Why One Woman Thinks We Should Stop Asking People What They Do for a Living

Want to hear something maddening?

In 2014, women in the United States were paid 79 percent of what men were paid, and the gap isn’t expected to close for at least another 100 years, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Although Hillary Clinton recently became the first woman presidential candidate of a major political party, there is still work to do, says Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Slaughter, President and CEO of New America, opened the weekend at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas with a lecture titled “The Care Economy.” The examination looked at how we measure and attribute value to work done by women.

She believes the misappropriated practices around this concept in our society encourage restrictive gender roles on women as well as men.

The Virginia native is well-equipped for this discussion having served as a former President of the American Society of International Law, Dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs.

She has written and edited six books and is known for her nonconformist op-ed pieces on The Atlantic. Slaughter’s current work at New America oversees the non-partisan think tanks that focus on public policy research — essentially solving our societal problems.

Slaughter at IFAI. Photo by the author.

Slaughter at IFAI. Photo by the author.

The Value of Family

“Care is as important as career,” Slaughter says, setting the tone for her speech. “I’m not in any way denigrating career — the investment we put into others is as important.”

Slaughter’s basis for shrinking the social gender gap urges the assumption men can and will equally contribute to the domestic household. When the principle fails, we begin to create social terms like “women’s work,” which condescends important motherly roles, and patronizes men when they step in as the primary care giver.

“There is no single more important investment we can make, from a policy point of view, than investing in the first five years of our children’s lives,” she explains.

By determining a child’s capacity to learn, Slaughter says, the work’s significance cannot be denied, therefore discrediting the notion that the role of a homemaker is lesser than that of a (conventionally male) breadwinner.

“Family is the foundation for the work we do for money,” she says.

“Good Dad Syndrome”

Where Slaughter’s approach varies from other public advocates of gender studies is the attention on the man’s role and their hardships with overcoming unfair gender labels.

Slaughter discusses the “Good Dad Syndrome,” where fathers are patronized for performing routine responsibilities because their parenting expectations are tempered. “We can’t get to equality if men aren’t as involved as care givers,” she explains.

When a man asks for time off from work to spend at home, his masculinity is often brought into question, Slaughter says, further distancing equal partnership of parental duties.

Women can sometimes play a role in pushing men away from taking on more responsibility because many, admittedly herself, have questioned their partner’s methods and preferred their approach instead.

Closing the Gender Gap Begins at Home

Slaughter closed her lecture by posing what we can do to curb this gender gap in the American household. The first action we can take is to stop asking people what they do for a living, with the realization that people are more than their employment suggests.

And if someone does mention their work that happens to invest in human capital? Simply say, “‘That is such important work,’ and mean it,” says Slaughter.

Stay tuned to the Knowledge Green for continuing coverage of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, and check out our guide to the festival’s can’t-miss events.

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