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Archive for January, 2010

Apparently, when it comes to the wage gap, it’s the time-out that kicks us in the pocketbook. That’s the word from labor economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, experts on the gender wage discrepancy, answering questions in Thursday’s NYTimes Freakonomics column. They’ve got some darn good data.

If you’re a numbers geek like me, you’ll be fascinated. You’ll also be a little bit pissed off. We’ve become used to that seventy-seven cents on the dollar business. But really, it ‘s worse than that. In a study of University of Chicago MBA’s — which allowed Goldin and Katz to compare “apples to apples”, controlling for everything from biz school courses to job experience to hours worked when it came to gender disparities — they found that for new MBAs, there was a just a modest wage gap — favoring men, of course — out of the blocks. But here’s where it starts to stink:

Fast forward 10 to 15 years, and the earnings gap between our male and female MBApples is about 40% for those who were observationally equivalent at graduation. But almost all of that huge difference can be fully explained by the greater number of career interruptions and lower weekly hours experienced by the women (mind you, they still work a large number of hours). One of the reasons for the large gap in earnings between male and female MBAs is that the cost of career interruptions is very great in the corporate and financial sectors. These costs are considerably lower in medicine, and somewhat lower in law and academia.

Hello, 40 percent?! You can guess what “career interruptions” means: everything from maternity leave to working reduced hours (read some variation of the eight-to-ten hour day) so you can be there for your kids’ soccer games or doctor’s appointments, or taking care of Grandma. You might think it looks like women are penalized for being, well, women. You might be right.

Which makes me wonder. Why don’t the M(en)Ba’s pick up some of this slack? Why aren’t they expected to? And we wonder why women have seven layers of stress when it comes to career decisions — or lack of same?

On the other hand — and there is always one — there’s some good news hidden here as well. Even if you earn less than your male mates due to your time outs, professional women are still likely to do okay, at least according to Goldin and Katz. They note that research shows that even if we women do get screwed financially for taking time with our families, working in the professions still gives us a layer of protection. (The authors note that 35 percent of female pediatricians, for example, work part-time. Presumably they are doing well.). In response to a question from Lisa, who saw her MBA as a way to give her leverage as a mom, the authors responded:

The vast majority of MBA moms are just like Lisa – in the workforce, occasionally part-time, often self-employed, working for firms with generous family policies and making a lot of dough. They may not be making as much as their male peers who are working full-time, but they are, just as Lisa notes, doing very well in securing their futures and keeping a toe-hold in the business. In our sample, the fraction of MBA moms 10 to 16 years out who were working part-time was equivalent to the fraction who were no longer in the labor force. And about half of the part-timers were self-employed.

What Goldin and Katz don’t measure is whether those MBA moms are happy with their trade-offs. Quite possibly, they are — to tiptoe back to Shannon’s post from yesterday — measuring their lives on something more meaningful  than Manolos or Malbecs or the weight of their paychecks. If so, it just may be that they’ve figured out how to beat the boys at their own game: These MBA moms, they have their career. But they also have their lives.

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Earlier this week, I got an email from Feminista author/blogger Erica Kennedy (you remember the interview I did with her back in December), asking if I’d seen this item in the UK’s Daily Mail, a trend piece about (unmarried, non-mom) women opting out of the rat race in favor of waiting tables, walking dogs, and QT with grandma, sprung from a book entitled–get this!–”30-Something And Over It: What Happens When You Wake Up One Morning And Don’t Want To Go To Work… Ever Again” by Kasey Edwards. I hadn’t yet, but once I did, my fingers got to twitchin. Why’d I feel the need to pen my own post about it? Well, consider:

‘Have you ever woken up and realised that you didn’t want to go to work?’ [Edwards] asks.

‘I don’t mean you had a big night and you’d prefer to sleep in, or it’s a nice day and you’d rather take your dog to the park instead. I’m talking about being over it.

Completely and utterly over it. Sure, you might have a gold card, but you’ve maxed it out buying things you can’t afford and that you don’t even need, trying to fill a void that just can’t be filled. You numb your discontentment every night with gin and tonics.’

Okay, this being the United States and not the United Kingdom, I’m inclined to doubt we do our numbing with gin and tonics. But still. The sentiment tends to ring true. Those fat dinners at the hottest restaurants with the open kitchens and mixologist-conceived cocktails…. Those boots… Those highlights… Those weekends away–filled with spas and syrahs and tapaaas…

Here’s a bit more from Edwards in the Daily Mail piece:

‘All through your teens and 20s you’re working towards something, and there’s this sense of delayed gratification: ‘I’ll work hard now and I’ll get a better job.’ And you get to your 30s and you go: ‘Where’s the pay-off?’ The gratification that you’ve been expecting for years doesn’t come, or when the reward comes, it’s not satisfying. I really did think: ‘Is this all there is?’

…And far from fuelling our ambition, it seems that the current economic crisis is only compounding our sense that status, success and money are a fool’s gold.

First, let’s back up. The girls from the piece? They had fat jobs. But they were busting their asses. And they saw their bosses… and didn’t want to be them. And so they up and quit, trading in their expense accounts for pooper scoopers, their time in the executive suite for time in the rec room at the retirement home. This recession? It’s global. And they’re barely covering their bills. So what made them do it?

I tend to think it’s the great expectation question all over again. And, having just written about the little-bit-marrieds, welll, I couldn’t help but see a little parallel: Are our working girl fantasies, perhaps of Melanie Griffith, scoring the corner office and the pretty new briefcase–given to her by one Harrison Ford, every bit as ridiculous as those spawned by Disney, in which the princess scores the happy ending wedding and the glass slipper–given to her by Prince What’s-his-name? Which is to say, do we find disappointment in our real lives because we’re expecting a Hollywood-style happy ending?

Actually, I don’t know if it’s as simple as that. In fact, I don’t think it is at all–I just like movies. Really, I think it’s more a generational thing–and a too many choices thing. These milestone institutions–career, marriage, mortgage–they all involve a pretty serious dose of commitment. And our generation, with everything on the menu… well, could it be that, no matter what the routine, once something becomes routine, we’re doomed to be just not that into it anymore? No matter the pluses, are we unable to see anything but the minuses? This isn’t quite perfect, so why should I stick around? Once we’re confronted with reality’s non-perfection, do we begin to imagine what we’re not doing–in the loveliest possible way, of course? Or are we categorically incapable of satisfaction–do we equate finding, even looking for, satisfaction with a certain complacency, with settling? Is that friggen grass always going to be greener, no matter which yard is ours?

Or is this non-attachment, this willingness to pass on the status-proving trappings a step on the path to enlightenment, an epiphany? You know, kinda like the one in The Devil Wears Prada, where the put-upon assistant working the job “a million girls would kill to have” up and quits to find happiness in a shabby newsroom…

And then kinda ends up with the prince?

Someone stop me. I’m doing it again.

Kennedy’s take?

Is this cool or crazy — I can’t decide. (Actually, I think these women are going to spend a year going on long walks and hanging out with Grandma then they’ll figure out what they’d rather be doing and get back to work.)

In other words, the grass will still be greener.

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Frankly, all this hype about happy is making me sad. It’s not enough we have folks like Marcus Buckingham telling us how to be happy — and making us feel guilty because we are not. Or the incessant volleys about the paradox of women’s declining happiness. But, frankly, despite the wealth of books, blogs, life coaching and, yep, even college courses about how to become happy little campers, we can’t even define the term.

That’s a problem, writes Carlin Flora in this month’s Psychology Today. He not only provides some research-backed insight into what so-called happiness is truly all about (hint: it doesn’t have much to do with shopping, as this post on some new research suggests. Or smiley faces, for that matter.) He also points out that — finally — there’s some counterpoint to what he dubs the “happiness frenzy.” And hooray for that.

I mean, really, hasn’t all the recent talk about slapping on a smile made you just a little bit grumpy?

While all this happiness business began as the serious study of positive psychology, the science has lately been reduced to the equivalent of a mylar balloon emblazoned with a happy face. Not good, Florin writes:

It wasn’t enough that an array of academic strands came together, sparking a slew of insights into the sunny side of life. Self-appointed experts jumped on the happiness bandwagon. A shallow sea of yellow smiley faces, self-help gurus, and purveyors of kitchen-table wisdom have strip-mined the science, extracted a lot of fool’s gold, and stormed the marketplace with guarantees to annihilate your worry, stress, anguish, dejection, and even ennui. Once and for all! All it takes is a little gratitude. Or maybe a lot.

What we’ve lost in all this focus on the sunny side of life is the ability — no, even the permission — to embrace the melancholy, which in turn pathologizes sadness, which is often the true, honest and normal reaction to life as we know it. More from Carlin:

There are those who see in the happiness brigade a glib and even dispiriting Pollyanna gloss. So it’s not surprising that the happiness movement has unleashed a counterforce, led by a troika of academics. Jerome Wakefield of New York University and Allan Horwitz of Rutgers have penned The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder, and Wake Forest University’s Eric Wilson has written a defense of melancholy in Against Happiness. They observe that our preoccupation with happiness has come at the cost of sadness, an important feeling that we’ve tried to banish from our emotional repertoire.

Horwitz laments that young people who are naturally weepy after breakups are often urged to medicate themselves instead of working through their sadness. Wilson fumes that our obsession with happiness amounts to a “craven disregard” for the melancholic perspective that has given rise to our greatest works of art. “The happy man,” he writes, “is a hollow man.”

Maybe yes, maybe no. But, as Flora continues, happiness isn’t about smiling or pretending or desperately seeking sunshine. It’s more along the lines of, well, facing reality. And that includes a certain amount of discomfort. Even angst:

…It’s not about eliminating bad moods, or trading your Tolstoy-inspired nuance and ambivalence toward people and situations for cheery pronouncements devoid of critical judgment. While the veritable experts lie in different camps and sometimes challenge one another, over the past decade they’ve together assembled big chunks of the happiness puzzle.

What is happiness? The most useful definition—and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks—is more like satisfied or content than “happy” in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.

It’s maximized when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush—though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.

Flora ends the piece with a round-up of various theories on happiness. I think my favorite is this:

Happiness is not your reward for escaping pain. It demands that you confront negative feelings head-on, without letting them overwhelm you. Russ Harris, a medical doctor-cum-counselor and author of The Happiness Trap, calls popular conceptions of happiness dangerous because they set people up for a “struggle against reality.” They don’t acknowledge that real life is full of disappointments, loss, and inconveniences. “If you’re going to live a rich and meaningful life,” Harris says, “you’re going to feel a full range of emotions.”

Happy-ness redefined? Permission to be anything less? To choose, as Shannon wrote last week, interesting over happy and call it a day? Wow. It’s enough to make me, well, you know….

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So, if you’ve spent much time on this blog, you know that the issue of too many choices tends to come up from time to time. (Like, daily.) As do the kind of offhand musings that naturally follow a riff on the perils of option overload: like, oh, it would be so much easier if I didn’t have these options, or, wow, wouldn’t it be great if someone else could just decide for me? Despite the fact that I believe, if it came right down to it, we really wouldn’t trade all the options we have, I don’t begrudge anyone the fantasy. And, you know, I relate. But this–wellll friends, just imagine…

Long story short: a blog called IvyGate got its hands on six pages of fashion guidelines for Cornell sorority’s Pi Phi’s upcoming rush. Among the directives: No muffin tops! We love a boyfriend blazer! And, my personal fave, If you’re wearing cheapo shoes, make sure they don’t look it. Heaven forbid.

I should admit that I have exactly zero experience with sororities–and that I do not come without some preconceived notions. But, rather than spewing some easy snark, I wonder if maybe the limiting of choice is actually part of a sorority’s appeal? I mean, if 3/4 of your closet is off the menu, that’s gotta make getting dressed easier, right? So, what about all the other stuff? And what if there was a grown-up version that offered a list of rules regarding everything from what kind of job to get to what kind of car to buy to what kind of person to sleep with? Or maybe something not quite so formal–maybe something more like aligning ourselves with a certain crowd, a crowd with persnickety tastes? …an iconic self‘s persnickety tastes, perhaps? A stringent set of rules, no matter how like totally ridic, will–this much is certain–make decisions easier. The question is: would you rush?

And FYI, here, in their entirety, are the rules:

CLOTHING.

Round I & II: “Casual chic”

Bottoms:

Yes:

  • Medium-to-dark or black skinny or straight jeans
  • Dark skinny or straight cords
  • “Denim-legging” is appropriate as long as it’s done right: aka, not from American Apparel and worn with chic, cool chunky boots over them and a longer top. NO camel toe.

No:

  • Super “Flared leg” pants
  • Cropped pants. Ugh.
  • Bleached/very light or TORN jeans I don’t care if they’re in style.
  • Khakis
  • Leggings worn as pants
  • Muffin tops or extreme low rise!!

Tops:

Yes:

  • Blouses: flowy, pretty material.
  • Sweaters or other long-sleeved shirts, V or Crew.
  • Cardigans (with longer tank top under preferably)
  • Blazers: Yes, please! I love a casual top with a cool boyfriend blazer over it

No:

  • Summer pattern/colors, too tight or too short shirts or blouses!
  • Low-cut
  • Sleeveless
  • Tank tops
  • Frumpy
  • Preferably no short sleeves– recommended: full coverage aka elbow length, 3/4 length, long, thin layers.

Shoes:

Yes:

  • Nice flats: Tory Burch, etc. More evening-ish, understated. Patent leather good.
  • Heels: mid-height. This round is still “casual”, so no sky-high hooker heels! I’m thinking mid-height Mary Jane heels, or mid-height chunky kate spade, etc.
  • Boots: love. Chunky or simple/elegant, heel on the lower side to flat. Worn OVER pants.

No:

  • Open-toed!
  • WHITE
  • Strappy
  • High-heeled/going out boots.
  • If you’re wearing cheapo shoes, make sure they don’t look it.

**And, a call to action: I spent an obscene amount of time scouring the Internet, desperately seeking a clip of the vintage SNL “Delta Delta Delta” girls. Came up with nothin’! Free book for the first to help me help me help me.

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So it’s about 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. I just stuffed some lemon, garlic, and fresh rosemary and thyme up into the nether regions of Rocky, a free range chicken, who is now doing serious time in a very hot oven.

My husband, casting about for something to do during halftime of the second NFL playoff, just cut a bunch of peppers, zucchini, onions and tomatoes into perfectly uniform chunks (he was, after all, a math major) for a killer oven-ratatouille. He did the labor intensive part. I added some olive oil, fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar, and etc. (Ask me for my recipe: it’s infriggencredible, and low-fat, too.) He will also do the dishes. Or so I assume.

Ahh, the division of labor. But we’ll get back to that.

Surely by now you have heard of the recent Pew study that found that women make more money than their spouses in 22 percent of American marriages, up from a mere 4 percent in 1970. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that thanks to the recession, women now outnumber men in the workplace. All of which makes Sandra Tsing Loh, writing a very funny piece in Sunday’s NYT magazine, long to return to the days of the housewife. (For the record, she makes more money than either her ex-husband or the man she is now living with.) What she wants is one of her own. But first, this:

I don’t know how it’s going for my sisters, but as my 40s and Verizon bills and mortgage payments roll on, I seem to have an ever more recurring 1950s housewife fantasy. In this magical Technicolor world, the breadwinner husband, Brad, leaves home (where his duties are limited to mowing the lawn and various minor home repairs) at 7 a.m. When he returns from work at 6 p.m., aside from a savory roast with mashed potatoes, his homemaker wife, Nancy, has pipe, slippers and a tray of Manhattans ready.

The couple sink into easy chairs and get pleasantly soused while Brad recounts his workday battles. Through a dreamy mixed-bourbon haze, Nancy makes gentle cooing sounds like “Ah!” and “Oh!” and “Did the central manager really say that in the meeting? They don’t appreciate all the hard work you do! Oh, Brad!”

Nancy has her active-listener face on for several reasons. One is that her 1950s housewife day (stay with me, I admitted this was a fantasy) was an agreeable roundelay of kitchen puttering and grocery shopping and, once home, the placing of those comestibles in the icebox via the precise — or charmingly imprecise — geometry Nancy favors. She jokes that Brad, poor dear, couldn’t find the icebox if you asked him.

Makes you just drool for a Manhattan, doesn’t it? But Loh’s point — and a good one — is that for all our talk about “work-life balance” and fifty-fifty splits on housework and whathaveyou, what we’ve lost is a clear delineation of job descriptions. Not gender-specific, mind you. (As Loh points out, she is much better suited to be married to a housewife than to be one.) But more along the lines of we all do what we do best. And maybe, given this new worklife landscape, we all come out even? Which eliminates, among other things, the need to judge each other’s performance on, say, loading the dishwasher or cleaning the fridge. But instead, says Loh, absent the clear roles in our postmodern lives, we have rules, resentment and endless negotiation:

Fast forward to 2010. When husbands and wives not only co-work but try to co-homemake, as post-feminist and well-intentioned as it is, out goes the clear delineation of spheres, out goes the calm of unquestioned authority, and of course out goes the gratitude.

Aside from the irritation of never being able to reach the spatula (men tend to place items on shelves that are a foot higher than women can manage), I have found co-homemaking inefficient. With 21st-century technology, it’s a straightforward matter to run a modern home. Sheep don’t need to be sheared; the wash is not done on a board by the creek; nothing needs canning, because we have Costco. Even someone who works 40 hours a week can keep a home standing, and food in the fridge, by himself.

What can turn into a second shift is not just negotiating the splitting of this labor with another person, but the splitting of decision-making authority. Two co-workers in the home also have the opportunity to regularly evaluate each other’s handiwork, not always to a positive effect. (Suffice it to say, stacking food in the fridge with precise geometric elegance is apparently not among my talents.)

In the end, we all want a wife. And here’s the thing. We all can have one and be one, regardless of gender. I for one have no feminist angst about leaving it to my husband to take out the trash or, for that matter, making sure the bills are paid on time. On the other hand, I may hate putting dinner on the table, but I am one hell of a chef. And I can take apart and fix a vacuum cleaner, though I am loathe to use it. All of which shouts laissez-faire — You’ve got the time, I’ve got the inclination — rather than negotiation. That last, in our postmodern lives, Loh points out, is what tends to muck everything up:

But the home has become increasingly invaded by the ethos of work, work, work, with twin sets of external clocks imposed on a household’s natural rhythms. And in the transformation of men and women into domestic co-laborers, the Art of the Wife is fast disappearing.

So in the meantime, I may need to settle for a man who can simply make a decent tray of Manhattans and, while you’re at it, pussycat, make mine a double.

Mine, too. Oh, and thanks in advance for doing the dishes.

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It’s not that I’m a whiner. But, well, today has found my panties in an unmitigated bunch. Why? NYU prof Clay Shirky’s recent blog post, entitled “A Rant About Women.” Though the title is plenty irksome in its own right, it’s the content that truly grates. In it, unsurprisingly, we find yet another instance of a man telling women-as-a-whole, “You know what your problem is?”

And in this instance, our problem, ladies, is that:

Not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

…They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

Maybe not, Mr. Jerky. I mean Shirky. And, you have some points. I mean, we’re still underpaid and underrepresented–and perhaps our reluctance to demand that pay and representation is partly to blame. But it sure is convenient how you don’t mention that we’re not socialized to behave in such an esteemed, douchebaggy sort of way. Or how, when we do summon our inner “pompous blowhard”, not only are we not rewarded for it, we are, in fact, judged, smacked down, even when our male counterparts engaged in the same sort of douchebaggery might be, as Shirky himself suggests, rewarded for their efforts. (Given all this, it’s a wonder more of us don’t approach every encounter with guns blazing.)

Naturally, the blogosphere was a-blazing. (Something about the cover of anonymity, perhaps?) Among the noteworthy commentary, this pithy response from Alice Bradley to a related post on the blog finslippy:

Can you see how it might chafe to have a man… tell us ladies how to behave? I’m not saying his points are all completely out of left field, but do you see how infuriating it might be, while everything around us tells women to behave and shut up and look pretty and be thin and not complain, how every time we speak up we’re knocked down, for a guy to say, ‘Hey, you know what you women should do? You should speak up!”

Well, first: Alice Bradley, can we please be friends? And secondly, if my best hope for success is to act like men at their most pompous, self-aggrandizing worst, well, someone please, show me the way to the ashram. Don’t get me wrong–yes, women are taught to be sweet, nice, accommodating. We’re ripped apart when we behave too boldly, we’re judged unfairly. We don’t ask for raises and promotions like we should. But isn’t there a little bit of a leap involved here? In getting from “stand up for yourself” to “the only way you’re going to get anywhere in this life is by acting like a jackass”? And maybe, maybe, could a little part of why we’re disinclined to act that way might have a little to do with how… gross jackasses are? Frankly, I’d be perfectly content to spend the remainder of my days cultivating other parts of my personality–and I don’t see myself withering on my deathbed, wishing I would have done more to develop my hubris.

Or, as Jezebel’s Anna North wrote:

This ‘change-yourself-to-fit-in’ advice has been given to pretty much every marginalized group over the years, and it sticks around because, for some individual people, it works. But those people still have to work within the existing power structure. The harpy/diva/bitch archetype isn’t going to go away because a few women are allowed to sneak around it, and the culture of rewarding self-promotion above other qualities isn’t going to become fair for everyone just because a few women manage to share the pie. Those who are marginalized by a system are often those best able to see its flaws, and teaching those people just to work around their marginalization is a great way to keep them quiet, and to keep anything from ever changing. Let’s not fall for it.

Let’s not, shall we? Don’t get me wrong, if you–at your truest, deepest you–are a self-aggrandizing, pompous blowhard, then goddammit, you go! You blow hard and long, sister. But, the thing is, I just wonder why the same standards we apply all over the rest of our lives don’t apply here. Which is to say, when was the last time you advised someone that their surest route to success was to try to appear to be something that they are not? Shirky, your advice is noted. But I think a wiser, more interesting rant might have a little more to do with when honesty and talent might become surer tickets to success than arrogance. Until then, you can find me at the ashram.

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Had it to here with that old second shift? How about this for a solution: Workplace benefits packages that include housework — as well as healthcare?

That’s what two Stanford professors proposed in an article published this week in the current issue of Academe. They argue that one way for universities to keep more women in the labs is to find a way to get them out of the kitchen. To which the only possible response is:

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Clearly, it’s a workplace policy to consider beyond the confines of the ivory tower. But that’s as good a place as any to start. The authors of the study — Londa Shiebinger, Professory of History of Science and Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and Shannon Gilmartin, Clayman Institute analyst — looked at the work-life balance of dual-career academic couples at 13 U.S. research universities. What they found is that the scientists spent about 19 hours a week cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. Women, rather than men, did the bulk of the work, a whopping 54 percent to 28 percent.

Here’s what they propose:

Our policy recommendation provides a solution to one key aspect of balancing work and life. We propose that institutions extend their current benefits program to support assistance with household labor. Few universities to date have looked at reforms related to housework. U.S. employers tend to provide specific benefits for health care, day care, and sometimes even housing and college tuition. We recommend that institutions offer instead a “cafeteria” or “flexstyle” benefits plan from which employees could tailor a package to meet their particular needs (retirement benefits should remain as they are now, fixed and not optional).

Employee needs can change over the course of a lifetime. Younger people, for example, may need assistance with household labor when salaries are low. Those who have children may choose to put resources into child care and later into college tuition. Some employees may need help with elder care. A flexible benefits package—providing a specific yearly dollar amount—could be used for any aspect of private life that saves employee time and hence enhances productivity. One appealing aspect of this benefit proposal is its inclusivity—one need not be partnered or have children to gain access to the full range of services under its umbrella.

To our knowledge, U.S. employers generally do not provide a benefit to assist with housework. Some non-U.S. companies, such as Sony Ericsson in Sweden, do. There, the company pays for housecleaning from select service providers. The Swedish government is currently experimenting with tax relief on domestic services, believing that, despite initial costs, Sweden will benefit in the long run by creating new jobs and reducing illegal employment and exploitation in services for cleaning, gardening, and cooking. In the United States, the effort to provide benefits for domestic labor revalues housework that has never been represented in the nation’s gross domestic product. Housework has been invisible labor carried out by women behind closed doors and often in the wee hours of the morning. This work needs to be lifted out of the private sphere of the family and put onto the national grid. The United States needs to capture the talents of its female scientific workforce for science.

It’s a policy that could, and should, be applied to all professions, not just science, Schiebinger said in an interview originally posted on Stanford Reports:

While the study is focused on improving the work-life balance of female scientists working at universities, Schiebinger says housework benefits should become a standard perk for men and women in all professions.

She says employers need to think of housework benefits as “part of the structural cost of doing business,” with the payoff being more productive employees able to spend more time in the lab, for instance, than doing household chores.

“It doesn’t seem like a good use of resources to be training people in science and then having them do laundry,” Schiebinger said in reference to Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University, who was doing laundry when she got the call in October that she won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

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Marriage. It’s what brings us together, today…

It is, after all, the Mother of all decisions–I mean, when we’re in the market for a car, a house, a job, or a sandwich, must we pronounce our love and fidelity to the Passat or the Pastrami til death do us part? Of course not. (And thank god for that, or I swear to you, I would be wheel-less, homeless, unemployed and starving.) And a couple of new books shine a little light on an interesting point: when it comes to that infamous “Piece of Paper,” could it be the decision-making part of the Til Death Do Us Part that does us in?

First, consider the new book “A Little Bit Married,” just released this week, written by journalist/blogger Hannah Seligson. Of the project, Seligson writes at the Daily Beast:

‘A Little Bit Marrieds’ are the ones that write a prenup on a piece of loose-leaf paper as they move in, detailing who paid for the Ikea bureau, who brought the flat-screen TV, whose parents gave them the bed. They don’t share the cost of anything ‘just in case.’ They each have separate shelf units for their books and DVDs. Are they roommates or are they building a life together? Are they husband and wife, girlfriend and boyfriend, or roommates? They may have seen friends go through the whole lifecycle–dating, marriage, and kids–but they still don’t own a couch together. Each thinks the other person is marriage material, but how can they commit when there are un-traveled continents and four more career paths to explore? Everything is great–but what if there is something better out there?

What if, indeed? It’s the classic conundrum–no one wants to make the wrong decision. And the easiest way to ensure we don’t is to avoid commitment altogether, to keep the doors open, to see for yourself whether that grass is greener. Or, at the very least–and more to the point–to reserve the right to take off to see for yourself about that grass at any time.

Interestingly, the issue of choice comes up in “Committed,” Elizabeth Eat Pray Gilbert’s latest, as well, albeit in a different context. Check what The New Yorker‘s Ariel Levy has to say:

For all the variability in the meaning of marriage, one fairly consistent element over time and place was that it had nothing to do with love. “For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage,” [Stephanie] Coontz [author of "Marriage, a History"] writes. In fact, loving one’s spouse too much was considered a threat to social and religious order, and was discouraged in societies as disparate as ancient Greece, medieval Islam, and contemporary Cameroon. The modern Western ideal of marriage as both romantic and companionate is an anomaly and a gamble. As soon as people in any culture start selecting spouses based on emotion, the rates of broken marriages shoot up. “By unnerving definition,” Gilbert writes, “anything that the heart has chosen for its own, mysterious reasons it can always unchoose.”

Ultimately, Gilbert is clear about what she, like most people, wants: everything. We want intimacy and autonomy, security and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it.

So. The lure of what’s still out there makes it difficult for us to commit. As does the weight of the personal responsibility inherent in making a choice, especially one based on something as fickle as feelings–and then, by virtue of looking at it as a choice, the likelihood that at some point someone will decide they chose wrong. It all reminds me of something one of the women we’ve interviewed for the book said once–albeit while agonizing over another big question, that of What To Do With Her Life: Sometimes I wish I was born in some other country where everything from career to spouse would be chosen for me.

It would be easier that way, wouldn’t it? Maybe even happier. But, alas, here we are. For better or worse.

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Sometimes we need to step back and grab ourselves a little perspective. Sure, we all complain and kvetch about how difficult we have it, trying to make our way in the male-dominated world of work when we never learned to slay the dragon. But how about, just for today, we consider ourselves lucky

Because nothing we angst about even remotely compares to the plight of many military women — who actually DO learn to slay the dragon — serving in the Middle East. Not only do they encounter an often hostile workplace while they are in the field, but when they come back they are as likely to suffer the devastating effects of post traumatic stress disorder as their male colleagues. Because until recently, no one paid attention.

Heartbreaking, really. Because PTSD often manifests itself differently in women — and because women aren’t assigned to combat — their PTSD wasn’t readily recognized. And, because women’s underlying issues were often different than men’s, no one was quite sure how to treat them. Oh, and add this: Many of those women — who can’t bear to be touched, who freak when they hear loud noises, who can’t eat and can’t sleep, who suffer from intense feelings of isolation — come home to take care of their small children, often by themselves. Just imagine that.

And here’s the kicker. In addition to having the horrors of the war scene on constant replay when they get home, many of these women have the scars of sexual assault and harassment to deal with, too. Here’s more, from this past Sunday’s Mercury News:

When imagining a war veteran with an anxiety disorder, it’s likely few people picture a young woman. But women make up 15 percent of active-duty military members, and the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that by the end of 2020, women will represent 10 percent of the nation’s veteran population. And though military and congressional policy says women can’t participate in direct ground combat, they’re faced with many of the same situations. Because of the unpredictable nature of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, everyone is serving on the front lines. Women carry guns, and use them. They drive Humvees hit by improvised explosive devices. They interrogate, and witness bloodshed. Women come home with the same long-term, emotional and physical problems as their male counterparts, yet women return to a society that for the most part doesn’t understand — or accept — that they’re serving in the line of fire.As a result, the feelings of isolation can be even more overwhelming, especially since a woman is often one of few in her unit, says Natara Garovoy, program director of the Women’s Prevention, Outreach and Education Center for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Complicating matters, some female soldiers live in fear of being attacked by one of their own. In 2008, the VA reported that one in five women screened for military sexual trauma had in fact experienced such an incident, be it sexual harassment or sexual assault. Garovoy, a clinical psychologist, says that because the risk is so high, most women in the military are required to do everything — from top-secret details to visiting the bathroom — with a buddy.

As an aside: Three years ago, Liz Weeker, one of my journalism students, wrote her capstone piece — a longform piece of investigative journalism — on this very subject. She did a fabulous job, picking up on a serious issue long before the mainstream media noticed. But here’s the thing. She found women with PTSD who were willing to talk to her, but had a tough time finding any studies or research, or “experts” to provide background, analyis or talk about treatment.

You can guess why. No one was paying attention.

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As Americans, we put quite a bit of stock in happiness. Our founding fathers even name its pursuit as an inalienable right–up there with life and liberty. And I challenge you to find a person who’d answer the question “Do you want to be happy?” with an “Eh, I could take it or leave it.”

But a recent post by Penelope Trunk on her Brazen Careerist blog suggests that, not only is happiness not so admirable a pursuit–in fact, she uses the word “vacuous”–but that, in choosing to chase a life defined by happiness, we are necessarily opting out of an interesting one. Why’s that? Choices. In her post “Do you overemphasize happiness?” she writes:

I think choosing a life that is interesting to us and choosing a life that makes us feel happy are probably very different choices.

For one thing, people who are happy do not look for a lot of choices, according to Barry Schwartz, in his book, The Paradox of Choice. People who want to have an interesting life are always looking for more choices and better choices, and they make decisions for their life based on maximizing choices.

She then riffs on her different experiences living in New York City and Madison, Wisconsin, where she currently resides, letting the judgments fly. (New York offers choices and opportunities, the promise of access to the best of everything. Madison offers cheese, football, and PETA-inflaming bioscience departments.) She explains her need to go there thus:

The fact that I feel compelled to have a tirade about Wisconsin in the middle of this post is interetsting to me. People who value choices over happiness never argue about it. They are proud of it. People who value happiness over having a life full of interesting opportunities get indignant over being accused that they made that choice…

What this illustrates, though, is how different the world of lots of choices is. People will pay a ton of money to have a lot of choices, which is what they perceive as an interesting life. (See the average rent per square foot in NYC) but people will not pay a ton of money for a life with relatively few choices. (See the average rent per square foot in Madison.) This makes me think that people put a higher premium on choices, because choices make life more interesting.

That they do. After all, a life of PB&J for lunch every day is a reliable snooze. No sushi? No ceviche? No curry? No thank you. But that it’s interesting or happy, one or the other–much as it pains me to say it, I think maybe she has a point. But, as always, I think we’d be missing something if we didn’t look a little harder at what she means when she says happiness–and it seems that, in this post, what she’s really talking about is ease. While one might argue that it’s a given that choices make life more interesting, the women we’ve spoken to for our book seem to all agree: choices make life hard. But do difficulty and challenge necessarily equate to unhappiness? And does seeking them out make us gluttons for punishment? I’m not so sure.

And, to her point that, as opposed to those who choose a “happy life”, those who opt for a life filled with options don’t feel the need to defend themselves, I’d argue: probably not. As we’ve said time and again, when it comes to women who’ve been told how lucky they are that they can be anything they want — well, to suggest that there’s something wrong with seeking out options, hoping for that access to the best of everything, that’d be right up there with suggesting that the earth is flat. As hard as dealing with all the choices afforded to women today can be, very few of us would trade all those opportunities–even if, as Trunk suggests, doing so might offer a shortcut to happiness.  Maybe that’s because happiness is in the definition, and if an interesting life is what one is after, creating and living one brings its own variety of happiness.

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