ТНБ WHOLE OF THE PROBLEM: THE PARTS OF A SOLUTION
The problem for American women of the 1970s was not so much going to work, since over 40 percent of women of working age were in the labor force already and nine out of ten women worked sometime in their lives. The problem is one of moving up, and that means moving into careers. More fundamentally, the problem for women in academic or other sorts of careers is to alter the link between family and career and, more generally, between private and public life. Several alternatives seem both possible and just.
First, women might adopt a relation to home and family indistinguishable from that of their male competitors. Women could marry househus – bands if they can find them, or in their absence hire substitute wife-mothers. Academic women could thereby establish a two-roled life for another person (a husband) or divide such roles between husband and housekeeper. If
the housekeeper were well paid and unionized, perhaps we could still talk about justice; otherwise I think not. But neither a housekeeper nor a childcare center would solve the problem completely, since tending the sick, caring for the old, writing Christmas cards, and just being there for people in their bad moments—what wives do—still need doing. In my view, even when we have eliminated the needless elaboration of a wife’s role, a humanly satisfying life requires that someone do these things.
Second, academic men who want careers might give up marriage or children, just as many academic women have. If the first alternative makes women more like men, this one makes men more like academic women, in extending to them the familiar two-box choice of family or career. This would be more just, but it would be a sad justice and I doubt it would be popular among men.
One can understand women who opt for the first alternative, given the absence of other choices. Insofar as it involves a reverse family imperialism, however, I do not see why it is any better than the original male one. Because I value at least the option of family life, I cannot endorse the second solution either. Since neither appeals to me as a long-range solution, I am led to a third alternative: the possibility of an egalitarian marriage with a radically different career to go with it. This means creating a different system in which to work at this different career, a system that would make egalitarian marriage normal.
The university makes virtually no adjustments to the family, but the traditional family makes quite a few to the university. And it is not so much the brisk-stepping man with the briefcase as it is his wife with the picnic basket who makes the adjustments for “the family’s sake” (somehow amorphously connected to his career). I think the reason for this is that it is easier to change families than universities. But the contradictions of changing families without changing careers leads to either migraine headaches or hearty, rebellious thoughts.
Any vision of changing something as apparently implacable as the career system may seem at first ludicrous or utopian. But as Karl Mannheim once pointed out, all movements for social change need a utopia, built of parts borrowed from different or theoretical societies.-4 This need not be a utopia for dreaming that remains separate from waking life, but a utopia that, like reading a good book, shows us where and how far we have to go, a vision that makes sense of frustration by analyzing its source. At a time when utopias already seem quaint, when public visions seem a large shadow over many small private aims, when jobs are scarce and competition magnified, now more than ever we need a guiding vision.
For a start, all departments of twenty full-time men could expand to departments of forty part-time men and women. This would offer a solution to our present dilemma of trying to meet the goals of affirmative action
within a “steady state” (or declining) economy. It would mean more jobs for women and men. It would democratize and thus eliminate competitive disadvantages and offer an opportunity to some of those women in the station wagon. In many fields, research would leap ahead if two people rather than one worked on problems. Teaching would certainly not be hurt by the arrangement and might benefit from the additional energies.
While administrative arrangements would be manageable, I can imagine queries about efficiency. Is it economical to train forty Ph. D.s to work parttime when twenty could do the same amount of work? And what of those who simply do not want part-time work? One can point to the glut of Ph. D.s and argue that if those currently teaching in universities would divide and share their jobs, many more might gain the chance to work. The effect would not eliminate but reduce competition for universityjobs.
Part-time work is very often more like three-fourths-time work, for one teaches students rather than classes. If a graduate student moves to Ecuador and sends me his paper, I read it. If a former student comes around to the house, I talk to her. If there is a meeting, I don’t leave halfway through. Parttime often turns out to be a release in quantity to improve quality.
But that raises the financial issue. The sorry fact is that, for financial reasons, most men and some women can’t afford half-time work. Maybe workers could pay into a fund while they are still childless and draw from it when they have children. Universities could subsidize housing. And much of what academics define as financial need is based on their experience with public support for the general context of their lives. If the public schools were really good, they wouldn’t be so tempted to spend money on private schools. If low-cost housing were readily available in cities, they wouldn’t have to struggle to make a down payment. If public transportation worked, they wouldn’t need two cars.
Hearsay has it that a group of MIT male assistant professors, who had worked late evenings because they were in competition with each other for advancement while their wives took care of the children, made a pact to cut down their hours and spend more time with their young children. Maybe many private pacts could lead to a larger public one, but only when those who set the standards are part of it.
While one may debate the virtues or defects of competition, it is an aspect of university life that we need not take for granted, that can and should be modified. Some elements of my own utopia are borrowed from the Cuban experiment, since it bears on the issue of competition. The Cuban revolution has made many mistakes, and not all of its successes are applicable to a rich industrial country. But one lesson to be learned from Cuba is that competition can be modified not only by splitting jobs (which it did not try to do), but by creating jobs to fit social needs. This may seem a bit far afield in an essay on universities, but my analysis brings me to it. for in my view, we can not change the role of women in universities without changing the career system based on competition, and we can’t change that competitive structure without also altering the economy, the larger fit of supply and demand of workers. We need thus to explore experiments in altering that.
I visited the University of Havana in the summer of 1967 and joined some students and faculty who were working together doing “productive labor” (they don’t think this phrase is redundant), planting coffee plants in the belt surrounding Havana. As we moved along the rows, people talked about the university before the revolution. It sounded in some ways like a more intense version of Berkeley in both the 1960s and 1970s. The competition was so fierce for the few professional jobs in the cities that rich students bought grades. (That is only one step removed from the profitable cynicism of the term paper industries, like “Quality Bullshit” in Berkeley, where students could buy a custom-written paper from some unemployed graduate students.)
At the same time, Cuban students hung around the university cafes dropping out and back in again, wondering who they were. Before 1958 there were some 3,000 students at the University of Havana trying to enter the diplomatic service, while there was only a handful of electrical engineers in the whole country. The revolution put the university in touch with economic realities, and it changed those economic realities by inventing jobs where there was a social need for them. Since the revolution, the task has not been to restrict admission, but to supply the tremendous need for doctors, dentists, teachers, and architects as providers for the poor, paid by the government. The revolution simply recognized and legitimated a need that had always been there.
Corresponding to the supply of graduates American universities turn out each year, there is, I believe, a “social need.” There is, for example, a great need for teachers in crowded classrooms, and yet we speak of the teacher “surplus.” Despite the American Medical Association and the fierce competition to enter medical school, we need doctors in our inner cities. We need quality daycare, community organizers, traveling artists. Yet there are, we say, “too many people” and “not enough jobs.” If social need coincided with social demand for skills, if market value were coextensive with real value, we could at least in some fields eliminate needless competition generated outside the university, which affects what goes on inside as well. I personally do not think “education for leisure” is the answer, for it ignores all the social ills that persist in the rich United States, not to mention many more outside it. II we redefine what a social need is, and design jobs to meet social needs, we also reduce the exaggerated competition we see in universities, a competition that inevitably moves women out. If the division of jobs alleviates competition among academics, the creation of jobs can alleviate competition among would-be workers, including, of course, professors.25
250 SPEAKING PERSONALLY
There is another lesson to be learned from Cuba. Insofar as American career women become like career men, they become oriented toward success and competition. Just as manhood has traditionally been measured by success, so now academic womanhood is defined that way. But manhood for the middle-class American academic man is based more on "doing well” than on "doing good.” Manhood in professional circles is linked to “success,” which is kept scarce and made to seem valuable. Men are socialized to competition because they are socialized to scarcity. It is as if sexual identity, at least in the middle class, were not freely given by nature, but conserved only for those who earn it. Manhood at birth seems to be taken from men, only for them to re-win it. The bookish boy is defined as girlish and then, with a turnabout, earns his manhood as a creative scholar in the university. To fail to do well at this is to be robbed in degrees of manhood.
I think there is a human propensity to achieve competence, what Thorstein Veblen called simply an “instinct for workmanship,” but it comes to have secondary meaning for manhood. Competition that takes the form of secrecy attached to new ideas before they are in final draft for the publisher, the vita talk, the 6o-hour work weeks, the station wagon wife, all are related to this secondary meaning of work, this second layer of value associated with success and manhood, і t is this second meaning that women feel they must analogously adopt and compete with.
Yet the reputation so won is often totally detached from social usefulness or moral purpose. Kor such men, morality has become a luxury. Women who learn to aspire to this deficiency lose what was valuable from our first training—a training not only to be invisible, but in a larger sense, to "do good” rather than simply “do well.” Insofar as women, like other marginal groups, overconform in the attempt to gain acceptance, we find ourselves even more oriented toward success, and less toward morality, than some men.
The Cuban revolution seems to me to have solved at least this dilemma, simply by trying structurally to equate “doing well” with “doing good,” achievement with moral purpose. The assimilation of Cuban women entering a male-dominated economy does not seem to mean the eclipse of morality. Cuban women have not escaped the doll’s house to enter a career based on “bourgeois individualism.” Despite many other problems, they escaped that as well.
A year after I returned from Havana, still a graduate student, I began the Women’s Caucus of the Sociology Department at Berkeley. Similar groups were springing up in English, history, anthropology, and other departments here and there across the country. It was the time of the women’s movement, and women graduate students—facing fhe scene I’ve described, with few women faculty to guide thv way—were dropping out left and right. Apart from one woman—who had long been a lecturer, not a professor, and who was wrongly seen as an adjunct to her husband, a bigwig in the depart-
ment—all the professors in our department were men. Yet a fifth of the graduate students were women, hoping one day to become professors. How was this to happen?
A series of women had come into my office in the fall of that year, each talking casually about dropping out of graduate school. When one highly able student, Alice Abarbinel, said she planned to drop out, something in me snapped. “Why would Alice drop out?” I knew why X or Y might drop out, but Alice? She was doing so well. She seemed so at ease. It was one of those parts that made me question the whole. A week later, after talking with friends, I invited women graduate students to my apartment, where something odd occurred.
We sat cross-legged in a circle on the living room floor, drank coffee and beer, ate potato chips, and felt that something new might be happening. But when I asked whether there was some problem we shared as women that might be causing us to become discouraged, one by one people answered, “No.” “No.” “No.” One woman said, “No, I have an incomplete, but I had a hard time defining my topic.” Another said, “I have been blocked too, but I have a difficult professor, nothing to do with his being a man.” Someone else said, “I’m just not sure I’m in the right discipline.” No one hinted that there might be a link between all these hesitations and being a woman. I remember turning to a friend and confiding, “Never mind, we’ve tried.” But after the meeting was adjourned, a curious thing happened. No one left. Two hours later, graduate students were huddled in animated groups, buzzing about professors, courses, housing, loved ones. An invisible barrier had dropped. After that first meeting we met periodically for several years. We were at our best questioning the basic concepts in sociology, and in trying to picture what sociology would look like if women’s experiences counted as much as men’s. What is social status? Social mobility? These are concepts so central to sociology but how do you measure a woman’s status—by her husband’s occupation (as it was done in the early part of the twentieth century) or by her own occupation? And if she’s a homemaker, what then? And does her job affect her spouse’s social status? Do we measure her occupational mobility by comparing her occupation with her father’s? Or her mother’s? How do relations between the genders differ for the rich and the poor?
While we talked much of changing the society within which we sought equality, not much changed about the clockwork of male careers. In those years there was some talk about race, ethnicity, and sexual choice, but these were topics whose centrality was yet to be fully understood.
To talk as I have about the evils of the system as they affect a handful of academic women is a little like talking about the problems of the suburb while (here are people (rapped in the inner city. But there are problems both with
252 SPEAKING PERSONALLY trying to find a meaningful career and with having one on the system’s terms. Both finding an academic job and remaining humane once you have had one for a while are problems that lead ultimately to assumptions about the families that lie behind careers. From the vantage point of the early 1970s, women are either slowly eliminated from academic life or forced imperceptibly to acquire the moral and psychic disabilities from which male academics have had to suffer.
If we are to bring more women into the university at every level, we shaU have to do something more extreme than most affirmative action plans have imagined: change the entente between the university and its service agency, the family. If we change this, we also introduce into academe some of the values formerly the separate specialty of women. We leaven the ethos of “making it” with another ethos of caretaking and cooperation, leaven the gesellschaft with the values of gemeinschaft. It is, after all, not simply women but some feminine values that have been discriminated against. It is not simply that we lack role models who happen to be women, but that we lack exemplars of this alternative ethos.
What I am trying to say is that social justice, giving women a fair break, is a goal that speaks for itself, and a goal that calls for men doing their fair share in private life and for women getting their fair chance in public life.
But there are two ways of creating this social justice. One involves fitting into the meritocracy as it is; the other aims to change it. Insofar as we merely extend “bourgeois individualism” to women, ask for “a room of one’s own,” a reputation, sparring with the others, we fit in nicely with the normal distortion of the importance of success versus moral purpose, the experience of time, or quality of talk that middle-class men have experienced.
The very first step is to reconsider what parts in the cultural recipe of our first socialization to nurturance and caring are worth salvaging in ourselves, and the second step is to consider how to extend and institutionalize them in our place of work. The second way of creating social justice less often speaks for itself: it is to democratize and reward that cooperative, caretaking, morally concerned, not-always-lived-up-to womanly virtue of the past. We need that in careers, that among our full professors of either sex. My utopian university is not a Tolstoyan peasant family, but it is also not vita talking to vita. It requires a move in the balance between competition and cooperation, doing well and doing good, taking time to teach a child to swim and taking time to vote in a department meeting. When we have made that change, surely it will show in book prefaces and office talk.