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Sexist or Awareness?

The Implications of the Work/Life Balance Question

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Recently, acclaimed author Lauren Groff refused to answer the work/life balance question in an interview with the Harvard Gazette. Alexandra King, with CNN, responded with an op-ed on why she believes Groff, and all women “in positions of influence,” should have answered the question. My rebuttal is that King missed the mark entirely on the original question asked of Groff and Groff's response, ultimately reinforcing a sexist position the question takes.

As much as I agree that paid maternity leave needs a desperate revisit in this country, King is grasping at straws of getting FMLA reform into the spotlight with this particular circumstance. The question asked of Groff was work/life balance, which goes far beyond just the physical aspects of pregnancy/labor/recovery King bases most of her argument on for why this question deserves an answer. As we all know, child-rearing doesn’t stop after delivery, but there’s a sexist opinion that child-rearing still largely falls on the shoulders of the woman. Groff’s current life situation may not include the pregnancy/delivery/recovery aspect of childrearing and more the daycare/school/sickdays/PTA/etc parts, but these are still stressful and still mostly seen as the "woman's domain" even if she has a full-time career. 

To Groff's statement, no one is asking a male WRITER how he does it. For example, in Stephen King's memoir, On Writing, he talks extensively about working full time, having two young children, and trying to become published. He worked well into the night before he "made it” (i.e. could make enough money off of books to quit teaching and focus exclusively on writing). He had a ton of emotional support from his wife who we can all thank for saving Carrie from the trashcan. He talks about how hard those early years of his career were. Yet, no one probably said, "Hey, Stephen, how do you manage the work/life balance?" For writers, male or female, if you aren't writing, you aren't getting paid (and probably not getting benefits on top of that). Yet Groff gets asked the sexist question that a male author wouldn't be asked.

The question is asked precisely because there is so much pressure for women to be the first source of responsibility for the family. The implication is “you’ve been successful in your career—is your family flailing as a result?” If a woman has a family, she’s asked how she does it all. If she doesn’t have a family, she’s asked when she’ll start to focus on one or if she’s sacrificing the possibility of one for the sake of her career. Somehow, questions about her career, abilities, achievements always come back around to her personal life, specifically the home sphere.

Men typically aren’t asked these questions. They are asked about their talent, creativity, ideas that got them to said success. On the rare chance that a man is asked a question related to family, it’s assumed there’s a partner in the background making all these familiar juggles. To make it fair across the genders, men should be asked this question with all its implications, especially since each generation gets a bit closer to closing the gender gap, whether or not politics and media have caught on to this fact.

Should this question exist at all? I don’t know. By not talking about the multi-facets of life, perhaps we silence that it is a struggle, which can be detrimental for other reasons. But, getting back to the subject of gender roles, by refusing to answer the question, Groff has thrown sexism into the spotlight. 

Ladies, we do not have to justify our careers or our families for the public eye.

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