had to call an ambulance. He was given a small pharmacy of drugs which had him well again in no time.

For some reason my wife (who I met later during the postdoccing travels) thinks that those kind of conditions are not nice. This seems to be the viewpoint of most women. I do try to keep to her standards, not because it is necessary but because it makes her happy :)

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Phd advisor, my postdoc advisors, and my current boss are all men with traditional stay-at-home wives or wives who have less important non-career-type jobs. these are the same mentors who say that you need to be flexible and willing to relocate anywhere anytime if you are serious about your career. Well I can see how it was very convenient for them.

I think that academia selects for people (i.e. men) in traditional marriages, for this reason. in every generation there will be people who are traditional this way, and they will tend to get predominantly selected. So the cycle perpetuates into infinity and we remain stuck in the 1950s.

At 3:58 AM, Anonymous app said...

To be serious for a moment, I think we need to distinguish between two separate things: (1) Pressure from spouse and/or cultural expectations for women to do more than their fair share of chores to help the man's career at the expense of their own. (2) The different standards for neatness, cleanliness etc that men and women often have.

All sensible people agree that (1) is repugnant. On the other hand, some of us think that (2) is funny and like to make jokes about it. Women joke that guys don't really have lower standards, but just pretend to have lower standards in order to make the woman do more of the work, thereby revealing themselves as typical patriarchal males who expect women to be their maids. In response, guys joke that women don't really have higher standards but just want more things to be done more often because they think it's nice. Both of these would be equally sexist if meant seriously...

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Mad Science said...

I can see the point from the guy that wrote that men prioritize the things than need to be done, while in a way women worry about things that would be nice. It pretty much sums up the way it works with my husband and I perfectly. For example - we can't live in squalor, so he cleans a lot. Actually does most of the cleaning. We need groceries to survive, so he gets them every week. However as far as cooking goes, he has no qualms doing it, but it will only be the bare essentials needed to get by - i.e. popping open a can of Chef Boyardee or Progresso and tossing a salad together to go with it. I was raised in Europe on top quality food and can't live like that, it makes me too miserable to eat bad-tasting and processed food. So I cook dinners from scratch for my own sanity even though it shifts the chore balance out of my favor.
One thing that helped us tremendously was moving into an apartment with a dishwasher. Dishes were the one chore we fought over since we both hated doing them so much. Now it's not an issue since a handy little machine just takes care of it for us. :)

At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my home we have a reversal of the stereotype. I am kinda like those male scientists who have a stay at home wife and don't let anyone tell you it does not help - what a luxury! I'd hate to spend more time on chores... On the other hand, the pressure of being the main breadwinner is something non-negligible. I'm female assistant prof at R1. My spouse is not an academic and has been the trailing spouse throughout my postdoc years, which took us abroad. He is currently unemployed and does 85% of cooking, all of the grocery shopping, all house work. When he was also working the balance was about 75% him 25% me in housework. I do research on big purchases, manage finances, and arrange vacations/trips.

I know you can't necessarily or may not want to change your spouse but you can strive towards an arrangemet that works for you. If your spouse is not even willing to try, that's not a sign of love and partnership is it? Also, you will benefit from "caring less" and streamlining whatever chores (and personal care) you need to so. Opt for low maintenance garden, hair, etc... You can't do everything thoroughly and perfectly in life... I know it's easier said than done, as a perfectionist. Some things I just have to let my spouse do 100% because if I start getting involved I'll end up doing it or worrying about it as if I were doing it. Protect yourself. Thanks..


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