Saturday, March 24, 2007

It Never Rains But it Pours

First, go to J-Friend Heidi's blog and read about the Atheist in the Hizz-owwwwse! By which, achem, I mean, and Atheist in the (US) House (of Representatives). Achem.

Rep. Pete Stark has "come out" as an atheist, which struck me as weird the first time I heard this, when I "came out" as an agnostic during my days at Procter & Gamble. Ol' P & G, despite being the object of much bitching and moaning on my part when I was working there, had an EXCELLENT, excellent diversity training program, really challenging and useful; as my ex-girlfriends can attest (hopefully positively), I use the things I learned from it about communication to this day. (Bottom line: Golden Rule is bullshit. Treat people as THEY want to be treated, not the way YOU would want to be treated -- and to do this, you have to communicate with them and LEARN how they want to be treated. Tougher to pull off, but better in the end, thinks I.) We had different sessions, one of which we went around and identified different things about ourselves (including an interesting one where you walked across the room with every social advantage you possessed, i.e. take one step forward if you're a male, if you're over 5'10", if you're white, etc.). I had never before realized how incredibly unique it was that my first childhood "best friend" was Vietnamese (I wonder what Ninh is up to these days?... hmm, Google-stalking makes it appear he might be a lawyer.) The other thing was that I was agnostic.

Now, not only is P&G predominately Christian, it is predominately Catholic. (It wasn't until I moved to Canton and then to Cincinatti that I realized how much variation there is in number of Catholics in different areas of the US; they're 25% of the US population more generally, but Canton and Cinti seem to have much larger "enclaves." Seems reminiscent to, but not nearly as dramatic as, the influence of Jewish US citizens, who I think actually only make up like 2-4% of the US population. On the other hand, though Catholics are a minority as compared to "Protestants", if you look sect-wise, they're 4 times larger than the next singularly organized Christian institution, the Baptists. That would seem to explain in part the disproportionate political power of a group composing 25% of the population -- that, and influence as a voting bloc extending throughout parties, but I seriously digress.) There were, I think, nigh-audible gasps at the fact that I was (am) an agnostic (or now that Heidi has made me hip to it, agnostic atheist). There was definitely a cricket-chirping pause, and then conversation resumed normally and I got sounds of acceptance. Afterwards, SEVERAL people, including a Section Manager (a solid middle-manager 6-figure position) who thanked me for my bravery in "coming out" and said that they had never had the bravery to do so before. (I kept thinking to myself "Am I gay? Did I say I am?") And incidentally, as I explained to my parents once, this was also when I realized my chances of settling down with a black woman some day are relatively small -- a very hot fellow African American P&G engineer, I forget her name, and I were chatting -- chatting up, perhaps, and somehow it got to religion (this was the same diversity session after all, though she'd been in a different group during my coming out). Feeling freshly confident in my atheist pride ("I´m here! I'm queer! I'm... the only one here..."), I admitted (mentioned) my agnosticism. Literally, I saw a wall come down behind her eyes, and it was the most acute sensation I've ever had from someone's affect going from "flirting/potentially interested" to "being simply very friendly." I was a possible fellow-traveler at P&G after that, a possible friend, but WOAH did I feel the lukewarm shoulder on the romantic interest front there.

So. Yes. Atheists in the House. Yay. Maybe, some day, in my life time, we can dare to dream that an Atheist can be president!!!

Ha ha ha. Okay, okay, I'll stick to being realistic and just wait for our gay (though god-fearing) president to come into office.

The other thing I had wanted to get into is Joan Williams BRILLIANT book, "Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It." It is FANTASTIC. Her points are, from my view, logically immaculate, and her prose is easy and enjoyable. It is simply one of the most enjoyable intellectual-politico-legal books I've ever read. That is to say, it's no "Song of Ice & Fire," I'm not staying up nights reading it, but it is very very enjoyable to read and I'm learning a lot.

Her basic point, one I've struggled a little with, is that the "choice" to stay home for today's women, to take the lead in raising the kids and home-making, is not anti-feminist, a step backwards, or simply a tactical error (as Linda Hirshman, for example, would have us believe), but rather an expression of a still male-dominated society together with a particular failure of feminism. That is, she doesn't critique feminism as an endeavor, as many are wont to do these days, or say that getting women into the workforce was simply wrong, tactically in error, or untimely, but just that we must now go beyond this. Working women are having a very tough time as mothers these days (and stay-at-home mothers are becoming more common) BECAUSE what allows and has allowed men to work as they do today in the market is a constant supply of "free" female labor. That is, we all know home-making is tough and is real work and all, but the part that hasn't been appreciated is that men couldn't perform as (what Williams calls) "ideal workers" without women's undervalued labor, meaning specifically that the wage a family man may earn is actually joint property created by a husband and caregiver wife (or any working spouse and caregiving spouse) together. That is, he could not earn what he does, staying at work all the time without a stay-at-home (or part-time working) partner, or hiring home labor and child-rearing services. Especially, she points out, in the cases of very wealthy husbands and/or the "you get your degree and I'll support you while you do it", the home-managing caregiver most often is sacrificing not only her time and immediate career goals, but decreases her own wage-earning power (by being out of the workforce; each year out of the workforce exacts a future penalty on career prospects) AND is essentially providing the services that allows the other partner to make whatever wage and get whatever degree. In a very real way, the degree and/or wage belongs to both of them, as they both made it.

I love her arguments and their rational basis, and of course can't go through the whole book here. But it's revelatory for me (and makes me realize how utterly AWE-SOME my own Mom & Dad are and were) and though I've always been in a weird middle on the "choice to stay home/choice to pursue a career" part of feminism, her critique and suggestions for Reconstructive Feminism make so much sense, and point out that the present regime also penalizes men who actually DO do their fair share of home work and child-rearing, or who would wish to, which is still sadly an exceedingly small minority of men. (Men do something much less than half the housework still in this day and age.)

I can't say enough good things about this book, but I probably will say some more at some future date. Until then, enjoy the update glut.


heidi said...

yay! new blog post! and at least ... uh... 2/5ths of it inspired by moi(kindof)! I loved the P&G anecdote; at least hot p&g engineer could still be friends with you - I worry sometimes that amongst my HS friends who are particularly faithful that my lack of faith will make me not only an unattractive love-match (which frankly I couldn't care less about) but also an unattractive conversational partner or life influence. It's hard to draw the line between what you value as a person in other people and how you feel about their beliefs. I think it's something we moderns could really use to address more clearly.

Anyway, I wanted to point out that, in contrast to the working world, academia is a bit more open and accepting, at least amongst faculty and colleagues (if the issue ever comes up) but I find myself in very interesting places when I get into religious discussions with students (which happens fairly frequently for we medievalists) and I find it necessary both to a) defend (or at least be 'agnostic' about) the church, b) defend the people who believed in the church/had faith in crazy 'obviously irrational' things like relics, miracles, etc. (esp. to the hard-core protestants), c) find some way to be culturally relativistic without promoting any one belief. Often, to give my sources a fair shake-out, I have to on some level defend or explicate their religions, despite the fact I have no belief whatsoever. It's odd.

ok, done rambling. I'm going to take a peek at the book you recommended...I'm going to write a post sometime soon about the new daycare hulaballoo (NYT, Slate, the J Continuum, etc. have gotten on the bandwagon.. why not the sideways love balloon? ciao!

heidi said...

also, I wanted to add my anecdote to your stay-at-home flame: both of my parents worked until I was eight (mom in medicine, dad in insurance/real estate sales), but then mom worked (as an ultrasonographist) and dad stayed at home and took care of housework/kids (though mom did still cook and do some yardwork/gardening, etc.). In retrospect this was both a) an amazing arrangement and really important to both my and my brother's development, b) really progressive and strange in MT especially, (though dads who were 'stay at home ranchers' and moms who had secretarial jobs weren't all that uncommon), and c) always and still a point of contention and worry between my parents. Alot of (c) has something to do with 'pursuing life dreams' and etc., but I always thought it was, too, about my father being uncomfortable with not playing the 'traditional' role, and my mother having problems 'giving' my father money to 'not work' (which is both clearly a simplification and exaggeration).

There's lots more where that came from, but I just wanted to point out that even where seemingly progressive decisions are made, the pressures of personal belief, family history and, really, shame about not properly fulfilling gender roles can lead to tension and second-guessing.

heidi said...

p.s. I guess it's pertinent to note that I have a brother who's 4 years younger, so Dad had a 4 yr old and an 8 yr old on his hands.