Posted at 12:00 PM Mar 31, 2010By Andrea Grimes
One of the goals of the Council on Women and Girls is to call attention to the inspirational women working in the Federal Government and to learn more about their paths to their current positions. In the first of this series, Meet the Women of the Administration, we asked Dr. Rebecca Blank to reflect on how she developed an interest and expertise in economics and to weigh in on how she balances work and family. Take a look and find out what keeps Dr. Blank going!A fascinating woman with a fascinating and important job! BUT WHAT ABOUT HER BABIES AND HUSBAND? Ugh.
Let me be clear: my panties are minimally wadded about the fact that part of Dr. Blank's profile focuses on her family. I think that overall, profiling these women is super-cool and exciting--I mean, how often do you get to read a woman quoted like this:
"I certainly never thought "I want to be an economist when I grow up!" But I took an introductory economics class and it was so interesting that I took another. And I never quite escaped after that. Economics requires rigorous math and analytical skills, which I found challenging but fun. At the same time, economics has a lot to say about how the world works. After graduate school I became increasingly interested in how government policies could (or couldn't) affect behavior and economic outcomes. That led me into lots of interesting research areas. And my research on the impact of policy in turn opened up opportunities to work directly on real world policy issues inside government."What I find disappointing is not that Dr. Blank was asked about her family--I think that's a logical question when you're profiling someone--but that Dr. Blank was asked how she balances work and family life, which is a question almost never asked of prominent men unless there's some kind of unusual homelife situation going on. (See Biden, Joe.) In asking Dr. Blank about her work-family balance, and asking this mostly of successful women rather than men, there's the implication that, regardless of their professional success, women are to some degree inextricably tied to the domestic sphere. The work-family balance question is much, much less of an issue for men of status, particularly if they're married. Sure, the media asked Barack Obama about the presidency's impact on his family, but the answer wasn't really all that important--of course Michelle would manage the home and kids, and so would Grandma.
For men, it seems to be more a question of "How is your family going to handle the fact that you have this position?" And for women, it's a question of "How are you going to handle your family in addition to this position?" In a society wherein working women still do the majority of housework and child-rearing, I think taking these kinds of issues seriously is paramount--men must be made to be held accountable for their share of domestic life, and one way we can do that is by refusing to only tangentially associate maleness with the private sphere.