I’m a professor, researcher and author; my husband is a naturopathic doctor/acupuncturist whose employment schedule goes up and down depending on the economy. We have raised three children together (one is immediately 20, and the twins are 16 years ancient).
I have also spent 20 years researching and writing about the changing tales of breadwinning mothers and primary caregiving fathers (www.breadandrosesproject.ca).
So I glance at Rosin’s piece with interest. This is an vital issue that requires alternative viewpoints and excellent debate. I share Rosin’s interest in understanding the contemporary social and emotional geography of breadwinning wives. I like the path she points to asymmetries between statistics on women’s rising earning ability and some evidence of their preference for part-age employment. Our approaches are different: hers is more on ability dynamics between breadwinning wives and men; mine on the constantly shifting relations encircling employment and attention for breadwinning mothers and caregiving fathers.
However beyond this, I have two main responses to Rosin’s piece: a concern about her “relationship survey” and surprise at her depiction of men.
The “Relationship Survey”
Surveys, which are instruments used to measure changing social lifetime or what Rosin calls the “emotional landscape,” are dense to construct well. However they affair greatly to the knowledge that comes outside the other end.
One quick example is the path her survey defines and measures housework contributions. Rosin’s survey includes only two items on housework: First, “Which of you does more housework — tidying up, doing laundry, making beds, etc?” And, second, “Which of you does more cooking?” She also has one item on childcare: “Who does most of the childcare duties in your relationship?”
There are two problems here. First, only women are questioned questions about a topic that is deeply relational, as well as taken-for-granted, invisible, and highly contested. As a family researcher I can affirm that getting an accurate picture of housework is more complex than getting human beings to talk about their sexual relationship.
A second difficulty is encircling a mark that I constitute in my textbook, “Do Men Mother?” That is, Rosin is doing what many other writers and researchers do: using a “maternal lens” to assess the lives of men. The employment that men typically do, either in housework or childcare, is left largely invisible when one uses this lens. My guess is that men are going to end up looking attractive terrible.
The best example I can give of the difficulty with underestimating what men do is found in Scott Coltrane’s textbook, “Family Male”; he notes that throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, researchers continually cited a statistic that stated that women did an extra month of housework ever year.
Coltrane, an astute sociologist, looked more closely at the studies and found that they excluded what fathers did on weekends, as well as tasks such as shopping, household repair, painting and much driving children to activities and playing with them. (There are some weeks when my husband spends about 20 hours a week driving our children; with teens, a abundance of parenting happens on those drives). It matters how we define and measure these things. And in today’s multi-tasking earth, it is much harder to define employment age and family age.
What we do know, based on successive waves of rich data on this topic is that, in most countries, the participation of fathers in household lifetime has increased with each passing year. Yes, fathers still do less routine housework than women, although it does continues to rise towards a mark of gender convergence. What is vital to notice: Fathers’ contributions to childcare have seen dramatic alter.
A Startling Portrayal of Men
What startled me in the piece? Not the “end of men,” however the portrayal of men.
There are only four kinds of men mentioned in this piece. There is that slow-moving male. There is also the stay-at-house dad who gets startled looks when he is in the classroom. (There have already been some brilliant reactions by men who were startled by that). There are only two other men in this tale: the part-age mechanic whose wife calls him a loser; and the male who spends “all her money on dress socks” while also subscribing “to every damned sports channel and why will he never clean up after himself?”
While she points to some stereotypes that may bear truth in some households, there is also a subtle belittling of men who are trying to adjust to their fresh roles.
Just as the changes in women’s roles have been dense, so have men’s. We demand to acknowledge and respect — not belittle — the impact these changes have had on both genders.
Men’s voices on this issue of breadwinning wives are crucial.
It matters, for example, how this situation of shifting gender roles has come about.
Is it a extended-term situation where the woman is passionate about her career and a male works for a paycheck, which then leads to him being the stay-at-house dad (or sustained secondary earner) when the kids come along?
Or are they both working in jobs they despise and she really wants to be the one at house?
Or did he suddenly lose his job?
If it’s the latter, it can be tough. As one laid-off factory worker recently told me, “It’s nearly like you’re on ice that’s breaking up. You don’t really know what or where your role is.”
What I know from my research on breadwinning mothers and caregiving fathers over the past two decades is that, while a small revolution in gender roles has occurred, men and women continue to be in a action of transition encircling issues of breadwinning and attention.
It’s a relational dance, it changes each day, each week, each year.
And an approach that pits women against men cannot get at the rich relational processes that underpin these 21st century tales, and our understanding of them.
What do I know from 20 years of living this? Yes, sometimes there are tensions between this woman who works also dense and the male I share my lifetime with, who “lives a slower pace.”
Yet, the differences and tensions in what, and how much, we each do are eclipsed by the circumstance that he has supported me at the critical moments in my career where I have needed unwavering and complete-on emotional and practical support in order to achieve my goals. Lately there have been some attractive huge things on my plate. And I have said to him, “This is what I demand.” And he has done that and more. His more laid back approach, meanwhile, translates into fun and balance in a household where I employment also dense and stress about also many things.
And the relationship he has with our three daughters, exceptionally in facilitating their evolution as tough, athletic, independent young women, makes all those slow moving moments seem, well, just not that vital.
This piece originally appeared on The Excellent Men Project Magazine.
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