Are you an “equal parent”?

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6 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    Maybe little has changed in over a century because the fact that our’s is a sexually dimorphic species has remained unchanged. Women and men might be “equal”, but we are not “the same”.

  2. Andrea says:

    Sexual dimorphism doesn’t explain everything, as much as some people would like to try and use that language (and behavioral evolutionary language) to do so. It explains why men are generally better at touch football, and why only women can give birth and breastfeed.

    But when it comes to caring for a child past newborn stage? Men have the same ability to feed, wipe, play, discipline, chauffeur, and cuddle. It’s something much more than biology explaining why the ratio is still the way it is.

  3. John Esberg says:

    Yes, we are sexually dimorphic. Yes, men can feed, wipe, play, etc. just as well as a woman. But these physical abilities don’t measure the emotional need men feel vs. women in our parenting. I would love to see people do actual research accounting for this , wouldn’t you?

  4. Jessica Silbey says:

    John-

    I would be surprised if the research hasn’t been done (although I am a bit confused as to what you mean by “emotional need … in our parenting”). But in any case, what would it tell us? That women do more of the parenting or are programmed (biologically or culturally) to do more of it? I am not sure what help that is when the difference (be it biological or cultural) affects a material inequality in women’s lives as compared to men’s lives (as regards earning power, political representation, protection against violence, etc.). I would think that the goal is to find a way to equalize the gender dynamic regardless of the source (biological or not) of the imbalance. But perhaps your point is that knowing the source will help achieve that balance?

  5. Brett Bellmore says:

    “I would think that the goal is to find a way to equalize the gender dynamic regardless of the source (biological or not) of the imbalance.”

    But if biology leads to women wanting to do more of the child care, you’d be “setting out to equalize the gender dynamic” in the teeth of what the people involved actually WANT. Is an equalized gender dynamic more important than human liberty?

  6. Trying to reduce a complicated and hierarchical system of social ordering (gender) or a complex social behavior (parenting) to claims about sexual dimorphism is silly. Note that the definition of child care in the article is “attending to the physical needs of the child”–preparing meals, dressing, cleaning. It specifically excludes “the fun stuff, like playing and reading and kissing good night.” It’s hard to credit a biological, sex-linked drive to wash diapers and make peanut butter sandwiches. The article also reports that 58 percent of the women say they are unhappy with their existing division of labor.

    Jessica, I’ve had the same experience regarding job flexibility. My husband is a self-employed freelance writer. On the large scale, he moved across the country for my teaching job, and he changed his last name to mine when we got married. But on everyday matters, we’ve often fallen into treating my job as the more flexible one, even when I was a practicing trial lawyer.

    On the housework front, the NYT article reports that the woman does more housework even when she is employed full-time and the husband has no job. As I recall, in _The Second Shift_ (researched in the 1980s), Arlie Hochschield reported that when husbands made more money than wives, the wives did more housework to make up for their lesser financial contributions. When wives made more money than husbands, the wives did more housework to make up for the implicit threat to the husbands’ masculinity.

    Hochshield also describes how couples arrive at their gendered division of labor through combinations of their gender ideologies and “economies of gratitude.” Some of this is alluded to in the article–such as where one of the husbands indicates that he first tried to claim credit for being more involved than other dads they knew. Social norms largely determine which actions are taken for granted and which receive “credit.”