As a follow-up to its controversial front-page story on Ivy Leaguers opting for the “mommy track,” the New York Times ran this editorial notebook item by Nicholas Kulish, a young man who is worried that the women of his generation may be taking a “U-Turn” toward more traditional roles, forcing men into a more narrow breadwinner role as well. He mentions a friend who “left the nonprofit sector for a big corporation so his wife could stop working when she had their first baby.” Kulish ends his essay with a not entirely humorous appeal to young women: “On behalf of American men, young and open-minded, I beg you to reconsider. I thought we had a deal.”
I’m surprised that, as far as I can tell, no conservative blogs have picked up on this items for an “I told you so”: It’s a favorite theme of neo-traditionalists like Danielle Crittenden (What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us) and Maggie Gallagher that the feminist revolution has actually liberated men to be selfish pigs who shun their masculine duty to provide for their wives and kids, and that women who want to embrace a traditional feminine lifestyle often find that the men in their lives are unsupportive of their choice and reluctant to take on the sole burden of breadwinning. Instead, it falls to a left-wing blogger, Lakshmi Chaudry of AlterNet, to take him to task:
[H]is position ends up sounding patronizing and selfish: “Just because you want to stay home and play Mommy, I ain’t supporting you and the brats.”
As I said before, raising kids is hard work — work that gets little recognition from society or it seems young “open-minded” men like Kulish. Men of his generation may have been “brought up to accept and even embrace equality between the sexes,” but thus far there is little proof that it extends to housework. Yes, men do more than two decades ago, but women still carry the greater part of the domestic burden, whether or not they stay at home. … Guess no one told Nicholas about the “second shift.”
The same theme is echoed by two Times letter-writers:
We did have a deal – you guys broke it!
These young Yale women grew up watching their mothers do both jobs, since most of us working women still do most of the work at home.
One very logical reason some women shrink from combining work and motherhood is that men do not share the work equally at home, leading to an exhausting and unfair double shift for their wives.
Time-use studies have shown that while men have made a little progress in doing more child care, women still do just about all the housework.
It’s time for men to acknowledge that they are a big part of the work-life balance problem for women.
Is there a partial truth here? Sure. Just as there are women who want to have it both ways (equal opportunity in the workplace and the unequal privilege of being able to leave the workforce), there are men who want to have it both ways: that is, they want a wife who will relieve them of the sole burden of breadwinning, and do most of the housework.
But it’s a very, very partial truth.
First, none of the women in the Times article mentioned the “second shift” as a factor. Those would-be mommy-trackers who mentioned their mothers spoke of respect for their mothers’ roles as full-time homemakers, and of their conviction, based on personal experience, that traditional arrangements worked best. Others emphasized that they wanted to be the primary influence in their children’s lives. The same was true of the women interviewed by Peggy Orenstein for Flux, the book I mentioned in my post yesterday. Some of the women she profiled had given up their careers despite having husbands who were fully engaged on the home front, and were in fact willing to be the stay-at-home parent. Male lack of participation in “the second shift” did not seem to be nearly as important a factor in their decisions as their own beliefs about female identity, work/family options as a female choice, and family as their turf.
Second, men are doing a lot more than they’re given credit for. See, for instance, this interesting report:
A new study proves for the first time that men actually do a bigger share of household chores than their wives admit. Shedding new light on the decades-old
battle between men and women over housework, the study of 265 married couples with children, published this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family, shows that wives estimate, when asked, that their husbands do 33% of the housework. But when researchers tracked men’s actual housework time, they found husbands were shouldering 39% of the chore load.
No, that’s not equal, but that’s a far cry from “women are doing all the work.”
While the “second shift” is a real problem, I think it was always somewhat overblown. In the book that gave this problem a name, The Second Shift (1989), sociologist Arlie Hochschild claimed on the basis of her survey of 120 couples that when paid work and housework are combined, women in two-earner households put in an extra 15 hours a week compared to men. A number of time-use studies from the same time period found the difference to be closer to 1 hour. (I could not find these data online but they are summarized in the 1997 book, Time for Life, by sociologists John Robinson and Jeffrey Godbey. Godbey and Robinson report that in 1995, on average, women spent 15.9 hours a week on housework and men, 9.5 hours; but that includes women who do not work outside the home. Incidentally, those figures are a very dramatic change from 1965, when the respective hours for women and men were 26.9 and 4.7.)
I believe there is a strong tendency among feminists to (1) downplay male contributions at home and (2) with a few exceptions, to disregard the tendency of many women — even professional women — to regard housekeeping and particularly children as their turf. Here’s something I wrote in 2000 about a symposium called “Changing Nature of Work and Family Life: A Focus on Men,” sponsored by the Cornell University Institute for Women and Work:
[A]s family issues consultant Dana Friedman conceded on the panel, many women inhibit male involvement by protecting their turf, sending the signal that men can’t do anything right at home and setting themselves up as “gatekeepers” of the father-child relationship.
In fact, a degree of such “female chauvinism” was in evidence at the event itself. When Friedman mentioned a poll in which 60 percent of fathers said they shared equally in child-rearing, laughter rippled through the room — turning to gleeful guffaws when she added that only 19 percent of mothers agree.
Maybe men exaggerate, but isn’t it possible that women aren’t totally objective judges, either? Then, moderator Francine Moccio said she wanted to speak up in favor of “maternal gatekeeping.” Twenty years ago, her husband was supposed to pick up the kids from a party — and simply forgot. “So,” she summed up, “they do need to be trained.” Again, there was roaring laughter.
I wondered if the women were expressing their frustration over men’s failure to share equally in the domestic realm or taking pleasure in their presumed superiority in that realm. Can one imagine men today gloating similarly over a woman’s incompetence in some traditionally male sphere? Maybe the panel illuminated some of the barriers to men’s involvement in family life in ways the organizers never intended.
Five years later, here we go again, still blaming it all on men.