Been thinking a lot lately about the many, many ways faith and work speak to each other–or quite often, do not speak to each other where they should. Now another one comes up, in an article in First Things by Leah Libresco.
For decades, men’s overcommitment in their work lives has alienated them from their children, drained their marriages of life, incubated infidelity. The overworked, intimacy-challenged businessman has become a movie and TV cliche.
Libresco’s article and the Hanna Rosin article she points to shine a bright light on the modern female equivalent to this cliche. It is sobering, and it deserves reflection by Christians who care about faith-and-work issues.
Here’s the beginning of Libresco’s article, titled “Sad Secular Monks”:
In the Atlantic, Hanna Rosin recently defended the hookup culture as essential to female success and equality. Given the pressure of a high-powered career, she claims, “an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.” In order to carve out time for work, women need the same option men have long enjoyed: “the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career.”
Rosin may think she’s delivering a paean for the hookup culture, but she’s really giving a eulogy for intimacy. A life that has no room for serious romantic partners can’t have much space for deep friendships either. This should be the one culture war fight where we can all be on the same side: if careers preclude real relationships, something’s gone deeply wrong. Instead of arguing about how much of the void hookups can fill, I’d like to attack the root of the problem: the miscategorization of career as vocation.
The totalizing careers that Rosin describes are not uniquely the problem of women, nor are they limited to the banking industry she profiled. Women like Anne-Marie Slaughter notice the impossibility of having it all because they had higher hopes than men to start with. Male CEOs are not asked how they will balance the responsibility to their jobs with their obligations to their children because it is assumed that a parental relationship is a luxury for men at the top. Women entered the workforce, but didn’t submit to its disregard of the family, so they are achingly aware of the tradeoffs. And we’re better off feeling that pain and steeling ourselves to fight than accepting the status quo and not noticing a sacrifice is being made.
Today, many of the most high-status jobs for the well-educated make a virtue of intensity and commitment. Investment banking boasts 80-hour work weeks; Teach for America’s emotional crucible results in a high burnout rate; and jobs in the political sector spawn articles like Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cri de coeur. Have a Type A personality? These jobs are ready to push you to (or past) your limit, and isn’t that what excellence is all about?
There’s a word for people who turn over their entire waking life to one cause, and willingly sacrifice the possibility of a family for the opportunity to serve: monks (or, more archaically, oblates). Just like the driven twenty-somethings of Rosin’s article, monks and nuns have made a commitment so total that it precludes marriage. But in the case of vowed religious, the form of their service is meant to be elevating, not just useful. I seldom hear people claim that spreadsheets are good for the soul. Even for people doing high intensity work for the public good (the teachers, the social workers, the public interest lawyers, etc.), the form of their work may still be deadening.
Most careers aren’t vocations, so we need space outside them to grow and love. . . .
Finish article here.