From Amanda Marcotte @ RhReality Check comes a wonderful interview with Amber Kinser, author of a new book, Motherhood and Feminism (Seal Press, 2010). The following passage, while focused specifically on mothers in the workplace, speaks to a lot of the issues I was blogging about in my recent post on feeling guilty for wanting a balanced life (starts at roughly minute 19:00).
There is an assumption in the workplace that if you're a mother your primary loyalty is always going to be your family even during the workday and that that's a problem. The assumption is, for men, your primary loyalty is always going to be at the workplace and that that's not a problem. And if you're single and you're ... childfree and female then we don't have to worry that you'll be called away, you know, to go pick up a child who's sick from school or go take care of a disciplinary matter or go the Halloween parade at school.
So part of the problem [of discrimination against mothers in the workforce] is this mythical -- and I talk about this in the book a good bit -- this mythical split between public and private. The workforce still operates on the assumption that home life is separate from work life. It never has been, it isn't now, and it never will be. And so part of the problem is the problematizing of people who are invested in their families. So that if someone has to go to the piano recital during the school day or someone has to go take care of a sick child this goes up against workplace policy and norms. And so what we do is penalize -- largely the women, because they're the ones who end up doing it -- who do that. That's where that motherhood penalty comes in -- instead of shifting workplace norms so that they can accommodate the fact that public life and private life are not, you know, they're just not distinguishable. Men are better positioned to be able to pretend like they're separate than women are and so they benefit in the workplace.
The full interview can be heard as part of Amanda's latest RhRealityCheck podcast, Pro-Choice, Feminist Support for Motherhood.
Kinser is emphasizing the parenting angle here, because that was the thrust of the conversation she and Amanda Marcotte were having. But I would extend her observations not only toward men who are attempting to parent more actively but also to individuals who are not parenting. Being invested in family life, or private life, is a choice all of us can make, regardless of whether we are parenting. Caring for, or enjoying time with, a partner or a parent, extended family members or close friends, are equally important and a necessary part of life. They should not be something we need to sideline or make invisible in order to be valuable workers, but of course in an economic system that is built to value only efficiency and workplace productivity, those values are difficult to "sell" as a benefit to one's employer.