The Unfinished Business of Caring

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My friend Anne-Marie Slaughter just published a book called Unfinished Business. It is her road map to completing the revolution that started out as the women’s movement. But to characterize it as a book about feminism would be too narrow.

 

 

 

Slaughter has reframed the gender debate and focused on caring and competition as the two drives that make us human. Caring manifests itself in the domestic sphere, while competition dominates in the workplace.

 

 

 

The concept of caring encompasses more people.

 

Slaughter made a name for herself with a 2012 article in The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All“. Due to a coincidence in publication it was widely regarded as a response to Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.

 

 

 

In Unfinished Business she recognizes that the work-life balance debate is limited to women of means, and doesn’t capture the experience of a solo-mother living paycheck to paycheck and having to choose between going to work and staying at home with a sick child.

 

 

 

And coupling caring with women, however numerically persuasive, fails to capture the experience of men like me, while also creating a barrier that stops other men joining the cause.

 

 

 

Her argument is that we need to address the imbalance between the caring and competition, by placing more value on the latter. As a carer I am well aware that we collectively relegate it. It is a huge hurdle both at both the individual and societal level.

 

 

 

When I typed the word carer in this previous sentence, my word processing program inserted a jagged red line beneath it. The software prefers the term caregiver. Carer is the Queen’s English. Caregiver is American, but if caring is only something that can be given it will always remain undervalued.

 

 

 

I am guilty of undervaluing caring. It is almost a chronic condition.

 

 

 

Last month spent five days in Rocky Mountain National Park. My goal was to climb a Fourteener, which is what Coloradans call peaks over 14,000 feet which I described in a separate post “Men, Mountains and Middle Age“.

 

 

 

Throughout the trip I had a lingering sense that I was not worthy of this little vacation.

 

 

 

Why?

 

 

 

I know plenty of working dads who go away on boys’ weekends. They don’t feel badly about it. My wife makes time to be away with her friends. The biggest dilemma that presents the girls is finding a half marathon in a city with decent après-race shopping.

 

 

 

The Fourteener was my New Year’s Resolution in 2012. It’s been rolling over ever since. A continuing resolution like they have in Congress when they can’t get their act together.

 

 

 

Admittedly it is an inconvenient resolution. You just can rock up from sea level on Friday night, climb to 14,000 feet on Saturday and be home for Sunday dinner. I tried that in Hawaii a year ago, taking a day out of a family beach vacation to hike up 13,700 foot Mauna Kea. It almost killed me. This time I took a week so I could acclimatize.

 

 

 

That only added to the sense of guilt. This was a particularly self-indulgent scheme.

 

 

 

Indeed if a friend, a stay-at-home mother, had not decided to celebrate her 40th birthday in Las Vegas, making Denver a convenient stop on the way home, I probably still wouldn’t have climbed my mountain.

 

 

 

The logistics were not easy, but my wife has long been supportive of the idea, so the only thing stopping me doing it sooner was me:

 

 

 

I DIDN’T THINK I DESERVED IT.

 

 

 

Did being a man make taking this time off particularly challenging for me? Earlier this year a friend sent me this article about men and their “Conspicuous Work” habits “Why Men (at Least Pretend to) Work Longer Hours“.

 

 

 

A Dutch study found men are happiest when they think they are working longer hours than their male peers. We are more concerned with the appearance of working hard than our actual income or productivity.

 

 

 

We compete with each other to be seen to be working the hardest. I have taken myself out of what Annie-Marie Slaughter calls the competitive realm of the workplace, but have I lost that natural urge to compete? Of course, not. Maybe it manifest itself in the temptation to deny myself time off.

 

 

 

Was I climbing into more that rarified air in Colorado? Did I create a double whammy; a subconscious devaluation of my role as a carer was exaggerated by my male propensity to compare my labor with others? Not only was I not working, I was not working very hard at not working.

 

 

 

Anne-Marie Slaughter outlines some societal changes that would elevate caring. Along with legislative remedies and changes in the workplace the caring mindset needs to change.

 

 

 

I am a carer, but individual work I need to do improve my attitude to caring represents quite a mountain to climb.

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