« Huh | Main | Meta-Blogging »

Summers Redux

Now that the full text of the speech is out, I'm surprised so much of the discussion has focused on the genetics issue to the number one item on the Summers list -- women's alleged unwillingness to work long hours because they're too busy having kids and taking care of them. This is, I think, undoubtedly a major factor. And yet Summers' way of putting the point is laughably ahistorical and blind to context. As Professor B. puts it:

Mommies do not have children by budding or splitting. Daddies have kids too. Daddies should spend time with their kids. Mommies being more aggressive on issues of family time is not a socially-neutral fact. It has everything to do with socialization, and with men like Summers ignoring their own parental responsibilities because they can get away with it, knowing that women will pick up the slack. . . .

Moreover, ask women who have served on hiring committees with men whether or not discrimination, subtle or unsubtle, occurs in searches. I've heard horror stories. Ask whether women get asked, when they go on the market, if their husbands are "willing to move," get told how "lucky" they are if the answer is yes, get asked "what about the kids"--and ask if men get asked the same things, as often. Ask whether search committees hypothesize about women's personal circumstances--children, partners--when they discuss candidate's qualifications.

Now this a somewhat tricky point, because I don't think you can reasonably expect any given university (or corporation, or person) to singlehandedly shoulder the burden of changing a set of social expectations that's become very well entrenched over a very long period of time. At the same time, you can't just do nothing about it, either.

February 18, 2005 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345160fd69e200d834226a5753ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Summers Redux:

» Minding the Kids, Again from Crooked Timber
Now that Larry Summers has begun to his putative commitment to freewheeling inquiry in this area by actually releasing a transcript of his infamous remarks, various people are commenting on it. Matt Yglesias says I don’t think you can reasonably... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 18, 2005 7:56:48 PM

» Minding the Kids, Again from Kieran Healy's Weblog
Now that Larry Summers has begun to live up to his putative commitment to open, freewheeling inquiry by finally releasing... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 18, 2005 8:10:35 PM

» Academic Filters... from Brad DeLong's Website
Matthew Yglesias asks a good question: Why are people talking about what Larry Summers said were his "guesses" about gender, genetics, and math achievement? Why aren't people talking about the main point of Larry Summers's talk on the underrepresentati... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 18, 2005 8:15:51 PM

Comments

You should read what Jane Galt has to say about this. Very thoughtful.

The solution for high -powered professional women who want to devote themselves to a career that requires 80-100 hrs/ week (and that's not changing, and is never going to change, see Jane Galt for an explanation of why not) is to find lower status men who would be delighted to raise their children and take care of their homes. So long as women want higher status men, though, they shouldn't expect the impossible.

Posted by: DBL | Feb 18, 2005 4:36:03 PM

The solution for high -powered professional women who want to devote themselves to a career that requires 80-100 hrs/ week (and that's not changing, and is never going to change, see Jane Galt for an explanation of why not) is to find lower status men who would be delighted to raise their children and take care of their homes. So long as women want higher status men, though, they shouldn't expect the impossible.


Of course, its also impossible so long as men want lower status women; this is also a problem in the African-American community, in which the social expectation of gender roles is very strong, and the social expectation of making families within the community is also fairly strong, but the fact that A-A women have considerably higher educational attainment than A-A men, for numerous reasons, causes all kinds of problems.

Posted by: cmdicely | Feb 18, 2005 4:41:50 PM

to find lower status men who would be delighted to raise their children and take care of their homes.

Chalk me up as one. As much as I hate diapers, I hate being a slave to the traffic light even more. (At least I think so.) The problem is finding a woman who wants to work these hours and is in a field capable of such advancement. (Damn love seems to get in the way!)

Posted by: Adrock | Feb 18, 2005 4:45:39 PM

For some odd reason, BitchPhD's take is a bit different.

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Feb 18, 2005 4:57:27 PM

because I don't think you can reasonably expect any given university (or corporation, or person) to singlehandedly shoulder the burden of changing a set of social expectations that's become very well entrenched over a very long period of time

But isn't an institution like Harvard uniquely situated to do something? Wouldn't other institutions follow Harvard simply because Harvard is, well, Harvard?

Posted by: Al | Feb 18, 2005 5:01:35 PM

I moved for my wife's job. A lot of people who know one/both of us were very surprised by that even though we had comparable jobs. The assumption that my job should have been determinitive of our location was clearly gender-based. Even the fact that my job was in Texas (yuck) and hers was in beautiful Seattle didn't seem to make a difference to people's expectations.

Women in academia face a compounded version of the same dilemma, because so many academic jobs are in places where alternative employment for spouses is scarce.

Posted by: Dan Ryan | Feb 18, 2005 5:14:32 PM

But isn't an institution like Harvard uniquely situated to do something?Wouldn't other institutions follow Harvard simply because Harvard is, well, Harvard?

Probably not.

Posted by: cmdicely | Feb 18, 2005 5:15:25 PM

Posted by: cmdicely | Feb 18, 2005 5:23:59 PM

Matt, who does expect Harvard (or any other institution) to singlehandedly shoulder the burden of changing culture? The observation that one person/institution can't do everything is so trivial as to be almost obstructionist - perfection being the enemy of the good and all that. Most people feel, quite reasonably, that we should all make a good faith attempt to do something.

These kinds of cultural coordination problems are inherently tricky for a number of reasons, none of which are expectations that an individual/institution will singlehandedly bear the burden of change.

Posted by: yami | Feb 18, 2005 6:18:38 PM

Come on, Matt. I'm disappointed.

Summers explicitly says his analysis is positive, not normative, and that he is not endorsing society's expectation that women do most child-rearing or that high powered professions don't accommodate family.

Don't be an Atrios.

Posted by: Gareth | Feb 18, 2005 6:46:04 PM

A serious inquiry: how many households do you know where the mother, even in the environs of Harvard, spends more time on the kids than does the father? Where, even if Dad does do a lot, still it can't be said that Mom does more. Especially from -.75 to 3, but beyond as well.
Second question: if, as I suppose, the great majority of households do have a division of child-oriented labor that falls significantly short of 50-50, would you say that --
well, what would you say?
--that all those mothers and fathers are succmbing to inelectable social pressures/not-at-all-innocuous expectations, and though they're to be excused, the society must be reformed?
--that the fathers are in the wrong, it's chiefly on them to shape up and volunteer for more hours duty?
--that the motherts are in the wrong for not standing up for themselves and their necesssary dreams?
--that, as de Marneffe, who seems to be a woman with a life of her own and a head on her shoulders,--as Marneffe argues, staying home with the kids is a real choice and a legitimate one, even if as it happens women's maternal desire require more one-on-one contact time than do men's paternal desires?
I imagine DeMarneffe wouldn't be caught dead in the precincts of the IWF. But she, too, is a victim of false consciousness? And so also all those other mothers who are doing over half the attending to the children? Or is that they're husbands are taking unfair advantage of them? Or that they're both victims of societal injustice?
Just why is it unjust for DeMarneffe to have chosen to spend more time with the kids? Just why is it that our society, built round the expectations of the DeMarneffes who remain the majority among women, is unjust? Is it morally wrong to prefer to devote one's time and talent to one's child rather than to advancing up the ladder of accomplishment at work? And to prefer more time at work and less at home?

Posted by: Curious | Feb 18, 2005 7:07:46 PM

"Mommies being more aggressive on issues of family time is not a socially-neutral fact."

No, but it isn't entirely socially-constructed either. That mommies are more aggressive on issues of family is at least partially biological; after all, they are the ones who carry the baby and who have breasts. Not that fathers should not be involved in their families or that we are slaves to our biological drives, but biology would seem to dictate that women would have a predisposition ON AVERAGE to be more aggressive of issue of family.

Posted by: Glaivester | Feb 18, 2005 7:14:31 PM

yeah, I have mostly progressive friends that are in their early thirties and I have yet to see a case where the dad even approaches the level of childcare that the mothers carry out. In the cases where it is similar, it is typically b/c both parents are full-time workers and someone else is spending more time with their kids than both combined. But even in those cases, mom is still doing more.

I personally wonder if you can get past the patterns that are somewhat set at the outset by the nurturing bu the mother, often by nursing.

So, I don't think that what Summers is saying is laughingly ahistorical. The reality he describes is pretty close to the reality that I see.

Posted by: Christopher Brandow | Feb 18, 2005 7:18:40 PM

Thanks for the link--between you and Atrios, my hits are going through the roof. As you say, it's unreasonable to expect any one institution to single-handedly overturn sexism in one fell swoop; but it's not really unreasonable to expect people in Summers's position to demonstrate intellectual honesty.

On the question of whether momminess is partly biological; maybe. But it would be hard to tell, wouldn't it, given the major social forces at work? There are dads, more and more of 'em, that stay home; and there have always been dads who have alternated work schedules with moms to cover child care (mostly blue-collar workers, I think). Presumably men, too, care about the survival of their offspring.

Posted by: bitchphd | Feb 18, 2005 7:20:34 PM

We're the only mammal that can engage in Kantian reasoning and use it to evaluate social constructs. Some of us are even celibate.
But there's evidence that in the crib, the female of this so remarkably accomplished mammalian species is more responsive to human faces and the male to mechanical objects. And the male of the species can have hundreds or even thousands of offspring, the female only a few.

Posted by: Curious | Feb 18, 2005 7:36:01 PM

I don't think the issue is whether the assertions Summers makes are true or not (and I think the truth within them is debatable at best); the question is what they, theoretically at least, prove. It may be true that more Moms take time to stay home. Does that prove that they have no interest in their professional lives? that they have no interest in a high-powered, or demanding career? or no interest in a career in the sciences? Much of what Summers is doing is taking Things That Have Always Been That Way, conflating them as social science ("I can't prove it, but..."), and then drawing conclusions from it. That's at least sloppy, and at most, rather destructive. I'm not surprised that a number of women there were just livid. And I'm also not surprised that it's essentially put his ability to continue to hold the job into question.

Posted by: weboy | Feb 18, 2005 8:02:58 PM

Interesting letter from a reader over at Mark Kleiman's.Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Feb 18, 2005 8:41:23 PM

I wonder how you square multiculturalism, with what at least appears to be a conviction that we ought to undo parts of our own culture.

Ok, so women tend to spend more time with the kids than men. And this has unavoidable opportunity costs. Why is this something that has to be "fixed"? Rather than just acknowledged as part of human diversity?

It seems to me, more and more, that the "liberal" goal is a world of people of all colors and genders leading statistically indistinguishable, homogenous lives. Like they were all exactly the same except for a coat of paint...

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 18, 2005 9:52:02 PM

"I don't think the issue is whether the assertions Summers makes are true or not (and I think the truth within them is debatable at best); the question is what they, theoretically at least, prove."

Well, they suggest that not all discrepancies in behavior between men and women come about because of discrimination. the point isn't that women can't be competent mathematicians, just that we shouldn't assume that anything less than 50-50 is de facto discrimination.

Posted by: Glaivester | Feb 18, 2005 10:17:57 PM

It is interesting to compare the reaction of academics to Ward Churchill and Larry Summers.

I would guess those same professors who are howling for Summers head because he suggested that women may be more genetically predisposed to taking care of their children than making money are critical of those who want Ward Churchill fired for saying that the people on the WTC deserved to die because they were capitalists.

Seems a bit hypocritical to me.

Posted by: Robert Brown | Feb 18, 2005 10:25:15 PM

If Summers were a tenured faculty member, you'd have a point. But, of course, you don't. As anyone saying that Steven Pinker should be fired? Of course not. The Presidency of a university is, in part, a PR job.

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Feb 18, 2005 10:47:36 PM

What a great way to look ridiculous! We progressives will never re-establish our primacy unless we can get over being so attached to our theories that we defend them to the death against the invasion of the crashingly obvious. Leave that mode of thinking to GWB with his markets and his tax cuts.

Revelation: most women would rather stay home and raise kids than go out and conquer the world. They’d better or we won't have any world. Millions of years of evolution made us the way we are and the uber feminists want to change it all in a generation---to suit their own tastes.

In the best of all worlds everyone would follow their bliss. Climbing the corporate ladder over the backs of your fellows shouldn't be anyone's bliss. If women have a better understanding of that, that makes them smarter than men, to me. Any women who wants to follow that path, fine, do it. No one should stand in their way. Learn how hollow and loveless that kind of life is. But don't use all your resources to make women who are REALLY contributing to society (raising kids) feel like they are wasting their lives. That is a greater sin than denying equal opportunity.

Listen progressives, the sameness doctrine is moth-eaten, worm-infested and no longer worth defending. The races are different, the sexes are different. I saw this bumper sticker on the back of an African American's car:

"It isn’t our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.”

Amen, Amen, Amen!

Posted by: James of DC | Feb 18, 2005 10:54:38 PM

President Summers' comments, even on an off day, are still more cogent and thoughtful than those of Mr. Bush.

Posted by: Roger Bigod | Feb 18, 2005 10:57:45 PM

"If Summers were a tenured faculty member, you'd have a point."

Pretty sure Summers is a prof. of economics at Harvard - one of the youngest tenured profs there in recent history.

Posted by: rilkefan | Feb 19, 2005 1:09:37 AM

I wasted a good bit of time at various comment threads making this sort of point - that it was the way he framed this issue that gave the game away (or at least explains why there were people storming out). Even the versions from original reporting give off a distinctive smell, so to speak, instantly recognizable to anyone who've ever been in a conversation where it suddenly became clear that the other person was way out there in justification-land, with no particular engagement or understanding of the problem. I tried to explain it over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars (if I remember correctly) as a "When they ask 'If man evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys" moment. Sadly, I was quickly slapped down . . ..

I suspect some of the folks who don't get it simply have never been on the receiving end of such moments in any way that challenges their right to thrive, work, or be considered worthy of some sort of minimal recognition. From a distance, it all seems so reasonable . . .

Posted by: Dan S. | Feb 19, 2005 2:13:47 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.