That’s why you have a wife


To the surprise of no one, it turns out that men who have “traditional” marriages, in which their wives take on all the domestic duties, have more time to devote to their jobs and thus rise higher up the ladder than men who share the domestic duties. Is this true also in STEM fields? Why yes, yes it is. The Washington Post explained last September.

For years, people have been puzzling over why there are so few women in science, technology, engineering and math, and why the university professors who teach the subjects are predominantly men. Is it genetics? Preference? Caregiving responsibilities? An unwelcoming environment?

Turns out, according to a new study released Thursday on men in academic science, it may have a lot to do with the boss. The majority of tenured full professors at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, who have the most power to hire and fire and set the workplace expectation of long hours, are men who have either a full-time spouse at home who handles all caregiving and home duties, or a spouse with a part-time or secondary career who takes primary responsibility for the home.

It’s a loop. They had the extra time so they got to the top so they expect their hires to be like them. Repeat.

And it’s not just women who are being squeezed out of academic science, the study concludes. It’s also men who want to be more active at home.

Naturally, because the men at the top have wives who free them up to spend all their time on the job, so they think that pattern is the best pattern.

The field remains dominated by men – more than 80 percent of the full professors in life sciences, more than 90 percent of the full professors in mathematics, statistics and physical sciences and more than 95 percent of full professors in engineering.

The study, Damaske said, showed there was potential for change, in the majority of men who wanted to take on a more active role at home as fathers. But there was also resistance to change from those in power at the institutions.

“We came to realize that it really benefits your career to have someone at home, making sacrifices for your career,” Damaske said. “The majority of men we spoke to see that. But they’re not happy about it.”

Hey I have an idea – all those men in engineering – can’t they just engineer a robot to do all the domestic duties? A childcare Roomba type deal? Paste a playpen on top of the Roombau, add a Siri to read nursery rhymes aloud, and you’re good to go?

“I never in my life made a tax return. I never in my life washed a pair of socks or cleaned a pair of shoes,” said one 67-year-old physics professor in a traditional marriage. When asked if having children is difficult to manage with being a scientist, he responded: “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”

Unless, of course, “you” are a straight woman…but that’s just silly, because “you” never are a woman, straight or otherwise. “You” are always a man.

Men in traditional marriages rising to power faster, becoming boss and setting the tone for workplace expectations is a phenomenon seen in other fields. In a series of studies of more than 700 married men, researchers at Harvard, New York University and the University of Utah found that men in traditional marriages tended to hold positions of power in business and other organizations.

As I said: to the surprise of no one. This is well known. It’s also reinforced by the culture at every turn, even now.

That study found these bosses tended to think that workplaces with more women didn’t operate well, and more frequently denied female employees opportunities for promotion, considering them less qualified than men even when their resumes were identical. The researchers dubbed these men “resistors” to change.

Well you see it’s the design. Men need wives so that they can be more productive, and by a miraculous gift of nature, the very half of humanity that is adapted to be those wives is also maladapted to be anything else. Is that convenient or what? The very thing that makes women so well suited to doing all the childcare and floor-washing is also the thing that makes them so bad at everything else. Frabjous, isn’t it.

H/t Stacy.

Comments

  1. says

    “I never in my life made a tax return. I never in my life washed a pair of socks or cleaned a pair of shoes,” said one 67-year-old physics professor in a traditional marriage. When asked if having children is difficult to manage with being a scientist, he responded: “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”

    In a just world, every woman on the planet would go all Lysistrata on the ass of men like this, and they’d find themselves not only washing their own socks and shoes but everything they ever own, forever, because they’d be unable to find someone willing to serve as their fucking slave just because she happened to be born with a pair of ovaries rather than testicles. And no child would be born to this pair and raised thinking that that’s the way it should be.

    We do not live in a just world.

  2. Okidemia says

    Remembers me when I was just praised how I was a wonderful dad and partner since I was taking kids sickness care duties, but then this stood against me when I applied for the permanent position at this place.

    Also, when I asked an ex-member of hiring committee if they took into account kids number to ponder productivity. Ol’Guy looked at me and said: somewhat, but only for women. To which I answered “so basically you’re selecting for male applicants whose wife takes all the housekeeping duties”. It took him something like a very long time to admit it.

  3. Anna Y says

    You have no idea how prophetic your line about a Roomba with a Siri on top is: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/403524037/personal-robot
    And of course, the default “face” they gave it is female…

    The real problem is, this thing doesn’t do the dishes or shine the shoes or change the diapers. I’m actually a little confused — I thought the “dream” of having a personal robot was exactly that, not someone to go around when you throw a party taking pictures of the guests. I’m not knocking its near-miraculous object-and-face-recognition capabilities, but it seems like kind of a letdown that after identifying “dirty socks” on the “floor” it can’t pick them up and drop them into a “laundry hamper”. It’s kind of cool that it can read a bedtime story to kids, but I’d much rather see it wipe their noses, because parents have to do both, and it seems like outsourcing the more pleasant of the tasks to a robot is kind of backwards. Maybe the developers weren’t focused on getting it to do useful labor because they all have wives to do that?

  4. dshetty says

    When asked if having children is difficult to manage with being a scientist, he responded: “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”
    I feel sorry for this fool.

  5. guest says

    I remember aeons ago, in the mid ’90s, my boss once complained about how I had to occasionally take long lunch breaks to do things like go to the bank and pick up prescriptions. I said to him, ‘you know how when you get home tonight your dinner will be on the table, your paycheck will be deposited in the bank, your drycleaning will be picked up, your food will be in the cupboards and the fridge, your house and clothes will be clean, etc. etc.? You realise, right, that someone else is doing all that FOR you, and I do all these things for myself?’ It literally didn’t seem to have dawned on him that I didn’t have a wife to take care of all those tasks for me while I was at work doing my job.

  6. md says

    Its almost like the old cliché is true: behind every successful man, there stands a woman.

    In the chivalrous days of yore men used to thank their wives for supporting them whenever they were given kudos for something work-related.

  7. iknklast says

    Of course, this doesn’t work both ways. I have a husband who is retired and does all that stuff. I don’t have to fuss with all the housework (I try to do my share, but he does most of the errands). That doesn’t gain me any promotions or better jobs. It’s still assumed I am a woman, so I must be needed at home. (And my only child is 32 and living halfway across the continent, so I am no longer needed to pick up socks, wipe noses, or drive him to extracurricular activities).

    I did notice, when I was in my doctoral program, the men all went to post-grad programs, still supported by parents or wife, while the women entered the work field straight out of college. There was only one woman who entered a post-doc from my fellow students, and she was living on an inheritance that had been left her by her parents, so she could manage to work the long hours for almost no pay, unlike those of us who are assumed to be playing at science while our poor (husband, father) has to work harder to support our hobby. This fact also keeps at least some women from getting those good university jobs, which nearly always require post-doc

  8. invivoMark says

    One item not mentioned in this discussion is that in the STEM fields, jobs are scarce and you almost always have to move somewhere else to get the one you want. It’s considered lazy to stay on for a post-doc at the same place one gets their PhD. This means that for couples where both members are in a STEM field, one person’s career almost inevitably comes before the other’s. One person gets the hard-to-get job position, the other then scrounges for something with less prestige and less pay. Inevitably, this favors the men in relationships more than women, because most couples, even in STEM fields, still tend toward traditional gender roles.

    Sometimes, couples are hired together. I have known many professors whose spouses are in the same department. This is one solution but it is not ideal. I do not know a better solution other than to change gender norms so that women are just as likely to pursue and to achieve more lucrative and interesting careers.

    I am very fortunate to work in biology, which is consistently the best among the STEM fields in terms of gender equality. Things are not perfect, but we are much closer. For a couple years, there were more women than men in my graduate program, and more of them are pursuing (and succeeding in) highly competitive academic careers.

  9. jenniferphillips says

    Ophelia, I remember having this very conversation with you when we met in person a couple of years ago. :)

    Although some encouraging changes (or at least awarenesses, which are necessary precursors to changes) seem to be afoot, this is sadly just ‘the way things are’ in STEM fields. I had both of my kids in graduate school, and I was a freakish anomaly for doing so. Part of it was my unusual financial stability–I was lucky enough to have a gainfully employed partner to supplement my meager grad student stipend–but part of it was that it’s just not done. My first pregnancy was seen by at least some members of my department (and I know this because they openly told me so) as a sign that I wasn’t ‘serious about my career’, that I was just taking up space in a lab and clearly wouldn’t be doing anything meaningful with my PhD (assuming I could find time around all that icky maternal bonding to finish it, that is). My second pregnancy pretty much solidified all that. It was an isolating and occasionally humiliating condition.

    I got my PhD in 2003, so one might hope that things have changed a bit since then. My current position is as a ‘second tier’, non-tenure track postdoctoral research associate, informally called a ‘super postdoc’ or ‘permadoc’. I’ve been here long enough to see several cycles of graduate students as well as more ‘top tier’ postdocs come and go. It is still quite rare for women scientists in training to have children. Slightly more common (within that slice of rarity) for postdocs vs. grad students. It’s undeniably difficult to stay on the tenure track as a trainee with kids without rock solid domestic support, to say nothing of the difficulty in achieving the heights outlined in this article once a tenure-track position is obtained.

    I guess now that men are facing the same kinds of hard choices that generations of professionally minded women have dealt with, there’s a hope that the definition of how to achieve excellence and stature in a STEM field will expand somewhat. There are some rigid logical boundaries in place, however. It does take a certain number of consecutive hours to do things, e.g. Scientific discovery already moves slowly. It slows down even more when you have to leave early to take a kid to soccer practice, etc. Only a privileged few are situated to navigate these limitations and stay on the top tier. The rest of us, when faced with the option, have to choose a different path.

    I don’t mean to sound like I regret having a family. I adore my children and I’m pleased with the balance between work and family that I’ve been able to strike. But I think it’s still fair to be candid that such choices are still reality. “Having it all” is a myth for many definitions of “all”. That is the bare truth of it.

  10. says

    Jen, I remember that too. I remember not replying for a few seconds because I was thinking (far from the first time) about “how can this ever be made to work better” and you thought I’d fallen silent in disapproval or something. :)

  11. sonofrojblake says

    There are some rigid logical boundaries in place, however. It does take a certain number of consecutive hours to do things, e.g. Scientific discovery already moves slowly. It slows down even more when you have to leave early to take a kid to soccer practice, etc. Only a privileged few are situated to navigate these limitations and stay on the top tier. The rest of us, when faced with the option, have to choose a different path

    That’s refreshingly pragmatic. I expect to see some pushback against it.

    Ultimately, one definition of “better” would be that the privileged few are a representative cross-section of society, rather than almost entirely middle-class white men. That can be done.

    Another definition of “better” would be to set society up so that those options aren’t limited to a privileged few. That seems less realistic.

  12. jenniferphillips says

    n.b., I’m going to cross post this onto the guest post that Ophelia made of my comment.

    sonofrojblake said:

    Ultimately, one definition of “better” would be that the privileged few are a representative cross-section of society, rather than almost entirely middle-class white men. That can be done. Another definition of “better” would be to set society up so that those options aren’t limited to a privileged few. That seems less realistic.

    Good points, and like a lot of things, this privilege is a continuum. The closer we can get to addressing the broadest possible swath of that continuum, the “better” things will get for everyone. When I had my kids, I was extremely lucky to be able to get childcare on campus, close enough and flexible enough in my schedule to pop over and breastfeed whenever they called. It might not sound like much, but I hadn’t been able to work things out that way, it’s possible I wouldn’t have finished the PhD. Moreover, I’m well aware that most new moms returning to work/school/ *don’t* have it that good.

    Graphs plotting the longevity/ascent of men vs. women in STEM careers are markedly scissor shaped. For the past ~30 years, roughly equal numbers of men & women have entered professional/medical school, completed the training, entered the workforce, but consistently fail to occupy the top spots (head of dept, chief of staff, full professor, etc.) in equal numbers.

    Inequality in Childrearing/domestic roles doesn’t explain it all, but it’s undeniably a big consideration, and as such an easy (and I believe realistic) target for improvement.

  13. Katydid says

    I’m a GenX woman in IT, married to a Boomer/GenX (depending on where you draw the birth-year line) man in IT. The late 1980s and most of the 1990s, I encountered the attitude you describe so well from the men around me, but since then? It’s their wives who are hell-bent on enforcing the Leave It To Beaver standards. Anytime there’s one of those awkward “meet the family” events, there’s always at least one non-working wife who feels it’s her mission in life to put me in my place for having a career. Usually it begins during the chit-chat time, when the woman I’m talking to says something like, “Oh, what does your husband do at Company X?” When I reply that oh, this is my company, and my husband works for Company Y, the very next volley is, “Oh, well, I TAKE CARE OF *my* husband….too bad your husband has nobody to take care of him.” When I point out that we take care of each other, usually the conversation is over (because obviously no man has ever fixed dinner, picked up dry cleaning, or taken a sick child to the doctor?).

  14. iknklast says

    Katydid – that is so true! I have faced a lot of that myself, and even more now that my husband is retired and does most of the housework. I am assumed to be less of a woman (and even more so since I had only ONE child – horrible! Selfish!). My mother spent most of her life complaining how much harder she worked than women who worked outside the home. Working women are viewed with suspicion by women who choose the path of staying home with house and children. My mother told everyone how she had to look after the children of other women who were working outside the home. This was a blatantly untrue statement; there were no children in our home at any time other than us. Our friends were not allowed to come over. She concocted this fantasy because she hated the idea that other women made different choices, and she needed some data points to “prove” her contention that they were neglectful. No data points were available, so she made some up.

    With one mother and three sisters lunging at me like this, I developed a rather thick skin.

  15. Katydid says

    @iknklast; yeah, what’s up with the “ooooh, pooooor meeeeee, I have to look after the neighbors’ kids” rant? It’s never true, and the opposite has happened to me; I’ve come home from work and had stay-at-home wives dump their school-aged kids on me because they just “needed time for themselves” (their kids were in school all day…)

    My husband thought I was greatly exaggerating the animosity toward career women by stay-at-home women until one day when he had morning-bus duty (we would switch off with one spouse dropping off and one picking up from the bus, allowing each of us to put in a full day of work and avoid childcare costs). The only other working woman in my neighborhood–the one whose backyard pool is always open to the neighborhood kids whenever she’s home, the one who always has snacks and drinks available for any kid who shows up–told the morning bus waiters that she’d have to go in to work early the next day, and would one of them make sure her 9-year-old son got on the morning bus? EVERY SINGLE woman rose up and told her they were “too busy” (waiting for the bus?!?) to make sure her son got on the bus, and it was her bad mothering by CHOOSING TO WORK that caused her problem. My husband told her he’d guarantee it, no problem, *since he was standing there anyway* with our own children.

  16. Katydid says

    P.S. I think in part this behavior stems from insecurity about their own life choices, but there’s also a lot of propaganda from the mainstream media on down to religious groups that the “real” women stay home. Look at all the movies and tv programs that have been made over the last 3 decades about women with careers who get pregnant/inherit a relative’s kids, are completed humbled by their incompetence at staying home, but finally see the light and decide never to work again, because staying home is the only true and noble occupation for women. Look at the breathless (and untrue) news stories about how middle-class women are “flocking” home in droves because the only worthwhile life is being financially dependent on someone else.

    I decided back in the 1980s that I would not be ashamed that I can administer a server farm *and* bake brownies. I can create a website *and* do laundry. Know what? My husband can do those things, too, and his dangly bits haven’t dropped off. My children grew up knowing either parent could read them a bedtime story or coach their soccer team or take them to the doctor when they were sick. I’m just waiting for society to catch up.

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