Over at Sociological Images, Sociologist Lisa Wade reports on some data from Kathleen Gerson’s book The Unfinished Revolution:
“Here’s some great news. The vast majority of young people – about 80% of women and 70% of men across all races, classes, and family backgrounds — desire an egalitarian marriage in which both partners share breadwinning, housekeeping, and child rearing….
…Gerson asked her respondents what type of family they would like if, for whatever reason, they couldn’t sustain an equal partnership. She discovered that, while men’s and women’s ideals are very similar, their fallback positions deviate dramatically.
Men’s most common fallback position is to establish a neotraditional division of labor: 70% hope to convince their wives to de-prioritize their careers and focus on homemaking and raising children. Women? Faced with a husband who wants them to be a housewife or work part-time, almost three-quarters of women say they would choose divorce and raise their kids alone.”
Traditional gender narratives usually posit that men are naturally geared toward “breadwinning” while women are naturally geared toward child-rearing.
I wonder what people who believe in traditional gender narratives, theories of “gender complementarity,” and pseudo-scientific theories about “man’s preference for hunting and gathering while the woman stays home with the kids” think about these findings?
Are such people surprised that most women, too, express a preference for work rather than unpaid child-rearing? Do they believe women today have been “brainwashed” by feminism?
And what to make of men saying they desire an egalitarian marriage while falling back on non-egalitarian model? Have they been influenced by narratives telling them that the most authentic way to be a man is to be a provider for women and children?
These aren’t particularly new questions to ask.
Yet, I do think an interesting point is that data like this could suggest that many narratives about traditional heterosexual marriage, premised upon gender complementarity, often serve as the worst PR campaigns for marriage today.
Secondly, what I appreciate about being in a same-sex union is that the gender roles for my partner and I are not written in the way that they largely are with different-sex couples. In our vows, neither of us promised to “obey” the other and we did not have that historical baggage. No default position existed for whether or not I would (or should) take her name upon marriage. No default position exists for which of us will be more expected to continue (or stop) working when we have children.
Different-sex couples often can and do work out these issues in the context of their own relationships, but many people often still speak of the unspoken pressures and judgments that are made based upon their choices, pressures and judgments that exist precisely because people are not following the “proper” gender scripts. A benefit of same-sex marriage is, I believe, that it can serve as a model for negotiating some of these choices in relationships in a more gender-neutral way.
I also reckon that that’s not such a great PR campaign for same-sex marriage in some gender traditionalist crowds, though.