On Naming, Effort, and Our First Bad Review
I was trolling the blogosphere the other day, and came across...our book's first bad review. It was bound to happen. I'm actually pretty amazed that it took so long. If the bad review had been about our writing, I would have had to fight my own typical demons - but it wasn't. And if the bad review had been about, well, the usual criticisms of ESP - the scorekeeping, the exact 50/50 split, the impossibility - I'd be ready with plenty of easy evidence to the contrary. But it wasn't. In fact, the beef in this particular review was different. It was this:
"So why didn't I like the book, apart from being hard to please? I suppose it's the danger that equality may become just another parenting lifestyle. The family meetings, the book, the lifestyle, seems like, no matter how worthwhile the results, it can't help but take the focus off the changes that would make the ability to parent equally something we could take for granted."
If I'm interpreting things correctly, this reviewer is bothered by the very idea that there is a book (never mind this whole website) that treats gender equal parenting as a specific lifestyle worthy of having a name, an approach, a set of goals. It rubs her the wrong way, just as, perhaps, one might wish that we didn't need to declare ourselves to be Democrats or Republicans or Independents (or other less common named political types). Can't we just all vote for 'good governing'? Can't we all just parenting as equals without having to make a big deal about it? And worst still is the fear that by naming our ideal of parenting equality, we are then exposing its opposite - in all those other lifestyles.
I get this reviewer's worries on many levels. Back when we were just beginning to write the first pages of our book, it was gently suggested by others that we make Equally Shared Parenting (in capitals) a registered trademark. Bleh. It didn't take us more than a few seconds to decline. We didn't want to own this way of life! It isn't a commodity, to be sold to the consumer (despite the fact that a book is of course a purchased item). Our mission has always been to share it with others, pool the collected wisdom of so many who have already made it their own, and inspire those who wish to walk in this direction. So I know that feeling of not wanting equally shared parenting to be packaged up for the shelf of lifestyle choices.
But the problem with not naming it, and not explaining it or dissecting it or sharing how one might embrace it, is that for the most part, very few couples are in fact living as equal parents. It is naive to think that equally shared parenting (by any name or unnamed) will simply happen - especially in a social, workplace, and financial culture that so powerfully and stealthily pulls us towards continued inequality. It isn't easy, even for Marc and me, to maintain our equality over time; it takes remarkable consciousness.
Another thing this reviewer seems to be saying is that our book might take the spotlight away from the necessary cultural or workplaces changes that would make equal parenting an easy option. By focusing, as our messages does, on the role of the individual couple in creating and owning a life of equality and balance, we aren't beating the drum of so many others out there who are fighting for family-friendly governmental or corporate change. Ah, but on this criticism I will wholeheartedly object. I firmly believe that all lasting change happens from more than one angle. Yes, we could all use outside forces helping us find well-paying jobs with flexible schedules and high quality childcare options. But if we don't also work alongside these causes to create their demand, and walk the talk in our own homes as we set up who does the dishes and whose career takes precedence, we've lost the war. Marc and I are huge advocates for external change, and even huger supporters of an examined life.
Our bad-review writer concludes that "For equality to be real, it needs to be a given, effortless, not something we "work on" in the way we work on improving our recycling or turning off the phone more. It has to be built into the infrastructure of our lives." Effortless? Oh, no my dear. Even love isn't effortless - quite the opposite. It is instead worth every bit of effort. As for building it into the infrastructure of our lives - yes, exactly. Here I wonder if she actually read our book. Making equality a foundation of our lives is one of its key principles.
All in all, I'm really glad I found this review. It has given me a lot to ponder and I appreciate so much of what the author describes. I would love more than anything to know that the time has come when our book, or any book tackling gender equality, need not be written. That time is not today, and probably not in my lifetime. Perhaps someday when I'm long dead, someone will pick up a copy of our book and laugh about the old days when such a idea was ever novel. I hope he or she will be able to hear me laughing right along!