Hymowitz: Do Women Really Want Equality?

October 4, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Over the years the fact has impressed itself on me time and again – despite decades of feminist effort to rid us of sex roles, we the people aren’t going along.  Particularly since the red dawn of Second Wave feminism, the assumption has been that, once society makes it acceptable for women to do “men’s” jobs and men to do “women’s” jobs, then men and women will move out of their old stereotypical pursuits and sex roles will disappear.  Men, in that scenario, will become nurses and teachers and women will become doctors, lawyers and CEOs.  Presumably they’ll also become construction workers, miners and commercial fisherpersons as well.  Indeed, Simone de Beauvoir once categorically stated that women should not be allowed to be stay-at-home mothers.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the feminist Utopia; men and women chose their own traditional sex roles over those of the other sex.  It’s been over 50 years since The Feminine Mystique came out and I’ve about given up waiting for women to start behaving like men or vice versa.  Fifty years on, jobs are still astonishingly gendered.  The hoary old “women’s” jobs – teaching, nursing, retail sales and secretary/clerical jobs – are still overwhelmingly held by women.  And of course construction and mining jobs and countless other “men’s” jobs are still held by men.

A few categories have evened out.  The medical and legal professions are fast becoming gender balanced, but still overwhelmingly, jobs requiring significant physical exertion, particularly outdoors, are held by men.  Women don’t seem to want those jobs.  They rarely apply for them or train themselves so they could.  For what are I suspect different reasons, men aren’t rushing to be teachers or work behind a department store counter.

But job categories don’t explain all the differences between men and women in the workplace.  No, another major dividing line between the sexes is how much they work.  Not only do fewer women work at all in the United States than do men, but of those who do, a whopping 27% work part-time.  About five million more men than women are employed in this country and only 11% of them work part-time.  And even when women work full-time (defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as 35 hours a week or more) they work about 10% less than do men who work full-time.

All of that and more cause Kay Hymowitz to inquire in this article “Do Women Really Want Equality?” (Time, 9/4/13).  The answer is that, in legitimate ways, of course they do, and they should.  By ‘legitimate ways,’ I mean they want the legal rights men have and the social and cultural respect they earn.  That is, they want the opportunities to do the things men do, but not the obligation to be like men.  Fair enough.

Now let me be clear.  There are many areas of life in which women either don’t want equality with men or, if they do, they’re keeping the fact a closely-guarded secret.  After all, when was the last time you heard a woman argue that women should have to register with the Selective Service System, be drafted in the event of a military draft or be compelled to serve in combat?  Yes, those voices have remained pretty quiet.

I don’t hear women clamoring to be treated like men in criminal courts.  Study after study shows that men are more likely than women to be arrested, charged and denied bail than are women.  Once they’ve been found guilty or pleaded that way, they’re more likely to receive a custodial sentence.  And whatever sentence they receive, it’s more severe than those meted out to women, all things being equal.  If women want that, they’re not saying so.

Nor do we hear women’s outrage at family courts’ failure to treat them like men.  That’s not hard to understand given the fact that fathers, even the fittest of the fit, are routinely kicked out of their children’s lives only to become mere wallets, i.e. sources of income to mothers.  Again, if women are calling for that, I haven’t heard them.

About 75% of the homeless in the U.S. are men.  I don’t see women rushing to the barricades demanding their equal share of cardboard boxes or sidewalk space.

At last count there was one domestic violence shelter for male victims in the country.  I don’t hear women calling for the number of their DV shelters to be similarly reduced.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Hymowitz managed to overlook the many ways in which men hold the short end of the equality stick.  She assumed that women’s refusal to demand equality with men necessarily meant they were content with being bottom dog.  Not so.  Far from it.

Still, Hymowitz has a point.

In fact, there’s good reason to think that women don’t want the sort of equality envisioned by government bureaucrats, academics and many feminist advocates, one imagined strictly by the numbers with the goal of a 50-50 breakdown of men and women in C-suites, law-school dean offices, editorial boards and computer-science departments; equal earnings, equal work hours, equal assets, equal time changing diapers and doing the laundry…

This hints at the problem with the equality-by-the-numbers approach: it presumes women want absolute parity in all things measurable, and that the average woman wants to work as many hours as the average man, that they want to be CEOs, heads of state, surgeons and Cabinet heads just as much as men do. But a consistent majority of women, including those working full time, say they would prefer to work part time or not at all; among men, the number is 19%. 

Her point is that, despite decades of non-stop proselytizing, women and men turn out to be different.  They value different things, emphasize different things, spend their time differently.  Those differences are probably less culturally instilled than they are products of biology and millennia of experience across most cultures in most times.  In brief, sex roles are more resilient than feminists ever imagined.

And of course that’s nowhere as apparent as in parenting.  When it comes to deciding how to parent, men and women tend to differ.  Men are more physical with their children and women more verbal.  Mothers tend to keep children close to them while fathers are more inclined to let them explore, make mistakes, fall down, etc.  Both of those ways of parenting are important for children to become the type of adults society favors, i.e. responsible, productive and averse to crime and drugs.

Given a choice, women, far more than men, would prefer to stay home and raise their children.  Men tend to opt for bringing home the bacon.  And of course statistics bear out those choices.  Almost six million women are stay-at-home mothers versus fewer than 200,000 stay-at-home fathers according to the Census Bureau.

The problem with family courts is that they fail to see both types of parenting a legitimate.  The mother is the favored parent because she feeds the child; the father is considered “uninvolved” or “uncaring” because his income buys the food.  That’s true despite the fact that, as the father sees it, he’s toiling in the rat race in order to support his child.  He sees what he’s doing as parenting, and of course it is.  How would the child fare if both parents did what Mom does?

But courts are eager to conclude that only the hands-on parent is the real one, despite the undeniable fact that the child needs what Dad provides at least as much as it needs what Mom does.

For reasons I can only guess at, state legislatures are bound and determined that, in every household, there is one and only one parent who merits custody.  In cases in which the parents are both fit and loving, the court’s effort to reward one and marginalize the other can be truly bizarre.  The hair-splitting that occurs for the sole purpose of kicking one parent out of a child’s life and burdening the other with almost 100% of the childcare obligation is something to behold.

Why do women not want the type of “by the numbers” equality Hymowitz writes about?  Largely because they prefer caring for their children to joining the corporate grind.  Countless studies show women of all educational levels opting out of work when they’re able to, for the purpose of staying home with the kids.

It’s an understandable desire.  A lot of guys would like to do the same thing.  But whatever the case, Hymowitz is right; neither women nor men want equality.  Like the pyramids, it looks like sex roles are going to be around long after we’re gone.

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