Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Reactions to two American Prospect articles

Got my April issue of TAP the other day...

One: Kevin Mattson writes a long, thoughtful article on the relative triumphs and failures of the liberal activist movement and the conservative activist movement, in the 60's and today. Very much worth reading. It really frustrates me to see so many members of my generation investing so much energy in protests that, ultimately, have zero probability --- zero --- of ever influencing the policies of any government, here or elsewhere. If all those activists would clean themselves up and invest that energy going door-to-door, learning how to patiently argue with people who disagree with them, learning how to adapt their message when their listeners aren't ready for the most radical and confrontational version, they could change the world far more decisively. But that would, of course, be far harder than simply lining up with a herd of the like-minded and letting out your emotional frustrations in front of cameras.

Two: Sarah Blustain reviews three books relating to lingering gender-correlated differences in career and life outcomes. My honest reaction: if you're a woman, and balancing career and family is running you ragged --- if, when you marry your husband, the time you spend doing housework increases 17% while his time decreases 33% (an actual statistic from Blustain's article) --- then your man is not picking up the ball. Duh.

The modern workplace is not designed to accommodate "the needs of men, their bodies, and their social roles"; it is designed to accommodate people who can offload many of the duties of having a family. We don't need "difference feminism" to solve this problem. It's trivially obvious that men and women are different; it's trivially obvious that this difference plays out in statistical differences between male and female life choices; it's trivially obvious that family and career cannot simultaneously occupy 100% of a person's life. None of this implies that workplaces should make special arrangements for women more than men. It implies that women who want both a family and a demanding career must choose to marry men who compromise more, who can help women avoid running themselves ragged. (This all sounds sort of familiar...)

Of course, it would be icing on the cake (or, more accurately, a whole other, additional cake) if there were some sort of change in social norms that made more room for family in people's lives generally. It would be nice, for example, if standard work weeks consumed fewer hours, and vacations were longer, and if something akin to the academic sabbatical system were a feature of more careers. However, that requires us to solve a pretty big collective action problem. Each individual business has an incentive to squeeze individual workers for all the labor they've got; only collective action can really reverse this trend. The choice of which man to marry, on the other hand, remains in the hands of individual women everywhere, and can proceed incrementally.

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