Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cultural (in)Competence

"Cultural Competence" was a term I first heard back in the late 1980s when I worked in the family planning field. I remember taking courses that used the term, and trying to plan workshops on cultural competence for the family planning counselors I was charged to train. It confused me. What exactly did it mean? I got the gist of it, which is being "competent" in dealing with people of a culture different from one's own. In my case, it meant training family planning counselors from many different cultures (African American, Haitian, Latino, Asian, etc.) as a middle-class white woman. But I never really figured out how to implement it.

Did it mean having a workshop with representatives of different cultures speaking? But then you ended up with this sense that each culture was monolithic: "all Latinos feel this way, all African-Americans feel this way." So THAT didn't work out well. Did it mean only having providers serve clients who were of the same culture as they were? This was difficult to do in a multi-cultural city like Boston. And what about information that I felt was really the same no matter what the culture, but that people still disagreed about? For example, I trained the family planning counselors how to talk to women with unplanned pregnancies. They needed to present all three of the options: continuing the pregnancy, abortion, and adoption. But what of those counselors who said: "we don't DO this in our community"? What then?

Fast forward about twenty years, and now it's 2007 and I'm at a new job in a new agency. I go to a brown-bag lunch about -- you guessed it -- cultural competence. "Wow," I thought, "maybe they've finally figured it out!" I brought my salad to the workshop and waited excitedly for the talk to start.

Guess what. They still haven't figured it out.

I won't repeat what was said at the workshop, but suffice to say, people were still asking: "what is cultural competence, anyway?" People still didn't have great definitions. They had a sense that it had to do with comfort with other cultures, but it seemed more that the U.S. government is requiring grantees to discuss their plans for making programs culturally competent, and this was the basis of the discussion. There was a lot of talk about frameworks and committees and plans. I was still confused.

The speaker gave us information about a program that he thought was a great example of a culturally competent program. In it, a Western practitioner and a local person worked together to create a suicide prevention program that truly met the needs of the target population because -- duh -- it was based on the culture and values of that population! This isn't rocket science, folks. Or maybe it is...

I've worked in human services for a long time, and I've seen lots of different programs. It seems clear to me that you need to have representatives of the population you intend to work with (typically under-served minority populations) as part of the planning and also the implementation of a social service or public health program, if it's going to be successful. This seems obvious to me. Yet, it seems to me that lots of people in the helping professions are of a different culture than that of the folks they want to help. So there's the rub. How do these well-intentioned folks figure out how to work with people who have backgrounds and communities and feelings and traditions that are VERY DIFFERENT than theirs? Cultural competence....

So now I've come full circle. I don't understand cultural competence, but apparently we need it in order to serve the populations that we serve. And maybe, as in many other things, the question is more important than the answer, and the definition is in the struggle itself...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Job Without Benefits

This week, the Sunday Globe Magazine had another article that gave me….well….indigestion…... This article, entitled The Job Without Benefits, analyzes why women who are out there in the working world, perhaps even earning more than their husbands, also do most of the housework. Here’s an example from the article:

…Susan's very particular about how things get done, and she's better than her husband at housework, and he likes to relax more than she does, and so she just does it herself.

"OK, I don't know what drives women like me to do it all," she says. "We're crazy. We don't know how to stop. I do get that I'm letting this situation continue."

Susan is locked in a prison that she designed and built herself. She even has the key. She just won't use it. And she's not alone in there.
Okay, I agree to a certain extent. Women who work hard outside the home shouldn’t have to do it all inside the home. I’m all for that. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Research indicates that even in homes where women dramatically out earn their men, housework is still broken down based on traditional gender roles. In other words, women do most of it.

"Men don't intend to do less housework, they just don't notice that they are doing less, and it's a matter of standards." She adds: "Women notice there's a mess and take ownership of it. Men aren't programmed for it."
Kris Frieswick, the author of the article, comments:
It's the breadwinner wife's mantra – I'm so busy at my job, but somebody has to do the work at home, and I'm the only one who seems to notice that it needs to be done, and he doesn't do a very good job, and it's easier to do it myself than have a big fight over it, blah, blah, blah.

Breadwinning wives, of all women
– comments Frieswick -- should be demanding, protesting, striking for a fair division of household labor. But instead there are excuses and the sound of vacuum cleaners at 11 p.m. So why should other women care if these control junkies choose to do it all to the point of delirium? Because the home is site of the final skirmish in the battle for gender equality, a struggle whose outcome profoundly affects all women. And many breadwinner wives, who have the power to lead the charge, are giving in without a fight.
Well…yeah. This is kind of what’s going on at my house. Not sure why exactly. But gradually, as time has gone by, my husband, who used to cook and clean for himself very well, thank you very much, has slowly left most of those tasks up to moi. And I-- I’m embarrassed to say -- am doing them. Laundry, cooking, vacuuming, dusting, grocery shopping...yup, that's me.

I know they say the personal is political, housework the last frontier for feminism? Maybe it is, and I didn't even realize it.

Well, in my situation, I'm the one working part-time. Since my husband works full-time, I don't mind...much... doing most of the household tasks. Or more, I'm home more, and I guess the other "half" of my part-time job is taking care of the house (and the child, but that's another story). What's frustrating to me is that my husband really doesn't seem to see the mess. I could not vacuum for a month, and he really wouldn't notice. I'm the one who notices. So I do the work.

To be fair, my husband does a lot of other things around the house. He mows the lawn, and does most of the snow shoveling and plowing. He deals with the car repairs. He deals with problems with plumbing, electricity, etc. He actually enjoys doing electrical work, G-d bless him. He will occasionally do the dishes. But it's the day-to-day stuff, the stuff that keeps the house running, that he avoids... and I fill the vacuum (no pun intended).

I’ve discussed this with other women friends. Some friends have just thrown in the towel on the whole cleaning thing, and have hired someone to come in and clean the house every week or every other week. Actually, most people I know have some sort of cleaning help. I probably should do this, but I haven't as yet. I still feel weird having a cleaning lady coming into my house. On the other hand, it might reduce some of the resentment that I feel.

But getting back to this article... I think what bothers me about it is the assumption of the author that once women earn more than men, that the men will suddenly take over the household tasks. This just doesn't ring true to me.

Maybe it's biological; maybe it's environmental. But I think men just don't see the mess the way women do. My husband notices piles: piles of books, piles of papers, etc., and the piles bother him. But he doesn't see dirt. The dirt is what bothers me.

You would think between him cleaning up the piles and me cleaning up the dirt, we'd have equal division of household labor and a clean house. But that isn't the case. Instead, we have him complaining about the piles and me cleaning up the dirt....

But I digress.

So back to who does the housework. I came across an interesting website recently called Equally Shared Parenting. The couple who writes this site has some tips on how to share housework that are interesting. But what's different here is a fundamental difference: the husband feels that he SHOULD do an equal share of the housework. It's HIS DECISION. He feels that it's RIGHT and FAIR.

But what of the husband that doesn't feel that way? Equally Shared Parenting has this to say:

...under no circumstance should you simply enable your spouse by doing his/her share. The idea is to cheerfully and lovingly let the natural consequences of inaction fall on the spouse who is responsible.
Frieswick says something similar at the end of her article:

It might not be a feminist march on Washington, but in the final fight for gender equality, walking away from a mess might be the most effective protest march of all.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bad Mommy

Okay, I promised myself I wouldn't do this on my blog, but I have to vent my guilt somewhere. My son has been sick for the past week, first a cough, stayed home, went to school, sent home from school, stayed home, went to school... He never seemed 100% better, but it seemed like he was getting better by the end of the week. Then this weekend, he started complaining that he couldn't breathe... I told him to stop running around. Never occured to me that it could be something more serious. Just wait.

Then he started complaining that his throat was sore. He hasn't been eating much (this from a kid who eats constantly). He's been waking up at night coughing. He has a runny nose.

This morning, he still wasn't feeling great. He didn't want to get up (this from the king of the morning risers), and his throat is still sore. I looked in his throat: white tongue, maybe some white and pink spots? Not sure. My husband volunteered to stay home and take him to the pediatrician. The verdict? Strep and a "touch" of pneumonia.

Bad, bad mommy.

P.S. Forgot to mention that we probably exposed him to, hmm, at least 25 kids over the course of this weekend.... Bad, bad, bad.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A New Low

On Tuesday, New Bedford was shaken by an immigration raid at Michael Bianco Inc., a local leather goods manufacturing company. More than 300 workers, mostly women, were detained and many are being deported. Boston Globe Editorial, 3/9/07

Massachusetts has the dubious distinction this week of hosting a raid on a local manufacturing company, netting 350 illegal immigrants. No one seems to care about the jerk who employed these folks; all anyone cares about is that the workers are illegal. What’s come to light is that most of them are women, and many of them are also mothers. The immigration officials were quick to send many of the women out of state – probably to protect the country from their foul influence – and left behind a number of children without proper caretakers. What really breaks my heart – as well as enrages me – is that some of these women are nursing mothers, and two babies ended up in the hospital, dehydrated, because their mothers were shipped off without anyone realizing that they are someone’s FOOD SOURCE.

What the hell is going on?

Why couldn’t the immigration officials ask these women if they have children, if they have babies that they are nursing at home, what the circumstances are of their situation? As Governor Patrick asked, what was the rush here???

Officially, of course, undocumented immigrants are breaking the law. But in daily practice, undocumented workers are part of the economy, and everyday law enforcement routinely ignores millions of these workers, reinforcing the unofficial fact that the country both tolerates and relies on them. --Boston Globe editorial 3/9/07

This is just another example of the uneven application of the law to the detriment of women. Illegal immigrants are working everywhere in the U.S., but for some reason, this particular company was selected to use as an "example." And who is suffering? Not the owners. Women, of course. Women from other countries who came here to try to do better for themselves and their families. I know I shouldn't be surprised...but this seems to be a new low for our country.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sports Fan = Man

I am married to a sports fan. A Boston sports fan. This means that my husband lives and dies for the Boston Red Sox, the Patriots, and to a lesser extent, the Celtics and the Bruins. He wakes up in the morning and, first thing, reads the Globe's sports page. He listens to sports on the car radio. He stays up long enough to watch the sports report on the 10 o’clock news. “Sports” is like a river that runs through his life, day in, and day out. There is always “sports” to think about, to talk about, to worry about.

And now we have spawned (to stay with the water metaphor) a new little sports fan. My seven-and-a-half year old son has become completely enamored with football this season. He knows the players' numbers, the quarterbacks of every team, he knows what a 'down' is, what ‘special teams’ means. He is obsessed with Corey Dillon and Tom Brady.

This is wonderful for my husband and my son. They are bonding over football. However, it leaves me completely and utterly in the dark.

You have to understand, my husband and the rabbi who was to marry us (we were having a fall wedding) had a really fun time talking about baseball when we were supposed to be discussing our wedding arrangements. The rabbi even mentioned the Red Sox during our wedding ceremony! And my husband threatened to cancel our honeymoon to France if the Red Sox were in the playoffs. Luckily, I didn’t have to find out what would have happened since they didn’t make the playoffs that year. But I think he was half-serious.

Sometimes, I’ll catch my husband quietly watching TV.
“What are you watching?” I ask.
“Golf,” he replies.
“Do you even like golf?” I query.
“It’s a sport, I like it!” he responds.

My son doesn’t seem to enjoy golf, but every other sport is getting his attention these days. Now that football season is over, he is interested in hockey and basketball, and is starting to get excited about the upcoming baseball season. “Dice-K,” the new (and expensive) Japanese pitcher for the Red Sox, is his new interest. And spring soccer is about to start at school(once the snow melts).

My son can talk sports with the best of them. I mean, with grown men. We have been at several social events during which he has carried on adult-sounding conversations with adult men about football. Adult men seem to find it fascinating and endearing to have a “little man” to talk with about football. They like quizzing him on his knowledge of the player’s numbers, and they like to talk about famous plays. “Do you remember during the playoffs how so-and-so did such-and such?” And my son actually knows what they are talking about…

As one friend announced, with pride: “he’s becoming a man.” Well, I guess so. He’s seven and a half. And he’s into sports. That makes him a man... kinda.