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Why Gender Equality Stalled
February 21, 2013 1:32 AM   Subscribe

When family and work obligations collide, mothers remain much more likely than fathers to cut back or drop out of work. But unlike the situation in the 1960s, this is not because most people believe this is the preferable order of things. Rather, it is often a reasonable response to the fact that our political and economic institutions lag way behind our personal ideals.
"Women are still paid less than men at every educational level and in every job category. They are less likely than men to hold jobs that offer flexibility or family-friendly benefits. When they become mothers, they face more scrutiny and prejudice on the job than fathers do.

So, especially when women are married to men who work long hours, it often seems to both partners that they have no choice. Female professionals are twice as likely to quit work as other married mothers when their husbands work 50 hours or more a week and more than three times more likely to quit when their husbands work 60 hours or more.

The sociologist Pamela Stone studied a group of mothers who had made these decisions. Typically, she found, they phrased their decision in terms of a preference. But when they explained their “decision-making process,” it became clear that most had made the “choice” to quit work only as a last resort — when they could not get the flexible hours or part-time work they wanted, when their husbands would not or could not cut back their hours, and when they began to feel that their employers were hostile to their concerns. Under those conditions, Professor Stone notes, what was really a workplace problem for families became a private problem for women."
The United States is one of only eight countries, out of 188 that have known policies, without paid [maternal] leave

Elsewhere, Much Less Time on the Job, Average Hours Worked Per Worker; Changing Attitudes [On Working Women]
posted by Blasdelb (25 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's also shameful how much of their pay women often have to spend on daycare.

But once you start talking about that, it's shameful families have to externalize childcare / homemaking at all. No matter what gender the parent, kids deserve to have a parent around.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:54 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


SOME people began to argue that feminism was not about furthering the equal involvement of men and women at home and work but simply about giving women the right to choose between pursuing a career and devoting themselves to full-time motherhood. A new emphasis on intensive mothering and attachment parenting helped justify the latter choice.

Anti-feminists welcomed this shift as a sign that most Americans did not want to push gender equality too far.


No. "Anti-feminsts" welcomed this shift as a sign that furthering the equal involvement of men and women at home is the essence of gender equality and without it any gains made by "feminists" would be only for the elite few.

And it is not to blame political and economic institutions. The "feminist" focus on the top is totally misplaced. It is not now many women are in the boardroom, but how many men are pushing prams. The choice isn't between full-time motherhood or career: it is the creation of full time PARENTHOOD which is the responsibility of both parents.

Solve that problem and everything else solves itself. Once men are expected to take a full share of the responsibility for children things like paid parental leave and full-time child care will become economic necessities for everyone and not perks for the upper-class.

If men took 50% of the paternity leave, women will be able to work more outside the home and that equal work will result in equal pay. The gap between experience would disappear as men also experienced periods of time away from work.

But all of this hinges on a society that demands modern men be more like traditional women which is the anti-thesis of "feminist" ideology.

It is a pity because this "anti-feminist" mindset - gender equality beginning at home - works very well in Sweden and it would seem to me that the children benefit as much as do both of the parents and society at large.

Now I have to go clean the morning dishes.
posted by three blind mice at 2:16 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


three blind mice: If men took 50% of the paternity leave, women will be able to work more outside the home and that equal work will result in equal pay.

I agree with most of what you say, but I've got to disagree with you here - experience shows that equal work does not necessarily mean equal pay, sadly. That's a whole other fight.
posted by Dysk at 3:00 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


"If men took 50% of the paternity leave, women will be able to work more outside the home and that equal work will result in equal pay. The gap between experience would disappear as men also experienced periods of time away from work."
Using these differences to model the Gender Gap in pay exclusively only explains a small portion of the Gap, there are a hell of a lot of other aspects of sexism that affect it.
It is a pity because this "anti-feminist" mindset - gender equality beginning at home - works very well in Sweden and it would seem to me that the children benefit as much as do both of the parents and society at large.
This is also true in Sweden, Gender Pay Gap in Sweden (PDF), Media summary
posted by Blasdelb at 3:24 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


But all of this hinges on a society that demands modern men be more like traditional women which is the anti-thesis of "feminist" ideology.

This is exactly what feminism holds to, and it's one of the major reasons I, an American man, regularly refer to myself as a feminist. In fact, claims that feminists want to emasculate or 'feminize' men are regularly made by the American conservative movement. So, uh... What?
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:21 AM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Once men are expected to take a full share of the responsibility for children things like paid parental leave and full-time child care will become economic necessities for everyone and not perks for the upper-class.

Perhaps this is true elsewhere, but in the US, I'm pretty sure neither "paid parental leave" nor "full-time child care" will ever be considered economic necessities for anyone, since they're both incredible pipe dreams spun of unicorn hair compared to the patchwork system of laws and underfunded government programs we have now.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:24 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Many good points raised here. In my view, the "brick wall" which feminism hits is ultimately not a problem of gender. Rather, a problem of capitalism. Raising our children is written off as a loss. Meanwhile, we need our "jobs", many of which create no value to anyone, to get paid.
posted by steve jobless at 5:33 AM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


In the end, this is a "hearts and minds" battle as much as it is a political one. As a former stay-at-home dad who's seen significant movement on this front, I think we'll see a big change in our children's generation when they become parents. Part of the fun of getting older is seeing social progress bloom before your eyes (of course part of what makes it depressing is the setbacks and the progress in things we don't like, like rampant consumerism. now get off my lawn!)
posted by rikschell at 5:38 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would like to have a kid because kids are great and I think I'd be a pretty great mom. But I am going to be a pretty great anthropology professor, too. And I can do both. In a perfect world, it'd be achievable through some combination of a flexible partner, a flexible work environment (and as an academic, I'm lucky that I'd probably have a pretty flexible work environment), and reasonable laws about parental leave. Since this isn't a perfect world, I expect I'll have to take advantage of childcare at least part of the time. And while the fact that the US hasn't gotten it together enough to provide reasonable policies for parents is shameful for the US, I don't think that working within limited options (like daycare) is anything individuals making decisions about how to care for their kids and make a living and have a fulfilling life and hopefully fulfilling career have anything to be ashamed about. Especially since about 90% of the time, the person who will end up bearing the brunt of social displeasure is female.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:43 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]



It's also shameful how much of their pay women often have to spend on daycare.


In a two-parent household, daycare doesn't necessarily come out of "women's" pay, unless you look at daycare as a tax women pay for the luxury of working.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:45 AM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


I was once a very driven young woman and all I cared about was getting into an Ivy League Law School. And then I finished undergraduate early and they suggested I study abroad in Sweden. My life there changed drastically, I started caring more about the basic things I wanted- good food, enough sleep, exercise, fresh air. And stopped caring about my career, beyond just maintaining enough job skills to have a basic decent job. I admit I don't haven't risen up the ranks as fast as some male colleagues because I personally care more about other things. To be honest I think the world would be better if my male colleagues adopted this attitude too.

I agree we need better policies regarding things like parental leave to level the playing field, but I wonder how great a marker equal pay is when it is so dependent on the preferences of how much women want to devote their lives to their careers rather than many other things women might want to do. As someone pointed out, Sweden has great policies and still has a gender-pay gap. It would alarm me if the gap were the same for people who work the same amount of hours in the same industry.
posted by melissam at 7:25 AM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


And as a woman who has absolutely no interest in children, or having any kind of a family, can someone please explain to me why my fortunes are hogtied to the needs of people who do?

Let's quit talking about the godforsaken gender equity gap, and start having a real conversation about the way that we give primacy to families for all economic and social goodies.
posted by gsh at 7:40 AM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


And as a woman who has absolutely no interest in children, or having any kind of a family, can someone please explain to me why my fortunes are hogtied to the needs of people who do?

If you don't want your fortunes hogtied to other people's needs, just move to a libertarian water city already. Meanwhile back in reality, civilization is somewhat dependent on the creation of new human beings, most of whom spend their first couple of decades highly dependent on goodies bestowed upon them by other people, goodies that they've done nothing to earn or deserve.
posted by leopard at 8:01 AM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I seem to recall reading that many strains of second-wave feminism were explicitly anti-capitalist, for just the reasons outlined in this article.
posted by eviemath at 8:03 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


And as a woman who has absolutely no interest in children, or having any kind of a family, can someone please explain to me why my fortunes are hogtied to the needs of people who do?

Because you want a well-educated and reasonably self-actualized staff taking care of you when you're old.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:07 AM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


This may be relevant here as well.
posted by eviemath at 8:08 AM on February 21, 2013


(The "fallback position" issue in one easy chart.)
posted by eviemath at 8:18 AM on February 21, 2013


I agree we need better policies regarding things like parental leave to level the playing field, but I wonder how great a marker equal pay is when it is so dependent on the preferences of how much women want to devote their lives to their careers rather than many other things women might want to do. As someone pointed out, Sweden has great policies and still has a gender-pay gap. It would alarm me if the gap were the same for people who work the same amount of hours in the same industry.

The FPP article talks about this toward the end, when it discusses values stretch:
The sociologist Pamela Stone studied a group of mothers who had made these decisions. Typically, she found, they phrased their decision in terms of a preference. But when they explained their “decision-making process,” it became clear that most had made the “choice” to quit work only as a last resort — when they could not get the flexible hours or part-time work they wanted, when their husbands would not or could not cut back their hours, and when they began to feel that their employers were hostile to their concerns. Under those conditions, Professor Stone notes, what was really a workplace problem for families became a private problem for women.

This is where the political gets really personal. When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a “values stretch” — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by. This behavior is especially likely if holding on to the original values would exacerbate tensions in the relationships they depend on.
Also, I am sorry to say, but be alarmed - the gender pay gap does indeed take into account hours worked in the same industry, at least all gender pay gap statistics that I've seen (which are admittedly North American focused). Even controlling for all the things that people generally try to bring up to explain away gender pay gaps - education, experience, seniority and hours spent on the job, actual job title, actual job description, etc. - there is still a pay gap.

I'd agree that the solution is to make jobs overall more humane (well, I advocate for restructuring work entirely, but the mitigating solution within a capitalist context at least), not a race to the bottom to enable women to work longer and harder (especially given that women have to in fact work longer and harder to be seen as making equivalent contributions and have equivalent dedication - both historically and currently, as the pay gap data indicate).
posted by eviemath at 8:34 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


In my view, one big cause of this problem (and the article hints at it) is the inability to work part-time in professional fields in the US. You only get health insurance if you work full-time. There are not part-time professional jobs available, it's either all or nothing in fields that aren't retail and foodservice. So for two-parent families, you get one of the following options:

1) One parent works full-time, the other stays home with children. This is clearly not equal sharing of parenting and work duties.

2) Both parents work full-time and the children are placed in paid child care. This is more equal but less parenting.

If part-time work were a real thing that you could do in any job paying a decent salary, you might find a lot of mothers and fathers who would each work, say 25 hours a week, and watch the children while their partners did the same, but the job market doesn't allow for it.


As an aside, I have never really understood how women must feel in positions where they are institutionally marginalized until I became a single father. I used to hear about the problems with women in technology and think, "I work in technology, people aren't anti-woman here." Which I still think is true, but I find now, as a male primary parent, that every discussion of parenting isn't anti-male so much as it is really a discussion about mothering. Essentially everything on the topic is written from a women's perspective and addressing a female audience. I recently read an article titled, "How to Raise String Daughters", and one of the points was essentially, "you should be an example of the type of woman you want your daughter to look up to." Yeah, ok, I'll do that. There's no ill-will meant towards men, but you have to speak up and be like, "Hey, I'm here too!" and the response you get is something akin to "Oh, sorry, I didn't see you back there, yeah, fathers too!" Which I guess is probably a lot like how women feel in places they're not traditionally expected to be. It's disheartening, and I could see why it discourages women from staying in these fields.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:59 AM on February 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


Even after controlling for all the variables mentioned in this thread, a gender wage gap persists and has apparently increased again, see this post by Echidne (economist and blogger), and particularly her three-part series on the gender wage gap linked at the end.

For an excellent exploration and explanation of the economics and dynamics leading women to take on a disproportionally large share of childcare by cutting back on work outside the home and the effects of that, I strongly recommend Rhona Mahony's book Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power.
posted by meijusa at 9:14 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's no ill-will meant towards men, but you have to speak up and be like, "Hey, I'm here too!" and the response you get is something akin to "Oh, sorry, I didn't see you back there, yeah, fathers too!"

Thank you for this; I hadn't thought of it this way before, but it really resonates with my experiences.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:03 PM on February 21, 2013


I agree about the part time work thing. Also I feel like ONE parent (at least) should have the ability to have afternoon and summers off to be with their children (and still keep their job/health insurance) even if unpaid. In the case of single parents this would mean that moms who often leave their middle and high-school kids at home alone after school and over summer could be at home with them (if they could figure out how to make the missing hours work financially).
posted by xarnop at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2013


You only get health insurance if you work full-time. There are not part-time professional jobs

You could write an article "Why It's Virtually Impossible For Two Parents to Share Responsibility Equally" and the entirety of the article would be these two sentences.
posted by bjrubble at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2013


When a couple owns a business together, it can be possible to work out a more flexible schedule, but it often means spending more time on keeping the business successful than on parenting.
posted by rikschell at 12:15 PM on February 23, 2013


You only get health insurance if you work full-time. There are not part-time professional jobs

You could write an article "Why It's Virtually Impossible For Two Parents to Share Responsibility Equally" and the entirety of the article would be these two sentences.


This is what my wife and I are dealing with right now, with kids 4 and 1.5. Neither of us can cover our share of the parenting responsibilities (we do split them fairly equally) and excel at work like we used to. So we both scrape by at work and are disappointed in our parenting efforts, and feel bad about both.

:(
posted by mrgrimm at 12:52 PM on March 11, 2013


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