Source: “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving” by Jody Heymann With Kristen McNeill
Categories: Marriage, Marriage and Money, Motherhood
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Considering it’s the 20th anniversary of the unpaid FMLA, perhaps we could honor that legacy with a PAID FMLA! http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/news/2013/02/01/51567/the-family-and-medical-leave-act-is-synonymous-with-family-values/
Ha! Yes Amy Z. The graphic is truly amazing.
I did wonder though in poorer countries does the law really have an effect or is it just on the books?
And thanks to the awesome Stephanie Coontz for bringing this to Blankenhorn’s attention: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/opinion/sunday/why-gender-equality-stalled.html
Thanks, Philip. From the linked Coontz article:
This is where the political gets really personal. When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a “values stretch” — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by. This behavior is especially likely if holding on to the original values would exacerbate tensions in the relationships they depend on.
Gee, I wonder if this tends to lead to divorce? /rhetorical question
I don’t think this is what Coontz meant, but this quote could be applied in all sorts of different ways.
“When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a “values stretch” — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by.”
For example, when people can’t make dinner every night and hold down a full-time job, they may adjust their goals to the idea that you don’t need to cook dinner every night.
Or you could decide that your kid doesn’t really need you to pay attention to them.
This can lead to the problem of people who do “mom-work” not getting credit for it. The mom-work gets labeled unnecessary or busy work or undemanding, whatever. Or even not actually existing as in you don’t spend more time with your kid than if you left all day.
I’ll try to say more later, but my basic reaction to the Coontz article is that it gets a little one-sided at the end.
She seems to want to prove that really, women want to have careers, not stay home with kids. That the only obstacle is that careers are hard to combine with family needs – and have only gotten harder than in the past due to economic issues.
But it’s more complicated than that. Many women really want to spend extensive amounts of time with their children.
So often the statistics can be read more than one way. Most women say that having a career is important to them in their lives. Yes, but for some women what they would most prefer might actually be a career plus six to ten years at home full-time. Or a career that is part-time work.
This isn’t just semantics. It matters because we need more than just reducing work hours.
We need to make space for people with big holes in their resumes.
And when we look at other countries, I think we need to remember that maternity leave isn’t the only option. Paying a parent to care for children is another one that can be offered along with a paid leave.
Diane M., I’m not sure where you’re getting that from. Coontz explicitly says “American women have not abandoned the desire to combine work and family. Far from it.” Also, “Our goal should be to develop work-life policies that enable people to put their gender values into practice.” That doesn’t sound to me like she’s pushing the idea that women want nothing to do with their children.
I also can’t help but notice that you blew right by the points about fathers trying to balance time with their families – as if women were the only ones who are, or ought to, pay attention to their children.
@mythago – I find her suggestion that women don’t really know what they want to be offensive. The things you point to don’t really change that.
I am glad that she is suggesting women might want shorter work weeks and benefits for part-time jobs. I agree.
That doesn’t take away from my irritation at the idea that if women say they want something, they are just letting go of their values, but really they want something else.
I think what she is doing there is a form of gaslighting.
@mythago – again, I don’t think this particularly relevant to whether or not Coontz is really listening to what women say and giving them credit for being, you know, adults.
“I also can’t help but notice that you blew right by the points about fathers trying to balance time with their families – as if women were the only ones who are, or ought to, pay attention to their children.”
However, I think fathers should absolutely spend time with their children.
Surprisingly fathers married to at-home mothers spend more time with their children than fathers married to mothers who work full-time outside the home. This is true even when you control a bit for the kids’ ages.
As for splitting child care versus career, I think each couple should figure out how they want to do it. It’s not inherently better to do it one way or the other.
I do actually think that some people would prefer to split things differently if the work world were set up differently – if two part-time careers could make a living, for example.
It’s just very complicated. Some women would probably still want to split it up by being the primary caregiver with their partner being the primary wage earner.
Hmm. I don’t read Coontz as gaslighting or dismissing women’s testimony. Rather, her framework for analysis assumes that couples/families create coherent narratives to explain the values behind their decisions. Rather than saying “women don’t want what they say they want,” she’s actually saying, “when you listen with care to the decision-making process women recount, they tell a more complicated story than the end-narrative would suggest.” It’s appropriate to then ask why the discrepancy is there (between the process and the end decision justification), to account for it. Coontz’s hypothesis is that couples are frustrated by the options presented to them in balancing work and non-work life, but that they attempt to square their values with the less-than-optimal solutions they have forged. The greater the “values stretch,” the greater the stress. For BOTH partners, regardless of gender.
I think it’s also important to note that women from different social classes have very different constraints and/or expectations. It is a highly unrealistic expectation for women in my demographic to expect to leave the workforce for an extended period of time, and tax incentives won’t solve that—men have too strong a preference for full-time working wives. Leaving the workforce for homemaking is the most surefire path to poverty a working class woman can make short of dropping out of high school.
@Diane M., where does Coontz say that women don’t know what they want or are not, you know, adults? You seem very determined to read her as saying that women shouldn’t and don’t want to be at home with their children, ever, and I’m not sure why. As annajcook points out, Coontz is talking about how men and women struggle with reconciling what they would like to do with what they can do, and I’d add “what they’re supposed to want to do.” We do not live in a culture where it’s acceptable for a woman to say she isn’t good with babies and got back to her job as soon as she could.
I’m curious as to the source of your comment about how much time fathers spend with their children.
Re: Coontz article, the whole premise is framed with her typical bias, one can’t escape it. She frames the whole issue as “gender equality” and thus argues that anything short of identical roles/contributions of moms and dads is unequal. You may not find those exact words, but that is exactly the prism. I never see this premise defended, it is always offered as a given (I’m sure I’ve missed some exceptions, but they must be very rare), and those who accept it as a given do not see the bias. I challenge it is a given…it is merely a perspective, not a fact. One can certainly frame the debate how one wishes, but others do not have to participate within that framing–or are at least on solid ground when the challenge the framing.
I also can’t help but wonder how feminism has played into the lack of paid maternal leave. It is easy to point the finger at conservatives for it, but sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for, you might just get it. If the feminist approach had encompassed more of a valuing of unpaid family work instead of using paid labor as the gold standard for life achievement (no, it is not about giving women options–that’s a very moderate feminist perspective, or old fashioned), society might be more on board with rewarding unpaid labor with paid leave. It would at least be an aspect of the cultural component of policy, though I don’t know if it would be enough to overtake the more conservative fiscal approach to this policy.
Re: She frames the whole issue as “gender equality” and thus argues that anything short of identical roles/contributions of moms and dads is unequal. You may not find those exact words, but that is exactly the prism.
Yes, Scott. Because the liberal-feminists of our day seem to believe that gender is merely a social construction, that women and men are identical and undifferentiated in any meaningful way, and therefore any situation in which they end up doing different things, or excelling in different regards, is an invention of the dreaded patriarchy, and must be abolished.