Last week I wrote about Anne-Marie’s Slaughter’s piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In this post, I attempted to highlight the problematic gender assumptions undergirding Slaughter’s argument, the most important one being the uncritical claim that women qua women feel a strong, natural, “maternal” imperative to think about the family/work balance differently, and better, than men naturally do.
I also said, however, that Slaughter’s argument was a bit confused, a kind of “bait and switch.” By this claim I meant that the article starts out seeming to be about women-mothers in the workforce, but then it ends up being a much more interesting call to reform both our attitudes about the demands of work as well as the expectations structuring work spaces and schedules. This call applies to both men and women (which Slaughter makes sure to say about half the time, when she is not busy the rest of the time saying that these issues are somehow particular to women).
I want to think about her calls for structural reform of work spaces in their own right, and then I want to transpose these suggestions into the context of the Catholic theological academy and ask some open questions which I and many others have been entertaining. I suspect that there are certain issues of work/family balance and how lay Catholic theologians should (or should not) include their families in how they self-identify professionally, and I would like to talk about that.
Regarding Slaughter’s claims in their own right, she offers many concrete examples of what reforming the work/family balance could mean. For one, she thinks that the relentless call of “Always Be Working,” namely, by staying in the office until all hours of the night, may certainly present the appearance of hyper-productivity, but this ethos is ultimately one of diminishing returns: people who burn themselves out in this fashion have reduced efficiency. It would therefore behoove us, argues Slaughter, to make time in our schedules to be at home with our families. We can work fewer hours but at a greater level of productivity.
Concomitantly, with ginormous advances in technology, we can begin to move some work into the domestic realm (by doing conference calls over Skype, by writing up reports at home, etc.), so that people can at least be in the vicinity of their children and partners when need be. The imperative to be at the office at all times is not as necessary as it may once have been. I’m not sure how much more “family time” can really come from people bringing their work home with them via technology, but I do get her point, especially if doing so reduces actual hours spent at the office.
As an academic, I have the least familiarity with these kinds of claims about reforming the structures of the professional workplace. For now, anyway, I get to determine my own schedule for the most part (which does not mean not working…Lord knows how I work), so I am genuinely curious about what people think of her suggestions for de-centralizing the office and curbing work hours. Thoughts, anybody?
Anyway. In turn, and this is what really interests me vis-à-vis the Catholic theological academy, Slaughter suggests that our identities as people with families (well, you know, for people who actually have families…) should be highlighted and brought to bear within the work realm, and that people who prioritize their families in an obvious way should be valued and rewarded professionally:
Why should we want leaders who fall short on personal responsibilities? Perhaps leaders who invested time in their own families would be more keenly aware of the toll their public choices — on issues from war to welfare — take on private lives…//…Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them.
Slaughter put this point into practice, for example, by insisting that everybody in her professional circle know about her children:
When I became dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, in 2002, I decided that one of the advantages of being a woman in power was that I could help change the norms by deliberately talking about my children and my desire to have a balanced life…// Ten years later [w]henever I am introduced at a lecture or other speaking engagement, I insist that the person introducing me mention that I have two sons. It seems odd to me to list degrees, awards, positions, and interests and not include the dimension of my life that is most important to me–and takes an enormous amount of my time…But I notice that my male introducers are typically uncomfortable when I make the request. They frequently say things like ‘And she particularly wanted me to mention that she has two sons’ –thereby drawing attention to the unusual nature of my request, when my entire purpose is to make family references routine and normal in professional life.
I understand why Slaughter insists on doing this in her own context, namely, one in which people are supposed to be hyper-efficient robotic (masculine?) drones, and it would be interesting if both men and women in equal measure would contemplate these suggestions for a more family-friendly self-identification in the professional sphere.
However, when applied within the context of the Catholic academy, these suggestions might end up reinforcing certain problems. One commenter on last week’s post, Kate Ward, puts it well:
In general, I get why you would want to make it clear that your family is just as important to who you are, just as much a part of who you are, as your job. But in Catholic theology, your family structure could be read as legitimizing or delegitimizing your work. I’m not thrilled about the idea that somebody might grant me more cred if I worked on marriage or family ethics because I am married, and what’s worse is that single folks or those in same-sex partnerships don’t always have the same freedom to assert their own pride in their choices.
It makes sense that we actually want people “in the know” doing theology in relation to issues of marriage and sexuality. (Read: people in the know = lay people, not just priests or religious.) With the rise of lay voices in Catholic theology after Vatican II (woot woot), there has been an important emphasis on uncovering the dignity of marriage and family as something special and distinct from the ministerial priesthood and the religious life. I get that. And in a way I get the push to have one’s family represented as a prominent part of one’s scholarly identity, especially in professional settings (and lately I have seen a few people make a point of mentioning their children before they give a talk, for example).
But, at the same time, Kate raises a really significant point: given that the Church doesn’t actually seem to have an official notion of a vocation to lay singleness, and given that the Church doesn’t recognize same-sex unions, does the contemporary push toward self-identifying in a very family-oriented way in a scholarly setting ultimately allow only straight married people (preferably with kids) to speak authoritatively about certain things? And if people are doing such family-oriented self-identification in an academic setting, what is being communicated by such an act? Does such an act seem generally to suggest to the broader theological audience that having a family significantly shapes the scholarship that one does for the better? I think that’s what somebody like Slaughter would want to say, and I think that idea dovetails with a post-Vatican II appreciation for lay family life.
However, it seems to me that such a practice, if done without some critical examination, may end up serving to exclude many lay voices that are already excluded by the Church’s official positions on marriage. If we’re supposed to include our personal/family lives in our self-identitication as Catholic lay theologians now, but some people’s personal life choices and relationships (to be single, to be in a committed same-sex partnership) are devalued by the Church, then does this emphasis on integrating work and family ultimately end up undermining the voices of single and/or LGBTQ theologians even more, not only on issues of sexuality but also more broadly? Sometimes I think the split between the public and the private has an important place given the current state of things. What do people think of this? It is something I am pondering, so any additional diagnostic and/or constructive comments would be appreciated.