Gender Equality without Parental Equality?

May 29, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

When you see an article entitled “You cannot claim to have any ideas about family values unless you value fathers,” and see that it’s written by writer Rebecca Traister, you know you’re in for a rough ride (New Republic, 5/27/15). The headline promises great things, but you know there’s got to be an unhealthy spin. And sure enough.

The article is actually an interview with CNN reporter Josh Levs. Levs looks to be one of those very well-meaning guys who woke up one day confronted with anti-dad inequality and figured he’d discovered terra incognita. And he’s touchingly excited about his “discovery.” As he understands it, he discovered anti-father bias and wants everyone to know. And he’s absolutely certain that once the rest of us unwashed masses learn the truth, via his book, we’ll “rise up” and defeat an evil system that marginalizes fathers. How he can manage to write a book about the subject and still not know that fathers and their advocates have been plowing this ground for decades remains a mystery. Has he ever heard of Warren Farrell? Glenn Sacks? Ned Holstein? Or literally thousands of others? Apparently not.

It seems Levs’s wife got pregnant and he asked the HR department of his employer, Time Warner, if he could have the same 10-week parental leave that the company offered its female employees. Eventually the answer came back, “Nope.” So he sued Time Warner for sex discrimination, as he should have. What the outcome of that suit was, Levs doesn’t say.

So, armed with his own experience, Levs decided to write a book, which, more or less, is the subject of Traister’s interview of him. I say “more or less,” because Traister’s so intent on her own agenda that she doesn’t do much listening to what Levs has to say. Both interviewer and interviewee are avid liberals who take on faith much that’s questionable.

I mean: Only 4.6 percent of CEOs in the S&P 500 are women. That is insane.

Actually it’s not. There’s far too much research into women’s choices about workplace and family to pretend that there should be parity between men and women among the ranks of CEOs. For that to be the case, women would have to spend a lot less time with their children and a lot more time climbing corporate ladders than they do. The same is true across all countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as the work of former London School of Economics, Dr. Katherine Hakim has demonstrated.

For example, does Levs know that, when Sweden introduced bountiful paid leave laws aimed at getting more women into the workplace, the wage gap between men and women actually increased? Women who formerly stayed home went to work alright, but took only part-time jobs so as to continue to spend as much time as possible with their kids. By being counted in the workforce for the first time, but holding only part-time jobs, those women’s wages actually caused a decline in the average earnings of working Swedish women. Ergo, the wage gap increased.

The point being that Levs and Traister take it as given that women, particularly mothers, are champing at the bit to go to work and that the only thing holding them back is an evil patriarchy bent on keeping women barefoot, pregnant and chained to the stove. As seems to be invariably the case, reality bears little resemblance to the feminist narrative.

But whereas Levs is truly serious (naïve, but serious) about gender equality helping fathers, Traister can only validate the notion if she can convince herself it helps women. So when Levs talks about fathers “entering a gender equity conversation,” Traister immediately demurs.

I agree, but it can get tricky to bring male voices in — there is the fear that those voices will become the dominant ones or even just the validating ones. 

Yes, she’s all for gender equality; she just doesn’t want male voices heard. Why are we not surprised? Meanwhile Levs seems to believe that Traister and the sisterhood might be on his side.

I just believe that anyone who frames this as a fight for our daughters and our sons, that they not have the same struggle, is going to see that we are all in this together. All of us have to stand up against sexism.

I thought that once. It seemed obvious to me that, when it came to parenting, equal parenting advocates and feminists were clearly in the same boat. After all, feminists have been arguing for decades that women should spend more time in the workplace, and equal parenting would do more than anything to accomplish exactly that. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that feminist organizations have no intention of supporting shared parenting bills. Indeed, whenever they take a position on such a bill, it’s invariably in opposition. Just last fall, the American Association of University Women opposed Measure 5 in North Dakota that would have equalized fathers and mothers in parenting post-divorce.

“All of us standing up against sexism?” Hardly. Levs’s notion only demonstrates that he’s a neophyte.

But what’s most remarkable about the interview is its wholesale exclusion of family courts and family laws from the discussion about gender equality in parenting. You’d think that would be its centerpiece, but no, there’s not a word. Levs lists the usual liberal suspects and lets it go at that. In addition to parental leave laws and a change in popular culture, “We need to talk about living wages; we need better access to transportation because so many people can’t access jobs to begin with. We need free, universal pre-K.”

Just how any of that would equalize fathers and mothers in children’s lives Levs doesn’t explain. Indeed, “free universal pre-K,” apart from being knee-bendingly expensive, would likely increase inequality between mothers and fathers. Wouldn’t custodial mothers simply use it as a replacement dad? And after all, when it comes to liberals’ adamant rejection of equal parenting bills, isn’t that in fact the point? Feminists have clamored for decades for getting fathers away from their children and their children’s mothers. It’s easy enough to see free pre-school as part of the package.

As I’ve said before in other contexts, when anyone claims to be promoting children’s well-being, gender equality or anything related to either and refuses to take on family courts and laws, there’s something fishy afoot. Specifically, that refusal looks very much like the person isn’t serious about change, that the status quo is in fact OK with them.

About Levs, I can’t be sure, because he’s clearly too naïve to have sorted out many of the issues about which he claims to be concerned. But the simple fact is that, without equal parenting laws, we’ll never have gender equality in the workplace. Former NOW president Karen DeCrow said the same thing way back in the early 80s. She was right then and the same holds true today.

Until fathers get equal or close to equal parenting time, mothers will continue to do the lion’s share of parenting meaning they’ll do less of the paid work. That’ll mean they earn less, advance less in their careers and save less for retirement than they would if they left half the parenting to dads. That equal parenting laws that would promote those quintessentially feminist goals are outright opposed by feminist organizations tells us a lot about the real agendas of those organizations, a fact Levs might want to consider.

And of course equal parenting laws would be one of the greatest gifts we could give kids and their fathers. The children would be healthier and happier with two parents actively involved in their lives and fathers would feel the validation of their parental roles so many of them say the current system deprives them of.

So it’s telling that Levs never mentions family courts and Traister doesn’t ask him to. The main point of the interview is for the two liberals to take a swipe at conservatives of the “family values” stripe. That’s fair enough and Levs is right; you really can’t pretend to embrace family values while devaluing dads.

But here’s another headline that would be equally applicable: “You cannot claim to have any ideas about gender equality unless you support equal parenting.” Don’t look for that message in any liberal publication any time soon. Support for equality means support for equal parenting post-divorce, whatever one’s political inclinations.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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