Elizabeth Bruenig at The New Republic writes this in response to Paul Ryan’s demands—”I cannot and will not give up my family time”—for the House speakership:
In many ways, Ryan’s ultimatum on spending time with his family is remarkably progressive. It is rare to see a male politician (especially one in such a prominent position) make clear and serious demands when it comes to work-life balance. It is perhaps even more unusual to witness such a premium placed on family time outside of extenuating circumstances like illness or childbirth.
If only his policies were as enlightened as his personal preferences.
I won’t begrudge the instinct to think “Good for you Paul Ryan!” Yet the sentiment isn’t some appeal to warm fuzzies nor a remarkably broprogressive stance against normative family roles; it’s speaks to the privilege of having earned the right to demand work on your own terms. Ryan’s requirement isn’t an illustration of cultural change, but a public showing of a mundane manifestation of workplace power.
Yet, as Elizabeth notes, Ryan also opposes policies that would extend the same option to the poor, or workers, in general. Other developed countries often allow this but in the U.S. you don’t get this chance in the low-end service sector. Imagine, if you will, the person in the drive-thru having successfully stipulated time off to pick up the kids after school, and the ability to walk away from rude customers, in order to fulfill the demand for all-day breakfast. Cue the laugh track, right? In this respect ‘family values’ are life’s in-app purchase—not included in the original purchase price of being born. No, to make this decision one has to literally earn it on their own, and through that process build the life-affirming character traits that deserve the honorable praise of deciding later to work for less. If you want to trade work for family while also not becoming food-insecure or losing the roof over you head then too bad so sad ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .
We’re an odd people. We honor the sacrifice entailed in not being a part of your family’s life because we also require an inordinate amount of labor to fulfill basic needs (which, you know, we shouldn’t). But we also honor the sentiment, and increasingly the choice, to work less for that same family. This means someone like Paul Ryan gets the kuddos for wanting to spend time with family, but also the respect of having already devoting so much time to his job. Golf claps all around. But in the richest country in the world this is a privilege, and we’d do best not to forget that it’s people like Paul Ryan who would like to reserve that choice for the wealthy and powerful.