Bear with me on this one. It’s an interwoven critique of productivity and sexual essentialism with constructive paradigm shifting on the side. Here’s what I’m asking you to do:
- Broaden your notions of “productivity”
- Consider how gender roles and socialization script what people care about
A common issue that I’ve heard from women is the tension between being productive and taking care of their families. The idea seems to be that “being productive” and taking care of their families, friends, and loved ones are two different types of things to the extent that they view it as an either/or prospect: they can either “get things done” or they can maintain relationships and help nurture the people around them.
This is yet another reason why productivity is bunk.
Let’s be more constructive here and review the history of productivity – it’s easy to see where we went wrong. “Productivity” and “progress” have largely been defined and discussed by men. Historically, men have (intentionally or not) downplayed the importance of family and social relationships. In essence, since men have been doing all the talking when it comes to productivity and progress (and, let’s be real here, about almost everything) and men haven’t been entirely focused on family and social relationships, there’s no wonder that our measures of productivity and progress don’t (usually) include stuff like hanging out with the kids, taking care of parents, or building a strong neighborhood. (Tweet this – Thanks!)
So, You’re Saying Men Don’t Care About Family and Women Do?
I hate sexual essentialist claims. They’re bullshit. Here’s what one looks like: “Men don’t care about family as much as women do.” Here’s another: “Mothers care more about their kids than fathers do” – (so, by the way, in cases of divorce, there’s a presumption that women should get the kids and men have to prove why they’re more fit.)
Let’s start with the first claim. If it means “due to the way men are socialized, they (historically) haven’t included parenting and caretaking as essential to their identity,” then fine, I yield. That’s true.
If it means “there’s something in male nature that disposes them to not care about parenting and caretaking,” then I’m throwing the flag.
You may think it’s weird that I’m writing a post that asks how things would be different if women cared about productivity while claiming that it’s not useful to attribute behaviors to the different sexes. Don’t take your toys and go home just yet.
Gender Associations, Occupations, and Getting Real
Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you a list of professions, and you decide whether a man or a women is your first image. Be honest.
Despite the fact that carrying out these different occupations have nothing to do with being male or female, most of us, if we are honest, still conjure up a man or a woman for the different occupations. Of course, it’s not limited to occupations. Let’s take characteristics:
The same goes here, perhaps more forcefully. The point again is that we’ve been socialized into thinking that men and women do different things because they have different characteristics.
You’ll no doubt notice that I threw in gender rather than sex in my headline above. It’s not that I don’t understand the difference between gender and sex, but rather that we (especially in the Western world) only map feminine traits to females and masculine traits to males. The reality is that gender is on a spectrum while there are only three sexes (male, female, and intersexed). Gender is about behaviors – sex is about sexual organs.
“Productivity,” because it’s so often spoken of in ways that relate to business, is gender-biased. The result: (Western) women care less about “productivity” than (Western) men. Think in generalities here since we’re talking about cultures – in any given culture there are always outliers.
Productivity Is About More Than Countable Things
“Productivity” has become focused on Getting Things Done, hacks to make using technology more efficient, and has resulted in a host of sites dedicated to coming up with [Absurd number]+[Ways to]+[Save time]+[by doing something you haven’t thought about doing]. It’s old, and frankly, there are better things to talk about.
Yes, I recognize that I write about productivity. No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saving time on the things that are important. But I’m tired of hearing a bunch of dudes sitting around talking to each other. Yes, I also recognize that I’m a dude – but, for what it’s worth, I started talking about productivity because the tips, tricks, hacks, and lists didn’t really translate into what I was doing and I got tired of translating what I was doing into those tips, tricks, hacks, and lists.
Let’s be real here: males in our society get wrapped up around the countable things in life. Money, time, “contacts,” cars, women – if it’s countable, we’ll add it to the list of other things we have that are countable.
On the other end of the spectrum are the complex things you can’t count, such as relationships and experience, which are tended to by our kinkeepers – the role historically filled by women.
Ironically, it’s only once males age and get over being “manly” that they realize that a better life comes not by increasing the number of things in life, but by increasing the quality of relationships and experiences in life.
If women were truly part of the conversation rather than being what the conversation is about, we’d talk more about the things in life that actually matter rather than the things we’re comfortable talking about. In every case, the more diverse the discussants of the conversation, the better the quality of the conversation.
I don’t actually know what would happen if women cared about productivity. I suspect we would:
- actually confront the perspectives of half of the population and stop coming up with solutions waiting for a problem to fix.
- be less concerned about whether we have an empty Inbox and would instead be thinking about whether we’ve fostered meaningful relationships with the actual people who wrote the messages in the first place.
- stop obsessing over counting the amount of “things” we’ve accomplished and would instead start thinking about the quality of the experiences we’ve shared with others.
- recognize that there are more things to care about than time, money, and contacts and how much of each we have.
- realize that taking care of our loved ones is both productive and nearly impossible to quantify.
The Broader Implications for the Human Condition
Please understand me here: I’m not coming from the position that women actually *get* life and what’s important and are the saviors of humankind. That would just replace one socially-indoctrinated form of sexism with another form of sexism. I am saying that having the perspectives of half of the population who are socialized to be concerned about different facets of the human condition would make our discussions of productivity, progress, and personal development more informed, interesting, and useful.
I’m hopeful that we’ll see progress on this front as more men become stay at home dads and more moms become the breadwinners. These gender role switch-ups, though uncomfortable for the individuals, introduce different perspectives into traditional conversations. When we accept and cherish those of alternative sexual orientations, our understanding of what matters in life – and who gets to live the good life and why – change, too.
We’ll have made it a long way once a majority of the people actually challenge the notion that men should be breadwinners and women should be caretakers. We’ll be there once there’s no socialized assumption to that effect that needs challenging.
Until then, let’s change the conversations and keep asking better questions.