Talking with Pepper Schwartz
After reading Pepper Schwartz's inspiring book Love Between Equals, I started to wonder what the author thinks of equally shared parenting in 2007 as compared to the mid-90s when the book was published. What has changed? Is she still a believer?
So I reached out to her to find out. Dr. Schwartz quickly and graciously shared her thoughts with me, and I'd like to pass them on to you. Pepper Schwartz is a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, and renowned author/speaker/columnist on issues of gender and sexuality. Her most recent book, Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love and the Sensual Years, will be released in July.
Q. Since you wrote Love Between Equals, what do you think has changed about American society's interest/acceptance of peer marriages with children? Are these marriages more or less likely now?
A. I think they are more likely. More women are earning bigger salaries, and sometimes the woman's job will be the most important income to a couple. Therefore more couples now have a flexible approach to childcare - often assigning it to the person with the more flexible career or to the lower earner - but switching back and forth as circumstances permit.
Q. What are the main barriers to true gender-equal marriages (with children) today? Are they primarily external things (such as lack of flexible work, poor paternity leave policies) or internal issues (such as the stigma of a male who steps off the fast track to be a parent, or gatekeeping by mothers)?
A. I think there still are multiple barriers. First, an interior one is the idea that the major breadwinning role is by design male, and that when push comes to shove, women should be the primary parent. Certainly women are not socialized to imperil male income by sharing domestic duties, and parents on both sides would exert pressure against it. Second, there are practicalities because of custom. Most men do not babysit or know a lot about children - having women raise them is the default position. Third, there are inadequate public policies - few give enough leave to mothers, even fewer, to fathers. When fathers take available leaves they are usually thought of as "not serious" contenders in the work force.
Q. Do you think that couples can take a traditional marriage and change it to a peer one? Would a man agree to such a move mostly because it is the 'fair' thing to do, or could he come to understand instead that it actually gives him a fun and balanced life?
A. I think people are adaptable. When circumstances change, people readjust their thinking. A man might change because his wife now has a fantastic job, or at least one that is important to family welfare. Some men change because they realize they want a better relationship with their children - or a child needs them in some special way. Other men start to find less satisfaction at work while their partners find more and it seems like a reasonable change. Other men, vested in their marriages, realize their wives are unhappy and want to save the relationship by changing the terms of it in a way their wives will appreciate. Life has a way of changing people's minds...
Q. What can men or women look for in the dating world to pick a partner who willingly and happily wants to set up a peer marriage later on?
A. They should do peer dating! They should share the cost of a date, so that they walk the walk as opposed to just having liberal ideologies. Men should have a strong desire for equity, and for involved parenting; women should want to share the economic responsibility of the couple and want a partner who is a strongly engaged, committed father who wants a daily relationship with his child. Potential mates should have a history of dating "peers".
Q. Finally, is there a governmental or corporate change that could boost equal marriages into the mainstream? What will it take for peer marriages to become commonplace?
A. Flexible time, job sharing, and other ways to be a valuable and promotable employee even if some childcare responsibilities require absences or work done at home. Parental leaves the first year of birth should be protected for both men and women so that discrimination, if proved, could cause a corporation to become liable for any income lost. Certainly good onsite childcare (and infant care) and sick child care would help both men and women to be peer parents.
It's me, Amy, again. In hearing Dr. Schwartz's responses above, I feel like America is onto something good. More and more women are earning salaries equal and above their husbands', and Generation X parents who value time over money are ideal candidates for the adaptations she describes. The looming worker shortage will force corporations (and perhaps government) change to makes flexible jobs more available, paternity leaves protected rights, and good childcare a possibility for more families. I'm hopeful, too, that there are more peer-minded men and women in the dating arena right now, just waiting to meet each other and make equal sharing real. Let's make it happen!