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February 10, 2007



Wonderful post as always Lisa. I always have to tell my husband he's not "babysitting", the kids are his responsibility too.


The model we seem stuck with is actually pretty recent. Before the industrial revolution, there was plenty of patriarchy and a gendered division of labor, but both men and women (and often children, extended family members and others) contributed to the welfare/income of the household. And I imagine that in many ways women were more responsible for raising children, but even that would have been a completely different set of activities (children grew up faster, did more work themselves, etc. Some historians suggest that even the idea of childhood is invented in the modern world).

The industrial revolution divided work from family, which created a spatial division of labor that was stark and gendered. It then extended childhood for many more years. It also increased urbanization and class divisions, which eventually led to suburbanization (in the late 19th century, not the 1950s) -- a wider spatial division between work and home, a starker set of gender expectations.
So these issues are pretty recent and specific to how we organize work and home. And those things are not inevitable.

On the other hand, I can't see many ways around them. But I agree that rejecting the premise of our "choices" is necessary.


YESSS! Do y'all see why I made this comment in the first place? To get Lisa to write stuff like this!

Thank you, Lisa, you said it way better than I could have. You completely saw where I was going with the need for the revolution to happen at home. (You also correctly read my insinuation that there are reactionary societal forces that encourage these "new" trends like homeschooling and overly-involved parenting - read mothering - to get women back in the home; these are the same forces that limit workplace flexibility and chip away at what little we've gained, like the FMLA. I vaguely remember from my college courses years and years ago that these forces are called patriarchy...) And I agree with you that raising children, especially boys, to think differently can be a much more meaningful way of changing the world than bringing in more accounts than any man in the office. But it still leaves us with a crappy status quo as far as the workplace goes, and maintains women's financial instability.

I have been mulling over the need for men to take equal responsibility for the home since way before I had kids; to me, it is the root of almost all of the problems confronting women and families today. You made so many wonderful connections between seemingly unrelated issues in this post, connections that I hadn't seen before. And of course your conclusion is straight on: fathers need to do their fucking share!

My personal biggest challenge is something even more nebulous than equity of the distribution of the workload: it's the mental side. The emotional investment, the brain space, reserved for the family and home. My husband is home half-time while I'm working full-time currently, so he's doing the grunt work and the hours of kid time that the vast majority of men don't. We chose these schedules consciously because we're both committed to balancing our involvement in the home, and I was home full-time for several months before that. But mentally, he is still struggling with being responsible for everything. I still have to point out that we're running out of diapers, or that there's a fun activity at the zoo for on Wednesday, or that we need to put in school applications, or that grocery shopping is more effective if you have a quasi-plan for menus for the week. I'm still in charge, just delegating the tasks. And implicit in that is that I'm better at running a home than he is - so the default position, if we start working equal hours or if I'm home more again, is that I take over completely.

I know that part of this problem is my judgmentalness and inability to cede control on domestic matters, but part of it is his lack of emotional preparation to take on this role of "mom", despite a willingness to do so - and both of these characteristics are a result of how girls and boys are raised to think. Changing the way both men and women think is crucial here - but it may be that the only way to change men (and women's) thinking about their family roles is for women to insist on men putting in the hours at home, whether they want to or not. Once men are actually around their kids more, my hope is that they will start to value that role and reshape their goals in life!

Um, okay, Lisa, I'll let you have your blog back now...

One thing missing here is that there is a benefit to being the one the kids rely on--mothers get to be the primary relationship in their kids lives for a long time. I, for one, wouldn't give that up for equality in the workplace.


Anon (above):

I read your comment and two things immediately sprang to mind.

1. I'm not advocating that mothers go to work if it works for them to stay home. However, if the SAHM is working 16 hour days taking care of kid, house, and home and the male partner is only working his job, say, 8 hours and then comes home and doesn't do much...therein lies a problem. Wouldn't it be nice for you to work a 12 hour day doing housework and childcare and your husband to pick up four hours along with his 8 hours at work? (With two of you, you'd be more efficient so you'd probably reduce your collective hours even more.) This shouldn't effect the mother child bond, I wouldn't think.

2. I think its fine (and maybe preferable) for kids to have more than one person to have a "primary" or bonded relationship to.

3. Good God! You wouldn't trade the relationship you have with your kids for work equality? Well probably no one would...but can't we have both? Is it so hard to imagine? That is what I'm going for here. Work equity and the ability to take care of our families.

Ok, so that was three things.


I see this with the moms' group I'm in, too. Half the time, I want to shake them and shout "leave your dumb husbands and become lesbians, duh!"

But all of us can't be lucky enough to be lesbians, I guess.

Funny thing is, Cole and I have a very polarized family dynamic where she brings home the bacon and I fry it up in the pan. But the difference between a female husband and a male husband (and I've had one of each and the male one was a self-proclaimed feminist and Great Guy) is that my female husband regards my unpaid labor as an equal (at least) contribution to the family economy. She has gotten more career opportunities and raises since marrying me than ever before in her life and she recognizes them as partly due to my quite traditional, wifely "assistance." That is, literal assistance with her writing, and just relieving her of various personal life burdens--especially worry and care for our child--and the extra nurture she gets from having me in her home, making healthy tasty meals and keeping the toilet clean, etc.

As for homeschooling and feminism, I think homeschooling could well contribute a lot to feminism as it puts women in direct charge of what their kids learn. I mean, hello! What power! Schools get kids 6 hours a day, 9 months of the year and they pump them full of patriarchy among other things good, bad and ugly. Just because Mommy works at home, spends time wtih children and "does for" them doesn't mean Mommy isn't working, contributing to society and quite possibly programming a little feminist brigade for the future.

Part of the problem here is also our society's incredible undervaluing of children such that the more time you spend with them the less prestige you have.

Anyway, great post, Lisa. I don't know who it is you imagine knows so very much more about this than you. You are a genius!



I have always wondered if the homophobic right wingers who think that sexual orientation is a choice might want to be careful what they wish for? For if it was, how many straight women might jump ship in order to have a wife/female partner.

I want a wife!


My husband, although terribly ill, is wonderful about helping me in any way he can around the house. I work full-time and he's on a medical leave of absence, so he has the time and energy to help, but he helped even when he was working, too. He does laundry. He cooks. (We pay someone else to clean.) He changes diapers and makes bottles. He washes dishes.

But, to echo Meredith's comment, despite all of that, he still does not allocate nearly as much "brain space" to family as I do. Granted, we have complications in our life because of his illness. But still. I am the one who knows about doctors' appointments, who researches options to deal with Riley's horrible teething, who makes all the baby food, etc. Part of my brain is thinking about my kids and my home ALL THE TIME. Husbands seem to have a way to turn that off in a way that no women--especially moms--that I know can.

Even before I had kids I commented to my friends that you can split up the chores and each be theoretically doing an equal share, but the woman in a male/female relationship always seems to bear the burden of thinking about it, organizing it, and getting it all to happen. It's tiring and oh-so-hard to change.

Re: workplace flexibility, this hits close to home for me. I am considering a job change to a place that would offer me more interesting work but less flexibility on hours. They want longer hours, more travel, and offer fewer work-at-home options. I'm not sure I can accept the job for those reasons. I wish employers could be more flexible.

Great post, Lisa.


OMG- What a great post. Seriously. You captured so much of the little things- which is in part what we women do, ah, the little things- those day-to-day inequities that no matter how hard a couple tries to eliminate, seem to always be there lurking around a corner. I'm going to link to this post. :)

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