Internet's 'This F*cking Guy' For Today Is 'This F*cking Law Professor Simpering About Paternity Leave'
Today, I would like to tell you about ... a viral law review article.
Please note that I am sighing and making a face as I write those words. But as part of its last issue, the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy decided to publish an essay by Duke Law professor Ernest Young, called "Chaos, Accomplishment, and Work, or, What I Learned on Paternity Leave." And only a man who has lived his entire life with women catering to his every need could have written this thing.
I have read a lot of dumb, terrible takes in my life. And this probably isn't the actual dumbest, because Donald Trump had access to Twitter for a long time. But damn, it is up there. And with the amount of time I spend on the internet telling other people that they're wrong, that is saying something.
But here this garbage is, published in a law journal, because god knows the world could not survive another day without hearing from Ernest Young about how he spent his
summer vacation paternity leave — and why it wasn't nearly as much fun as he thought it would be!
dear husband law professor begins his piece by telling us, "Late in life, minding my own business, I was blessed with a baby girl." Now, maybe we didn't have sex ed classes when Professor Young was growing up, or he grew up in Utah, and he's just a Duke Law professor and not a doctor, so I suppose it's understandable that he's still unclear on how babies are made. But someone should probably let him know that "minding your own business" is not actually how that's done.
The professor's wife didn't get maternity leave (at her federal government job where she is a prosecutor?! WTF, feds?!), but he was able to get a full semester off plus summer, so he spent about six months acting as the primary caretaker for his baby daughter. And he was SHOCKED, JUST SHOCKED to find out that taking care of an infant day in and day out is not actually the most fun thing in the world.
I came to realize that the real reason for my discomfiture was that what I was doing in caring for my daughter did not fit comfortably with my accustomed notions of work and accomplishment.
Professor Young had high hopes of doing a lot of snobby things during his paternity leave, like writing a book about federalism and playing some Gershwin on not a piano but a Steinway. (Yes, these are both real examples that he used.) He was unpleasantly surprised to discover that taking care of an infant is actually hard work and not, in fact, a nap.
But there were no naps. Or, I should say, there were naps but they were on baby Caroline's terms—not mine. My little tyrant's napping policy demanded that I be holding her at all times in order for sleep to occur. This meant that only activities that could be performed seated and with an infant in the crook of one arm—no typing—would be on the agenda. Writing was out, and Gershwin was a pipe dream.
Oh oh! And this is one of my favorite parts! Where he complains about having to thaw his wife's breast milk. THE HORROR!
And in any event, most of Caroline's day was not spent napping. Life became a daily round of changing diapers, thawing out stored milk and administering the bottle, and pushing the stroller around the neighborhood.
Then Young pretends for a while that his problem with taking care of his baby isn't that it's "women's work," even though that actually seems to be the entire point of this essay.
This was all more than a little bit hard to take. The problem was not simply that I was trying to do things that our culture has traditionally framed as "women's work." It is still true that "nearly all of the work we officially classify as domestic in America is done by women: the cleaning, the care of the very young, the care of the very old." But even your humble author is not so Neanderthal as to doubt that this state of affairs is wrong or to feel somehow "above" this sort of labor. I did insufficiently appreciate how deeply traditional gender roles cut in the male (and female) psyche. But most importantly, I did not comprehend going in how such roles represent fundamentally different understandings of work and achievement—and how much those understandings would affect the self-perceived value of what I was doing.
"I didn't understand I wouldn't like women's work because I'm a big chauvinist dumbass" is in fact the whole thesis! Until we get to: THIS BITCH DID NOT EVEN MAKE SURE HIS WIFE GOT DINNER WHEN HE WAS ON LEAVE AND SHE WAS WORKING FULL-TIME! He is lucky to be both alive and still married. And this, apparently has something to do with June Cleaver? I guess because he wants to make it clear to everyone just how emasculated he felt by all of these works that ladies normally do.
When Erin came home from work and asked, "What did you do today?", I had no good answer. Most days I had not even managed to cook her dinner (which, Ward Cleaver-style, she pretty much thought I ought to do).
Seriously?! You don't even have to cook — with your salary, I'm sure you can afford to order in. But COME ON! If the tables had been turned, you just KNOW he would expect her to have dinner waiting every night. And who wants to set the over/under on how many diapers this guy has changed while his wife is also home?
I certainly had not made any progress in the way that I had come to define "progress" as a lawyer and a legal academic. I could not point, at day's end, to a tangible amount of research completed, to 1500-odd words written toward my next article, or a 90 minute class taught. If I asked myself—as I had been accustomed to ask myself—"What did you get done today?", the answer was pretty much, "nothing."
I love how he makes sure to specify in this next part, here, that it's PATernity leave that sucks. MATernity leave, as we all know, being an absolute gas and giving women a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment never found outside the home.
Paternity leave has all the downsides that accompany other variants of at-home work: the lack of human social contact (at least with the sort of humans who can employ words and are unlikely to spit up on you), the absence of any externally-imposed structure organizing your time, the unfortunate tendency not to shave. But the truly hard part was the sense that I was spinning my wheels, not accomplishing anything. At the end of each day I was exhausted, but I had nothing to show for it.
Eventually, we get to the part of the article where our dear author talks about how awesome his mom is.
My mother is one of the smartest people I know. Valedictorian of her small West Texas high school, she graduated with honors from the University of Texas in the early 1960s. After a year teaching high school English, she married my father and, when I came along not too long after, she decided to stay home and raise me (and later my brother) while Dad put in 20 years in the Air Force.
And he even knows how smart she is! It sounds like she might have even been smart enough to be one of those builders of buildings! Like a MAN!
I have often wondered what she might have accomplished if she had not chosen to devote her life to my brother and me—and perhaps if she had been born at a time when bright young women were more broadly encouraged to pursue their own careers.
But then ... he entirely ignores how systemic sexism and adherence to traditional gender roles held his mother back. He says, "Mom chose a very traditional female role" without ever even speculating that she might not have actually chosen that role, much less asking his mother how she felt.
It's not clear to me [...] that my mother felt particularly downtrodden or disparaged in her role. She did it well, expanding her circle of care to include many younger families that passed through Dad's flight crew and raising at least one productive member of society (my brother, who became a public school superintendent rather than a shiftless law professor). Mom lived her life surrounded by other capable women who had made similar choices and were unlikely to discount her traditionalism. And my impression is that nowadays Americans are increasingly aware that "housework" or childrearing is real work, and many more of us accord it the dignity and respect that it so abundantly deserves.
This whole thing almost reads like it's building to the point where the old man finally realizes that women are expected to do a lot of unpaid labor and it's actually really hard work. But, spoiler alert, it's not building to that at all. Or anything like it.
There's no acknowledgement of how much unpaid work women do. There's no realization that women have been doing all of this extra labor for him, his entire life.
He briefly acknowledges that most work inside the home is still done by women ...
None of this is to deny that the "second shift" of childrearing and other housework, still worked overwhelmingly by women, takes an unacceptable toll on our society. As Arlie Hochschild has argued, that toll bears not only on women but on marriages and the relations between fathers and children.
... just to remind us that this actually is not at all his point.
But that subject—which Professor Hochschild and others have developed so compellingly—is not my subject in this Essay. Rather, I want to focus on how the sort of work involved in childcare is different from other forms, like founding a company, building a skyscraper, or writing law review articles.
Yes. The man who makes a living writing esoteric law review articles that literally no one wants to read would like to remind you that, normally, men do important, manly work. Like building skyscrapers! And ... writing essays about how paternity leave sucks, I guess?
Over the long term, of course, Erin and I were trying to accomplish the rearing of a healthy, educated, well-mannered, and non-smelly new citizen of the Republic. But as much as childhood passes in the blink of an eye in retrospect, parents don't really experience it that way in medias res. We just try to maintain a (sometimes only barely) acceptable status quo against the forces of entropy besieging us at all times—hunger, sleep deprivation, grime, poopy diapers. Parents, really, are just trying to hold back the chaos.
His normal job is important, see?! He can even use a dead language to describe parenthood!
Then we get to more about all of the caretaking work this guy's mom did, still, without any acknowledgement of how hard this must all have been for her.
My mother held back the chaos in our family for over two decades while my brother and I were kids. In many ways in our family, she still does; as life wore on, she took up other caring roles—looking after my parents' parents, refereeing disputes in the extended family, orchestrating family gatherings—that had a similar quality.
But, you see, his mother just really enjoys taking care of everyone else. Because, unlike him, she has lady parts.
HE ACTUALLY SAYS HE THINKS HOUSEWORK AND TAKING CARE OF BABIES IS HARDER FOR MEN!
I recall no reason to think she found this mode of work unfulfilling. But I suspect it is a harder role for men.
YES, THAT IS SERIOUSLY A REAL THING THIS MAN WROTE IN THE YEAR 2021.
We are socialized to think that we need to go out and build things—a building, a company, even a book or a symphony.
Oh, okay, we're back to talking about building buildings again. I'm sorry you weren't good enough at math to become an architect?
Man have goals. Man want goals. Man get goals.
We formulate goals and try to work toward them, and these goals usually involve a change in our circumstances, not simply the maintenance of our present condition. We closely monitor our progress toward those goals. Men need something to show at the end of a day—or a life.
"Women? Oh, they probably like doing shit for people like me who can't take care of ourselves! That's why they're called 'women' and not 'men,' am I right?"
Eventually, we learn that Professor Young has a son who graduated college in 2017. And that, to me, was one of the most shocking parts of the essay. YOU ALREADY HAVE A GROWN-ASS CHILD AND ARE JUST NOW COMING TO THE REALIZATION THAT TAKING CARE OF KIDS IS HARD WORK?
Eventually, a heading is titled,
" ARE FEMINISTS ... CONSERVATIVE?!!"
Go fuck yourself.
Though this section is unintentionally hilarious (as is appropriate) in its admissions that conservatives never actually do anything.
Philosophical conservatives—who may or may not overlap with the views of right-leaning politicians—have long been concerned with preserving existing norms and institutions against the corrosive effects of change.
Yes, this is true, conservatives are big fans of preserving existing norms, no matter how bigoted and repressive.
As Michael Oakeshott said, conservatism is "a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for."
True for both conservatives and cis white men everywhere!
Conservatives, in other words, are concerned first with preserving the good in our traditions and institutions before looking to change them for the better; they specialize, like my mother, in holding back the chaos.
Again, I say: your poor mother.
All this talk of high political theory—in an Essay on paternity leave, no less—might raise a suspicion that your humble author has inhaled too many fumes from the diaper pail.
Believe it or not, Ernest, too much time spent parenting is actually not even on my list of reasons that you are like this.
An important metric for law journals and articles is the number of citations they receive. The only time this piece of garbage should be seriously cited to in the future is in the context of, "Your Honor, attached as Exhibit A to my petition for divorce is an essay my husband wrote."
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