Monday, September 10, 2012

Things that make me sad

I know several professional women or female Phd candidates who keep making decisions to put their career behind that of their husband's, behind the perceived needs of the family. I don't think I can name a single case (in my small and biased sample) where the woman isn't convinced, or has eventually convinced herself that she is happy with her decision.

I can't sit easy with their comfort, because more women make the choice to prioritise their own career behind their partners and families than men do. Furthermore, fewer women make these choices in this country, where the last few decades has seen a lot of discussion about the importance of women not only in the workplace, but in highly demanding fields, than they did 50 years ago before this public discussion, or in other parts of the world where this discussion has yet to happen or take effect. I doubt there is anything fundamental about the womanness of my foremothers, nor of the womanness of my cohort abroad causing this difference.

It makes me think of the times when friends or family have been singled out by the police, or gotten rude service from a take out counter that is normally very good. It raises the question of whether the other person was having a bad day, or did they see something in the skin color? It is impossible to tell whether each interaction is a draw from the bad day distribution, or from the racist distribution. The only things that people who study these these things have been able to measure is that certain people get bad draws more often, and those people tend to belong to various minorities.

The public discussion about women's roles in the workplace has changed the underlying population distribution to less women being willing to sacrifice their careers for the needs of the family and to more men being willing to do the same. But the choice profiles for the two genders aren't even close. Each woman I know who leaves her professional job, or chooses not to finish her PhD, or makes decisions (with her family) that she should bear more of the burden for the family, is a draw from a distribution that isn't where I think it should be. I have no idea whether I can be truly happy for my friends' decisions, even if they seem happy with them, because I don't know where they stand in the distribution. This makes me sad.

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