Thursday, June 12, 2008

Beyond Opting Out

As I sit down to revise Mojo Mom I am digging in by starting on my chapters about relationships, work and family. Even as I build on years of studying these issues, relevant new reporting is coming out at a dizzying pace.

Earlier in the week I was writing about gender roles and power dynamics, when Tara Parker-Pope reported in her Well column really interesting new research about what heterosexual couples can learn from same-sex partnerships.

Then today, just as I was thinking about how we can rewrite the "Opt-out narrative" to more accurately reflect women's lives, Lisa Belkin herself published a New York Times Magazine cover story that suggests that she is ready to develop a nuanced sequel to the storyline she ignited back in 2003.

In her new feature When Mom and Dad Share It All -- Adventures in Equal Parenting Belkin highlights how gender roles lead to typical unequal parenting in the first place:

The obstacles to equity are enmeshed and interwoven, almost impossible to separate from one another. Deutsch did a study of 150 couples who tried sharing to various degrees, and her results suggest that social norms play a large part in why so few marriages are truly equal. Choices are made in a context. It is rare that you choose something you have never seen. So men who do more around the house than their fathers and spend as much time with children as their neighbors feel that they are doing their share and their wives feel grateful to have such involved partners....

Messages, loud and soft, direct and oblique, reinforce contextual choice. “A pregnant woman and her husband,” Deutsch says, “how many people have asked her if she is going to go back to work after the baby? How many have asked him?”

Looked at through that lens, what seems like an external institutional barrier to equal sharing becomes something else entirely. He makes more money than she does, so of course she should be the one to step back her career; she has a more flexible line of work than he does, so of course she should be the one to work part time. Those may seem like choices, but they have their roots in social norms.


Belkin's article is nuanced and worth reading in its entirety.

You'll hear much more on this topic from me in a new chapter to be added to the forthcoming edition of Mojo Mom.

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