Let’s Talk about Those “Progressive” Audi and 84 Lumber Ads

Last night was the Super Bowl and with it comes all those advertisements.  So, let’s talk about two of those ads that are deemed “oh so progressive.”

First, don’t be fooled by that 84 Lumber ad.  The owner voted for Trump and 84 Lumber remarked on Twitter that it was about a path to “legal” citizenship.  The ad, which many are viewing as pro-immigrant in the aftermath of Trump’s ban, is actually an ode to his desire to only welcome those who can find that big “legal” door.  And let’s face it, in Trump’s America, that door will not be easily opened to immigrants of color.

Second, we need to talk about that “feminist” Audi ad.  To begin, the girl is white and blue eyed.  In terms of diverse representation, this ad fails from the start.  And then, the daughter has no voice.  The father’s voice takes central stage, giving her no real agency.  It is her narrative through his lens.  In essence, the commercial becomes about what a great dad he is for raising his daughter this way.  

And the final straw, the tagline: “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work.  Progress is for everyone.”  The flip side of breaking the glass ceiling is looking at the success of women in the upper echelons of the company.  Equal pay for equal work commitments mean that there are also roughly equal distributions along gendered lines in the upper executive branches of a company.  So, let’s take a look at the page for the Exevutive Team at Audi USA.  What’s that?  2 women hold exectutive positions out of 14.

So please, before you start spending your money at these companies.  Do a little research first. These are advertisements meant to prey on your emotions.   Never forget that the endgame for any company’s advertisement is to sell you their crap so that they can make more money.  Let’s just say that most are perfectly fine with selling their souls in the process.  

Let’s Talk about Emotion and Patriarchy

​I had the most emotionally draining day of my teaching career yesterday.  I teach classes on race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, so many of my students, who are often women and people of color and queer, both past and present, came to me to try to make sense of this world.  This is the uncompensated, emotional work that teachers do when parents entrust us with their children–young adults trying to find their way in the world.  And I did that work yesterday.  

And, as an educator, I want to tell you what I told them.  People have a right to their anger.  People have a right to their sadness.  People have a right to their fear.  And, people have a right to their joy.  People have a right to their emotions, and I have made it my life’s work to study and promote both ethics and empathy.  And, we need to think about how we can be better people.  We need to think about how we can use those emotions productively.

But, please, stop telling people, especially marginalized people, that they do not have a right to their emotions. That they should be reasonable and objective.  Suppressing emotions has been a long time tactic of patriarchal and white supremacist societies. This is why women’s emotions have historically been categorized as hysterical and so, as the stereotype goes, automatically disqualifies them from being able to do what men can do. The rejection of emotion has been used for hundreds of years to keep marginalized people marginalized.  

So please, listen.  Give people time to grieve. Do not tell them that their emotions do not matter.  Educate yourself.  Know that there is a long history surrounding the very language of supressing “emotion” that has been used to disenfranchize others. Respect people for their emotions.  We do have a right to them so long as they are not used to hurt anyone else.  And, that is the very foundation of empathy.

I Wish I Could Sleep as Soundly as a Straight, White Man on This Election Night

So, here I am.  My partner, a straight, white male, snores beside me in bed.  I have been obsessively checking the election results for the last hour while he sleeps soundly.  He can turn off the TV and wait to see where the chips fall for this election. 

As I sit here while the US has its very own Brexit moment, my facebook feed is full of women and people of color describing their anxiety and nausea about the world we may wake up to tomorrow.  I, of course, knew this was coming.  I hoped that I would be wrong, but I am not.  Even if hope prevails and Hilary Clinton wins tomorrow, the closeness of this race makes me face what I deal with on an everyday basis: that sexism and racism run deep in this country.

And so, I listen to my partner snore and think to myself, “I wish I could sleep the sleep of the unencumbered.  I wish I could sleep the sleep of a straight, white man on this election night.”  Because, the truth is that when my husband wakes up tomorrow, whether President Clinton or President Trump, very little will change for him tomorrow.  His life will continue to go on very much as it always has.  

But for the rest of us, the US we wake up to tomorrow could be a very different place.  For women and people of color, a Trump presidency forecasts four more years of violence, microagressions, and increased inequality.  It will be a world where I cannot tell my daughter that after 240 years and 44 presidents that a woman can, in fact, be president.  I won’t be able to look her in the eye and tell her that girls can do what boys can. Because we can’t.   It has nothing to do with our abilities, and it has everything to do with systemic and institutionalized sexism and racism.  

And because I can’t give my daughter or my son a better world, a world where empathy for others is more important than anything else, where kindness and goodness reign supreme, I will probably never be able to sleep the sleep of a straight, white man.

Death Match: Orange Is the New Black versus Game of Thrones

The televisions show Lost was groundbreaking for a number of reasons.  JJ Abrams approached the shooting of the show like a movie, using bigger budget television techniques. The show also marked a departure from the reality TV show fodder that had become the norm during the early twenty first century, returning to storytelling. Through its use of flashbacks, flashforwards, and even flashsideways, Lost explored the emotional depths of its characters, making viewers attached to them.  In essence, Lost is partly responsible for the shift from big screen to little screen that has happened over the past ten years.  Most importantly, Lost changed death on television, killing off major characters en masse and ushering in the era of the antihero.  Lost did death so well that now we regularly expect it to come for major characters in shows airing today.

Yesterday, though, I watched the season finales of two very different television shows: Orange Is the New Black and Game of Thrones.  (Note: spoilers ahead for both.  If you haven’t finished them, stop here.)  When it comes to death, they both represent two very different types of television.  Like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones is known for its penchant to kill off major characters.  The more gruesome the kill, the better.  As Cersei Lannister killed an entire religious community, cultish as they might seem, in last night’s season finale, we cheered her on. The problem with the GOT model is that death no longer matters on those types of shows. I, like many other viewers, had come to expect characters to be killed off. Death is the new normal.  I would be upset if Jon Snow died, but I would not be sad.  And that is an important distinction to make.

I also finished watching the last two episodes of the most recent season of Orange Is the New Black.   Marketed as a comedy, the show deals in death far less often, despite being set in a prison.  Like Lost, OITNB builds character through flashbacks, crafting backstories for heroes and villains alike.   The technique is pivotal to the political message of the show as it draws empathy from an audience that might not see prisoners as people.  OITNB wants its audience to identify with the women characters on the show in order to make prisoners visible. 

So, when she dies, Poussey Washington’s death matters; it has meaning.  In the second to last episode, “The Animals,” as Taystee wails, collapsed on the floor beside the body of her best friend, I was weeping with pain and grief. I was outraged at the injustice of Poussey’s death and actually saddened that she would no longer be in this fictional world. I had not wept for a character on TV like this in a long time.

I enjoy Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, but I usually do not weep for those characters. Death, distributed like candy to children, no longer matters in those shows. Death is used to provoke controversy not empathy. Death is normalized, and I had become desensitized. In the age of death on television, Poussey’s death stands out, because she mattered, because she was important.

As a show concerned with depicting the lives of people of color, OITNB knows something that GOT does not. When the death of major characters or of large groups of people is the norm, a single death should matter. When the outside world has been desensitized to the amount of death in entire communities, a single death does matter. We can’t afford to be desensitized by the deaths of characters on shows like OITNB as we are by shows like GOT, because death does matter, and it matters differently for people of color, even though it shouldn’t.

May you rest in peace Poussey Washington.

Why Bernie Sanders Might Accidentally Be Good For Feminism—Especially when We Already Know Hillary Clinton Is Good for Feminism

Recently, there has been a lot of mud-slinging in feminist circles regarding support for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I think both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are highly qualified candidates for the presidency, especially if we look at the lackluster group of candidates from the Republican party. Both Clinton and Sanders have records in support of women, equality, and social justice. Honestly, I am perfectly happy if either candidate is the nominee for the Democratic party, and the sudden attempts to pit younger and older women against each other actually speak to the problems of our media saturated culture more so than actual controversy within the Democratic party.

So, let’s start with Hillary Clinton. Here is a woman who is a feminist, who has broken through the glass ceiling of politics, and as has already been rightly pointed out, who does not have the privilege of completely saying “Fuck you” to the whole system in the way that either Sanders or Donald Trump might. She is a living example of what it meant to be a feminist in the 1970s, at the height of activism, when women could only gain access to better conditions by playing along with the dominant rules of a man’s political, economic, and social system. In essence, she had to be better than a man to gain the same respect that is automatically granted to men and especially, white men in our culture. And, her work opened the doors for women to be in politics and made visible the achievements that women could accomplish despite constant interference from patriarchal power structures.

With all of that, Clinton also carries much of the problems of the second wave feminist movement, especially its emphasis on white feminism. For instance, feminist icon, Gloria Steinem has been critiqued for being the face white feminism, and while her most recent book, My Life on the Road, attempts to fill in those gaps, to me, it reads as a book that tries too hard to exhibit how much second wave feminism depended on the intersection of race. While yes, she did in fact work with and learn from women of color, one can’t ignore the fact that she obtained iconic feminist status in mainstream society while figures like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and Wilma Mankiller would only be recognizable to women and men who already care about issues of race and gender. Whether she likes it or not, Steinem was and is the face of a particular feminist movement.

Clinton carries many of these same issues with her as well. She represents a white, privileged form of feminism that is hard to ignore. And, to be clear, I am a white, middle-class feminist who is positioned right on the cusp of the millennial generation. But, I am also a feminist scholar who knows the history of feminism and understands its implications in terms of race. I fully support Madeline Albright’s general tagline that “There is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women,” despite its recent appearance in the media as a soundbite taken out of context. Women should support other women, and Steinem’s recent, and again out of context, sound bite about young women who support Sanders as being there for the boys is not only a reductive point about young women’s priorities but also assumes a heterosexual standard. Steinem and Albright’s positions regarding Clinton highlight an essentialist strain in feminism based on sex that might be problematic for young women who are educated in a post-Judith Butler feminism that emphasizes gender as performance.

What emerges in feminist debates about Clinton and Sanders is not only different attitudes toward feminism but also two drastically different ways of thinking about gender and feminism. Clinton represents second wave feminism with its essentialism and white privilege while Sanders appeals to a generation raised on an educational shift that highlighted the ways not just gender, but sexuality, race, and class are all performative. What appears in a post-Foucault and post-Butler world is the power of discourse and social ideology to construct social norms that keep marginalized subjects disempowered. Democratic millennials have been educated on the ways that ideology is constructed, the ways that it fails, and the ways that it entraps us, whether in terms of gender, race, sexuality, or class. This might be why these strange debates about feminism are cropping up in the Sanders/Clinton competition.

But, let me offer another perspective about why Sanders might be just as good for feminism, even if it is accidentally so. Sanders’s platform has mostly focused on critiquing class inequalities and attacking corporations, especially large banks, companies, the healthcare system, universities, etc… His brand of socialist democracy speaks to evening the playing field and changing economic systems that have reinforced class inequalities in a post-Ronald Reagan world. Many of the discussions about differences between Sanders and Clinton are focused on shifts in the political system since the early twentieth century. Sanders’s insistence on aligning himself with Franklin Delano Roosevelt is of course what makes those ideological analyses possible.

I would, though, like to draw attention to a longer history that might make Sanders’s emphasis on class inequality important for pragmatic progress for marginalized peoples, especially women and people of color. Historically, the eighteenth century is noted as the pivotal time period for the development of modern capitalism and social structures that still exist today. It is not a coincidence that as capitalism emerges so does colonialism (with its constructions of race and civilizations), the increasing need for the slave trade, the rise of the middle class (with its possibility of social mobility), the appearance of homosexuality as a “deviant” identity, and increasingly restrictive gender expectations for women located in the home. The destructive social ideologies and discourses that we associate with gender, race, class, and sexuality materialize directly after capitalism and industrialization join forces and reach their most restrictive forms by the nineteenth century.

As the twentieth century approaches along with rapid developments in technology, the corporate model of capitalism that we know today materializes. The corporate model is the direct descendent of the oppression of women and people of color, the exploitations of non-Western nations, and the imperatives of heteronormative society. Capitalism does not work without an exploited workforce. It does not work without ways to gain resources for production cheaply. It does not work unless women are confined to the home, ensuring that basic needs of food and shelter are attended to. It does not work without a heteronormative society that continues the reproduction of children as fodder for the capitalist and economic system.

So, this brings me to my point. While ideologically, Clinton situates herself as a feminist first and foremost, does her gaining the White House actually represent social progress for women? Does a woman being president actually address systemic inequalities in our social system? Does a woman who will have to continue to play in a man’s system have enough power to pragmatically change the lives of marginalized subjects? And honestly, the answer is that I do not know. I hope that it would, but my experiences of everyday sexism and the pervasiveness of patriarchal power suggest that Clinton will be treated in much the same way as President Obama.

So, what I ask you is: would Sanders’s attack on capitalism and corporatization actually produce real change—if he is able to pull it off? Is Sanders actually trying to dismantle the root cause of all of these other social problems? If we think about the history and emergence of capitalism in relation to gendered, sexualized, and racialized identity discourses, might Sanders actually be working to dismantle the very systemic cause that gave them so much strength in the first place? In attacking capitalism, does Sanders have a better chance of changing the lives of marginalized subjects—women, people of color, the poor, those of non-normative sexualities and genders? Maybe, just by accident, Sanders might be really good for feminism.

What Denzel’s Golden Globes Appearance Taught Us about Gender in Hollywood

My favorite moment of the Golden Globes last night was Denzel Washington’s acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille award–not because he was recognized for his greatness as an actor (which is true) but because of Pauletta Washington, his wife.

Unlike most award acceptances where the receiver stands on stage alone, Denzel brought his whole family on the stage, cementing their importance to his career and success.  Even more intriguing was the gender dynamics at play on the stage, as Denzel’s wife reminded him that he needed his glasses and kept whispering names of those he forgot to thank in his acceptance speech.  She stole the show.  My eyes were on her and not the great actor on stage.  I couldn’t look away.

After the scene, my husband looked at me and said, “Well, that was weird.”  To me, it was a glimpse into the lives of the women behind Hollywood’s great actors, which I find more fascinating than the acting itself.  Of course my partner thought it was weird; everything about Denzel’s persona on stage last night defied the idea of a man whose success depended on his talent alone.  It especially unmasked men’s privileges when it comes to success and family.

What I saw instead was visible proof that men’s success in Hollywood and their ability to also have a family is built on the labor of women, especially wives. Denzel’s bumbling made obvious the fact that his success depended on his family, especially his partner, Pauletta. And while the acceptance moment showed traditional gender norms regarding marriage and mens’ success, the fact that Pauletta was the real star on that stage stresses how much women’s labor, especially kin-keeping, matters in the success of men.

As the feminist adage goes,  behind every great man, there is a great woman.  Denzel’s interactions with Pauletta implicitly reinforce the legitimacy of women actors’ claims about inequality and sexism in Hollywood.  Maybe next year, the Golden Globes should start recognizing the invisible work of women upon which the success of a mostly male Hollywood depends. But then again, that would require men to recognize that the mythologies of talent and hard work are really just masking the privilege they receive from the invisibility of others.

Ho Ho Ho!: U.S. Christmas Is a Feminist Issue

As a child, I loved Christmas.  I made my Mom drag out the rainbow Christmas lights in freezing weather and put the tree up as soon as Thanksgiving was over.  It was a time where we visited family and had special traditions.  Our family was never a tradition family, so Christmas remained special to me for that very reason.  My Mom, though, never really hid her disdain of Christmas.  She despised it and would happily forgo the work of a Christmas tree.  She hated it, because she knew what I know now.  Christmas is women’s work.

Fast forward ten years later.  I have a husband and a kid, and guess what?  I hate Christmas.  It is the worst holiday of the year.  Considering the confluence of the holiday season with the end of the semester, the winter break is a nightmare for me and has been since I got married.  The responsibilities of Christmas just piled on.  My Christmas letters, cookies, and gifts that I now had to oversee doubled–often for people I hardly knew and who rarely sent a thank you note, text, or email.  In the words of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, “You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation.”

Now, part of the reason that Christmas is awful is that I am a thoughtful gift giver.  If I am going to send my money to the corporate, capitalist machine, it had better be for an item that the damn person would want or even love.  I do not believe in gift cards.  As my brother pointed out, “It is restricted cash.  Just give cash.”  So, I stress myself out because I was raised to be thoughtful, to give a gift that shows the love and care I have for that person.  Pile that onto a never-ending list of domestic duties, and here I am totally thinking that the Grinch is a widely misunderstood character.

This year, though, I am cutting the Christmas cord.  I have a husband going through treatment for thyroid cancer and am almost 5 months pregnant.  My career ambitions have had to take a backseat to the care of my family–a fate all too common to women.  Instead, I am taking Christmas off–no killing myself to get my kid to the cities of the two different families, cookies only for the joy of rolling them with my kid (and some extras for the doctors that have probably saved my husband’s life), and present exchanges for children only.  Basically, I am tired of stuff and I am especially tired of the stuff of Christmas.  Mostly, I am tired of being harnessed with domestic responsibilities while the men around me get to pursue their careers and have a beautiful holiday on the back of women’s labor.

Look around you this year–especially if you are a man or a child under 25.  Who puts up the tree?  Who wraps the presents?  Who hangs the lights?  Who does the shopping?  Who makes the cookies and sends the letters?  Who orchestrates family dinners, does the dishes, and cleans the house for company?  If you look around and mostly see women, that is because women do the work of Christmas–some hankering after a Victorian domestic ideal that was largely crafted to keep women in the home in the first place. 

So women, what if we just started not doing Christmas?  What if we just gave up on the gifts and the cookies and the traveling?  What if we free ourselves from this domestic service?  What if we took the season for ourselves and did not sacrifice our well-being?  Yes.  What if we acted selfish and just enjoyed the holiday season?  Christmas would grind to a halt.  And would that really be so bad?  Maybe this year we should all embrace a feminist Christmas and just let the rest go.

Rethinking Race and the Classroom

In the wake of events at the University of Missouri and Yale over the past couple of weeks, as a professor, it is hard to not think about race in the classroom.  In fact, I have been trying to write a post about race and my literary theory course for about a month.  As a white woman and a teacher, I always doubt my authority on speaking about race.  What do I really know?  I can empathize based on my experiences of oppression as a woman, but I do not know what it means to live in a body of color.  And, I dread falling into the trap of whitesplaining, becoming the professorial equivalent of Matt Damon on Project Green Light.

In my class, it all started with reading Frantz Fanon and discussing our positions as both writers and readers.  Fanon discusses the ways that a black subject reading books by white authors feels a split in identifying with a white hero while facing the marginalization of living in a black body.  The reading experience becomes essential to creating the already split raced subject that can never achieve the perceived unity articulated in Freudian psychoanalysis.

My students’ responses to this were particularly enlightening.  In a class of 8 with 1 student who identified as male and 7 students who identified as female and 2 students of color and 6 white students, when asked what race and gender they envisioned themselves writing from, 2 of my students believed they wrote as white men and 6 of my students wrote as white women.  While gender identification fluctuated, ALL of my students felt their default racial writing position was white.

What exactly does this then suggest?  It suggests the exact doubling that Fanon describes and reiterates that education reinforces “white” standards of writing and reading, probably most arguably by teaching the canon and standardized English.  If we don’t think of race as a pivotal issue in education, we are absolutely wrong.

Even worse, in our discussions over race theory, one of my students of color remarked that I would probably prefer a classroom full of white students so we could all basically talk openly.  In my ten years of teaching, this might be one of the most disheartening and depressing statements I have ever heard.  To think racial politics and bias are not alive and well in the classroom is to participate in the continuing invisibility of people of color.  To have a student think I prefer a lack of diversity in my classroom is to show how teachers have perpetuated classrooms that continue to make people of color as outsiders.  It also makes their access to education unequal; even if we as teachers embrace diversity, it doesn’t mean that this is not a lived truth for many of our students.

In the past few years, I have made a point to shift my material to directly address race and to willingly have those uncomfortable conversations in the classroom.  I encounter white scholars who remark that they are scared to talk about race, that it is too controversial a subject to talk about in the classroom.  But, let me tell you, they are wrong.  I have had some of the most rewarding discussions and arguments in my class since I started refusing to feel uncomfortable talking about race.

I finally decided that we need to have these conversations and that I need to be an ally and an advocate for underrepresented voices.  I needed to teach more classes exclusively with literature outside of the traditional canon.  I needed to craft a safe space in my classroom where we can forgive students for making an unintentionally racial comment and using it as an opportunity to educate students on their understanding of race. 

Let’s face it. Talking about race is hard.  But we need to do it.  We need to get out of our comfort zones and be okay with being upfront about our uncomfortableness in engaging this issue.  We need to, as I do, let our students of color call us out when we fall into the trap of whitesplaining.  We all need to know we will make mistakes in having these conversations, but if we don’t, the classroom is and will always remain a white space.

Girl Crushes in the Dreaded 30s

As I walked into my freshman writing class, a group of young women in the class were having an engaged conversation about their fears of turning 30. They all discussed how they felt like their lives would be over at 30 or about how if they were not married and had kids by 30, then they were failures. I have not always been the raging feminist that I am now, but even in college, husbands and kids were the last things on my mind.

And so, here I am in my 30s, and I think about how different a person I am now than I was five or even ten years ago. For me, and I think for many women, the 30s are a much easier age. Life is more settled. We know ourselves better. We are less concerned about our waistlines and more concerned about the wage gap. Some of us have partners. Some of us have traveled the world. And, some of us have amazing careers.

In my 30s, I have a much better sense of the type of woman I work every day to be. And, to that end, one of the easiest ways to think about how much I have changed in the last ten years is to think about my girl crushes now versus then. Unlike my late teens and twenties, now, my girl crushes are less about appearance and more about substance. They are women from my life as well as powerful women in society. They are women who exhibit some aspect of the type of woman I want to continue to become and illustrate how central feminism has become to my life.

With that, here are some of my current girl crushes and what they say about being a woman in my 30s:

The Notorious RGB, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg Notorious RGB Image

Okay, this should be a gimme to any 21st-century feminist. When I was in my 20s, I had heard of Ginsburg and knew she was a judge. But, now that I am in my 30s and dealing with systemic sexism and misogyny as well as am more aware of the pressures of racism and homophobia, The Notorious RGB is a woman who sets legal standards, defends the rights of women and marginalized groups, and makes an awesome meme. Enough said.

 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Adichie Image

If you do not know this name, stop what you are doing right now and pick up a copy of Americanah, Half a Yellow Sun, or Purple Hibiscus. And then, look up her Ted Talks on the “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All Be Feminists.” Adichie’s ability to express herself in flawless language as well as her willingness to embrace fashion as a part of her feminism shows her confidence as a rare female public intellectual that does not hide behind the written word. She is a visible woman of color in a society that erases non-Western voices, and she is an advocate against the oppression of women and global subjects.

 Merida from Brave Merida Image

Growing up, I was a Belle from Beauty and the Beast girl all the way. She is a reader and interested in people underneath the surface. Oh, and that library. I wanted to be Belle so that I could covet the Beast’s library. But now that I am older and have a daughter of my own, Belle’s sacrificial nature and the Beast’s patriarchal monstrosity are harder to get behind. That is why in my 30s, I am a Merida girl all the way. She is independent, headstrong, and vocal. Plus, she can wield one badass bow and would probably beat Katniss in an archery match any day.

Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess Blogess Image

Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, won me over with its humorous retelling of stories from her life. She has an aptitude for constructing funny stories that rivals that of David Sedaris, but it is her most recent book, Furiously Happy, that puts her on this list. On her blog, Lawson has discussed her depression, but her recent book speaks candidly about a subject that has long been socially taboo. Her voice has helped galvanize awareness about mental health issues, and she does so with a self-reflexive vision of both herself and her interactions with others.

Roxanne GayRoxanne Gay Image

Like Adichie, Gay is a woman of color whose popularity has exploded over the last couple of years, even to the point of giving a Ted Talk on her “Confessions of a Bad Feminist.” And, it is my respect for the way that she discusses the inability of women in a capitalist, American, media-driven society to ever reach the ideal of “feminism” that has really captured my imagination—and probably the imagination of many others. Her willingness to admit her flaws and weave it into her view of feminism has allowed many women to publicly admit that they are Bad Feminists and realize that Bad Feminism may be better than no feminism at all.

And so, who are some of your girl crushes?

Women’s Time and Work-Life Balance

Recently, in a Facebook group on Academic Motherhood in which I participate, a woman posted about her disappointment about the fact that she attended a conference where a renowned woman in her field was interviewed and the first question involved work-life balance. And so came the onslaught of comments from women who expressed their annoyance at the fact that this seems to be the only feminist issue worth discussing or that when given a platform to speak, women can never talk about their success or their ideas but about their work-life balance. And, after seeing these comments, I realized it was true. I thought back to all of those Today Show and Good Morning America interviews where prominent women were almost always asked about how they balanced their demanding work and their family—a question less frequently posed to men.

And then, on my Facebook feed, I came across this article by Brigid Schulte about time as a feminist issue; she proposes that “confetti time,” or the small snippets of “leisure” time mixed into a woman’s everyday life, is essential to women’s experiences. She discusses the fact that women do have “leisure” time, but that it is often in fits and starts, small increments of time between the everyday stuff. And, more often than not, that time is contaminated by the work women do for others, carpooling the kids, housework that needs to be done, etc… This article also got me thinking about the reverse. So, if women’s lives are ruled by “confetti time,” if their leisure and hence work time must fit into these small gaps of time, how might corporate time look differently if it aligned with women’s lives or perhaps “women’s time”?

As I thought about this issue, I stumbled across another article by Tracy Moore about the mirage of work-life balance; she outlined key steps in addressing the systemic differences in the working lives of women and men, including more flexible childcare and elderly care options, rethinking work as located in an office, and restructuring school hours to facilitate women’s careers. Like Schulte, Moore identifies time as a feminist issue—one that is a tool of power that marginalizes women and keeps them from being as successful as men in moving up the career ladder.

Might we, though, take this one step further and demand that the working world, a world that has been dominated by the rise of the corporation either in the preponderance of white collar jobs or in that corporations exploit the working classes to gain profits, adjust its concept of time to consider women’s time? Might allowing women to work in fits and starts ultimately allow for more or at least equally productive work? What if we refused the standard set by a male-centric work structure that productive work happens over a dedicated set amount of time given to a subject? And as a result, refuse the corollary that men therefore deserve uninterrupted time for leisure. Here, even the type of time is a gendered construct.

Schulte is right. Time is a feminist issue and one that has changed little since Jane Austen wrote her novels and Virginia Woolf penned A Room of One’s Own. Woolf writes of the woman novelist as having to write in the sitting-room instead of getting a room of her own in which to think and write. Woolf quotes Austen’s nephew’s memoir: “How she [Jane Austen] was able to effect all this….is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.” And Woolf goes on to comment herself, “Jane Austen wrote like that to the end of her days.” In essence, women’s literary production and their preference for the novel form came from their living conditions that allowed them to produce work in small moments of “confetti time.” And yet, from this time, some of the greatest novels and examples of women’s writing were born.

In two hundred years, little has changed in the way women’s time is valued, and despite hearing about work-life balance to the point of exhaustion, the underlying issue might be that time is still a gendered concept. A friend of mine asked on Facebook, “When does this magical time for deep thought happen?” in response to Schulte’s post. And, in a class discussion about theory and its domination by white men, a student remarked that: “To ponder is a privilege.” And then in a joking aside said, “No wonder theorists are mostly men.” While we may have laughed, there is so much truth to my student’s statement. Women’s time has always been marked by the ways it fails to live up to the uninterrupted time of men and so results in the delusion that women’s work is less important because it was not produced in a dedicated time, a time of privilege.

The problem with discussions about work-life balance is that it assumes that women want to dedicate the little time that they have to thinking even more about the injustices of sexism and gender bias. Women don’t want to think about work-life balance, because they do not have much time to ponder. And, when they do, they want to think about their intellectual interests, not about how their career and family must be balanced. The reason is that women don’t have the privilege to ponder, and to ponder about the concept of work-life balance is an understanding of women’s experiences dictated by men. It is a talking point controlled by the media to cater to what men think women want to hear.

Women don’t want to ponder work-life balance, because it is not something to THINK about. It is something they live, they do every single day. It is what must happen in order to get by.  To discuss work-life balance is to talk about all of the ways that women’s time and women’s careers don’t live up to the standard set by men. Work-life balance is something that women DO rather than think about, and it speaks to the way that men craft that narrative to highlight the ways women are failing to fulfill their roles as virtuous woman and perfect mother. And the truth is, we just ain’t got time for that.