Sitting silently in a train, listening to the radio while watching the remote scenery outside, I found myself most peaceful and joyful, especially when sunlight fell down on my hair and shoulder. Trees and lands far away from the window seemed to stay in their original places only when time had traveled itself for long, and then I realized, “Oh, it’s no longer the same story.”
Peace, inner and outer, fulfilled the seeming empty mind——No more worries about the endless homework, other people’s critical eyes; No more anxieties from the parents’ endless requirements, the sister and brother’s interruptions. Travelling created a restful and smooth harbor which soothed the desperation that time bind brought in such a speeded era.
I was dreaming of graduating from school, getting rid of the mountain-like homework and then sitting in the office to enjoy my beloved job. I imagined that I would have regular work hours, enjoy the family-friendly company cultures, and make friends with those who share common topics, and even a family who support behind in a definite way. For students, jobs sound like paradise just as what university sound like when we were in high school. However, when “the university” prefabricated from the mouths of high school teachers turned out never the heaven, I began to doubt about the peace and harmony that jobs would bring and the imagination of a “regular and family-friendly” job finally ends with scanning through the book “The Time Bind: When home becomes work and work becomes home” by a sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild.
You can’t stop as you start reading it for the phenomena, apparent or not, and the opinions brought out by the writer are fantastically amazing and fascinating. It introduces such new conceptions of “time bind” which refers to a blurring distinction of home and work; of “the third shift” which points to the energy spent in trying not to distracting oneself when comforting their family members from the piles of work; and also some other interesting terms which reflect the current social environment.
It’s a book of contradiction, where higher efficiency doesn’t ensure less average work time; higher income doesn’t mean a happier family life; equal access doesn’t predict the relax of women; thorough childcare system doesn’t indicate the children’s perfect development.
We often tend to believe the improvement of productive forces means a higher living standard, and so we act following this discipline, striving to achieve a boom of material supply. We always say the speed-up of efficiency means a cut down of average social working time, which was also proved right by the time movements where an eight-hour work day was won. Our logic goes on and points to that we will have more time with our family as we can finish our fixed work in a shorter time for the gift of technology. Thus time would never bind us, we will feel like travelling in the train, looking outside the window and throwing our eyesight far away, feeling the time staying still just like the scenery changing unnoticedly.
It was such a wonderful logic that I would never rethink of it till Arlie told in her book that a higher productivity did not assure us a plenteous time at home, and let alone a happy family life.
In “The Time Bind”, time is a debt parents owe to their children as what Gwen Bell felt to her daughter Cassie, and from 1960 to 1986, parental time available to children per week fell ten hours in white households, 12 hours in black households. The parents leave their children at the child care center at the morning before they went to workplace and pick them up late in the night. The waving window in the child care center was where the children said goodbye to their no-looking-back parents who rushed away to their work. The children stood there, pretending that their parents had seen them and then bragged to other kids of the center. The parents told the children that if they stayed in the child care center quietly and did what they told them so, they would have vacations together and “later” spent more time with them.
The debt gathered little by little when the parents promised so time by time because even they themselves didn’t know what “later” suggest, a day later or a life later. They felt anxious about it and sorry for their children, they claimed that they wanted to have more time with the children, as the data in the book showed that in a 1990 Los Angeles Times Survey of 1,000 families, 57% fathers and 55% mothers felt guilty of spending too little time with their children.
But, why didn’t they act out? They were able to do it considering the enhancement of efficiency and the rising of company culture about “family friendly policy.”
Arlie, the writer, discovered the truth, an inconvenient truth. People sought to enter companies with “family friendly” policies; however, it’s one thing to have such policies, another thing to use them, and the policies meant nothing when nobody wanted to use them, or in other words, didn’t dare to use them. In Amerco, a “family friendly” company with a fictional name in order to protect the benefit of it, few people would take paternity leave until one black guy John who did so. After the guy, who was brought up by his mother, was back, his colleagues teased him that he took the paternity leave as a vacation to catch up with the TV soaps.
In the boss’s eye, the evaluation of his staff was based on how much time the employee spent on his job. As to part time job in Amerco, the higher would strongly disapprove it, as Bill, the boss put it on “commitment” in an office meeting, “I don’t think we can get commitment with less than fifty or sixty hours a week, because others are doing so.”
The male would think of part time job as a lack of ambition, and the female as standing themselves in the male world, trying to work even longer time than men to show that they owned their status through intelligence and hard work, to avoid the “evil eyes”, as one woman engineer commented, “They (the male) think I got their promotion. Truth is I got my promotion. I earned it. But at work I feel I have to prove it. I don’t know if that’s behind my sixty-hour week or not.”
They talked a lot about the long-hour working when lunch time came, how would they feel in the workplaces? Were they happy with the longer time in workplace, or weary about it? I always imagined it happy to be at work, but when it came to overwork, I would not be that pleasant, especially overwork with no extra payment. The picture depicted in the book struck me again when it pointed to that people tended to love work more than home, and implicated that “The emotional magnets beneath home and workplace are in the process of being reversed.”
According to the statistics the book mentioned, 85% of the workers in Amerco, a family friendly company, felt that “home is a workplace” and 58% felt that “work is home,” which was especially true among women. It was not the “family-friendly policies” that helped to win people’s heart since we can see from above that people were strained to their limit to work. Why work had become their rock? Why home was no longer people’s harbor when they were tired from the strenuous work line? What happened in family lives that could drive away people’s affection and reliance toward it and transferred their emotional appeal onto overwork which exhausted their labor and energy?
Thanks to the women’s movement in the sixties, women are now equal to men, meaning being able to grant themselves the same privileges men enjoyed at work. In 1990s, one out of three Amerco’s employees and 25% of its managers were women. It proved that the women’s movement had achieved its initial purpose——to have equal access to jobs. Women must have been happy because they found their values in the once male-dominant world; they even worked for longer hours outside in the companies, factories instead of being wary housewives whose job was to attend the children, to care after their husbands, which appeared inferior to work outside.
Work is a more tangible way to show one’s value both in society and in supporting family life, and people in such an era where gender relationship is still a contentious issue always strive to approve their capabilities in doing so.
When women were exhausting their energy to work, their partners seemed to be supposed to spend more time home to help out. However, things were not that smooth and the society had not transformed itself into a matriarchy society.
Vicky was a manager in Amerco, and she spent a lot of time supervisor, encouraging her staff to work hard, work efficiently. Her husband, Kevin, tried to help her in family life; while on the other hand, he felt anxious toward public perception, and his father’s view. He tried to match up with Vicky, as they said “work commitment to work commitment.” And Eileen’s husband, Jim, tried to match up with other men of his workplace even as others were straining their nerves to catch up with him.
So here another kind of gender war was on, and the cause was time. While in the war, the winner was work, the loser was family, and the sufferer was the children, said in the book. Though hurried by the mountain-like work, women still had to exert themselves at home to deal with family affairs since the husbands or partners were also very busy on work. Women had to hurry home to put dinner on the table, read the children. Compared with men, women were more tired in such a new type of life under the guise of equality. For Linda, another Amerco employee, “home is not a place to relax, but another workplace” and she often went to work earlier to have chitchats with her colleagues, sharing their sorrows at home. For women, free time meant “at work.” The book said that fathers reported more “positive emotional states” at home, mothers more “positive emotional states” at work, and it also cited the Psychologist Reed Larso that “Because women are constantly on call to the needs of other family members, they’re less able to relax at home in the way men do.” Daniel’s wife often cried herself beside the refrigerator for frustration and tiredness, and seldom communicated with her husband Daniel. He felt marginalized, and didn’t know how to help to ease her nerve.
What a family is like when there is no communication, no understanding, no sharing of sorrow and happiness?
An interviewee of Arlie said “I am still married to the same guy” in referring to the changes in the two years in her family and work. It’s the most significant thing over time because many couples, her friends, her colleagues, got divorced during the two years. Becky and Derek got divorced, since for them, as for at least half of all couples nation-wide, marriage was no longer a safe harbor. “Marriage had ceased to function as a basis for financial and emotional security,” said Arlie. Single moms wanted their daughters to be single mothers, explaining their little time with kids as to practice their independency.
1/4 staff of Amerco faced a great number of difficulty to attend a child’s schooling activity or a parent-teacher conference, or simply to care for a sick child. For the worker bees, valuing parenting was based on how their children’s acting not how much time they’d spent on the kids. They came up with the idea of “Quality time” at home, like in the company. Family was like a workplace, whose first tenet was to create efficiency, just as Daniel said, “I am still hoping we can make our family a good production team. Some children like Cassie might understand her parents’ tiredness, but not all children were as tamed as goats. Many parents had to suffer the third shift, aside from the work and house work. They were obliged to “hear children’s protest, experience their resentment, resistence, passive acquiescence, to try to assuage their frustrations, to respond to their stubborn demands or whining requests, and in general to control the damage done by a reversal of worlds.”
Thus, they needed a backup system, just as a child care center for the children, they need a place to release all the pressure from family, and ultimately, work began to function towards it and became more predictable, safer, and emotional supportive.
In the sixties, the NOW’s (National Organization of Women) Statement of Purpose attacked the traditional assumption that a woman had to choose between marriage and work, and alleged that women could balance well between the two. I can’t see any balance after the book reveals all the problems hiding, and feel confused about the women’s movement. If it is to bring equality to women and equality equals happiness and content, why are we so tired and become the slaves of work, the slaves of the equality?
Life is moving in a rising speed; both men and women seek to work longer and harder, like wheels twirling without pausing. It sounds desperate for me and I may go crazy. It feels like, suddenly I draw back my view from the faraway scenery, and look at the trees flashing beside the train window. It’s fuzzy and makes me feel dizzy. I come to think of the conveyor belt, in the film Modern Times where Charlie must keep up with the moving of the conveyor belt in order to let other men keep their pace. We struggle to jump out of the time bind on one hand; we trap ourselves into it on the other hand.
In The Time Bind, Arlie proposed that the only way, revolutionarily, to solve the time bind depends on the younger generation, those like Cassie who had suffered a lack of parental care, because they know well how it felt about when edged out by time.
However, considering the current parents, they had suffered from the time bind brought by their own parents, while they are doing the same; and the kids who talked most to their mother at school, while at work talking more with their father. Would the dream come true? Or is it just a fantasy guiding people to work hard?
As for women, created from the ribs of men, is it suitable to work like a workaholic? Are they happier than the previous women whose work was family and family was the work? What will I do when I have my own job? Will I contribute my time to the company and put out the “quality time” at home? Will I be willing to be a housewife and support the family in an unseen way? I can’t assure myself even because when time becomes your enemy, the only result is surrender.
More time at work leads to less time for family, and thus less time for the children, which results in the children’s protest, which again makes the parents more frustrated and center more on work. It sounds like a vicious circle, a circle generated from time, and maybe the solution also lies on time.