Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Desktop Kids

Today, a small group of colleagues (male and female) and I had a discussion about what photos we have displayed as backgrounds on our computer desktops. The men had photos of their kids. The women did not. This relates to my last post about how science professor men get points for being caring family men, and science professor women are taken less seriously as scientists if they are also moms.

I must admit that I don't really want a picture of my child as a desktop photo. I have a few photos of my daughter in my office, and on my walls I have a few pictures she drew for me, so it's not as if I ignore her existence when I am in science professor mode. I just don't need or want to be surrounded by cute photos of her all day.

I wonder if these male colleagues with child/desktops are actively advertising their sensitive-family-manliness, or whether they just like having a photo of their kid(s) on their desktop. Or both.

11 comments:

Ianqui said...

Thought I would delurk...

Since your group included men, did they say anything about why they had pictures of their kids as a desktop? It seems a little forced to me. I don't have kids (yet), but I'd never put a picture of my husband as my desktop background.

I wonder whether those with the kids as their backgrounds also have their computer screens visible to passers-by. That might be telling.

TW Andrews said...

Speaking as a man with a photo of my kids on my desktop, my conscious motivation is to have a picture of my children nearby.

However, as I start to examine this a bit, I wouldn't discount a subconscious motivation to advertise family friendliness. However, it's not for the touchly-sensitive thing, bur rather for a different reason.

There is a real difference in how youngish (say, under 35) men with children are treated, as compared to childless colleagues. Having children is a mark of adulthood and responsibility, and can have some bearing on how seriously you're taken by other male colleages, particularly older ones who might often presume that you're supporting the entire family.

A family man is just more likely to be viewed as someone reliable than childless peers, and while most, if not all, of my colleagues already know about my children, I can imagine that the additional respect that comes with with a family has bearing on how comfortable I am displaying photos of my children.

Barbara said...

I am a female science professor, and my laptop displays pictures (changing every 5 minutes) of my kids. I especially like to look at them when I'm away from my family, or struggling with a hard problem.
Maybe this is really not a difference between genders but between individuals. Or possibly between laptops and desktops.

Anonymous said...

I hope I won't be tagged as an horrible chauvinist after this comment.

I think attributing the difference of "children in background" behaviour between male and female to the will of getting "points for being caring family men" for men is a bit extreme

I took pictures of father and children at the christmas party of our department last year, and they were both having a lot of fun, I don't think the fathers were trying to get points. I don't have mother-children pictures because there were none to take, inteprete it the way you want. On the other hand, I just checked, I have several colleagues who are mothers and do display their children in their office AND as screen saver (two out of three in a quick sampling).

Maybe an alternate explanation is that those fathers I took in pictures (ot those you point as putting pictures of their family as background) resent the lack of time spent with their family, and try to compensate by putting pictures of their children as a background and by spending time with them anytime they can.

It DOES point out that the wife of those men work less and spend more time with the children, which IS a bias of our society with which I disagree. But it DOES NOT point at males trying to "score points" by showing of "attachment to family".

Female Science Professor said...

I agree that most men probably have kids-on-desktop photos because they like looking at pictures of their kids. That is certainly the case for the men I was discussing this with yesterday. But the women I talked to had made specific decisions NOT to have their kid-photos prominent (though we all have pictures of our kids somewhere in our offices) because we are taken less seriously if we our mom-identities are "too" prominent.

meijusa said...

I also think it might be compensation for spending less time with the children.

Also, it might not be a conscious signal when men display pictures of their children on their desktop background, but rather the absence of the need to always defy expectations and prove your serious work attitude by removing any indication that your family impacts your work or you are emotional.

Carrie said...

And I find what tw andrews wrote to be very disturbing: Having children is a mark of adulthood and responsibility, and can have some bearing on how seriously you're taken by other male colleages, particularly older ones who might often presume that you're supporting the entire family. Whereas having children if you are a woman often results in a woman being taken less seriously by their colleagues. And that you are less dedicated to your job (even though you may be supporting your entire family as well). Gender blinders.

bsci said...

I feel I get more benefit mentioning I'm a father than my wife does mentioning that she's a mother. As a fairly young father, the "sign of maturity" reason is probably a factor.

Still, my wife uses a baby picture for her computer background and I use no picture... then again, she's a grad student and hasn't been giving talks out of her department to people who don't know she's a mother. Her field isn't the most welcoming to women or mothers so perhaps her computer background will change when she's looking for jobs.

Reed A. Cartwright said...

Here's my silly explaination: it's about sex.

Men show off their kids to demonstrate to women that they have good sperm.

Women hide their kids to trick men into thinking that they have available eggs.

Okay, it doesn't make sense. But it was fun to post. Heheh.

Ms.PhD said...

Oh, fer crying out loud. This whole argument is ridiculous.

My feeling from talking to friends of both genders about this issue is that men look forward to coming home and seeing their families. There's a long history of men leaving home to work and women staying home. Coming home at night is what their dads did, and Dad also had a photo of the family nearby. They're partly emulating Dad, and partly just looking forward to going home at night.

Women probably don't want pictures of their family as much because it's guilt-inducing as anything else. I know plenty of mothers, young and older, who agonize about being gone all day or not being home when the kids finish school in the afternoon. Women don't need a photo to remember their kids. Going through labor is kind of memorable that way.

mapletree7 said...

Two observations:

Kenji Yoshino's recent book Covering addresses this issue. Women are subtly pressured not to be moms at work. This just doesn't happen to men.

Second, I don't have kids, I always have patterns on my background, and my husband's computer alternate between pictures of me and pictures of his sports car.