What Women and Men Want
A series of important essays on work/family dynamics was posted in a special issue of American Prospect this week. The essays cover the contributions and aspirations of fathers, the struggle for parity in women's wages and the 'mommy penalty', fallacies of the 'opt-out' revolution, and a great business case for flextime benefits.
Today, however, I want to draw your attention to one of the essays entitled 'What Do Women and Men Want?' by Kathleen Gerson (author of Hard Choices, No Man's Land and The Time Divide, and professor of sociology at New York University).
Dr. Gerson paints a picture of today's young adults based on extensive interviews she conducted in 1998 to 2003. These individuals want equally sharing marriages. They do not, by and large, want traditional 'opt-out' arrangements. Both men and women want equality in breadwinning and childraising, and they want lifelong committed relationships.
But, she says, they can't get it so easily (ah...the challenges of equally shared parenting). Workplaces are not ready just yet to offer the flexible hours that make equal sharing easy, part-time jobs don't pay well or offer decent benefits to many people, etc. So, most young parents give up and settle for their fall-back option. It turns out, however, that the fall-back option most women want is different than the one most men would choose.
Women's fall-back option is independence or bust. They don't want to be financially dependent on their husbands while raising the kids. Men's fall-back option is a 'neo-traditional' arrangement, where the man is the breadwinning specialist and the woman gets to 'choose' if she wants a career or not but retains the homemaker specialist title. The result, Dr. Gerson warns, is that a new gender divide is forming that can undermine marriage itself.
The solution, per Dr. Gerson, is to make it easier to equally share. This would involve "creating flexible workplaces, ensuring equal economic opportunity for women, outlawing discrimination against all parents, and building child-friendly communities with plentiful, affordable, and high-quality child care".
All I can say to this is 'right on'. Let's not settle for our fall-back options. Let's push against the barriers at work and in society to get to what we really want for our family models. Some of us can do this today, and for others it may take larger efforts to get jobs that support this. The heart of EquallySharedParenting.com is about helping more people get there. Sacrifices will need to be made, no doubt. Someday, I hope these sacrifices will be minimal, but today I can tell you that they are worth the reward.