Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Feminifesto Seminar Club: Session 6

By Raakhee Suryaprakash

The sixth session of the Feminifesto Seminar Club on May 5, 2019 saw the group reading and discussing the New York Times piece in its section The Upshot, “Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy.’” The article was by Claire Cain Miller who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2018 for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues.
Once the article was read, Raakhee Suryaprakash highlighted the local contexts that led to the choice of the article: the CBSE board exams results which again saw girls outperforming boys and the Hindu op-ed, “The gender ladder to socio-economic transformation” by Divita Shandilya who is Programme Manager - Policy and Research at ActionAid India. This article outlined the need to address the structural issues that keep women – especially in India – out of the workforce rather than just focusing on creating more jobs. It also echoed a lot of the issues Ms Miller brings out in her NYT article on the career and compromises that the married lawyers Daniela Jampel and Matthew Schneid have had to make.

As Ms Miller puts it in the beginning,
One marriage and 10 years later, she works 21 hours a week as a lawyer for New York City, a job that enables her to spend two days a week at home with their children, ages 5 and 1, and to shuffle her hours if something urgent comes up. He’s a partner at a midsize law firm and works 60-hour weeks — up to 80 if he’s closing a big deal — and is on call nights and weekends. He earns four to six times what she does, depending on the year.
 She concludes the article with the thoughts of Mr Schneid and Ms Jampel, which question the frameworks and systems – the patriarchy, the capitalism – that have enabled and fortified the gender gap.
“I think I’d be happier in life if I was home more with my children and if I didn’t have the same stress at work,” he said, “but I think this was the best decision for our family.”
Ms. Jampel feels angry that the time she spends caregiving isn’t valued the way paid work is. “No one explains this to you when you’re 21, but in retrospect, it was not a smart decision” to go into debt for law school, she said.
She said she feels lucky that she’s found substantive, interesting part-time work. He feels lucky that he found a firm that doesn’t require him to do all his hours at the office. But if they could rewrite their lives? They wish they could have had better options.
Vaishnavi Pallapotthu observed how the article starts off by emphasizing that it wasn’t about gender but throughout it was all about gender. Malavika Mani brought out how in the globalized world while flexible work hours are possible, with the “client as king” mentality, long hours and presenteeism make for poor work-life balance and a workplace that doesn’t encourage either gender to have a life outside of work! Kirthi Jayakumar then shared examples from her own experiences as someone who predominantly works from home and having to take on chores, collect deliveries, answer doorbells and visitors, take on supervisory roles when technicians come home, just because she is at home. The culture to date does not respect work from home. And mental load always falls on women.
Though flexible work hours are offered to most workers it’s still viewed as a compromise and not a means to improve productivity and efficient use of resources that it is. Presenteeism is still preferred as the way to gain favourable appraisals and promotions. One question that arose while reading the article and learning about the division of labour and money within the Jampel-Schneid family is happens in case of a divorce. The toxic cocktail of capitalism, gender gap, wage gap, and patriarchy have made for a stressed career and greedy professions that demand all loyalty. Interesting that motherhood is also viewed as greedy profession as it’s an “institutions that ‘seek exclusive and undivided loyalty’.”

Outsourcing with decent remuneration has been the domain of highly skilled-highly educated – or it’s about outsourced labour which take advantage of poor labour laws as well as the dollar power in the poorer nations. Gender gaps and lack of opportunities for growth abound here as well
Kirthi also shared some family anecdotes, when her grandfather was involved in running mines. With factory shifts and so-called compulsions of safety and authority over men, mine management roles went to male candidates. Despite having qualifications, people skills and experience women candidates were passed over for the mine manager positions and other management roles stagnating their career trajectories. 

Malavika also highlighted the fact that many academics are hesitant to research gender. How cultural sensitivities and other taboos make gender studies less popular and research less robust.
Again all participants of the session while emphasizing that every point made in the article brought up gender and gendered issues, the missing shout-out to intersectionality was found to be glaring. Capitalism grows into patriarchy. Throughout this NYT article, the issues are looked at separately without any thought to intersectionality.

The suggested solution of shifting child care to schooling was also worrying. The recommendation of longer school hours as a way to help more women enter the workforce was seen as pretty problematic by us all. Conventional schooling after all produces cookie cutter personalities and encourages conformity not innovation which is vital to tackle the problems of the twenty-first century. Systemic changes that challenge and change the status quo is the solution.

And changes in the education sector will be slow to achieve as it fuels job market ecosystem itself that thrives in the status quo, the teachers, the text book publishers and other uniquely school supply services. The influence is insidiously all pervasive. Many school managements prefer an educated housewife to a working mothers. And many teachers are viewed limitedly. Put down as an extended carer role, so basically viewed as a housewife with an empty nest who graduates into a teaching role.
The crisis with the child and the family blaming the mother who had started working as an RJ in Tumhari Sullu is typical of the regressive anchor of the mental load and responsibility of kids being the domain of the mother. Women who are still single are asked whether they are postponing getting married because they are scared of responsibility. As though the only responsibility is getting married and having kids. More societal control, more insidiously than government regulation as seen in the US especially in Alabama, over the women’s bodies and their choices.

Overall reading about the experiences of the Jampel-Schneid family, has demonstrated that systemic changes would be good for both people and the economy. A four-day work week for all, sharing of mental load and child care, valuing flexible work hours and those who work from home options and reforming the education sector are steps in dismantling the systems that enslave us all in gendered roles and stereotypes. And if the author really meant this article not to be about gender we would like to read about the experiences of a same sex couple ten years into family life.