I have been an outlier for as long as I can remember on issues of family and work. To me, the strict separation of work life and family life seems not only artificial, but damaging as well. While my thoughts on this are not yet solidified into a coherent stand point, I believe they are worth sharing as work in progress.
The current gender division of labor overwhelmingly attributes women with caregiving roles, regardless of whether they work outside the house or not. Such caregiving jobs are mostly invisible: they allow for the life of others in the family to continue mostly unchanged, regardless of unexpected events such as a child’s illness or a snow day. These kinds of jobs become visible only when there’s a snag in the ‘system’ that prevents it from functioning, like when a mother is sick and the fridge is suddenly empty. (At this point, I imagine many women nodding their head, and many men closing the page). It is my belief that separating work life from family life contributes significantly to the stealthy nature of this phenomenon, and to the various gender gaps within workplaces.
I know some working women who have no problem telling their bosses that they have to get off a conference call because their child needs their immediate attention. I know many women who go through life changing events and do not disclose it to anyone in their work place fearing it will be used against them.
If you’re saying to yourself that this is the nature of business, that this is how it works, you are proving my point. Pretending not to have a family life does not make them go away. It does not make you a better worker, a better boss or a better parent. It makes you miserable.
Moreover, this non-spilling of personal into professional is one sided – at the same time the personal is being further and further segregated from the professional , the professional seems to spillover more and more into the personal, making our time ‘off work’ exceedingly infinitesimal. If you think this is a women’s issue only, you are wrong. The stealthy nature of women’s caregiving roles misleadingly points to that, but the stark reality is that eventually, women’s issues are family issues, and community issues, and society issues and political issues. Just think of what happens in your family when Mom is sick.
The personal is political. And when the personal is hidden from sight it is a reflection of the political forces that govern what is sightly and what is not. It is not necessarily a reflection of what is best or true. Currently, these governing forces have some common attributes, none of which include being a woman or a mother. One only needs to reflect on recent congress hearing about women’s issues to realize just how deeply the personal and political are intermingled.