July 30, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
It’s hard to know which is worse, this article or the study it reports on (Yahoo, 7/28/15). Whichever one ultimately wins the race to the bottom, both are pretty bad.
The topic is the same one that commentators have so often tried and failed to effectively deal with — fathers and mothers and the work/family balance. Try as they might, many people opining on that subject just can’t manage to wrap their minds around the most basic concepts — that part of the work/family balance is work. And sure enough, the Yahoo piece announces its bias right from the start, i.e. the headline.
Why Men Become Sexist After Birth of their First Baby
It seems an Australian academic did a survey of the attitudes of 1,800 new parents about paid vs. domestic work.
When Australian social scientist Janeen Baxter studied 1,800 new parents as part of her work with the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Queensland, she found that after men became fathers for the first time, they “became more consistently traditional in their views on gender roles,” especially with respect to motherhood, division of housework and caregiving.
That would be interesting if it were true, but it’s not. As the study itself shows, men’s attitudes in fact remained exactly the same pre- and post-infant.
“Women showed a 4 percent increase in how supportive they were of the idea that ‘a working mother can establish just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work for pay,’” according to The Independent, which reports that on the flip side, men in Baxter’s study “became on average 0.1 percent less supportive of that idea.”
That’s right, a change of 0.1% is, statistically, no change at all and, in any event, well within the survey’s margin of error. So what the study actually shows, to the extent that it shows anything, is that men’s attitudes about their partners’ roles remain the same from before the birth of their first child to afterward.
But of course, that wouldn’t make for much of a headline, would it? The writer, 20-something Jennifer O’Neill, was so eager to display her own sexism that she ignored the fact that the men studied weren’t sexist at all, at least not in the way claimed. She just said they were and, I suppose, hoped no one would notice the facts as stated by her own article. Strange, very strange.
Having established that the men studied were not in fact sexist, but rather maintained the same attitudes about work and family before and after the birth of their child, O’Neill went on to let us know how couples can solve this non-problem that’s not facing them.
And there are ways to fight these forces. Licensed marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer tells Yahoo Parenting there are three steps couples can take to avoid falling into what he calls “detrimental patterns of gender stereotypes.” The first is simply being cognizant of what’s happening. “Parents need to be aware of the facts surrounding the delegating of parental duties,” he explains…
Then there’s “the talk.” “Parents really need to discuss how their parenting roles will be delegated before their child is born,” he explains…
The final step is follow-through. “Do what you agree to do,” he advises.
That’s sound advice for couples on pretty much any subject, whether or not there’s a problem; talk about the issue, decide what you’re going to do and then do it. If Mom wants to work 40 hours a week following the birth, Dad’s OK with that and the two figure out who’s going to care for the baby and when, I’m not one to quibble with their decisions as long as everyone agrees and the child is properly cared for.
But one of the serious problems with deciding ahead of time and then “following through,” is that people change when children are born. Mothers in fact can change radically during pregnancy. The pre-pregnant mother may be absolutely devoted to sharing paid work and childcare equally with her husband. But the post-birth mother may want to quit work and spend 100% of her time with the child.
That of course is very common for the good and sufficient reason that the parenting hormones her body produced during pregnancy argue long and loudly for her to spend all her time in childcare. Of course many women ignore those voices, but mostly because the realities of their financial situation require them to. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that about 6 million women in this country are stay-at-home mothers versus under 200,000 fathers.
And those figures drastically undercount SAHMs. The definition used by the Census Bureau requires that a person must not have a paying job and be primarily a caregiver to his/her own children for 12 consecutive months in order to be termed a stay-at-home parent. So if Mom works one day at Walmart during those 12 months, she’s not an SAHM. By any more liberal definition, there are countless more SAHMs than the Census Bureau acknowledges.
And among mothers who are working, a whopping 84% of them say they’d work less if they could.
So who’s the sexist here? The simple truth is that, when we examine what people do instead of what they say they believe, we find an embrace of traditional gender roles that’s changed little over time. Yes, more women are in college, more women practice law or medicine, etc. than ever before, and men are caring more for children, so there’s been a change. But in countless studies and databases, we find men still doing the lion’s share of paid work and women still doing most of the childcare.
Fifty-two percent of U.S. workers and 63% of full-time workers are men. Just 56% of women over the age of 20 are in the workforce, i.e. employed or actively looking for work. Among married couples, only 13% of women earn more than their husbands. Fifty-five years ago, that figure was 8%.
And time and again, in study after study, we find mothers dropping out of paid work to care for their kids. When we look at women’s biological connection to their children, or the establishment of sex roles over millions of years of hominid evolution, that’s no surprise at all. Recently – very recently — elites began telling us that human sex roles are oppressive, outdated and should be abandoned wholesale. But what’s gotten us here, what’s preserved us a species over countless millennia, is proving to be harder to cast aside than those elites would like. We the People have yet to be convinced.
Of course, Jennifer O’Neill knows none of this. She doesn’t know the data on work/family balance, doesn’t know that, if anyone, it’s mothers who are enforcing those traditional gender roles, and apparently she’s never heard of biology. No, for her, new fathers not changing their attitudes about women’s roles in the family and at work is sexist, but mothers’ doing a fraction of the paid work their husbands do is… well, something else. Actually, it’s nothing else, since that fact, that’s true across all 39 of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, never makes an appearance in O’Neill’s Yahoo piece. Again I ask, who’s the sexist here?
Despite the blandishments of feminists and others, traditional sex roles are neither good nor bad, any more than contemporary ones are. Whatever a family chooses that works for all concerned shouldn’t be second-guessed. But what traditional roles have going for them is the pragmatic sanction — they’ve worked far too long to be tossed out like yesterday’s trash. And that of course is why they’re so durable.
What is important though is that we stop doing what family courts so often do — assume that children with parents who’ve chosen traditional roles need to lose their father when Mom and Dad split up. The mere fact that Mom did most of the hands-on parenting while Dad earned the money to allow her to do so shouldn’t be used to deprive little Andy or Jenny of a father. Children bond with both parents early on, need both parents in their lives and suffer the loss of either.
None of that has anything to do with a 20-something’s sexist idea of sexism, but it’s what’s best for kids.
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