I’ve been working on work-life issues lately, focusing on fathers and discourse around working dads.
This has led me back to an important piece by Amanda Hess from last year, important not only because of its argument but because of the rabbit hole of links and studies to which it leads.
Hess responds to the frustrating “have it all” debate and some numbers that suggest men are increasingly likely to “want it all” because for them, having a family doesn’t seem to mean surrendering their career. She writes:
Men aren’t more “obsessed” with having it all. They don’t have to be. Pursuing a family and a career requires less professional sacrifice for men than it does for women, so it’s easier to claim to prioritize both in their definition of success. Men face fewer barriers to being both “family-oriented” and “ambitious.” They’re rarely even asked how they manage to juggle career with kids, so the question carries less weight—you don’t conceive of a contradiction if you’ve never been asked to choose.
What I like here is the focus on perception. It’s not that men who do caregiving don’t struggle in their careers – Hess in fact cites this piece by Bryce Covert to show that the opposite is true – but that men don’t perceive the challenge of “having it all.” Women, beset by the fraught category of working mom, know that trouble is coming if they try to do both. So many don’t.
There are limits to what my focus on language can accomplish. Policy has to follow. Before we can get to policy, however, we have to change perceptions so we ask the right questions and come up with the best plans. That’s why I keep talking about “working dads.”
My Google results this morning for “working mom” = 1,100,000. “Working dad.” = 124,000.