August 4 2011

Who Says Work Life Is More Rewarding Than Family Life?

Carrie L. Lukas

Time Magazine is reporting that when paid and unpaid work are tallied up, men may actually work more than women do. This is heresy to those who prefer to see society as consistently exploiting women, so Joan Williams has recast the discussion so that women are once again proven to have the shorter end of the stick:

But a tally of hours worked has never been the point of the women's movement. Women in the 1960s weren't protesting because their unpaid work was just so hard, and they wanted easy office jobs like lazy men. They were protesting the idea that they had no choice but to do that unpaid work while men were able to pursue the paid jobs that were both culturally and economically rewarded in ways unpaid work was not.

Williams's thesis rests on this idea that there is something inherently more rewarding and prestigious about paid work than the drudgery of raising children and keeping house. Her image of work life shows the bias of the educated elite - as if all paid work is "easy office jobs" that allow men to collect fat checks while smoking cigars and being applauded as masters of the universe. In reality, most men work in jobs like manufacturing, trucking, construction, and sales. I have no doubt that these jobs can be personally rewarding and fulfilling, but they don't met Williams's stereotype.

The idea that raising children yields no public recognition or prestige is also false. She lumps childrearing in as one of those "chores" that women disproportionately perform, but millions of moms (and dads) would likely find a different word. Yes, parenting can be grueling, and no one hands out bonuses for teaching Johnny to swim or Sally to read, but most parents view such milestones as big payoff moments. People also congratulate each other on their children's achievements, and acknowledge the work of the parent in the process. And certainly watching a child grow and thrive, as well as the the love and gratitude shown from their children themselves, is at least as rewarding as the what most workers get from your average day job.

The women's movement distorts both work life and family life when they assume paid work is more rewarding, and insult women in the process.

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