Interesting article here in The New York Times, though nothing particularly new in it about the work and family balance and why it isn’t working so well for women.
Telling women they have reached parity is like telling an unemployed worker the recession is over. It isn’t true until it feels true. That’s because measuring women’s power by looking only at women — and by looking mostly at the workplace — paints a false picture.
Men today are at the turning point women reached several decades ago, when the joint demands of work and home first intensified. In her new book, “Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter,” Joan C. Williams describes how men find themselves caught between meeting cultural expectations and a growing dissatisfaction with the constricted roles shaped by those expectations. “You have to ask why, if women are asking men to change, and if men say they want change, it hasn’t happened,” she says. “Either they are all lazy, or they are under tremendous gender pressures of their own.”
The life-work dilemma for women has long been that “the workplace has changed in their favor, but home hasn’t,” she says. Men, however, “have the opposite problem. More is expected of them at home, but expectations have not shifted at work.” Which explains why the percentage of fathers in dual-income households who say they suffer work-family conflict has risen to 59 percent from 35 percent since 1977.
One quick thing I do want to comment on is this bit of the article:
And women still perform twice the housework and three times the child care that men do, even in homes where women are the primary breadwinners.
I have noticed this before in studies. In fact some have mothers working outside the home as doing more domestic labour and childcare than mothers who don’t work outside the home! Why does this happen?
Of course one can’t underestimate the difficulty involved in overcoming entrenched sexism in the division of domestic tasks but why isn’t the increased negotiating power of enhanced female financial independence addressing this problem better in those relationships where men and women are earning similar amounts? Here is my theory.
Women working outside the home can’t afford to have anything fuck up because if their home life fucks up it quickly fucks up their jobs, too. The double, and even triple shifts, some working mothers perform means that there is no wriggle room in their week. In fact the more hours they work outside the home the less time, and importantly, energy they have for the constant negotiation and re-organisation that is required to achieve fairness inside their homes. Life happens on the run. When they do get to ‘sorting shit out’ they probably find that their money speaks in the negotiations they have with their partners but in the meantime they are scrambling from one day to the next.Working mothers are probably risk-adverse and that doesn’t facilitate novel or complex negotiation outcomes.
Thinking about it now I see that the fairness I have managed to create in my own home has in many ways been a product of the extra flexibility I have as a part-time worker*. I can test solutions. I can also withdraw, delay and refuse. I have more time to think, giving me the perspective necessary to problem-solve, though as Bitch PhD points out, the fact that monitoring equality falls to me in the spousal relationship is a sign of my inequality. House-work strikes and the like need both time and alternative options. If you wait until your partner gets around to doing their share of the laundry you may end up with no clothes to wear to work. If you make small children pack their own school lunches it will probably be you fielding the phone calls at work from the kids’ school about the empty lunchboxes. (And there is nothing like children being held to ransom in a stand-off with a partner to make a mother fall back into line).
Family members do adjust eventually to more equitable arrangements but many working mothers probably just don’t feel they can afford the time to get there.
*I worked full-time until I became a parent. With each of my two children I spent the first year at home so I have had a taste of stay-at-home motherhood, and I quite liked it, but I lack the experience of the long haul to speak authoritatively on that particular topic.