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.
You need to check out Fly Lady. I’ve not read it or even looked at it. Or where to find it. But it is what all of the stay at home moms refer to when they are trying to be more productive about housework…. so that they can spend more time building relationships with their kids, husbands, neighbours, whatever. (It must be easy to find. I’m scared to look.)
I think that the phallocentric view of productivity has infiltrated women’s notions so that when they think of productivity, they think about Getting Things Done in the house like laundry, cooking, and cleaning. the relationships are still hard to work in there.
JoVEs last blog post..Suggestions please…
Vered - MomGrind says
I’m not sure I agree that traditional women roles and productivity are two different things. Just like it’s important to be efficient with paid work so that you have more time to spend doing what you love, it’s important to be efficient about laundry and cleaning so that can… spend time doing what you love.
I have systems in place for all the work that I do, whether it’s paid work or housework.
Oh, and I LOVE this sentence:
“If women were truly part of the conversation rather than being what the conversation is about.” Brilliant. 🙂
Naomi Dunford says
“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.”
I don’t remember where I got this from — Zen Habits? Steve Pavlina? — but there’s a trend with email, the idea of which is that one should try to keep one’s emails to fewer than five sentences. Along the lines that more than five is never necessary.
How tragic is it that our personal connections have been reduced to what’s necessary? WTF?
Show me a relationship that conducts itself exclusively with five sentence emails and I’ll show you a relationship that isn’t very meaningful for either party involved.
Sure, sometimes necessary is all that’s, well, necessary. When someone wants me to reactivate an expired download link, I don’t have to get or give a life story. But if one of your emails was fewer than five sentences I’d think you were mad at me. 🙂
OK, officially ranting now. Awesome, love the post, etc. Must go before I run my mouth off.
Naomi Dunfords last blog post..IttyBiz 2008 Gift Guide
@JoVe: Fly Lady? I’ll definitely have to check it out. I also haven’t read or heard phallocentric in a while. I think the relationships are hard to work in there because we don’t get the motivational block checked; it’s so open-ended that that alone discourages considering it as something to make a point of doing.
@Vered: I don’t agree that traditional women roles and productivity are different, either. I was addressing a tension that some have relayed to me and making a general statement about women that can be false when considering individual women. You’re an outlier in many ways, as a future post will show everyone else.
@Naomi: That 5 sentence rule became popular within the last few years, and I’d have to agree about the meaningfulness of those relationships.
Ironic, then, that when I send my friends emails, I obsess over the length of them and whether I’ve taken up to much time. Especially since I love the emails that people send that are as rich and unfocused as the conversations I have with those people.
And me, mad at you – unthinkable!
Great post. Have you read The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess? I just picked it up yesterday. The thesis is that literacy leads to nervous system development that also promotes misogyny, while other forms of communication–especially the visual–tend to promote the feminine principle more.
Despite my love of the written word, it makes me want to have a video blog! 🙂
I’ve been reflecting more on this whole numbers thing vs. relationships lately too. I’ve decided to reach out more to people I want to connect with on the web–ideally through voice or video–rather than accumulate Twitter followers or blog subscribers. It’s more in line with my “mission” anyhow to do so.
Duffs last blog post..Deconstructing Personal Development, Part 3: State Management, Positive Thinking, and the Cultivation of Mania
It’s refreshing to see someone speak intelligently about the difference between sex and gender and recognize that there are more than two of each. Thank you for that.
Your point about “Productivity Is About More Than Countable Things” reminds me of Ken Wilber’s four-quadrant model. The two right-hand quadrants are about things that are objective and measurable. The left-hand quadrants are about things that are subjective and must be experienced rather than measured. For example, a (good) therapist doesn’t determine how well they’ve done by how many words they’ve spoken or how many hours they’ve clocked. They determine it by how many people they’ve helped and how much, which isn’t really objectively measurable.
Having thought about productivity from both sides of the gender spectrum, I find that the stereotypes do actually hold up in my case. I care more about the subjective and less about the objective now that I’m female. Interesting.
Thanks for the food for thought, and I’m happy to add to the diversity of the discussion. (:
Paces last blog post..We’re giving away the e-book and audio book for free!
Ruth G says
I’m not exactly a stay-at-home mom…more of a freelancer (writer/editor and songwriter), but FlyLady helped me figure out how to reasonably care for home and family. It was one woman’s group for a few dozen…I joined at about 500…and now it’s half a million. Word of mouth. No paid advertising.
But key is the real reason for the name…not just that she teaches fly-fishing, but that it stands for Finally Loving Yourself. This gentle, bit by bit approach came out of her recovery from depression and overwhelm.
Just because we have the chromosomes, and a tendency to be soft and mom-like, doesn’t mean that all of us find this work natural or easy.
It’s worth a look at flylady.net…see past the folksiness…there’s a profundity that has drawn so many of us to this sane and forgiving approach to caring for homes and families.
I’ve often thought that all those productivity gurus and their systems were designed to keep us so busy at being productive that we wind up…not. Something about systemization overload.
If it’s taking you oodles of long to set up the system, and organize the system, then work at the system, you’re not getting the real stuff done.
Maybe just breathe for five minutes, instead. Then, begin.
Betsys last blog post..PANIC
Mike Stankavich says
Charlie, I really like this cogent analysis of how we’ve gotten mapped into these gender roles by tradition and culture. I absolutely agree that we need to break away from assuming that these roles need to align to gender.
And the subtext that I see in both the post and the comments is that there’s a real concern that productivity is focused purely on efficiency. I constantly struggle to remember that efficiency does not equal effectivity.
I think that the inbox zero and five sentences discussion are indicative of the quest for efficiency, and don’t address whether you are being effective. In some cases, short emails can be effective. In others, they are not effective at all, as Naomi so eloquently stated.
Now I am an inbox zero kind of guy, but that’s because I subscribe to the David Allen concept of reducing repositories of open loops. My goal is to clear out all inboxes at least once per week, and ideally once per day. It’s just a tool, not a religion 🙂
And I really like Betsy’s point that it’s easy to get so wrapped up in building and managing productivity frameworks and systems that we never actually get anything real done. I have so been there and done that. I think I’m getting a little bit better now, but it’s been a long road.
Nicolas | Time Management Master says
I really enjoyed reading the articles as well as the comments. Since I am writing on time management too, I felt I also had to make an addition. When talking about time management, many people think about tools, tricks, etc.
For me the key question to be answered first is: What do I want to use more time for?
This quickly relates to your goals for life. It took me more than a year to understand what I really wanted from life and it is mainly the qualitative items that remained on the list whereas the number disappeared.
Once you know what you want to use some extra time for, applying time management techniques makes a lot of sense. Save time on routine to create more quality time.
SInce quality time and goals for life are different for every person, I made a list of possible areas to look into on my blog. SInce it would be too long to copy I just insert the link.
Nicolas | Time Management Masters last blog post..How to create a good travel checklist
Sonia Simone | Remarkable Communication says
You know what I think is interesting? One of the things I originally liked about David Allen was that he seemed to completely get it about the uncountable stuff. I wonder if he is horrified by the way GTD has become a fetish revered for its own sake.
I’m still a GTDhead, as unfashionable as that is becoming, because I find it very useful to be able to grasp All The Shit I Have Committed To.
(P.S. Flylady: super scary to me. Probably a good system, but I can’t get past the persona.)
Sonia Simone | Remarkable Communications last blog post..Why This is the Best Time to Finally Break Free
I’ve read Fly Lady, and I’ve followed her website for years. She is inspiring for those of us who were not Born Organized.
Case in point: my neighbor has 5 kids. Her house is spotless. She loves to clean, cook, fold clothes etc. All she ever wanted to do is be a stay at home mom, and she loves the role.
I have 2 kids. I am a stay at home mom. It’s something that would have been my worst nightmare 15 years ago, but it’s what I’ve chosen to do at this stage of my life. But, I am not domestic. I hate to clean, I despise cooking. Being a SAHM and not working outside the home goes against everything I worked for before I had kids. I want to rebel against gender stereotypes every single day. But, I know this is what is best for my family right now so I put that aside.
Fly Lady helps people like me, who don’t do this thing naturally, find some routines that work. Yes she’s a little kooky, but she’s good hearted and very supportive, which some of us really need!