How to persuade your students that gender justice might be an issue for them.

by Harry on February 8, 2009

Update: please feel free to use the exercise below, or any adaptation thereof, with or without attribution, if you find it useful. (Prompted to post this by a conversation at Laura’s).

One of the first times I taught about the gendered division of labour in my Contemporary Moral Issues course, a student articulately challenged the relevance of the issue to her. I had assigned the key chapter of Susan Okin’s classic Justice, Gender, And The Family, which argues that the gender system is in violation of fair equality of opportunity, because girls are socialized to be carers (and boys aren’t), therefore end up disproportionately in caring (and therefore lower paid) labour, and, because they take the lion’s share of the burden of caring labour in the home, end up lower paid than their spouses; and yet face a high probability of a divorce after which they will not be able to share in their spouse’s greater earning power (I disagree with Okin about Rawls, but agree with her that if the mechanisms she identifies are at work there is a social injustice—more on that another time). For her empirical case, she relies heavily on Lenore Weitzman’s study of divorce. My student said this research was not relevant to her generation. Putting aside the methodological worries about Weitzman’s study, I was rather unnerved to figure out on the spot that the women she studied were in the generation of my students’ grandparents. I wouldn’t want to draw conclusions about my own life course from studies of my grandparent’s generation either, especially if I had had it drummed into me both by parents and teachers that my own circumstances were entirely different from those of my grandparents, and even more if I were aware (as some of the girls are) that so soon after admitting girls as equal participants universities now have to practice affirmative action for boys in admissions to get close to equal sex-ratios. I pointed this out, and then, again on the spot, tried to figure out a way of showing that the issues, if not the figures, probably are relevant to my students nevertheless. I was pretty happy that in 5 minutes I had them convinced that at least it might be relevant. Here is a slightly refined version of the exercise.

1. Are you male, or female. (If you’re not sure, just pick one, if you reject the question, sit out the exercise).
2. During your teen years did you get paid to do babysitting more than 10 times?
3. Do you anticipate having children? If not, sit this out.

Here are three kinds of parenting arrangement.
A)Father led parenting: the father spends substantially more time than the mother looking after the children and thinking about their wellbeing over the course of their childhoods
B)Mother led parenting: the mother spends substantially more time than the father looking after the children and thinking about their wellbeing over the course of their childhoods
C)Egalitarian parenting: the mother and father spend roughly the same amount of time looking after the children and thinking about their wellbeing.

4. Think just about yourself for the moment. Which of A, B, and C best characterizes your expectations for your prospective family life.
5. Now think about your FIVE best friends. Which of A, B, and C best characterizes your expectations for most of their family lives? (eg, you expect 3 or more of them to be Father-led, answer A).

I get my TA to collate the answers, and then read back the answers to the students.

I only recently added question 2), so I have less confidence about the answers to that one than the others. The one time I’ve done that in a large class, about 5% of the boys answered “yes”, whereas about 65% of the girls did. (The point of that question is abut socialisation, which has a key role in Okin’s argument).

But for 4 and 5 I get almost exactly the same numbers almost every time. Here they are.

4. Boys: A 0%; B 85%; C 15% Girls A 10%; B 25%; C 65%
5. Boys: A 0%; B 85%; C 15% Girls A 0%; B 75%; C 25%

When I present the answers to question 4 I point out that if they want to marry each other they might think about discussing these issues beforehand. When I present the answers to 5 most of the girls seem convinced that the gendered division of labour might possibly be an issue for their generation and, possibly, for them.

{ 80 comments }

1

craigie 02.08.09 at 9:07 pm

The thing that strikes me about the answers is the honesty of the boys. I am a 50-year-old man with a wife and kids, but I’m pretty certain that if you had asked me these questions 30 years ago, I would have chosen ‘C’, not because I particularly expected it (or didn’t), but because I would have believed it was the correct answer.

I have to give them credit for that.

2

geo 02.08.09 at 9:35 pm

Excellent post and ingenious exercise, Harry. But what on earth does “If you’re not sure” mean?

3

Coco 02.08.09 at 9:35 pm

I like the exercise in principle, but how exactly do you manage responses from non-heterosexual students? Just like you use a preliminary question to weed out students that do not identify themselves in a male-female dichotomy, you might also want to use a question to weed out students whose sexual orientation precludes marriage with the opposite sex. As the survey is set up now, it appears that non-heterosexual students will either need to make a potentially embarrassing announcement in front of the class that they don’t know how to answer question 4 or simply fit themselves into categories in a way that will distort your results (i.e. males will have to answer A and females will have to answer B regardless of the absence of an opposite sex partner)

4

jacob 02.08.09 at 9:49 pm

I did a somewhat different version of this a few years ago in a class I was teaching. I asked my students if they had had conversations with their friends about how they were planning on balancing career and family. All the women raised their hands. None of the men did.

On this exercise, about which I agree with both geo and Coco, I was surprised that the men assumed that they were normal (i.e. that what they expected for themselves and their friends were the same). I would have expected at least a few men to imagine that they would have more equality in caring labor than their friends.

5

violet 02.08.09 at 10:48 pm

Geo: That they’re genderqueer or trans-questioning?

6

Doctor Science 02.08.09 at 10:59 pm

And then what? Specifically, did your (or Jacob’s) male students ever acknowledge that “gender justice” might be an issue for them, or was the big breakthrough getting the students to recognize that it’s a problem for women?

7

lindsey 02.08.09 at 11:24 pm

I think the kicker is question 5. Even though I would have chosen C for myself (on an optimistic day, that is, knowing the reality will probably be B), I know almost certainly that my friends, both male and female, are apt to do B. If I had to narrow it to just 5 relatives my age, I’d say they would all enthusiastically choose B (would frown on C and would be scandalized by A).

8

Saheli 02.08.09 at 11:58 pm

I love the attempts not to be gendernormative, and trying not to be heteronormative would be a good goal, but it still seems like instructive data. (I.e. assuming that 12% of the students were homosexual and answered #4 &5 in a way that would screw up your results, you still have a strong discrepancy for #4.)

9

jonm 02.09.09 at 12:33 am

Great exercise. How does the follow-up to questions 4 and 5 go? To me, that seems like a much bigger deal than how many times you were expected to babysit (or otherwise socialized into roles) as a teenager.

10

Slocum 02.09.09 at 12:40 am

I wonder what you would happen if you asked male and female students whether they:

A) Expected to have full responsibility for supporting their family, working continuously until retirement, or

B) Expected to have the option to work full time, part time, or possibly not at all depending on family finances and what seemed to offer the best prospects for personal fulfillment.

Among the people I know (who would be near the age the kids’ parents and are, BTW, upper-middle class liberals), there are many women (highly intelligent and educated) who left the labor force voluntarily when their children were born and have never felt the inclination to return — at least not in any serious, family-supporting way — a decade or more later (and I can tell you that at this point, their husbands are by no means discouraging them from re-entering the labor force).

So if I were advising the boys, I’d strongly recommend they go for option ‘C’ and then make it clear that their partner understood that part of the egalitarian parent package is the egalitarian family support responsibility.

11

harry b 02.09.09 at 12:49 am

I have thought about the issue about same-sex couples, and decided to ignore it because a) they should be few enough not to screw up the results (as saheli says) and b) I didn’t know how to exclude them without seeming rude. I do it all on paper now, to avoid potentially embarrassing revelations. I do point out that it is likely that some of the men will, in fact, be in father-led parenting situations.

“If you’re not sure” is there because one time in a different class a transgendered student gave me a very hard time (in a quite funny, teasing way) for what he/she saw as my absurdly essentialist assumptions about sex and gender. I learned a lot.

So, I’m getting the impression that some of you (Dr. Science and jonm) think I should do more with this. I don’t (but am open to suggestions). I do the exercise after having introduced Okin’s main argument, and after having outlined the earnings-power consequences for a female teacher of taking a year out of the workforce to have an look after a kid (the standard salary schedule makes this very transparent). Then I look at various counteraguments to Okin’s argument, including arguments that claim there is nothing wrong at all because it is all based on voluntary choice, and arguments that there is something wrong, but it is about caregiving not sex, and that talking about gender muddies the issue. I then look at proposed policy responses and arguments for, and objections to, them. They ahve quite good discussions about the issues in section, but I never follow up on whether they have changed their beliefs or anything. The point to the excercise was, initially, to justify teaching the issue as a “contemporary” one, but it also serves to get their intuitions working.

When I did it with a show of hands there was one occasion when 3 boys did say they would be in father-led situations. One of these was, unbeknownst to me, but, I gather, known to most of the class, the #1 pick in his cohort for the football team (and someone who got injured early so didn’t play, butkept his scholarship — as he said to me when I got to know him “the best thing that could have happened to me”). I got to know him pretty well subsequently, and he was entirely sincere and, I think, as committed as could be, to the ideal, though not for feminist reasons, rather for self-interested (its what he really wants to do) reasons.

12

notsneaky 02.09.09 at 12:52 am

Just curious, what proportion of your class are international students?

13

Pat 02.09.09 at 12:59 am

I did an exercise on the same issue in a similarly resistant senior class on professional issues in science; I had the students look up five blogs by women scientists and find out what posts generated the most replies. They noticed immediately that the male scientists they found blogged about science, while the female scientists blogged about child care.

14

harry b 02.09.09 at 1:57 am

10% perhaps. 15% at most.

Slocum — I’d like to ask a version of that that exhausts the possibilities (as it stands, I imagine that while many of the girls, probably wrongly, expect A but very few expect B as stated (in particular, few think that they have the option of not working for a substantial part of their adulthood). I know a few people (men and women) in the situation you describe, but they are not UW Madison graduates (they graduated from more elite universities and, I assume, have expectations as it were that most of my students, like me, don’t). More on that later.

15

Matt 02.09.09 at 2:14 am

I’d feel a bit cheated by the #2 question. I babysat a lot (not including family) for money, but only, I think, when I was a “pre-teen”. Where I lived it paid horribly ($1/hr mostly, $1.5/hr from the “more wealthy” family), so I was happy to ditch that for delivering papers as soon as I could (12 or 13, I think). That, too, was awful in many ways (not even so much in getting up early in all weather, though that was bad, too, but from people trying to cheat me out of the cost of the papers) but paid more than baby-sitting so I switched as soon as I could. But if baby-sitting had paid anything plausible at all I would have much rather done it than delivering newspapers. And after that, baby-sitting was something that people who didn’t have to work for spending money did- people who mostly got what they needed from their parents. In their teens, if you didn’t have wealthy parents you had a regular (part-time) job of some sort rather than baby-sitting, since only people who got most of their money from their parents could afford to baby-sit for extra money.

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LF 02.09.09 at 2:25 am

The choices all involve “looking after the children and thinking about their wellbeing over the course of their childhoods.” Couldn’t this be interpreted in different ways by males and females?

For example, to a male this could mean the actual labour involved–preparing food, buying clothes and washing. So it would be very natural for a male to pick B.
But, to a female this could include something along the line of being a moral presence, or spending time with a child doing some type of learning or sports activity. So, naturally, she might choose C–and rightly so, since most men, these days, will spend time with their kids in that sense (or so it seems).

I’ll suggest that, if this possible difference is reconciled, males and females could have very similar responses.

Anyway, I can’t believe we’re rehashing the old 40+ year discussion about “division of labour” and how “unfair” it is. Will we be burning bras, too? To save further undue discourse which will invariably lead to the same conclusion that it did in the past, I’ll point out a fallacy that rests within the assumption made in the first part of this post: “girls are socialized to be carers (and boys aren’t).”

Hint: It’s not about “socialization.” We are simply different in countless ways, biologically and psychologically. No amount of socialization will change that. As history has shown, to think that this formula can be revised by influencing “expectations” doesn’t hold much water in the long-term. Nor does legislative or economic manipulation.

It doesn’t mean the problem of divource, and its possible negative financial consequences for women, is irrelevant. But we also shouldn’t assume that, in absence of devoting their respective lives primarily to care giving, that those same women would be living in big houses and driving Lexuses (or is it Lexii?)–all the while bounding up some career latter (like everyone who’s absolved of caring for children is endlessly climbing upward, right?).

17

lemuel pitkin 02.09.09 at 2:41 am

This is a wonderful exercise!

As for what else you could do with it — seems like the most important thing is to share it with others who teach this stuff.

18

gc_wall 02.09.09 at 3:12 am

It is impractical to attempt to impose gender equality. The general aim should be toward equal opportunity.

19

lt 02.09.09 at 3:21 am

LF-

Not that it matters to you, but the bra-burning thing is a canard. And do you really think that the history of gender relations over the last 40 years points to the fact that changed expectations make no difference? You’d be hard pressed to see an area where there has been more change, and in a progressive direction.

It never ceases to amaze me how when it comes to this issue, people don’t think their views have to be grounded in any knowledge of the subject.

20

harry b 02.09.09 at 3:27 am

LF — Okin is very clear that insofar as the division of labour is natural, it does not constitute any sort of injustice (although, of course, inequalities of other sorts that are tied to it may be). S0 an obvious objection to the claim that there is an injustice is that the division of labour is natural. That’s why it is worth getting them to think about the extent to which it is socialised. Which the readings, and I, do.

In the course of the unit I do try to bring out the different ways that people might be thinking about what looking after and thinking about children involves (repeating the excercise after the fact wouldn’t help me figure out whether that has got through, because there’s so much else going on).

You don’t think that things like prohibiting discrimination against women, or training math and science teachers not to ridicule girls, helps?

21

Russell Arben Fox 02.09.09 at 3:40 am

Harry, I just put this comment up over at Laura’s, and I thought I’d put it up here as well, though I note that Matt in #13 has in some ways already touched upon it (perhaps not surprising, as he and I grew up is similar social environments). Anyway…

Regarding question #2 on your quiz: does only being paid in cash count? That is, is the only babysitting that counts for purposes of gender differentiation a babysitting job? I ask because in communities, congregations, neighborhoods, etc., where you have a significant number of families that have some degree of relations to each other (cousins, in-laws, etc.), it’s very common–in my experience, anyway–for babysitting to be shared between families, with older children, male or female, taking responsibility for the younger ones. If there is any compensation for this (and there often is), it’s rarely an established wage, as opposed to a quid pro quo.

The thing is, of course, the majority of said arrangements involve socially and/or religiously conservative parents, and so strict gender roles which privilege the male children tend to be passed on to them as they go on to form their own families. And yet, they would say they did tons of babysitting while growing up.

Matt’s comment brings some interesting age and class angles into the issue: the fact that babysitting, in communities where the levels of trust are high enough (amongst one’s congregation?) or perceived levels of danger are low enough (in rural and/or socially homogeneous areas?), is often a pre-teen or younger teen-agers’ endeavor, the sort of thing you do from ages 11 to 15, at which point it’s assumed you’ll go to work at KFC; also, the fact that many babysitters are doing it just for spending money, not actually looking to save or accomplish anything significant through doing that “work.” Either way, though, I think the implication behind my primary question holds–are you (and, perhaps, therefore Okin) only counting for your inquiry into socialization the kind of teen-age babysitting that takes place in well-heeled, high maintenance suburbs, where sitters easily earn $7-$10 an hour for getting the children to do their homework while the parents are at an office party?

22

Matt 02.09.09 at 3:47 am

Russell’s last point is basically the one I was making- that where I grew up (a place not that much different from where Russell did, I think) babysitting was something you did only if you were too young to work at some other job unless you mostly got enough money from your parents to not need some other job and this was really just very much extra cash. So, my younger sisters did babysit longer than I did, but partly that was because my parents just gave them more money than they did me. (That in turn was partly due to my mother working more by that time, but not completely- there were some gender issues there, too.) That said, one of these sisters is the primary wage-earner in her family while her husband (who studied to be a P.E. Teacher) is the primary care-giver for their two kids, so things can work out in all sorts of ways.

23

LF 02.09.09 at 5:29 am

Lt – “It never ceases to amaze me how when it comes to this issue, people don’t think their views have to be grounded in any knowledge of the subject.”

And it never ceases to amaze me how, irrespective of the topic at hand, people with opposing views always seem to be lacking in sufficient knowledge.

As for gender issues, maybe this will explain things for you:
http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/news?ch=334515&cl=2727191&lang=en

24

MH 02.09.09 at 5:34 am

lt, bra burning may have been a canard, but in some cases I think it is appropriate. If the bra was Scarlett Johansson’s, then its like a symbol of something greater than itself. If it wears out, you can’t just toss it in the trash with the banana peels. You have to burn it.

25

lt 02.09.09 at 6:30 am

Umm, yeah, LF, I’m quite aware that kids can have very strong innate personalities and that this includes gendered expression. It does not follow that male and female binaries are the most meaningful way to talk about the huge variations that exist between people, including those of the same gender. Nor does it follow that, to the extent that such differences are innate, our response should be to reinforce them. Encouraging boys to be nurturing and girls to be daring in this light is no more a denial of biology than encouraging shy kids to try to make friends or encouraging an antsy kid to learn to relax.

But again, there’s a rich literature of feminists talking about different ways of approaching this. Most feminists would sensibly say we should be cautious about these kinds of studies given their history and the tendency of media to overstate their findings and conflate description and proscription. There’s a rich literature on how to acknowledge difference, both biological and experiential, and still pursue the social goal of equality.

You said that these are dead questions, settled in a timeless and inevitable way forty years ago. Can you really deny that gender roles have changed greatly over that time? Now, maybe you think that’s a bad thing. Maybe you think that a much lower female participation in the workforce and in public life, greater inequality in marriage, and so forth, are good things. But it certainly does suggest, does it not, that changing socialization has lead to changed expectations as to how both men and women see their lives?

26

Dan Simon 02.09.09 at 7:12 am

I must say that I’m not surprised that many young people hold unrealistic expectations of their futures. I seem to recall, for instance, surveys of young Americans’ estimates of future income, personal IQ and various other measures with easily predictable averages showing them making ridiculously high projections about themselves and their future achievements.

But is it clear that the problem here is the unfairness of life in failing to live up to these kids’ high hopes? No doubt most of the boys in the class, for example, would, if asked, estimate a larger number of future sex partners than they’ll actually have (and probably by a much larger margin than the girls). Can we conclude that this is a demonstration of unfairness rather than unrealism? Or is the point that the unfairness of lopsided domestic child care arrangements is implicitly being taken here as a given, so that girls’ youthful hopes of avoiding the burden of primary child caregiverhood are–unlike boys’ youthful hopes of long-term studliness–fair and legitimate expectations, whose cruel disappointment is an injustice to be remedied?

27

Matthew Kuzma 02.09.09 at 7:36 am

Gender justice in this sense is a pretty foreign concept to me. Of my five peers with children, one is a stay-at-home dad, one is a dad who works from home and so does more than half the childcare, one is a widower and two are so soon into their parenthood as to be unpredictable, although they’ll likely go with B.

I don’t think the babysitting thing gets anywhere near the issue of socialization, as there seems to be a pretty consistent trend towards prepubescent girls across all societies being drawn toward nurturing children and prepubescent boys across all societies being drawn toward hunting and warfare surrogates. Maybe it’s just a massive coincidence or conspiracy that all societies socialize the sexes identically in this way, but I doubt it.

Still, I totally got paid for babysitting more than ten times as a kid and later when we moved to a neighborhood with fewer young kids and more empty nesters, I got paid for a lot of lawn mowing. What does that say about gender justice?

Still, for something that was thought up on the spot, this is a very good demonstration. I personally would be pretty happy to be a stay-at-home dad, so the 0%s are pretty baffling.

28

dsquared 02.09.09 at 8:37 am

For example, to a male this could mean the actual labour involved—preparing food, buying clothes and washing. So it would be very natural for a male to pick B.
But, to a female this could include something along the line of being a moral presence, or spending time with a child doing some type of learning or sports activity

I must remember to try this line on my own missus, although I will do so in a spirit of realism rather than optimism about the prospects of success.

29

bad Jim 02.09.09 at 10:59 am

I’m a 57yo unmarried guy. I’ve done nearly all of my baby-sitting since I retired, and my diaper-changing experinece remains essentially zilch, since the 17mo nephew in question nephew is pre-emptively forcing the issue of toilet-training, or as he terms it, “ploop”. Inapt as I am, I preferred taking him for half a day to observing a product focus group. (Some of us engineers continue to be allergic to marketing.)

I’m also my elderly mother’s primary caregiver/caretaker, a task to which she and I are spectacularly ill-suited. My hair-trigger impatience with stupidity is a poor match to her deteriorating memory, not least because she can’t comprehend it herself, and the anxiety and confusion she experiences at the gap between her expectations and her capabilities infects me as well. So we yell at each other more than we should.

My brother, father of the above-mentioned brat, was to a considerable degree the primary caregiver to his brood, the dad who cooked dinner, the dad they moved in with after the split, the guy who had to kick them out when he got a new wife and kid.

Many, perhaps most of us can escape responsibility indefintely. Those of us who weren’t so lucky can neither wish you good luck nor assure you that it’s not so bad.

30

James Wimberley 02.09.09 at 11:26 am

LF: “It’s not about “socialization.” We are simply different in countless ways, biologically and psychologically. “
I could buy it that us boys are hardwired to avoid childcare if we can. At a stretch, girls could be hardwired to demand equal shares, or at least more than the boys are prepared to offer. Suppose we can’t fix this clash of expectations by enlightened brainwashing: I’ll stay with you for now. But you still have a problem of justice in the never-ending war, ius in bello as they say.

31

aaron_m 02.09.09 at 11:41 am

Currently at home with my 10 month old, have been for 3 months, and will be for 7 more. Amazingly I find myself genetically qualified for the task.

32

Slocum 02.09.09 at 1:30 pm

Slocum—I’d like to ask a version of that that exhausts the possibilities (as it stands, I imagine that while many of the girls, probably wrongly, expect A but very few expect B as stated (in particular, few think that they have the option of not working for a substantial part of their adulthood).

Yes, perhaps — you asked about ‘expectations’ rather than ‘preferences’ which is an interesting choice. I wonder how the answers would have differed? Your results suggest something that I think is incorrect — namely that most college women desire egalitarian parenting and working situations but will have a difficult time achieving these things due to the attitudes of their prospective partners. But surveys show that the preferences of women with children are overwhelmingly against full time careers — and growing more negative:

In the span of the past decade, full-time work outside the home has lost some of its appeal to mothers. This
trend holds both for mothers who have such jobs and those who don’t.
Among working mothers with minor children (ages 17 and under), just one-in-five (21%) say full-time work is
the ideal situation for them, down from the 32% who said this back in 1997, according to a new Pew Research
Center survey.

http://pewresearch.org/assets/social/pdf/WomenWorking.pdf

Also note the results on page 7 of the survey — the beliefs of men and women about what’s best for children and for society show a high degree of alignment. For the question about “What’s best for society?”, there is essentially no difference at all in the ratings of full-time work, no work, and part-time work for mothers. For the question about “What’s best for children?”, 90% of both men and women say that either full-time motherhood or part-time work is ideal, and the difference lies only in the ratings of those two options for women. Based on this, I would say that college women should have very little trouble finding partners who share their values in these matters.

Two other comments. Note that the value of these options for men was hardly worth asking about–fathers working full-time was an unstated assumption. They did, in the 2007 survey (but not the 1997 survey), ask men what they would prefer, but the surveyors did not go on to ask women what they thought about men’s options or the effect men’s choices might have on children or society. And one can see why (Options? Choices? For men?).

Also note the irony that the very success in of the feminist revolution in making educational institutions less male friendly and more female friendly is likely to have the effect of making it increasingly difficult for women to obtain their stated preferences. Undergraduate populations are approaching 60/40 in the U.S. and the imbalance is still growing. At the same time, the high-paid male dominated jobs have been disappearing — at an especially rapid rate during the economic downturn (during which 80-90% of those losing jobs have been males). And these job losses have happened in industries (manufacturing, construction, financial services) that appear unlikely ever to regain their former sizes. For the first time, women are about to make up more than 50% of the workforce. So more and more women are going find themselves in the situation of being the primary breadwinner and losing the option of part-time work or full-time motherhood.

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Barry 02.09.09 at 1:50 pm

Harry, the comments from various right-wingers here should be part of the next iteration. You can point out to the students that attitudes which they might (naively) thought to be obsolete are alive and well).

34

Tracy W 02.09.09 at 2:25 pm

Re homosexual parenting – as I understand it making a child still requires a man and a woman, so questions A, B and C still seem relevant. I know of several homosexual people who at least tried to share parenting with the father/mother of their child, even if not a house.

35

Dan Simon 02.09.09 at 3:27 pm

By the way, I thought I’d add to my previous comments a bit of anecdotal data from my experience and that of my circle of acquaintances, speaking as a parent of two very small children.

First of all, by far the most salient aspect of the parenting experience is having one’s previous expectations of it blown to smithereens practically on a daily basis. The fact that college kids have unrealistic ideas about it is about the least surprising thing I’ve encountered in the last two-and-a-half years.

Second, among the couples we know from friendships and various parents’ groups, very few mothers of babies actually find themselves itching to go back to work. Those who can afford it stay home, and those who can’t are usually unhappy about it. Most people, after all, don’t have careers–they have jobs, and if they can afford to forgo the income and do something more fulfilling like childcare, they do.

Third, among those couples I know where the wife does have a career that she prefers to full-time child care, a part-time shared child care solution would be quite unsatisfactory. Rather, those women quite happily put their children in full-time daycare and return to full-time work. I don’t think I know a single woman for whom the child care-vs.-work dilemma is such a close call that they’d ideally like to split their lives evenly between the two.

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harry b 02.09.09 at 3:39 pm

Russell — I do go through the questions explaining them. I thought about whether to make it paid-for babysitting or not, and decided not for your kind of reasons but also because i) Okin is very clear that she thinks the family is the central locus of this sort of socialisation and because ii) in my own liberal/feminist/non-religious environment I am amazed by the extent to which people treat boys and girls differently in many respects including this one (boys are rarely expected to look after siblings, girls frequently so, and this is true even of boys whom I would trust to look after my own kids).

Dan — it would be pretty silly to assume that there is an injustice here when the whole point of the unit is to explore whether there is an injustice and, if so, exactly what it is constituted by. I thought I made pretty clear what the point of the questions and the unit is, but perhaps not.

Actually, in their defence, of the male students I have gotten to know over the years not one has been the kind of emotionally hollow moral cretin that you assume many of them to be. No doubt there are some, though.

LF — I’m worried about my prose now. Susan Okin doesn’t assume that there is socialisation, she gives various reasons for thinking that there is. If she’s wrong (and we discuss this possibility in the class) then, according to her, there is no injustice in the division of labour (though there may, as others have pointed out, other injustices in distributive effects that are socially constructed and tied to the division of labour). There is a further, and quite different, question, which we also explore of what policies should be changed or adopted, if any, if it turns out that there is an injustice, and that discussion includes, naturally, considerations both of effectiveness and of whether there are other values, more important than gender justice, that said policy changes would violate.

slocum — thanks for the links, which I don’t have time to follow up just now, but will before I teach this again. I used expectations on the spot the first time, and kept it because I am not so interested in their preferences in what they actually think is going to happen (I’m not a social scientist, and have no skill to discern whether they read “expect” as “prefer” — my little anecdote was pretty clearly a case of the boy reading “expect” as “prefer”). Remember, too, that these are students, 21-22, and both the boys and the girls may well have a quite unrealistic view of how rewarding the work they will get will be (I have anecdotal evidence to this effect — loads of them apply to Law School, and when I ask them whether they have talked to any lawyers about how much they like their jobs, most haven’t).

As for your earlier comment about returning to the workforce after a long time out, I wondered whether the men who are now enthused about their wives returning to work were pushing to be the ones who would spend a good deal of time out of the workforce while childrearing, and whether they think their wives now can get jobs which will have the same status and the same intrinsic rewards that their own work provides for them.

Finally, lemuel: thanks, that’s really nice. I hope anyone who reads this will feel free to use this or some adapted version, with or without attribution. I’ll put an update to that effect above.

Oh, well, really finally. After the survey I tell the students that I did loads of babysitting as a teenager (especially of a couple of kids who nobody else in the circuit would babysit because they had the devil in them, though were angelic with only me); and that I have been paid to do only three things in my life: philosophy, furntiture removal, and nannying.

37

LF 02.09.09 at 3:52 pm

Lt- “I’m quite aware that kids can have very strong innate personalities and that this includes gendered expression. It does not follow that male and female binaries are the most meaningful way to talk about the huge variations that exist between people, including those of the same gender.”

Of course not, that’s why I posted the 60 Minutes clip. I believe it provides insight into which kinds of males are more suitable for the care giving role. Which one would you sooner entrust with caring for your toddler (assuming that they’d be a few years older)? The one with the painted fingernails? Or the one who looks like he might try to shoot your baby with his pellet gun? The answer should be obvious, and it should illustrate that many (if not most) males are not really suited for the task. So it makes no sense to ‘coerce’ anyone into going against their nature. But that’s just my opinion.

Lt – “Encouraging boys to be nurturing and girls to be daring in this light is no more a denial of biology than encouraging shy kids to try to make friends or encouraging an antsy kid to learn to relax.”

I believe that’s an equivocation.

Lt – “But again, there’s a rich literature of feminists talking about different ways of approaching this.”

I don’t necessarily regard “feminists” as a valid source regarding such issues, because almost invariably their goals are to confiscate the productivity, resources and achievement of others to ‘liberate’ themselves. Very few seem to deviate from this norm, especially when the topic concerns the structure of families.

Lt – “You said that these are dead questions, settled in a timeless and inevitable way forty years ago. Can you really deny that gender roles have changed greatly over that time?”

I think that many things we’ve seen over the past 40-years have occurred, previously, at some point even further back in history. The British Isles during the Celtic-Roman period comes to mind. Possibly Sweden during the Viking era. Much of what’s happening today is a repeat, perhaps allowing for a dose of technological determinism, and it seems to straddle a baseline; things always return back to normal at some point…and perhaps cross over the axis and continue in the other direction. It’s not unlike a sine wave.

Lt – “Now, maybe you think that’s a bad thing. Maybe you think that a much lower female participation in the workforce and in public life, greater inequality in marriage, and so forth, are good things. But it certainly does suggest, does it not, that changing socialization has lead to changed expectations as to how both men and women see their lives?”

I’ll refer to the study quoted by the seafarer, Slocum. That’s how things should go: what people actually want! Not what some “feminist” ideologue wants them to want.

38

Harry 02.09.09 at 4:03 pm

The problem (or rather just one problem) with the “people should get what the actually want” line in this case is that what they actually want is so shaped by existing government action that it gives us no handle on what to do about that action. Should we freeze divorce law as it actually is at any given time just because people want what it shapes them to want? Or employment law? Or taxation regulations?

39

Harry 02.09.09 at 4:49 pm

First of all, by far the most salient aspect of the parenting experience is having one’s previous expectations of it blown to smithereens practically on a daily basis. The fact that college kids have unrealistic ideas about it is about the least surprising thing I’ve encountered in the last two-and-a-half years.

That’s right, especially among upper-middle class kids who have few siblings, and tend to be raised in households where they have few responsibilities. I do not try to influence my students’ conclusions about what is just and unjust, wrong and right, with respect to the issues we study (all of which are issues about which I have well-thought and well-reasoned opinions but all of which are ones concerning which I think reasonable people can reasonably disagree and on several sides of which there is high-ish quality philosophical literature). But I do try to get them to explore a bit more than some of them have had to up to now what they value, and to be open to the fact that they might need to experience the world more to test their preconceptions.

Most people, after all, don’t have careers—they have jobs, and if they can afford to forgo the income and do something more fulfilling like childcare, they do.

Right. My students expect to have meaningful careers, and are not, initially, very sensitive to the what the reality of work is like for most people. I think this matters quite a bit for any all-things-considered judgment both about what if anything the injustice women face consists in, and for thinking about what, if anything, should be done about it. I assign a very weird piece by James Tooley which I’ve discussed long ago on this blog and which makes this point in a very provocative way.

40

lt 02.09.09 at 4:51 pm

So, LF, your conclusion is basically that you dimiss out of hand (or aren’t even willing to read) a significant body of work produced by the people who have most carefully studied these issues because you just somehow know that they’re all up to no good. And because you know this is it’s totally ok to mischaracterize this work.

And do you really, really don’t think boys who play with pellet guns can’t grow up to be good fathers? And they say feminists are the ones who hate men.

And as for people getting what they want, one of the things that sticks out from the original post is that young women want equal partners. But that doesn’t count, I suppose.

41

Slocum 02.09.09 at 5:04 pm

As for your earlier comment about returning to the workforce after a long time out, I wondered whether the men who are now enthused about their wives returning to work were pushing to be the ones who would spend a good deal of time out of the workforce while childrearing, and whether they think their wives now can get jobs which will have the same status and the same intrinsic rewards that their own work provides for them.

My sense is these (well off, left-liberal) husbands are expected to support whatever choice their wives make about combining work/child-rearing, and that is what they do–but the decision was mainly the woman’s. And, of course, there are also many women around who made the choice to continue their careers — both options are clearly available.

I also think you’re right that status is a major factor in the women’s choices about returning to the labor market (or not). These are generally the wives of physicians, lawyers, professors, executives, business owners, etc who have enjoyed high status by virtue of their husband’s position and income. Having been out of the labor market for a decade or more, they may not be employable in their original fields — even at an entry level. But they can hardly start back on the bottom rung or go take a low pay, low status job. So what do they do? Just about what you’d expect — they do things that often pay little or nothing but are suitable for their social standing (and are also pleasant and interesting). So they volunteer or work for local non-profits. They teach ‘Master Gardener’ classes. Or maybe they run a gallery for a few years even if it never makes a dime. That kind of thing. Not at all an unpleasant life.

But the husbands sometimes come to feel rather trapped. They get to their mid 40’s and they no longer enjoy their jobs. But their wives no longer have even the earning potential to provide for the family at anything close to the accustomed level (let alone pay the looming university tuition bills), so it wouldn’t matter very much if they returned to work or not. So they grumble over a beer and stay in the traces.

And that’s when the economy is going well. One guy I know is a manager for a company that sells automation technology to the auto industry. He’s got great two kids in high school, and a great wife — I really like her. But she hasn’t worked (‘outside the home’ as they say) for at least the dozen years we’ve known them. Now he could lose his job any time. He’s pushing 50 and has about 25 years in an industry that’s dying. What’s going to happen to him — to them — if his office closes? I really have no idea, and I don’t think they do either.

The way I see it, an egalitarian marriage is a financially resilient marriage. One of the smarter things I’ve done is to take my full share of child-rearing and, in response to my wife’s suggestion that she go part time or switch to a lower paid, less-stressful non-professional job was to say no (or rather, to say — if you’re thinking we should scale back our lifestyle, let’s talk, but if you just want me to pick up the slack, then, sorry no way).

So I’ll advise my daughter to stick with her career and my son not to let his wife abandon hers. Will they listen? Probably not…

42

Harry 02.09.09 at 5:14 pm

slocum — I think there are lots of reasons for wanting an egalitarian marriage, beyond that they’re financially resilient (though that’s true too) and I feel incredibly lucky to have found myself in one. I am not at all insensitive to the fact that some women really want to have control of the childrearing and, to be honest, its not something I had time to think about when I met my wife, but I feel lucky that she wanted what I did (and really, really, wanted it).

The way you tell that story is quite unnerving (and, I’m sure, quite right). The coming months are going to put people in very uncomforable situations, and there’ll be a lot of regret. One commentator at Laura’s thread pointed out (rightly) that among working class families, mass layoffs of male breadwinners will, temporarily at least, alter the gendered division of labour quite a bit (and in ways that will not show up in census data – in the early 80’s I knew a lot of men laid off from the local auto factory who became “house husbands” while their part-time teacher/nurse wives went to work full time, but would never have told census gatherers, or even, I suspect, academics, what they were doing).

43

Chris Bertram 02.09.09 at 6:03 pm

One slightly moany observation … I think we did things in a gender equal kind of way. I say “I think” because I wouldn’t want to assume a family consensus on what actually happened. But it wasn’t always easy, and one of the not-easy things was the fact that the world was set up (I’m talking UK, c. 1985-95 here) in ways that assumed that mothers were in charge. Sometimes this came out in the attitudes and assumptions of professionals, but also just as a side-effect of the predominant choices of other people. I’m sure that come other men would have really had a great time as the only man in a party of 30 on the mother-and-toddler group trip to the Weston-super-Mare, but I felt a bit out of place, to say the least, and I’m sure that many of the women there would have preferred a mothers-only outing.

44

LF 02.09.09 at 6:10 pm

Harry – “What’s going to happen to him—to them—if his office closes? “

Ok, now we’re talking about living beyond–or at the edge of–one’s means. I know that’s a common scenario in the US, much more so than in Europe. One of the problems I see (in the US) is the almost unlimited Mortgage Interest Deduction which induces people to use their homes as investment vehicles–the bigger the payment, the better. Except when the economy goes sour and there’s no more money to cover the payments. That’s not to mention all the money it diverts away from productive investments which would create jobs.

Car culture is another problem. Needing to own two-automobiles–big ones, so you don’t get creamed by someone else’s big one–is a major expense when times are less than booming. In that respect, I prefer it here in Europe, hands down! Neither I nor my wife drive every day. It’s buses and bikes for us. Bike lanes everywhere. The kids have flexibility, too. Our only car is an RV for road trips. And a boat for sea trips…or to move into if we lose the ‘farm.’

Health insurance that’s tied to one’s employment is yet another major detriment when times are tough, because it can prevent jumping ship for a possibly more stable gig. It also tends to skew choices regarding employment when times are good. Shouldn’t this all be separate?

Harry – “I think there are lots of reasons for wanting an egalitarian marriage, beyond that they’re financially resilient (though that’s true too) and I feel incredibly lucky to have found myself in one.”

Yeah, in absence of having a sensibly designed economic system and infrastructure, I can see why you’d want that. As for me, I see having a (mostly) stay-at-home wife as a major benefit. She’s always worked p/t. I’m usually f/t, but sometimes go p/t depending on my energy level and contracts I get as a consultant. In any case, our bills are low, we live comfortably and are able to save, but we’re not striving for bigger and better. Savings, investments and free time are most important. If the economy gets really bad, then we’re getting in the boat and going for a long sail with the kids.

45

LF 02.09.09 at 6:40 pm

Lt – “your conclusion is basically that you dimiss out of hand (or aren’t even willing to read) a significant body of work produced by the people who have most carefully studied these issues because you just somehow know that they’re all up to no good.”

Well, yes. For the reasons I already mentioned. But I will say that her proposal of dividing the breadwinner’s paycheck more equitably (according to a comment about her book) is slightly more satisfactory to me than the usual “I’ll have government confiscate your money to pay for my kid’s daycare, so that I can ‘liberate’ myself” view that’s espoused by most run-of-the-mill “feminists.”

Lt – “And do you really, really don’t think boys who play with pellet guns can’t grow up to be good fathers?”

Sure they do. Just not as primary caregivers to young kids.

Lt – “one of the things that sticks out from the original post is that young women want equal partners.”

And a Lexus, a monthly vacation in France, a new pair of shoes, a stylish hairdo…

46

Slocum 02.09.09 at 7:00 pm

Harry: I think there are lots of reasons for wanting an egalitarian marriage, beyond that they’re financially resilient

Oh, absolutely — I think there are many benefits for men, women, and children. I’ve seen women with MBAs directing all their considerable talents and energies into the PTA, Pilates, play groups, and nearly every aspect of their children’s lives, and I don’t think it’s ideal for anybody.

Chris Bertram: But it wasn’t always easy, and one of the not-easy things was the fact that the world was set up (I’m talking UK, c. 1985-95 here) in ways that assumed that mothers were in charge.

Well, I can’t say it was hard for me, but that’s only because not only don’t I mind being thought an oddball, but take a sort of perverse pleasure in it. Since I worked out of a home office and had a flexible enough schedule to do kid activities at almost any time, most parents generally assumed I didn’t have a real job (which I thought was kind of funny). But I could see where this kind of thing might take a toll on others.

LF: Ok, now we’re talking about living beyond—or at the edge of—one’s means. I know that’s a common scenario in the US.

In this case, I don’t think so. I’ve never had the sense that this family was particularly extravagant. I don’t mean that they have no savings, I only mean that they may find themselves in a position of having lost the only income they have and, because of the economic situation, having poor prospects of finding an similar job (and probably even less likely in the area).

47

H. E. Baber 02.09.09 at 7:33 pm

I’ve taught Women and Work on and off over the years. Students were not strongly self-selected for feminist sympathies because the class met a bunch of requirements and most were business majors because the course was a “soft” way of meeting an upper division econ requirement.

One theme I got consistently from the guys was that women were asking for unfair privileges. As guys, they would have to work consistently from the time they plopped into their office cubicles after graduation to retirement at 65. And if they got married they would be responsible for bringing in the primary income–without any chance to take time off, even to re-tool and change jobs. Women they said had more flexibility in terms of work and wouldn’t be saddled with breadwinner responsibilities.

So it was just unfair for women to expect to get the same career opportunities they got. Women weren’t paying the same dues they were paying.

The child care issue didn’t figure prominently and, when it did, students viewed the roles men and women played in caring for kids as a consequence of different work expectations rather than a cause. The work requirements for women were more flexible so as a consequence they could take off a few years or, if they worked, take knock off early to pick up the kids or in any case not be pressed to stay late, etc.

I think there’s something to this last point. I’m sure causation goes every which way but seems to me that it’s conditions in the labor force that promote inequitable domestic arrangements rather than vice versa. Women aren’t under the same pressures and don’t have the same opportunities in the labor force.

Also the survey asks about “expectations” rather than “preferences.” These guys expected to be locked into work for 40 years and expected that if married they would be under even more pressure and have less flexibility–not that they preferred this arrangement–and they were resentful. I also, and admittedly this is conjecture, don’t believe that women cut back on work because they prefer to do more “caring” but that they end up stuck with the primary parenting job because their careers get stalled and because guys, who aren’t allowed to cut back on work to “parent” don’t do their share.

48

lt 02.09.09 at 7:34 pm

LF-

Ok, so you don’t believe equality is a legitimate social goal. Fair enough – a lot of us disagree strongly, obviously. But, if you honestly, truely believe that the desire to be respected by one’s life partner is the same as wanting a Lexus rather than simply trying to bait people by talking about how selfish and materialistic the women-folk are, I really don’t know what else to say.

49

rothko 02.09.09 at 7:39 pm

LF, why do you insist on writing Feminists as “feminists”? That doesn’t make any sense, are you saying that Feminists are not really “feminists”? Or haha they’re not a real ideology, what a jackass. Its clear you are just prejudiced and rather than actually considering any of the evidence being presented you are trotting out the same old tired lines. If men want babies so much, go take care of them yourselves – haven’t you just said on numerous occasions that men aren’t hardwired to nurture? Yet you’re acting like Mother Goose telling women what is best for them? You really think its the be and end all for men to work 9-5 and women to take of the children? To piss your life away procreating? Is there nothing else? You just want what every man has wanted for the past 5,000 years, a mediocre boring life. It seems to me that for all the preaching men do about effing childcare and The Almighty Family,that its them who are genetically designed for it, please stfu until you have a personality.

As for the research Harry, very clever, I’ll try it out on my friends and get back to you!

50

rothko 02.09.09 at 7:50 pm

LF – you also seemed to have missed this line ‘that so soon after admitting girls as equal participants universities now have to practice affirmative action for boys in admissions to get close to equal sex-ratios’ Interesting, seems like women are outdoing boys and yet you’re calling for us to be shoved back into the home.

51

laura 02.09.09 at 8:08 pm

Really interesting exercise, harry. So glad that you were able to write more about it here. A couple of quick thoughts.

First, I’m amazed that your students came to class with actual notions about a future family life. When I was in college, I had no formed notions about such things. Kids and a husband were far off concepts to me. Like arthritis or social security. My immediate plans were to get some sort of job, hang out with my friends, and get away from my mom. I knew I wanted a career, but had no idea how that was exactly going to work out or even what line of work I wanted to go into. In fact, it wasn’t until the kid actually arrived and was in my arms that I spent serious thought on divisions of labor and gender roles. Maybe you needed a Don’t Know option on that survey.

Second, you know that I’m a hundred percent on board with the egalitarian marriage and family life system. After the kid arrived and I was forced to think those things through, that was we aimed for. I’m just not so sure that it is a viable option for most Americans. To have a real egalitarian family, both parents need to have flexible jobs. That’s hard to find. It’s also hard to find jobs these days, so whatever job you have, you stick with it. There’s no room for job movement. Most people are forced into the model of one full time job (12 hour per day, including commute time) and the other works the less demanding, less well paid, flexible, part-time option or else doesn’t work at all. That work situation does not lead to egalitarian family life.

Sure, men can do more and need some guilting on that score. Boys need to be socialized in a different way. But the current economic system doesn’t lend itself to a 50-50 split. Is it fair to push a particular family life that is incompatible with economic realities?

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rothko 02.09.09 at 8:25 pm

Laura -

‘But the current economic system doesn’t lend itself to a 50-50 split. Is it fair to push a particular family life that is incompatible with economic realities?’ I agree with you, and this is why we need to dismantle the Capitaliste Parasite! And emancipate us all!

53

harry b 02.09.09 at 8:47 pm

Hi Laura,

I don’t know — I’m not that surprised that a lot of them have expectations that they’ve thought about, perhaps because I get to know fair numbers of them pretty well and know that they think about it. I will add a don’t know option, though. Its interesting what you say about yourself. I thought about it a fair bit at that age, and expected not to get married or have children at all, but hoped to, and had very strong preferences about having an egalitarian situation, and to be honest my choice of profession was guided more by that than anything else. (I consciously chose not to start on the political track, partly because I, with remarkable insight, believed that the left to which I belonged was going to be marginalised for at least a generation or two, but mainly because I thought it was incompatible with being the kind of parent I wanted to be if I had the luck of finding someone who’d want to have children with me).

And yes, absolutely, circumstances intervene and make things very difficult (for all sorts of reasons, including those mentioned by Chris and, in #44, LF). There are two quite different questions: what sort of social reforms would make it easier to achieve egalitarian situations for those who want them and, absent such reforms, what can families that want some sort of egalitarianism do. I don’t think there’s nothing to be said about the second question, but I don’t have much to say, and even if I did I would be very tentative about it, partly because I recognise the combination of luck and privilege that shapes my own situation.

54

Slocum 02.09.09 at 8:49 pm

laura: I’m just not so sure that it is a viable option for most Americans. To have a real egalitarian family, both parents need to have flexible jobs.

I can’t agree there. I know many couples where both parents have had careers and worked full-time and their kids were in day care as needed. How did they perform this miracle? No miracle at all. Contrary to popular belief, by world standards, most Americans enjoy short commutes:

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/censusandstatistics/a/commutetimes.htm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3085647.stm

(Notice in the U.S. the most European-like commute times are in those areas with the most European-like densities)

The ’12 hour day including commute’ is nowhere close to typical for Americans. But where you would be most likely to find something like that would be among the better-off (who have less leisure) who live in dense coastal regions (where commutes are longer).

And U.S. leisure time has been increasing:

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/04/leisure_time_is.html

Not so much because working hours are down, but because hours spent cooking, cleaning, shopping, doing home maintenance, etc have declined.

Also, I think there’s good reason to suspect that the decrease in interest in full-time work by women between 1997 and 2007 was a consequence of the general prosperity that made this a conceivable option rather than necessity (and that in the current economic downturn, the trend will reverse). That is to say, in general, prosperity leads to non-egalitarian parenting patterns, and economic hard times lead to the reverse.

55

LizardBreath 02.09.09 at 9:06 pm

To have a real egalitarian family, both parents need to have flexible jobs. That’s hard to find. It’s also hard to find jobs these days, so whatever job you have, you stick with it. There’s no room for job movement. Most people are forced into the model of one full time job (12 hour per day, including commute time) and the other works the less demanding, less well paid, flexible, part-time option or else doesn’t work at all. That work situation does not lead to egalitarian family life.

An option that’s really hardly discussed is the possibility of, I suppose you could call it symmetrically inegalitarian parenting. Looking at the breakdown of responses to the exercise, very few girls and no boys expect to raise children in a father-led parenting situation — egalitarian parenting is as far away from traditional norms as the vast majority of respondents were prepared to go. While it might be inevitable that within most couples there will be one primary parent and one primary careerist, can’t a world be imagined where the identity of the primary careerist wasn’t uniformly male?

56

laura 02.09.09 at 9:28 pm

“While it might be inevitable that within most couples there will be one primary parent and one primary careerist, can’t a world be imagined where the identity of the primary careerist wasn’t uniformly male?”
Oh, absolutely. That is an economically viable option. And if women keep out performing men at the university level, that option might even be the more common option.

The other option is egalitarian parenting, where the parents are both doing very little. Both parents work long hours, delegate most of the work to nannies or daycare, and then both pick up the pieces when they get home in a random, exhausted sort of way. That type of egalitarian happens a lot, but I think it is very different from what harry had in mind

57

Russell Arben Fox 02.09.09 at 9:34 pm

When I was in college, I had no formed notions about such things. Kids and a husband were far off concepts to me.

That’s always struck me as strange, even though I’ve long since come to recognize that such is really the norm amongst the college-aged population. Like Harry, it was something that I wondered and thought and stressed about at great length–but then, I was brought up in an environment where keeping an eye on marriage and family was something we were both directly and indirectly encouraged to maintain from a pretty young age.

There are two quite different questions: what sort of social reforms would make it easier to achieve egalitarian situations for those who want them and, absent such reforms, what can families that want some sort of egalitarianism do.

Though I’m not entirely certain that, within our postindustrial, late capitalist world, the answers to the two questions would be all that different. Structural changes in the nature of education, training, work and wages would, of course, result is a fairly radical reconstitution of what we consider to be egalitarian (or not!) gender roles within a family with children, but failing that, certain practices–in which you make choices as a couple cognizant of stuff like zoning, public transportation, day care, public education, commuting times, standard of living, maternity and paternity leave policies, and the like–are going to have to be part of every egalitarian wanna-be’s toolkit, whatever the likelihood of overall social improvement.

58

Russell Arben Fox 02.09.09 at 9:36 pm

The other option is egalitarian parenting, where the parents are both doing very little. Both parents work long hours, delegate most of the work to nannies or daycare, and then both pick up the pieces when they get home in a random, exhausted sort of way. That type of egalitarian happens a lot, but I think it is very different from what harry had in mind.

Well said, Laura.

59

H. E. Baber 02.09.09 at 11:16 pm

I’m still skeptical as to whether an interest in taking care of the brats makes for differences in male and female commitments to work rather than vice versa. If work stinks, as it does for most people, you’ll take any excuse to avoid it–including brat-care. And for most women work really stinks.

Try thinking out of the box for a little bit folks and recognize how utterly lousy work is for most people, in particular, for most women.

60

LF 02.10.09 at 1:36 am

rothko – “Interesting, seems like women are outdoing boys and yet you’re calling for us to be shoved back into the home.”

I’m not calling for anything, except that you don’t attempt to steal other people’s resources to achieve your goal of ‘liberation.’ And quite frankly, the “girls outdoing boys” scenario has been reported in Finland and Sweden for quite many decades now. Well guess what? It doesn’t make the slightest difference, as, when they get older, women develop very predictable preferences regarding the career-family split. In fact, the difference is probably even more pronounced than in the USA, probably since they have more financial security overall. It doesn’t favor your ideal, despite having daycare and such at their disposal. Could it be that biology wins the day after all? Näh, some “boring jackass” like me must be oppressing them. Uh huh.

Laura – “The other option is egalitarian parenting, where the parents are both doing very little. Both parents work long hours, delegate most of the work to nannies or daycare, and then both pick up the pieces when they get home in a random, exhausted sort of way. That type of egalitarian happens a lot, but I think it is very different from what harry had in mind.”

I worked in eastern Europe since liberalization in early to mid 90’s (very dangerous time, no telephones, etc.). For those who don’t know, the Soviet system was based on egalitarian ideology that’s not unlike what some people here promote–women trotted back to the Lada factory within 6-months of giving birth, after which the child was raised mostly by state caregivers.

So did this result in an egalitarian society?

In some ways it did. For example, nobody really did any parenting, as that burdensome task was left to the all-mighty state. Although the system collapsed as a result of liberalization, the mentality carried over into the new era. In the sudden absence of a state authority, it struck me how parents simply didn’t know how to parent! It’s as if it only took a few generations for society to forget. Seriously, the kids were mean and without moral compass. That’s not meant in a religious sense, but rather in the everyday sense that westerners take for granted. All the while, parents idly assumed that their children would turn out ok. It was truly frightening and sometimes dangerous.

Insofar as having equal opportunity at work…hmmm. That depends. For example, in Russia I saw 10-women stuccoing a building, with a man standing down below supervising. 9-other men drunk in a park somewhere nearby. Further south, in the Caucuses, a woman carrying a huge bundle of straw or piece of furniture strapped to her back. Man walking in front of her, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.

Egalitarian policy certainly has some profound outcomes, but very rarely do the outcomes include egalitarianism in any true sense lol

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harry b 02.10.09 at 2:07 am

LF — without trawling back through the whole thread, I can’t say this for certain, but I don’t think that anyone has made any actual proposals about what to do. Smearing people as Stalinists doesn’t help much, still less when no-one has said anything remotely recognisable as that. Preferences about career/family split, like the behaviour they lead to, are quite sensitive to institutional arrangements and social norms (it is in response to changes in these that men do a great deal more hands-on parenting in the US than they did 30 years ago, and women have far more investment and involvement in careers than 30 years ago). No-one here has even proposed a desirable goalof all marriages being egalitarian. I would like to see more egalitarian child-rearing arrangements, and more fluidity in arrangements, than we currently have, and I would like to see this because I think more people would flourish that way. I don’t think they’d flourish that way if coerced into it (as, in general, people tend to flourish better in roles and ways of living that they are independently committed to, which is why personal liberties are so important), so I, like all the gender-egalitarians in this thread, look for policy levers which enhance people’s ability to make considered choices. There’s nothing remotely Stalinist about either the goals that I have or the methods I would sanction in their pursuit, and if you want to persuade anyone you’d do well to refrain from insulting them.

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Slocum 02.10.09 at 3:26 am

Both parents work long hours, delegate most of the work to nannies or daycare, and then both pick up the pieces when they get home in a random, exhausted sort of way. That type of egalitarian happens a lot, but I think it is very different from what harry had in mind.

The families I know where both parents have had careers do not resemble this at all. Sure their kids were in daycare. But when not working, they were well enough off that they spent relatively little time doing chores and a lot of time with the kids and their activities. I had no sense that they were blundering through their lives in a random, exhausted way.

I don’t think that anyone has made any actual proposals about what to do.

I’ve got one. In the U.S., anyway, there are disincentives to two-income families. The ‘second’ salary is taxed at the highest marginal rate while the imputed income of stay-at-home parents is, of course, not taxed at all. So I would remove the disincentives toward two incomes by:

1. Allowing married couples to file their taxes as married or single, whichever is most beneficial (and ‘single’ is not the same as ‘married filing separately’).

2. Providing tax credits for the things that two-income families spend money on that one-income families generally don’t — not just childcare credits (which do exist), but also tax credits for, say, home cleaning services, laundry services, meal delivery, lawn services, home repairs, etc.

These credits would also be available to single-parent families, but not two-parent families with only one full-time wage earner. If we did that a second income would look a lot more attractive than it does now.

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Nate 02.10.09 at 4:35 am

“2. Providing tax credits for the things that two-income families spend money on that one-income families generally don’t—not just childcare credits (which do exist), but also tax credits for, say, home cleaning services, laundry services, meal delivery, lawn services, home repairs, etc.”

Bipsy, did you see this amusing little check we got from the Treasury just for keeping the help around? Quite sporting of them! I do believe it will cover the costs incurred for that…little incident…with the speedboat the other weekend. Speaking of the staff, what the hell is taking Jorge so long with the sangria?

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piglet 02.10.09 at 9:09 am

“And quite frankly, the “girls outdoing boys” scenario has been reported in Finland and Sweden for quite many decades now. Well guess what? It doesn’t make the slightest difference, as, when they get older, women develop very predictable preferences regarding the career-family split. In fact, the difference is probably even more pronounced than in the USA, probably since they have more financial security overall.”

What would the evidence be for that “more pronounced difference” in Sweden and Finland (where gender equality is more advanced by most people’s standards than in the US)? I am aware I’m feeding a troll here but one one can’t help wondering. If it’s all biology, why do women develop these “predictable preferences” only “when they get older”? And if it’s all genetically determined, why the need to lecture us what we “actually want”? How can so many women not know what they “actually want”? Not that I expect an answer though.

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LF 02.10.09 at 9:55 am

harry b – “Smearing people as Stalinists doesn’t help much”

Well, Stalin said something like, “It’s not the votes that count, but rather who counts the votes.” Since we haven’t read anything here along those lines yet, you’d be right in saying that it would be unfair of me to accuse people of being Stalinists. But that wasn’t my intent anyway. I was merely establishing how egalitarianism, in and of itself, is neither a worthy nor realizable goal. I did use the word ‘policy’ at the end; it was not intentional, and I regretted it after posting. My apologies if anyone felt smeared upon.

harry b – “men do a great deal more hands-on parenting in the US than they did 30 years ago”

But not more parenting overall. I was there during that oh-so horrible time. But I will say that, in my particular case, I do more than my father did. That’s mainly because I have more flexibility with regard to time. But it’s probably not the “hands-on” type that you are talking about, so you would probably categorize us as a B family. I see us more as a C family, but in the sense that we complement each other equally. Equal but not the same, so to speak.

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LF 02.10.09 at 11:47 am

Piglet – “What would the evidence be for that “more pronounced difference” in Sweden and Finland (where gender equality is more advanced by most people’s standards than in the US)?”

Are you certain about that?

The Nordic countries have a highly segregated labour market, both horizontally and vertically. Women are more likely to work in the public sector (where leave arrangements are more generous and attitudes more family-friendly), men in the private sector (where pay on average is higher). The high occupational segregation, combined with persistent gender differences in salaries, often surprises outside observers. They assume that the commitment to gender equality would be reflected in greater labour market equality.

It is clearly shown by empirical data on the gender composition in a number of societal institutions and organizations that male dominance is a persistent and core principle governing the construction and constitution of gender relations in the modern Nordic societies. Men dominate in the core leadership positions in practically all the fields, perhaps with the exception of national politics. Male dominance is marked in business life, the church and the military, to a somewhat lesser extent so in academia and cultural life, and least so in politics.
http://www.eurotopics.net/en/magazin/gesellschaft-verteilerseite/frauen-2008-3/artikel_bergman_frauen_norden/1

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Cryptic Ned 02.10.09 at 3:49 pm

Rothko haha why do you insist on capitalizing the word “feminist”? haha

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piglet 02.10.09 at 6:29 pm

“Men dominate in the core leadership positions in practically all the fields, perhaps with the exception of national politics.”

What a surprise – 30 years or so of social change have not achieved complete equality. But how does the present compare to the situation one, two, three generations ago? Would you really claim that nothing changed? And how about a comparison to the US? I suspect that the male domination here is more pronounced still and this is clearly true in the field of politics (as Bergman points out); whether it is also true with respect to economic power I don’t have the data to judge.

Bergman writes from the perspective of a feminist who would like to see full equality realized and is taking a critical look at what has, and has not, been achieved. You can choose to perceive the glass as half empty but a different perspective would recognize that gender roles have changed significantly in recent history and are likely to change further.

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LF 02.10.09 at 8:42 pm

Piglet – “But how does the present compare to the situation one, two, three generations ago? Would you really claim that nothing changed?”

That’s a fair question. I’d say that the Soviet Union served as a mentor to egalitarian movements in the past. Since its collapse, the militancy of such movements have become much quieter. In fact, there’s currently a surprisingly right-wing phase going on in the Nordics. Furthermore, Nordic economies have become considerably more liberalized, and, not surprisingly, the standard of living has risen. Society is beginning to take on a much more natural shape in terms of family norms, and traditional arrangements are making a comeback among a larger part of the population than ever before. On the other hand, there’s also more freedom to express one’s inclinations, which means that care giving by a certain segment of males coexists with this trend.

Piglet – “gender roles have changed significantly in recent history and are likely to change further.”

Keep in mind that this has been going on for longer than 30-years in the Nordics–I’d say 50 is more like it. Egalitarianism has been elusive and will continue to be so, because it simply is not natural. Based on my observations, egalitarianism is a byproduct of economic and social disarray. In that sense, the United States is on the right track: keep going with the cycle of expansionist wars and resulting financial collapses, and you’ll continue to have the most egalitarian society in the world :-)

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Barbar 02.10.09 at 9:02 pm

Egalitarianism has been elusive and will continue to be so, because it simply is not natural.

“Natural” is a bit of a loaded term, isn’t it? Is democracy natural? Civil rights? Slavery? Becoming wealthier over time? Having 2.1 kids?

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Grace 02.11.09 at 12:28 am

What percentage of boys and girls think they want to have children?
Did you explore the relationship between their career aspirations and their desire to raise children?

I obsess a little (too much, perhaps) about birthrates, especially among women who hold PhDs.
http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/search/label/Birthrates

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piglet 02.11.09 at 8:21 pm

“Based on my observations, egalitarianism is a byproduct of economic and social disarray.”

Which perfectly explains why we happen not to live in a slave-holder society any more.

I’d say that the Soviet Union served as a mentor to egalitarian movements in the past.

That is his response to my question whether he thinks that gender roles haven’t changed over the last two or three generations in the Nordic countries. Serves us right to feed a troll, I have to admit.

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LF 02.12.09 at 5:20 am

Piglet – “Which perfectly explains why we happen not to live in a slave-holder society any more.”

You think so? I’d say that societal and economic instability (as I mentioned above) is precisely what causes the enormous level of poverty in America. Instead of wearing shackles and leg irons, the modern day slave carries a load of consumer debt and unpaid medical bills that he hasn’t a hope of paying off within his lifetime. Thankfully, Europe has avoided much of that.

Piglet – “That is his response to my question whether he thinks that gender roles haven’t changed over the last two or three generations in the Nordic countries.”

Perhaps I hurriedly tried to put the issue into a historical context. Maybe this will give you better insight into the Nordics than my clumsy attempt to enlighten you?
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4833310.ece

Piglet – “Serves us right to feed a troll, I have to admit.”

By your definition, is a “troll” anyone with whom you disagree?

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Owl 02.12.09 at 5:32 am

The survey results are very interesting. But I don’t see how they show anything about *socialization* as originally suggested, as opposed to choices people make for non-socialization reasons. Maybe there is some evidence that women choose care-giving only because of socialization, but if there is, I’ve never heard of it. I’d be grateful if someone could refer me to the evidence for that.

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rothko 02.12.09 at 10:45 am

haha, i just did it to compensate for LF’s “feminist”

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rothko 02.12.09 at 10:50 am

Piglet – ‘If it’s all biology, why do women develop these “predictable preferences” only “when they get older”? And if it’s all genetically determined, why the need to lecture us what we “actually want”? How can so many women not know what they “actually want”?’

Well said!

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rothko 02.12.09 at 10:55 am

I agree that egalitarianism isn’t natural LF, that the best person for the job should get it, so how come they’re using equal rights legislation, affirmative action, to get boys into university? Even though they’re less qualified than their female counterparts? If its not meant to be equal, stop forcing it. Its funny how everyone bitches and moans when they use all black shortlists or all women shortlists but everyone thinks its right and proper if we use it to give boys a lift, even if they’re underperforming compared to women.

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will 02.12.09 at 3:56 pm

The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. As between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either.

I am curious about whether parenting is different now from when your students were younger. In Virginia, the Code now states that “The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. As between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either.”

Moreover, I suspect that the number of shared custody arrangements is increasing dramatically with every year. As Courts move away from an arrangement where one parent gets custody and the other gets two weekends a month to an arrangement of more equal time, expectations regarding the division of labor should change.

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harry b 02.12.09 at 4:35 pm

Owl, come on. Most of our choices arise as a result partly of our socialisation and partly as a result of our natural proclivities, all in interaction with the opportunity set confronting us. All that is needed for this to be interesting is that socialisation plays some role. I can’t give (Cartesian) decisive proof that it plays some role, and, of course, that means that we can’t give (Cartesian) decisive proof that there are social justice issues here. But you can use your judgment.

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LF 02.13.09 at 4:14 pm

rothko – “If it’s all biology, why do women develop these “predictable preferences” only “when they get older”? And if it’s all genetically determined, why the need to lecture us what we “actually want”? How can so many women not know what they “actually want”?’ Well said!”

I dunno. The preferences were determined by a Pew Research Center survey. Slocum linked to it above. Perhaps you haven’t had time to read most of this thread yet? Please look below, I reposted it for you. Notice how the respondents’ replies seem to contradict those of the college age (non-parent) girls surveyed by Harry? Do you think that people’s preferences change as they get older, and in particular when they transition from being non-parents to parents?

In the span of the past decade, full-time work outside the home has lost some of its appeal to mothers. This trend holds both for mothers who have such jobs and those who don’t. Among working mothers with minor children (ages 17 and under), just one-in-five (21%) say full-time work is the ideal situation for them, down from the 32% who said this back in 1997, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

http://pewresearch.org/assets/social/pdf/WomenWorking.pdf

rothko – “I agree that egalitarianism isn’t natural LF, that the best person for the job should get it, so how come they’re using equal rights legislation, affirmative action, to get boys into university?”

Good point. I’m not in favor of affirmative action under any circumstances. In fact, I’m in favor of privatizing all state funded schools and universities and eliminating all government funding thereof. Why should they have a monopoly on social engineering?–not to mention overpriced text books ;-)

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