Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Little-discussed fem issue: see this introduction to a great book about how having a baby changes power relationships between wife and husband

"Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power" (BasicBooks: New York, 1995) by Rhona Mahony (via Bitch PhD):


Cheryl and Dean have two children who are now 18 and 12 years old. When the children were small, both Cheryl and Dean worked full-time. Cheryl worked at a computer center, giving technical help to people on-line. Dean ran the shipping and receiving de partment of a medical equipment company. Cheryl brought the children to and from the babysitter and the day care center. She stayed home when they were sick. At night, after she came home from work, she took care of the children, cleaned the house, coo ked dinner, washed dishes, washed clothes, and ironed. When Dean came home, he felt he had earned the right to relax for a few hours. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, that arrangement made a rough sort of sense to both Cheryl and Dean. He earned $1 1 an hour; she earned $8 an hour. Dean's own mother had taken meticulous care of him and eight other children. Cheryl's mother had kept the house spotless while raising her and her brother. The big difference, which Cheryl and Dean never discussed beca use it took them years to see it, was that neither of their mothers had held a paying job while they were raising their children.

Thanks to Arlie Hochschild, we have a name for Cheryl's predicament. It's called the second shift (Hochschild, 1989). Many people see now that it's exhausting and unfair for a mother with a full-time job to do all the housework and childraising whil e her husband does none. Even Cheryl and Dean see that now; Dean does more at home than he used to.

However, very few people see that the assignment of chores at home has much broader consequences. Even more is at stake than women's fatigue or unfairness in millions of families. What is at stake is the subject of this book: women's centuries-old struggle to finally and really achieve economic equality with men.

Chores at home are tied to women's equality because there are only 24 hours in a day. While women are cleaning, cooking, and raising children, what are men doing? They are earning money, taking part in community groups, unions or professional associ ations, running for public office, inventing widgets in the garage, playing sports, or resting. They are doing things that women don't get a chance to do.

Chores at home are also tied to women's equality because people act on their expectations. Girls who grow up believing the spoken or unspoken assumption that a big chunk of their adult life will be devoted to childraising don't study the hard courses that lead to high-paying jobs: trigonometry, calculus, or physics. Their brothers do. They expect that they will be responsible for supporting their wives and children.

Chores at home also matter because young women who believe that they will devote a big chunk of their adult lives to childraising don't go into challenging, non-traditional jobs. They don't choose jobs that require travel, lots of overtime, or inflex ible or unpredictable hours. They rule out thousands of jobs in business, science, law enforcement, and the military. They rule them out, or never ever consider them, because they conflict with that big job at home.

Chores at home also matter because they don't pay. No matter what else we say, reform, or reengineer, the truth remains that people who do thousands of hours of unpaid work each year are going to have less money than people who work only for pay. Mo ney isn't everything. However, it does matter. The lower a wife's income, the more likely she is to suffer real hardship if she and her husband separate. Also, the more likely she is to suffer battering by her husband while she stays with him.

Finally, chores at home matter because women get surprised by them. In particular, they get surprised by childraising. They get surprised by how much time and energy it consumes, they get surprised by how wonderful it is, and they get surprised by h ow hard it is to hire someone else who will take care of their children in just the ways they want, which they want with surprising intensity. As a result, many mothers scale back their paying work much farther than they ever expected. Some are happy to . Others don't understand why they can't get their husbands to share more in the effort and the rewards of taking care of the children. That difficulty surprises them, too.

This book argues, then, that who does what at home matters a lot outside the home. It shapes the whole economy. Because women and only women raise children, they are scarce in whole swathes of occupations and in the top echelons of business, politic s, art, science, technology, and religious organizations.

Social scientists call who does what at home the division of labor. Because our division of labor hinges on whether people are male or female, social scientists say that we have a sexual division of labor. This book argues that for us to understand women's struggle to achieve economic equality with men, we need a much, much better understanding of the sexual division of labor in the home.

Recent feminist books have not analyzed the sexual division of labor in the home in this way. None has said simply, as this book does, that the sexual division of labor in the home is what now stands between women and real equality. Why not? It's a little odd, since most of the research that I draw on here was published during the 1980's. The puzzle pieces have been sitting on the table for ten or fifteen years. It's just that, before this book, no one assembled them to make this particular pictu re.

I think that no one assembled this picture for two reasons. First, feminists have mainly focussed their energies on big and important evils outside the home. They have been organizing opposition to and remedies for discrimination against women, raci al minorities, and disabled people at work. They have been combatting sexual harassment and the glass ceiling. They have been working to make schools safer and fairer for girls. All that work is valuable. We need to keep doing it. The only catch is, it's not enough.

Second, no one focused on the sexual division of labor in the home because it was very hard for people to imagine an alternative. Sure, men should do more. But who, really and truly, is going to stay home when Junior is sick, read him "The Lorax" ei ght times, and make blackberry tea with honey just the way he likes it? Because millions of women--even clever, devoted feminists--found it hard to imagine an alternative to millions of mothers staying home to read "The Lorax," they didn't subject the se xual division of labor in the home to the searching scrutiny it deserves.

In fact, instead of searching and scrutinizing, I'm afraid that many women have been kidding themselves. We kidded ourselves when we thought about politics. We thought that government subsidies to child care centers would make the second shift go aw ay. We kidded ourselves when we thought about our own futures. We said, "Oh, it won't happen to me. I have lots of energy and my husband will help." Or we said, "My mother will babysit and I'll be office manager in no time." We were kidding ourselves when we said those things because we weren't facing up to some basic arithmetic. Here is that arithmetic. There are 24 hours in a day. There are 7 days in a week. That means that there are 168 hours in a week. If Grandma or the child care center or a babysitter takes the children for, say, 50 hours a week, what does that leave? It leaves 118 hours. Our kids need us for a surprising, appalling, delightful number of those 118 hours. If all those hours are women's work, then women's lives are going to look very different from men's lives. Even when and after we have eliminated discrimination, sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, and unfair schools.

But what about the women who said, "My husband will help"? Surely, they weren't kidding themselves. These are the 1990's, after all. Fathers are spending more time with their small children than ever before, right? Surely, women can tell before th ey have children whether their boyfriend or husband is the type of guy who will keep his promise to share responsibility for childraising?

Unfortunately, no. Women kid themselves about that, too. Women kid themselves about it because, both before and after the birth of their first child, they don't see what the real obstacles are that prevent fathers from getting involved in childraisi ng. They don't see what the real obstacles are because the real obstacles are very hard to see. Before you have a baby, it is almost impossible to peep over the threshold and see what your life will be like afterwards. Before the baby, you and your hus band have an arrangement at home. He buys groceries, you cook dinner. That seems fair. You expect that he'll do a lot of childraising, and so does he. Neither of you realizes that, after the baby arrives, the workload at home will increase by a factor of 20. It's nearly inconceivable.

Also, right after the baby is born, women don't see the real obstacles because the atmosphere at home is very emotionally charged. That charged field of emotion--and the fatigue of brand-new parents--makes it much harder for you and your partner to t alk in an articulate way, or an insightful way, about who should do what at home.

Also, women don't see what the real obstacles are because they created lots of the obstacles themselves, many years before. Suddenly, decisions that they made in high school and in their twenties matter in a way that they never foresaw. They matter in ways that women don't see even as their consequences are unfolding in their own houses. The truth is that, from an early age, many women shape themselves into becoming primary parents. Unwittingly, they lock themselves into childraising and lock thei r husbands out. They are not as free to choose what their families will be like as they think, or as their husbands think.

So, is there an answer? Will women ever achieve real equality with men? This book proposes that the answer to that question is another question: "Can a father raise babies and can a woman let go?"

That is the key question because in order for women to achieve economic equality with men, men will have to do half the work of raising children. Whether or not that happens depends on whether men can be tender and competent hands-on parents and on whether women will let them do it.

What does it mean for men to do half the work of raising children? We should make that point clear from the beginning, because it is easy to misunderstand. It does not mean, for example, that in every couple a man will do half the child raising and a woman will do half. It does not mean that parents will split responsibility toward their children according to their incomes, as in, you earn one-third the income so you should do two-thirds the child raising. Nor does it mean that a few more fathers will be househusbands.

None of those formulas would work. They wouldn't bring real equality within women's reach. More to the point, we couldn't pull off those formulas even if we wanted to. As we said above, the typical woman on the brink of having her first child does not get to pick what percentage of child raising she will do. She has already made decisions that lock her into a traditional motherly role.

Instead, this book proposes a revolution in people's attitudes toward the sexual division of labor in the home. It proposes that we throw away the stereotypes that say men cannot be tender and competent as hands-on parents. It proposes that we also throw away the stereotypes about what makes a woman a good mother. A woman who earns most of her family's income while her partner does most of the child raising is a caring, loving, good mother, too.

We need to throw away those old stereotypes because they stand in women's way. They make it impossible for men to really do half the work of raising children. For that to happen, women and men will have to see each other differently. Millions of wo men will have to give up the search for a man who will take care of them. Millions of men will have to give up the search for a woman who will reflect their glory. Mothers and fathers will also have to ask their sons to do much more work at home and the ir daughters to set high earnings goals.

When the sexual division of labor in the home has melted away, the link between people's sex and their work will be severed. Women will be as likely as men are to be surgeons and pilots, on average. They will be as likely as men are to work for pay full-time their entire lives, on average. Men will be as likely as women to shift into part-time work when their first baby is born, or to quit paying work entirely. When there are roughly as many househusbands as housewives and roughly as many female b readwinners as male breadwinners, then men will really be doing half the child care. That scenario is the prerequisite of women's equality. It is the only scenario in which women will finally and really achieve economic equality with men.

The key to understanding the sexual division of labor in the home is negotiation. Any given division of labor--who does what chores--is the result of negotiation between the people who live together. That negotiation can be full of talk or it can be silent. It can be planned or it can be accidental. It can be conscious or unconscious. Most important of all, by the time the sun sets on the typical woman's wedding day, she has already done nearly all the negotiating over chores and child care that she will ever do. (Or, if she hasn't married, on the day she conceives her first baby.) How can that be? This book says that the decisions that girls make about school, that young women make about jobs, and that women make about who their romantic part ners will be put them, years later, into a particular negotiating position. That position may be strong. Usually, it is weak. Usually, it makes it hard for women to reach their goals, even when their goals are mainly to cherish their children and husba nds as they think best.

In this book, readers will learn how to assess the strengths and weaknesses of people's negotiating positions, including their own. They will learn how women can improve their negotiating position. As we'll see, that is easiest for young women, but possible for all women. We'll see what steps women can take singly, and what steps can be taken only by lots of people working together. Throughout, we will emphasize that every word of this analysis applies with full force to working class and poor wom en, to African American and Latino women, and to women in developing countries. Together, of course, they make up the biggest proportion of women in the world and those for whom real equality will bring the sweetest fruits.

This book takes a particular view of negotiation, one based in economics and in game theory. Most likely, you have heard of economics. You may have heard that it is the study of how people deal with scarcity. Time is scarce, money is scarce, and en ergy is scarce. So we have to make decisions about how we spend those things. You may not have heard where the word "economics" comes from. Long ago, someone on the shores of the Mediterranean wrote a manuscript called "Ta Oikonomika." Some people thi nk that it may even have been Aristotle. That's where the word comes from. What was the manuscript about? It was about how to manage your household. ("Oikos" is classical Greek for house; "nomos" means managing.) Since then, economists have figured o ut a lot of things, but, until this book, no one thought to apply them to the nitty-gritty details of who does what at home and what difference it makes. As we will see, the difference it makes is the difference between equality and second-class citizens hip for the two and a half billion people in the world who happen to be female.

What about game theory? A lot more people know about it now than did a few months ago. Newspapers all over the world have announced that the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics went to three pioneers in the field. So what is it? It is the study of how people behave in situations in which other people are going to react to their decisions and those reactions matter. So, everyone tries to look ahead. Lucky for us, we can delve deeply and thoroughly into our topic--the negotations that create, sustain, and melt away the sexual division of labor in the home--using only simple ideas from game theory. If you can play checkers, you can follow every bit of the analysis in this book (even if you usually lose!).

So, this book brings good news and bad news. The good news is that the dream of real, practical equality that women have dreamt for thousands of years isn't a dream any more. Now they can make it real. The bad news is, it's up to women themselves. It isn't coming on any silver platter. Then again, maybe that's good news, too.


Post a Comment

<< Home