Friday, December 15

Emotional Labour and what it means

Strangely enough, right after I dusted off this blog, I got an idea for another post I wanted to write (sort of) for a while now. And, strangely enough, it was a casual game with made me write it.

The game in question is the newest - if the file is right, it’s the 16th - instalment of the Delicious series. The series follows the adventures and the life of one Emily Napoli (now Emily O’Malley) and her family (from her parents over her sister to her husband and children by now). It’s also a relatively easy TM (time management) series, even though the last two instalments (“Miracle of Life” and “Moms vs. Dads,” the game in question) no longer have several difficulty settings. In “Miracle of Life,” Emily’s family grew by two new children, twins. As you can imagine, having three small kids - the twins and their older sister Paige who is still pre-school age - isn’t easy, especially when both parents normally are working. Because of that, Patrick, Emily’s husband, took time off his own flower store (which Emily’s father and her best friend keep going) and stayed at home, while Emily went on to promote her new line of healthy children’s foods and recipes (after becoming an internet sensation in “Miracle of Life”). He is a disaster at it. He does well enough with the kids as a such, he’s a caring father, but he’s no good at all the housework. And, like pretty much all men seen in the newest instalment, “Moms vs. Dads,” he has no clue what emotional housework is. And their wives finally got fed up with it and started a ‘father of the year’ competition for them to show them all the things which were part of the ‘parents’ package.

And that is where we come from the game to the actual topic of this post. Took me long enough, I know. What is that emotional work or emotional housework or emotional labour I’m referring to? Well, this cartoon and the article actually give you a good idea of it. The answer: it’s the mental process of actually managing the household. It’s the long line of thoughts and lists which go into making sure a household (especially if it’s including more than one or two people) is running as it should. This is why ‘you should have asked’ is simply showing the man saying it has no idea what his wife or girlfriend or other life-partner (that could include another man, if the household chores are split unevenly) does in the household and what needs to be done on a regular basis. There’s also an article here by a woman who explains why nagging is a necessity for many women. And why they would rather not have to do it any more than the men would rather not have to hear it.

The simple sentence ‘you should have asked’ can drive a woman in a relationship up the wall, because it proves, first and foremost, not that the man is ready to help (most guys these days, especially the younger ones, are ready to do that), but that he has no idea what managing a household means. Because if he knew, there wouldn’t be a need to ask him to do something. He’d see what needs to be done and he’d do it.
The cartoon I linked to above (the first link) has a nice explanation for what this mental labour or emotional labour etc. includes. You don’t just do one thing in the household. You do what is necessary as soon as you see it and have a moment for it. You don’t just load the laundry machine, that’s easy enough for most men (but some either are or very efficiently pretend to be too stupid even for that). You also have to keep in mind it’s running for a specific time and you need to clear it out and take care of the laundry afterwards (to hang it up or put it in the dryer, depending on how the household deals with laundry). You have to keep in mind to take down the laundry later on, too (or empty the dryer), and fold everything. Then you need to put it away. So, if a woman says ‘take care of the laundry,’ she refers to all of those steps.
When a woman walks through her home and sees something lying on the floor, she usually picks it up and puts it away. Men often simply ignore whatever is on the floor. She makes sure to put the children’s toys away (or tries her best to make the kids do so themselves). She makes sure the groceries are put away (because they may spoil otherwise). And emotional labour goes well past that. She keeps in mind when someone in the household has appointments with doctors, government agencies, or other important people. She knows the kids’ current sizes, their allergies, their food preferences, their friends, their teachers. She knows her husband’s sizes, allergies, etc. She knows when specific recurring bills are due. She knows when licences have to be renewed. She knows what needs to be put on next week’s shopping list. She has the dinners for the week planned out in her head. And that’s very far from being all.
What a woman wants when she wants her life-partner to share the housework is not just for him to take out the trash and remember to put the laundry into the machine. She wants her partner to take over part of the emotional work, too. To know the kids’ specifics and timetables, so he can pick them up from soccer training in time or get them a pair of new socks the right size or buy them the right snack (aka the one the child in question isn’t allergic to). She wants him to know that laundry isn’t done the moment he pushes the start button of the machine. She wants him to remember that trash is collected on Mondays and to put the trash can out on Sunday evening or early Monday morning every week without prompting. In short: she wants him to invest his mental abilities in the housework as well, to be a real partner and pull his full weight.

Managing a household is a full-time job of its own, as it were. That is why you pay a lot of money, if you have to hire someone for it. And in most relationships, the woman is doing the managing in addition to the actual work and to her paying job. Sharing the housework means taking an interest in the household and knowing what needs doing - and then doing it without being asked first.

Monday, December 11

Sex and gender and why the hell do we have this discussion?



Yes, I haven’t been very active here recently (and only very recently in my writer’s blog again), but now I’ve stumbled over something which really grinds my gears: the gender discussion which usually ends with those opposing the idea of more than two genders calling everyone who is not adhering to their idea of gender mentally ill.

First of all, we have to get the actual words used straight. Male and female in the biological sense is not gender, that is sex. And even that is opening a can of very moody sandworms. Masculine and feminine is gender. So let’s start out with biological sex and sandworms.

Before the invention of genetics, biological sex was easy. If someone had a penis, they were male. If someone had a vagina, they were female. Two sexes, everything sorted out. Only, that doesn’t account for those people (often guessed to be around 1 in 1000 births) who are born with both sexual organs. Then came genetic sex, which is based on the two sex chromosomes: X and Y. Everyone with a Y chromosome is considered male (because everyone has at least one X chromosome, so that wouldn’t help as a definition). But there are people with multiples of some chromosomes, that also goes for the X chromosome. Interestingly, foetuses with two or more Y chromosomes aren’t capable of surviving, but there are people who don’t have an XY composition (which is normal male sex), but something like XXY or XXXY. Those people are physically female insofar as they have a proto-vagina. They do not, however, have an uterus or ovaries, so they are not capable of giving birth. For genetics, they are male, because there is a Y chromosome. Following the old definition of biological sex, however, they are female, because they lack a penis. Then there’s cases in which a foetus with XY chromosomes doesn’t develop a male sexual organ. All foetuses start developing a proto-vagina first. If they’re female, what will become the ovaries will wander up and take root at the top of the uterus. If they’re male, what will become the testicles (and happens to be the same as the future ovaries above) will wander down and the proto-vagina will turn into a penis. Sometimes, foetuses don’t develop correctly at this stage. The foetus stays female by the old biological definition, even though it genetically is male. The person, however, will be infertile, because there are no ovaries or uterus. Nevertheless, biological sex in the sense of ‘what is or isn’t there’ can be determined as female.

Gender is a different question and has to do not with what biology says, but what society says. Traits and abilities are sorted into ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’ Sometimes, depending on the society in question, there’s also some neutral traits and abilities everyone is allowed to have. If you look at different societies or even the same society at different times in history, you will see those traits change.
Today’s ‘men don’t cry’ trait for masculinity would have been utterly wrong for Ancient Greece, where a ‘real man’ was supposed to cry at suitable times.
The idea that women can’t fight would be utterly alien to societies like the Mongols, which as a nomad people, didn’t make a difference between males and females when it came to going into battle. Whoever was physically capable, went out fighting - men and women alike. They still don’t make a difference.
Other definitions have been overcome by time. When my mother was young in the 1950s, she would have loved to become a carpenter and, honestly, she would have been marvellous at it. But in 1950s Germany, no carpenter would have taken on a woman as an apprentice. Today, that’s hardly a problem any longer.
Even the idea that women are naturally ‘nurturing’ and men are not is merely a social construct. It’s damaging, too, teaching boys that they are not allowed to show that side. There’s many good fathers out there who are doing a wonderful job at taking care of their kids, aren’t they nurturing, too? And there’s women, such as me, who never feel any ‘motherly instinct’ when they see a child.

But if gender is a social construct, unlike physical or genetic sex, then why are people so hyped up about those who do not define as their supposed gender? Or see themselves somewhere in-between, because they have traits and abilities from both spectrums? That is what grinds my gears. Everyone is an individual, even a twin. We’re all different from each other from the moment we’re born. We have different interests, different likes and dislikes. We may identify more with the feminine model of our society or with the masculine one. If that happens to fit with our biological sex, people have no problem with it. If that doesn’t fit with our biological sex, we’re suddenly supposed to be mentally ill. And that makes me ill, but not mentally. It makes me want to throw up.
Instead of telling a girl that she’s supposed to be all nurturing, to be interested in dolls and toy ovens, why don’t we ask that girl what she’s interested in? Perhaps she likes dolls and toy cars. Perhaps she wants that science experiments set. Perhaps she likes a cuddly stuffed bear. Perhaps she wants to play with that Superman action figure (because those are for boys and definitely no dolls). And, perhaps, her brother has been eying that toy oven for a while now, because he wants to bake a cake.

I was brought up like that, because in the 1970s and 1980s, people were trying to raise their children ‘non sexist’ - meaning they wanted to raise the children as personalities, not according to their biological sex or the gender expectations. There were a lot of ‘gender neutral’ toys around. LEGO was absolutely neutral once, only colourful building blocks for whatever you wanted to build with them: a nice house, a space station, a castle, a racetrack.
The 1990s saw a backlash at that. Suddenly, toys became colour-coded. Pink for girls, blue or black for boys. Even LEGO suddenly was divided by gender, depending on the set in question. Technology was for boys, dolls remained something for girls. Technology bleeding into the girl territory masqueraded as something typical for girls, such as a game where you could buy stuff with a credit card or call one of several boys. Or as a diary that would only open for your voice, so your little brother couldn’t read it (though I dare say most teenage girls were more worried about their mothers reading it).
Today, I look at the girls, see the early age at which they are sexualized, because media tells them to be pretty first and foremost. The thoughts which my parents abhorred, that my biological sex should define my future, as it had often defined theirs, have come back with a vengeance.
Today, young women want to be models before everything else. Models, excuse me for saying so, are walking clothes hangers, nothing more. And today, neither the clothes nor the models are really fit for reality. In a time when more and more women are fatter (in a neutral way) than they have been in the past, as the statistics show, the models have gotten thinner and thinner. And most of what you see on the catwalks is surely not fit for being worn on the street, not if you don’t want to be arrested for indecently exposing yourself. I also wonder how much longer it will take until the fashion designers realize that digital models are the way to go - they can be shaped any way the designer wants them to be, they never make a mistake, they will lose and gain weight at the click of the mouse.

Even biological sex is up for definition these days, since the physical sex can be changed with surgery. Genetic sex can’t be changed like that, but doesn’t always translate into the physical configuration which should be going with it. Gender is merely a construct and shouldn’t always be confused with the sex of a person. Honestly, if you have a problem with saying or typing the word ‘sex’ somewhere in social media or in other discussions, don’t enter them. So what if a person identifies as male, but is a biological and genetic female? So what if a person doesn’t identify as one sex, but as both (or none)? And, while we’re at it: so what if men love men, women love women, or some people love everyone? If your invisible friend in the sky, whoever it might be, has a problem with that, then don’t do it yourself. But remember a sentence from the bible: am I my brother’s keeper? You’re not, so let your brother, sister, or undetermined sibling love whom they love.

Mind your own business and don’t try to make other people feel bad, just because you can’t or won’t understand their side. Nobody forces you to identify with another gender definition or get a surgical sex change. Tolerance is the name of the game. Try it and you might live much better.

Thursday, August 10

Women in STEM



With the very recent case of a Google senior engineer being fired over a 10-page ‘manifesto’ explaining that the low number of women in the STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has nothing to do with bias during hiring or the sexist reaction of male colleagues, but with the fact that women are, to put it simple, biologically bad at all of the above (you know, STEM, science, technology, etc.). They get too little testosterone before they’re born, apparently. Which makes me wonder whether or not that problem then could be solved with some prenatal injections of testosterone. (NOT.) Here’s the link to a Gizmondo reprint (also includes the company’s answer through the appropriate vice president in charge of diversity and other things).

He, like many people before him (and, unfortunately, probably also many people after him), uses the good old ‘women are better at social and artistic work and far worse at anything which can be considered systemic work’ prejudice. Why is that a prejudice? Go and Google (yup, use their search engine) people like Emmy Noether or Annie Jump Cannon (yes, that really was her name). Annie, for instance, was doing a job which required a very good grasp of science: she was a Harvard Computer. Those were, long before the computer as we know it today (the electronic device) became a thing, low-class assistants at universities who spent their whole day computing data - and they were overwhelmingly female. They, essentially, did what computer programs do today. And Annie was especially good at finding new stars through her calculations, even devising a new system (so much for systemic work) of classifying stars. The system is still used today. Emmy Noether, on the other hand, was one of the most brilliant mathematicians who ever lived. But, of course, mathematics aren’t part of the STEM field (since it’s now only the STE field).

Then there’s the ‘women are not speaking out and asking for a raise, then they complain they don’t get it’ thing. I’m still sure that if a woman did that, she’d be out of a job, not getting a raise, because it’s not what women do. And it’s not what men expect, so it would shock that boss to have a female employee ask him in a no-nonsense way which a man might use.

Next comes the ‘women don’t rise in hierarchy, because they’re not ready to spend all those long hours working which are required for a leader position’ spiel we’re also familiar with. First of all, a jacket over a chair’s back doesn’t signify long hours of work. But, yes, in middle management, you usually do a lot of long hours. Most women, however, never get to that stage, they are kept further down, ignored when it comes to promotion, pushed into jobs at the company where there is not further space for promotion.

‘Women are more cooperative than competitive.’ I guess this guy never came close to any ‘Miss something’ contest - women are highly competitive among themselves. But even if they are not: I can’t see where in the STEM field competitive behaviour would be better than cooperation. More eyes and more minds equal more work getting done. Sharing new information instead of keeping it to yourself (so you can get all the praise) might lead to quicker development.

The guy seems to think women don’t choose STEM mostly for the work. The truth is most women don’t choose STEM, because of what you hear about that ‘boys club’ behaviour towards female colleagues. Like that guy who complained that he can’t work with women around, because they’re distracting. Like ignoring and belittling female colleagues. Like that other guy who thought that during a panel at a science conference he should explain her work to a female colleague in front of all (and who was only stopped by a woman from the audience calling him out and telling him to shut up and let her talk, because the host was actually not up to his job). Women hear these stories and decide not to go into science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. They have what we usually call a sense of self-protection. They are ready to work long hours and devote their life to STEM, they’re just not willing to do it in an atmosphere in which they will constantly be challenged, overlooked, harassed, or belittled. Personally, I can’t find a fault with that decision, but it makes things worse for the few who are brave enough. With more women coming into the field, they could form alliances to protect themselves and fight back. One woman is easily belittled or harassed, a group can stand up to those doing the belittling and harassing a lot better.

Society starts early to teach kids, boys and girls alike, what they should strive for. It teaches boys to be competitive and girls to be ready to compromise. It teaches boys that they need to work hard in their future chosen field and girls to look out for those hard-working boys so they can marry the right guy. It tells stories about the prince rescuing the princess, but few stories about the princess saving her prince (and those stories so far haven’t been picked up by Disney for large feature films). It tells girls to be ‘nice’ (which does not include talking loud, being decisive, and telling a guy to go to hell for bothering them) and boys that ‘boys will be boys’ when they’re doing something wrong. You know, like telling a talk-show host behind the scenes that when you’re rich, you can grab them all by the pussy.

Society also tells girls how boys are better at science and maths and that they shouldn’t, in essence, burden their pretty head with such stuff. Girls with an interest in the STEM field have to fight an uphill battle from early on, many tire at some point, give in, and go into other jobs. Teachers will not recognize their interest or ability, but still prefer the boys. Boys will make fun of them, girls will make fun of them. Relatives might tell them that it’s not what a girl does, that they should develop a more appropriate interest. So some give in during school. Some give in during college, when things become even worse in male-dominated classes where they are ridiculed or simply ignored. Some give in once they’re out of college and looking for work, only to find themselves cast aside for men who might not have better marks, but are in possession of a penis and a Y chromosome. The boys club does protect its members well - just as similar clubs in field like the law or high-level business positions. Few go into the fields, usually stranded in a low-level position, ignored by their superiors who’d rather promote a guy - because we all know all women will drop out and found a family sooner or later. Or for some similarly stupid reason - few of those superiors will admit that they do it, because they believe that a man is better suited, even if evidence at hand suggests something else.

So, yes, there’s fewer women in the STEM field and as long as the perception of a female scientist, technician, engineer, or mathematician doesn’t change, that won’t change much, either. There are quite some women who do not strive for a family (including those who get themselves sterilized at 20 these days - I wish I would have gotten that chance myself). There are as many intelligent women as there are intelligent men. Women have been computers in the past (NASA even had their female computers check the results of the first electronic computers for possible mistakes), they can do numbers. A woman wrote the first programming language of the world - for a machine which didn’t even exist (check Ada Lovelace).