29 Jan 2007, Comments Off on Further Asshattery

Further Asshattery

Author: Helen

Oz Conservative Mark Richardson plays the old favourite, “Has feminism failed women?” To which, of course, the answer is always yes, yes, yes. Richardson proves this irrefutably by pointing to a study with a sample of … one, in that respected peer reviewed journal, Marie Claire.

Image from http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2007/01/22/anti-choicers-bring-the-crazy-and-the-misogyny-and-the-racism-blogging-for-choice-part-3/
The sample of one in the article is Danielle, whose life has undeniably been sad. From the get-go we know that feminism is to blame for all of it, because first off, she didn’t meet a man she wanted to start a family with until she was 35, and if it wasn’t for feminism she would have gritted her teeth and married that guy who bounced little flecks of saliva off her when he got excited, voted DLP and laughed like “ahurrrrr, ahurrrr, ahurrrrr”. (Hopefully, the resulting children wouldn’t have resembled their Dad too much.) Or her parents would have chosen him for her.

No, the opportunity was lost, because as we know, no woman missed out on marriage and children in Victorian or Edwardian times, only since the sisterhood was in flower.

Then Danielle did have a child and he/she was Downs Syndrome, and as you all know feminism is responsible for Downs. She was shocked, “being unaware of the difficulties of pregnancy in later life.” Which is not sheer common or garden ignorance, as you might think, but that damned feminism again. Because feminists, and only feminists, have the responsibility to warn women of the increasing rates of DS as we age.

Danielle descended into depression and sadness, describing herself as a “weeping, empty vessel”. We also learn that partner “Rob” was “understandably reluctant to keep pursuing fertility treatment”, which is definitely feminism at work somehow (I haven’t worked it out yet, but I’ll keep digging).

(Corrections 30/01/07): Amazingly enough, while this was going on, the wonderful “Rob” (who she describes as the love of her life) was cheating on her with a “happy, slim, successful, creative woman”. Of course, as many cheatees are encouraged to do, she blamed herself. “Although Rob’s behaviour was never anything other than selfless and loyal, I felt that I had ‘denatured’ our relationship.” Although the article as quoted by Richardson made it seem as though Rob was cheating on her, apparently the “happy, slim, successful, creative woman™” was a description of her as she was, so he wasn’t two-timing her as far as we know. He merely walked out of the marriage because he received a faulty bill of goods, not as advertised. Colour me still unimpressed.

If your world view doesn’t allow for a husband who is cheating on you walks out of the marriage when you become depressed and gain weight to be described as “never anything other than selfless and loyal”, then you are a berloody feminist for sure. At least you’re in the reality-based community, which is just as bad. Unless Richardson thinks that shaky or shallow relationships were invented by feminism, or feminists think such relationships are a good thing. Or something.

Richardson:


So what went wrong? Why did Danielle end up in such unhappy circumstances? The men of my generation won’t be surprised by her answer:

Danielle:


The trouble was, throughout my 20s and early 30s, my relationships with men were short-lived and problematic. I was always attracted to exciting, but emotionally unavailable men, who were anything but suitable husband – let alone father – material.

Because feminists have been pointing out for so long that exciting but emotionally unavailable men are the way to go. What bollocks – these men have been beloved by many deluded women in the last century, notably the ones of more “traditional” bent, whose idea is that they’ll “tame” or “retrain” them somehow. About such men, feminism has had little to say, as the focus is more on men who’ll share the unpaid work and parenthood.

Ungrateful Danielle still didn’t really wake up to the noxious effect feminism had had on her life, though. Her solution-in-hindsight looks suspiciously, to Richardson, like a rejection of patriarchal values.

Danielle:


I still bitterly regret not having had children much sooner. I wasted precious time in my 20s and 30s waiting for the love of my life, when I should have just got on with it – whether or not the right man was by my side. He could have come later.

Richardson:


Her “solution”, if generally adopted, would only drive the wedge between men and women more deeply, making things even more difficult for future generations.

You couldn’t drive a wedge between me and the likes of “Rob” deeply enough for my liking.

Comments (0)

  • You’re right, of course, that a sample of one doesn’t prove anything. It’s not difficult, though, to show that an unusually large number of women of Danielle’s generation missed out on marriage and motherhood. I’ve previously cited research showing that 41% of Scottish graduate women aged 45 to 49 are childless, and that 30% of English and 34% of Australian graduate women have similarly missed out on motherhood. This compares to 10% of women who didn’t have children in the 1950s and 60s.

    I could, of course, just continue to cite cold statistics, but Danielle’s story made clear the personal cost behind what had happened.

    As for Rob, you’ve misread his role in the story. When Danielle says he fell in love with a happy, slim, successful, creative woman, she means herself before the misery of her infertility. He didn’t cheat on her.

    In what way is feminism responsible for the fate of women like Danielle? The feminist culture of the 1980s and 90s emphasised female autonomy, and hence the single girl lifestyle was stretched out as far as it would go, to some indefinite time in a woman’s 30s.

    This meant, first, that 20 something women were more likely, like Danielle, to choose unsuitable men who wouldn’t represent a serious commitment. It also meant that women like Danielle were leaving childbearing to the last dwindling years of their fertility.

    I thought at the time that it was a fatally shortsighted lifestyle choice, and I was surprised when nobody, including the feminists who claimed to stand for women, voiced their concern.

    Even now I’m not sure that feminists are especially interested in what has happened to women like Danielle. It’s off the feminist radar.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    No. And there’d have to be a pretty fair-sized sort of a wedge between me and Mark as well, before I was any kind of a happy puppy. No doubt feminism is to blame.

    Great post, Helen.

  • kate says:

    Clearly it’s the fault of feminists that men in their 20s don’t want to commit. Clearly it is also the fault of feminists that women and men who are now in their 30s were the first to accrue HECS debts, which make it harder for couples who have got together to survive financially and have babies.

    Great post Helen, can’t say any more Mark, this 20-something feminist has to get back to the baby.

  • Helen says:

    You’re right, of course, that a sample of one doesn’t prove anything. It’s not difficult, though, to show that an unusually large number of women of Danielle’s generation missed out on marriage and motherhood…I could, of course, just continue to cite cold statistics, but Danielle’s story made clear the personal cost behind what had happened.

    A consumer society that proffers an expensive ring, a house deposit and a lavish wedding as the norm before y0u can even think of the M-word; a society of adultescent males keen to keep their bachelorette lifestyle as long as they can (many of them living with Mum); HECs; dwindling housing affordability; Ebbing away of permanent positions with holiday and sick pay and predictable hours in exchange for multifarious short term “contracts” with no future; I could go on.

    You do have a point in one respect – Feminism has allowed women the choice to marry or not to marry, and often they don’t because the Robs of this world (not to mention the pimply hopeful Mum would have foisted upon you) are simply not as attractive now that we don’t simply require a meal ticket, as in Jane Austen’s day. Some men actually find that a good thing, believe it or not. Once in the married state, other studies (which I will chase up) have found that – surprise – there’s more in it for the man than for the woman. Woman still does lion’s share of the housework and emotional family work, but brings in a paycheque as well. Sweet. Not quite such a good deal for the woman.

    As for Rob, you’ve misread his role in the story. When Danielle says he fell in love with a happy, slim, successful, creative woman, she means herself before the misery of her infertility. He didn’t cheat on her.

    So, he didn’t cheat on her. He only discarded her because she became clinically depressed and gained weight.

    You can’t have it both ways – if you’re going for the traditional marriage model, then his behaviour was equally reprehensible. (It’s supposed to be “for better or for worse”, remember?) If you think it was OK to abandon her because she was clinically depressed, then what if she had abandoned him for the same reason? I’ll bet you any money it’d be a sign of the corroding effect of teh feminism on traditional values.

    In what way is feminism responsible for the fate of women like Danielle? The feminist culture of the 1980s and 90s emphasised female autonomy, and hence the single girl lifestyle was stretched out as far as it would go, to some indefinite time in a woman’s 30s.
    This meant, first, that 20 something women were more likely, like Danielle, to choose unsuitable men who wouldn’t represent a serious commitment. It also meant that women like Danielle were leaving childbearing to the last dwindling years of their fertility.
    I thought at the time that it was a fatally shortsighted lifestyle choice, and I was surprised when nobody, including the feminists who claimed to stand for women, voiced their concern.

    Feminism, above all, has stood to empower women to make their own choices and not have them made for them by the family, by men, and by brutal circumstances that are unnecessary in a postindustrial world. What feminism does NOT promise is to make the world nice for all women evermore, with a pony as well. If you make your own choices as an autonomous human being you will sometimes make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Sometimes, like Danielle, reality will just decide for you (i.e. the Down’s syndrome baby and the stillbirth). that does not mean you should, childlike, have that autonomy taken away from you and given to the patriarchy, As if there were no neurotic single men out there, FFS.

    Even now I’m not sure that feminists are especially interested in what has happened to women like Danielle. It’s off the feminist radar.
    I recently mentioned a favourite book of mine, “What, No Baby?” by the eminently sensible Leslie Cannold. You might like to start with that. Then you might start reading some actual feminists, because you obviously refer to “feminist” or “feminism” without having sampled much of wherof you speak. Feminists today are constantly wrestling with the work-and-family balance. What they’re not doing is the “Back to the kinder, kuche and kirche, it was all a big mistake” meme favoured by the antifeminist backlash.

  • Helen says:

    dwindling housing affordability; Ebbing away of permanent positions with holiday and sick pay and predictable hours in exchange for multifarious short term “contracts” with no future; I could go on.

    Whoa, I must be tired – I missed the huge pincer effect of (1) inadequate child care and preschool systems which are byzantine to get and an enormous cost and amount of brainwork to keep; and (2) employers who look at you like, as I’ve said, roadkill if you’re out of the workforce for the purpose of looking after young children; making it necessary to go back to square one, or at least a lesser position, or tread water practically forever.

    If there was a bit more feminism around, we’d have decent childcare and early childhood facils, and a different cultural attitude to mums in the workplace, we’d have more babies. As the example of the scandinavian and some European countries versus the more socially conservative ones, such as Spain and Japan, has shown.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    I am still bemused by the notion held by many that there’s a malevolent, powerful, physical entity called Feminism that can somehow be held to be ‘responsible’ for people’s life choices. I’m equally bemused by the other notion that there’s only a very small group of Teh Feminists, who somehow held a gun to the heads of the vast and blameless majority.

    There are indeed some women in middle life who regret the choices they made in earlier life, including their choice to remain ignorant about the physical realities and the stats about childbearing. (But I bet there are a lot more who regret their choice of husband than who regret their choice not to have children.)

    There are other women in middle life who don’t regard their choice not to have children as any kind of tragedy or even disadvantage; this is simply incomprehensible for most men and many women, because the culture still blares powerful, repressive messages about what women are for. Tigtog has a gobsmacking post up about a Japanese politician referring to women as ‘baby-making machines’.

    Some women are aware that they must take responsibility for their own past actions; others, unwilling to do so, will project that responsibility onto the nearest bogeyperson. Witches have always been popular for this role.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    Oh and Mark’s percentages of graduate women? That’s partly because most men are resentful if not terrified of women with IQs of three digits, and partly because educated women don’t regard their lives as failed and wasted if they ‘miss out on marriage and motherhood’.

    I prefer to think of the domesticated non-graduates as having missed out on a university education.

  • snakeface says:

    —>>You’re right, of course, that a sample of one doesn’t prove anything. It’s not difficult, though, to show that an unusually large number of women of Danielle’s generation missed out on marriage and motherhood. I’ve previously cited research showing that 41% of Scottish graduate women aged 45 to 49 are childless, and that 30% of English and 34% of Australian graduate women have similarly missed out on motherhood. This compares to 10% of women who didn’t have children in the 1950s and 60s.

    You’re misrepresenting the situation completely by comparing statistics which do not measure the same thing. The 10% statistic from the 50s and 60s is representative of all women, while the 34% statistic from the present is only from the comparatively small group of women who’ve achieved a postgraduate degree. I followed your link, and the statistics are significantly lower for women with less or no tertiary education. Indeed, the rates for women with no tertiary education are 11%, which is almost the same as what you have cited for the 1950s. The statistic I did find that covered the entirety of woman was a projection that “On current rates about 24 per cent of young women will have no children,” which I found at this site [http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/CIB/2003-04/04cib01.htm]. Sorry for being such a newbie, but I’m not sure how to make links. On the ABS site, they cite that about a quarter of women can expect to be childless.

    Seriously, if you’re going to use statistics, use the ones that match.

  • Helen says:

    Also, the “educated woman kiss of death” theory seems to either be wrong, or a blip on the radar, according to the latest numbers. I haven’t read that though so for all I know the statistics could be as dodgy as those quoted above. Just throwing it out there. I know I’ve read a good blog post or two about that but do you think I can find them.

  • Helen says:

    Snakeface, welcome and don’t worry about being a newbie.

  • Snakeface, by your own evidence I am not “misrepresenting the situation completely”. In the 1950s and 60s about 10% of all women could expect to remain childless, whereas that has now risen to 25% of all women. There is, in other words, an additional 15% of women who will miss out on motherhood, representing many tens of thousands of women. It is not just Danielle.

    The graduate statistics are interesting as these are likely to represent women most influenced by feminism, so it is significant that 34% of such women should remain childless.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    “The graduate statistics are interesting as these are likely to represent women most influenced by feminism, so it is significant that 34% of such women should remain childless.”

    Hmmm. Does the expression ‘post hoc, propter hoc‘ mean anything to you?

    If not, that’s what Google’s for. It’s one of the most common fallacies in formal logic.

    Here’s a far more likely bit of cause and effect: the graduate statistics represent women most likely to aspire to professions in which family- and woman-unfriendly workplace conditions and career structures make it impossible to bear and raise children.

  • snakeface says:

    Thanks Helen. I feel more comfortable in my newb suit already,

    Snakeface, by your own evidence I am not “misrepresenting the situation completely”. In the 1950s and 60s about 10% of all women could expect to remain childless, whereas that has now risen to 25% of all women.

    Then why didn’t you use that statistic instead of comparing the statistics from a very small group of women now to all of women in the 50s? My argument is not that the number of childless women hasn’t increased, if you’ll excuse the quadruple negative, but that the statistics you were using to back up your point were a bit dodgy.

    I don’t understand why the debate about childless women is devoid of interest in the rate of childless men. In a very quick Google, a recognised sociological tool*, there are five times as many results for “childless women” as for “childless men”. For the most part, women don’t have children without men. Procreation is not the sole responsibility of women, if it is a responsibility, and making it so ignores all the other issues affecting a couple from breeding [many which have been set out already by Helen].
    *a lie

  • brownie says:

    Great Post Iron Woman!
    Hello from the Generation-Before-Feminism-had it’s effect.
    First child at 19, 2 more before 25. No graduation. The G word mentioned so frequently above.
    My best oldest friend of 50+ years has no children but she is a practising barrister.

  • brownie says:

    … and I DO hope you didn’t actually purchase that issue of Marie Claire, but read it at the nail salon while waiting for your toenails to dry.

  • kate says:

    In the 50s & 60s many women had access to less reliable or no contraception, it’s only surprising that 10% managed to remain childless/childfree.

    The 1960s-1970s also had Australians embracing the boom time and marrying younger than their parents, or earlier generations. They’re a statistical blip, not indicative of the norm. The experiences of people in their 20s &30s now have more in common with that of their grandparents than their parents – living at home longer, marrying/partnering later, job insecurity etc

  • sooz says:

    Oh where to start on this one.

    Thank goodness Kate pointed out that old contraception thing, just a little social and fertility revolution that has allowed women who don’t want to have kids to avoid having them. Because, you know, it’s nice to have choice.

    And thank goodness Helen mentioned Leslie’s book, which points to the reality that the breakdown of the family/marriage contract has been greatly facilitated by men’s choices in terms of commitments, priorities and timing.

    The problem of involuntary childlessness is a considerable one, of great concern to feminists, demographers, economists and psychologists, to name but a few. It’s face is indeed tragic for many many women and men. But it shits me to tears to hear these half formed theories about cause and effect because they distract from the main game.

    This is not about feminism. Childlessness and fertility problems are greatest in countries such as Japan, which coincidentally (or not) was the last country in the developed world to repeal the law that made it illegal to work once married. Hardly what one might consider the paragon of feminism. Ditto Spain and Italy. Countries well noted for early and sustained feminist action have been moderatly successful in addressing fertility decline (check out Scandinavia).

    If we want to really understand this problem we need to look to the broader issues of social and economic change, of which feminism is one interdependent component. We live in a world where the individual is the basic unit of society and the economy, it is no longer the family. Because of this children are no longer part of the ticket into social participation that they once were. It can be no surprise then that neither women nor men are clamouring to get them as early as possible. They cost heaps, they disrupt your life, they exclude you from significant aspects of social and economic participation and they are a life long responsibility of epic proprtions. Even if you love them more than life, they do not come without lead weights attached.

    The grim reality is that the world is out of step with the drive to reproduce. For some this results in a painless and positive choice against children (unimaginable before feminism), for others it delays children whilst life is established, for others it creates a terrible and gnawing loss to be regreted at leisure.

    I think I better stop here. Yeah, I’m a newbie too and don’t want to out stay my welcome.

    Love this blog though 🙂

  • Gianna says:

    standing ovation, Helen!

    i fail to see the romance of the old days. in the old days many incompatible people married way too young, for all the wrong reasons, suffered unhappy marriages, at the frequent end of which women were left with nothing but a feeling of having wasted their lives, kids or no kids. at least these days women don’t have to automatically forego independent livelihoods if they want to marry and have kids. in practice, clearly there’s a long way to go and we have to be careful that gains are not eroded in the current climate.
    i do have a vague hope that maybe our society is in a transitional phase where men are really just beginning to understand that they too, now have more options. they can be a stay at home parent if they want. they can let their wife be breadwinner if she’s better at what she does or earns more. this increased life choice is *thanks* to feminism. if only mark could see that. doing women favors does men favors too.

    anyway, again well done Helen for hitting all the nails on the head.

  • Gianna, we already have some experience of what happens when men are discouraged from thinking of themselves as providers for/protectors of women. We went some way towards this in the 1980s and 90s.

    What happens? Men don’t think to themselves “I’m liberated. I’ll marry a woman, spend a lifetime with her, but feel free to do a role reversal and stay home and look after the kids.”

    Instead, men think “Well at least I don’t have to commit to a boring job. I can do what I want. I’ll do something more to my own liking, shift where I want to, live the lifestyle I want to. I won’t let women order my life. Getting married is a losing game anyway.”

    In a sense men start to mirror the kind of individualistic thinking that feminism has encouraged in women. One result of this is that single men in their 30s, who have settled into this kind of thinking, often don’t make good partners for women. I’ve observed this often with my wife’s single friends. They meet a man, they get strung along, and after too long the penny drops that there’s no real commitment.

  • Helen says:

    What happens? Men don’t think to themselves “I’m liberated. I’ll marry a woman, spend a lifetime with her, but feel free to do a role reversal and stay home and look after the kids.”

    Many men are thinking just that – and the number is steadily increasing. Most of them don’t want to do a role reversal as such. Most of us have had it with the uber-specialised family. But few men want to go back to the traditional pipe-and-slippers Dad role.

    Instead, men think “Well at least I don’t have to commit to a boring job. I can do what I want. I’ll do something more to my own liking, shift where I want to, live the lifestyle I want to. I won’t let women order my life. Getting married is a losing game anyway.”

    I’d put that down to Hugh Hefner and other elements of the counter culture before I pointed the finger at, specifically, feminism. I’m all for men experimenting with different lives and occupations before they settle down, which is what most of my friends did. Of course every course of action has problems. Their problems are different to those whose lives were mapped out for them from childhood pre-WWII.

    And, “I won’t let women order my life”, in the patriarchal culture we (still) live in, smacks of enduring adolescence or a mummy fixation.

  • Alison says:

    [i]The grim reality is that the world is out of step with the drive to reproduce. [/i]

    Now THAT’s the nail hit on the head. Given that we’re a society in flux, things should be promising…

    I just don’t think Danielle is a good sample; she’s not iconic or proof of a stereo type at all. Rob, however, is a drop-kick.

    In 1st hand experience I present the following:

    – No man I know enough to call a friend could cope with a woman who doesn’t pursue some mental stimulation or improvement. I’ve known them to meet pretty, even beautiful girls, and return lamenting their ‘dumb as a box of hammers’ status.

    – Unrelated to Danielle’s case, I read somewhere (I’m sorry I’m not sure where) that your happiness can be related to your balance of fatalism and responsibility: where you can accept your responsibility in your reactions and coping with events you happiness will likely improve. Those who feel fictim to life’s bucket will feel unhappy and robbed.

    – My sister pursued a career directly out of uni (and progressed the ranks uptill she left for procreation). She went country and married a by-no-means-perfect-but-excellent man around 31-32. She left her work and had kids – two by age 33 – both bright sparks. She’s gone back to work part time and is run ragged through lack of time for kids, work, husband, house, pets, etc.(Husband’s job keeps him from home a lot). AND she has a THREE ponies. The house she bought while working FT later paid off the family home.

    – If I had known then what I know now – that I’d be with my boyfriend 11 years later, I would’ve had kids before uni and got on the with rest afterward while I had my energy at its highest to cope with it all.

    And in other readings I present:

    “Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman’s (1978) famous study of lottery winners and persons who became paralysed after accidents shows that human beings have a remarkable ability to cope with life events, and that wellbeing is a relatively fixed trait rather than a result of accumulated life events.

    A distinct “U” shape in the relationship between satisfaction and age is also consistent with previous findings. For Australians, satisfaction with life is lowest at the ages of 35-44.

    An important finding, however, is that being in employment but in a job in which one has low job satisfaction has an even greater detrimental effect on reported life satisfaction than unemployment.”

    [i]Happiness, life satisfaction and the role of work: Evidence from two Australian surveys [/i] By Alfred Michael Dockery Curtin University of Technology http://melbourneinstitute.com/hilda/Biblio/wp/Dockery11.pdf

    Discuss.

  • Alison says:

    sorry, I used the wrong code for italicising, but you know what I mean.

  • Helen says:

    Wonderful stuff Alison, I’ll take the time to follow it up (fighting boychild for computer time tonight!)

    “Life’s Bucket”: Priceless. Can I use that for a post title sometime?

    “Dropkick”: Although I have clasped the US slang Asshat to my bosom, Dropkick is a wondrous Australian epithet which must never be allowed to die.

  • sooz says:

    Oh my, am I right in understanding Mark to be saying that feminism is responsible for the crime of making men think they shouldn’t settle for dead end boring jobs? That they won’t let women rule their lives? That they might escape some kind of social straightjacket of misery? Because we all know 19th century man is well known for running at the beck and call of women and their orders, and it is only right and proper that men should stay chained to crappy jobs in order to fulfill their social destiny.

    From what exactly are men seeking liberation – I mean what are the current barriers to men doing what they might want to do? The institutional supports for men working against type has never been greater, and the institutional supports for keeping women to type have failed to prevent women from making a range of choices.

    To lament that feminism might have given men as well as women enough choices to avoid the things they don’t want to do seems to me kind of sad. Because isn’t that the problem with freedom and democracy you damn well gotta take responsibility for your choices.

  • Helen says:

    Sooz, as I’ve said, your problem is that you live in the reality-based community.

    Good point about 19th century men – “PHMT”, or Patriarchy Hurts Men Too.

    The problem with these posts is that every tangent merits a 1,000 word post in itself, so I get exhausted thinking about it. Hope to establish the PHMT idea one post at a time.

    I’m going to send a link to your blog to Sister-in Law (the one I blogged about in the last few months) as she’s a sewer of fine leather garments herself.

  • sooz says:

    Ay, the tangent thing is a problem. After spending two years trying to wrest the topic into a thesis I still have trouble focusing. Is that reality based community?!

    While my quip about 19th century man was meant a little sarcastically, the bottom line is that the kind of social change Mark is so sadenned by has been led by a desire by many (men and women) to ease the terrible pain and burden of proscribed social and gender roles. And this happened for a REASON. That not everyone is thus far a winner from the loosening of the social contract should come as no bloody surprise.

    It would be far more helpful to take an approach based on seeing men and women as sharing the problem and the solution – arguing about who should get the worse deal misses the point so entirely. We’re trying to get a universally better deal, not just redistribute the misery and when you recognise diversity you have to understand that any solution from here is going to involve a lot individual choice, not social (or feminist as Mark would see it) determinism.

  • Alison says:

    Thank you Helen, very much. 🙂 Please, use ‘life’s bucket’ at leisure.

    And then we have sooz to make us all feel embarrased for not panning out one more time:

    “That not everyone is thus far a winner from the loosening of the social contract should come as no bloody surprise.
    It would be far more helpful to take an approach based on seeing men and women as sharing the problem and the solution – arguing about who should get the worse deal misses the point so entirely.”

    Yes, it is almost beside the point that Danielle’s life is not as she dreamed (but really I could go on about how much worse it could be for her). There are many at the front line of this issue, convincing parents their choices will turn out ok, that it’s not the end of the world, pushing the shift. But there are those who don’t reflect, or think, about their decisions until its too late; they rely on society’s expectations to guide them in their lives. (Would it be too cruel to call it ‘Social Darwinism’ if they miss out on procreation?) And I imagine that every social framework, in this regard, had its casualties.

  • sooz says:

    Embarrassed – sorry!

    I don’t mean to make out like the realities for individuals are not harsh or to be concerned about. I have a number of good freinds who have, exactly as you say, relied on social expectations to deliver them to the garden and are now bitterly unhappy with the stony ground on which they find themselves.

    But at the level of social commentary (Marie Claire or not) there is the bigger picture. If people want the freedom to choose they have the responsibility to choose wisely. In the free market deregulated individualistic consumer world precious few are prepared to settle for social engineering – just look at the overwhleming popularity of politicians who promise yet more freedom and ever diminishing government intervention in our lives.

    To then bleat about not being told or guided (by feminism or whatever), that their choices might not work out, that the heady days of their twenties might not be the best preparatiuon for the thrities they wanted…well, I think you might be onto something Alison about Social Darwinism.

    Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society (sorry, don’t know how to italicise) should be compulsory reading for those who think there is such a thing as a free ride.

  • kate says:

    Thanks Mark, I’ll let The Bloke know that it’s Feminism making him change nappies at 3am, not his own sense of responsibility and sharing, or a desire to bond with the kid. He’ll be most surprised.

    I’ll also let him know that it’s the fault of Feminism that he works strange hours for himself in a creative industry when he could be down the mines supporting us better. He seems to be under the impression that my earning power (such as it is) frees him to work at a job he enjoys and spend time at home. Clearly he’s mistaken.

    Then I’ll pass the information on to the blokes at my New Parents group, because they are there Mark, changing nappies, preparing bottles, hanging out the washing, and otherwise sharing the load. Not all blokes, sure, but don’t tell me they don’t exist.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks Mark, I’ll let The Bloke know that it’s Feminism making him change nappies at 3am, not his own sense of responsibility and sharing

    I have to take issue with that one, not to suggest in any way that it’s his own sense of responsibility and sharing, but he’s able to express it in that way (as opposed to working a 70 hour week and being a top breadwinner) largely because feminism did make people think about gender roles and contributed to breaking them down. (Think of the Dad in “seven little Australlians” who’s left with his baby in the barracks for an afternoon, and what a huge deal it was then in the Edwardian period- he was shamed, actually shamed. )

    Don’t fall into the trap of thinking feminism hasn’t done anything just because it isn’t responsible for every wacky social “trend” that the tabloids have “discovered” (I’m meaning to blog the single-woman thing which 11D and Pandagon have, but no time so far…)

    Thinking of you doing the night shift thing. It’s tough.

  • sooz says:

    And while more blokes are getting better in many respects about sharing the load, even the most cursory examination of Michael Bittman’s or Lynne Craig’s work on domestic labour tells you that it is still a drop in the bucket.

    Women have shifted to a much much greater degree – in combining parenting with workforce participation for example – than men in terms of the amount of domestic labour they do, the type of domestic labour they do or modifying their involvement in the paid workforce to accommodate family responsibilities (like being part time or taking extended parental leave – with uptake rates still in the low single digits).

    In Australia it is still true that men’s average weekly working hours are at their greatest (over the life course) when he has pre-school aged children, and this trend has INTENSIFIED in the last few dacades. So at the time of greatest parenting need, fathers are most absent.

    In Norway the government offered 3 months of fully paid paternity leave, but the uptake rate was so low (4.1%) that the law was changed in 1993 to remove the equivalent amount of paid maternity leave from mothers to try and force fathers to better share the paretning load. In the next four years the uptake rate grew to 80%. This radical shift (though still far from close to equal with mothers) was brought about by an expressely feminist policy.

  • Sooz, I can point you to recent Australian data which shows that the traditional type of breadwinner male not only spends much more time at work than the modern “gender equity” type male, he also spends a little more time with his children. He manages to do both. So there’s little point in women agitating for men to lessen their work commitments. The time which is freed up doesn’t go to the kids, it’s simply spent not working. The woman still has the same amount of domestic work, but on a reduced family income.

  • This has been fascinating. Great post, Helen. Mark Richardson, would you mind providing links to the data you cite, and also elaborating on why this leads you to the conclusion that “there’s little point in women agitating for men to lessen their work commitments.”

    Also, regarding your “feminism has failed” line of argument. Do you think that with recent events, like the unpopular WorkChoices legislation, the unpopular detaining of David Hicks, and countless other anti-democratic policies that do not have electoral support, that “democracy has failed”, and we should discard the notion altogether?

    Do you think that the recent murder of an Aboriginal man by a policeman, or any number of black deaths in custody, has meant the anti-racism movement has failed? Or do you think, on the other hand, this just means we should ramp up our support for the anti-racism movement?

  • sooz says:

    Mark, while I don’t know that you can divide men into breadwinner males and gender equity males (I don’t think HILDA or ABS stats on time use could provide this kind of demarkation) I completely agree that in our current situation less time working does not equate with more domestic labour equality.

    And I am talking the totality of domestic labour, not just looking after kids. Again, I’d point to Bittman and Craig’s work to domenstrate that there has been an improvement in the amount of time men spend with children, but not in housework, household management, organising children’s welfare and care, cooking, shopping and so on.

    So daddy breadwinner is getting better at taking the kids to the park or reading bedtime stories, perhaps nappy changing, but not necessarily more likely to be taking them to the doctor, planning next weeks meals, making sure they have clean clothes for school tomorrow or liaising with their childcare worker about development issues. Even if mum works full-time she is almost certainly doing this stuff from her desk, in her lunch hour, perhaps while breadwinner daddy is 100% focused on his work tasks, watching telly, out with friends, or playing golf.

    Gender equity dad may well be a part-time worker with a part-time worker partner, who shares the care of his kids and the work of keeping the household and family running. He may be picking up a genuinely equal share of the work, not just ‘minding the kids while mum is at work’.

    But if these guys do exist there are very very few of them. If you take the moderate gains in equality and spread them thinly, there is little room for a real margin of ‘equality dads’ – more likely a larger proportion of men are slowly shifting on the spectrum.

    But this does not mean that women should cease agitating for equality, and real equality does really mean less time at work for dads who currently occupy breadwinner status. Reduced incomes should not be an excuse to abandon the idea of gender equity. And really if men are working less and slacking more then surely the problem with that is the choices men are making, not in regards to working less but in regards to slacking more!

    Besides the calculation of reduced income needs to account for the life cycle – which demonstrates that the best protection against poverty for Australian families is to have 2 working parents, the best protection against poverty post retirement is to have 2 working parents, the best protection against poverty for families that break up is for both parents to work. Reduced income in the short term to allow women to work and men to work less takes a long range view of the prospects of both parents in maintiaining their attachement and value in the workforce, in saving for retirement, in sharing the unpaid work of family life and in participating in the raising of their children.

    And if this is currently being played out by more women working in paid work (for their own as well as their familie’s benefit) but still doing the lion’s share of all the other work then there is still a significant problem. This is not the fault of feminism, or of the women who have heeded the realities of our times and mutual obligation easy divorce message.

  • Helen says:

    GOTA and Sooz and others…

    Wow. Just wow. Your responses are many times more informative than the original post.
    Armaniac’s beautiful post about his daughter expresses what a lot of men are thinking– they’re not content with being the “traditional” breadwinner/absent father any more. I see them all around me now – young dads with strollers. The dads in my department at work are rumbling about school holidays and dentist visits.

    The revolt against essentialist gender roles is far from finished.

  • Mark Richardson, would you mind providing links to the data you cite, and also elaborating on why this leads you to the conclusion that “there’s little point in women agitating for men to lessen their work commitments.”

    You can find links to the data here.

    In short, the data shows that “gender equity” type families are rare (2.9%) and have less favourable outcomes than the traditional family type (lower fertility, lower stability and less time commitment by men).

    The research doesn’t explain why this is so. I expect, though, that it has to do with the larger context of the values each family type is based on.

    The modern “gender equity” type family is based on an ideal of autonomy. This has as one consequence the belief that we should not be impeded in our choices by our biological sex. The gender equity family, therefore, is partly defined by the absence of traditional sex roles.

    Men who accept the “gender equity” arrangement are supposed to gain in terms of autonomy. But think of what this means for men psychologically. The larger value they are following is one of being autonomous and unimpeded in their lifestyle choices. What is there in this value to make men stick to a marriage during tough times, to commit to the burden of raising children, to commit their time to working to provide for their families or to invest their time heavily in their offspring?

    In contrast, the traditional family connected a man’s masculine instincts to his role within the family as husband and father. Being true to himself as a man meant working hard as a provider, and acting effectively within the family through a distinct role as a father. The overriding value here was not an individualistic autonomy, but the challenge of fulfilling masculine responsibilities within the family.

    This, perhaps, explains why such traditional men are, on average, more strongly motivated than their “gender equity” peers to having children, earning family income and spending time with their offspring.

  • sooz says:

    Hmmm. I’m not sure I would agree with your interpretation of the data Mark. For a start the research you point to is an examination of female breadwinner households and some duel earners, not gender equity households. This is a really significant difference!

    Gender equity households are where parents equally share caring and paid work, not where women replace tradtional men’s roles in a gendered division of labour or where they engage in small amounts of marginalised workforce activity in concert with a high status full-time earning partner. The benefits I point to related to gender equity flow from both parents being valued workforce participants.

    The study further distinguishes between female breadwinners based on economic vs ideological motivations and find that the negative outcomes you refer to relate largely to the economically motivated households. The reality is that these are primarily households where men cannot find (good) work and women can.

    As such, they are households who are already economically and socially disadvantaged, where men are already likely to be suffering from low self-esteem and where marital discord is already present. These are not generally blokes who seek to lessen their work hours to participate more fully in home life – they are men who have failed to find or maintain a place in the paid workforce and for whom a homemaker role is not something they have chosen at all. They do not represent even remotely the kind of men who might seek part-time work as a way of becoming mroe involved fathers.

    Further to your hypothesis the traditional breadwinner man is connected to his masculine instincts (as you put it) to be exactly that – a breadwinner. His job (traditionally) is to provide, to work and make money and own the stuff that allows the woman to care for children (and him and his stuff). The traditional role of the father has been distant, absent and largely economic.

    There has also always been (and remains) a positive correlation between marriage and fathering and earning potential for men – well over 90% of male executives in Australia (BCA research here) have a stay at home wife and children. Int he past the ability to have and provide for larger families has been a significant marker of social and economic status – just as in polygamous society more wives speaks highly for a man.

    That children enhance men’s careers is not a new discovery, and quite possibly could be attributed to the fact that the presence of children cements a man’s commitment not to being a present father, but to breadwinning. This is well supported by the way men’s hours of work go up when they have kids, and then once they have made the commitment to work and supporting a family, they have more children.

    It is in fact this cementing process which I would hypothesise (anecdotal evidence only) shifts many couples from the gender equity ideology they held pre children to a more traditional male breadwinner or 1.5 earner model after children come. The combined effect of the biological realities of childbearing for women and the increased importance of job security and success for men kicks in and everyone starts ‘doing gender’ because it seems to make more sense (see the research work undertaken by Alison Morehead for an exploration of doing gender and the institutional supports and challenges to gender equity).

    And so yes Helen, the revolt is far far from over! As I anticipate the arrival of my second child within days, Armaniac’s post is all too heartbreaking. I daily give thanks that I have a partner who has made choices about work that allow him more time than most blokes get with their children, that neither of us care enough about ‘stuff’ to let income be the final word on what parents we hope to be, that the kind of father he gets to be is so far removed from what was possible even 40 years ago.

    But we are lucky, so much luckier than so many others. And even for us, we are a long way from anything I would call gender equal. I disagree with you Mark that gender equity is about autonomy, gender equity is about choice. Until we all have the capacity to make choices about the mothers and fathers and workers and families we want to be in, until gender is not the overwhelming determinant of these outcomes then the fight will remain.

  • Helen says:

    In case he/she comes early, Sooz, because second children can do that y’know, have a good one. 🙂

  • Sooz, you’re underestimating the relevance of the data. First, the data didn’t look at a simple role reversal, with a female breadwinner and a male stay at home parent, as such households were found to be too uncommon.

    Instead, the researchers looked at households in which the woman earned at least a small amount more than the man. They found that such households didn’t match up to the traditional family arrangement.

    So they then divided the higher female income families into two different groups. In one group, there was no ideological commitment to “gender equity”, in the second group there was.

    The researchers were pleased to discover that the second “gender equity” group performed better than the group in which men were unhappily economically marginalised.

    However, the gender equity group still performed worse than the traditional male breadwinner family in terms of fertility and hours spent by men with children.

    That’s why your theory that male breadwinning is connected to absent fatherhood is wrong. When men lose the masculine breadwinner role they don’t spend more time with their children, even if they are committed ideologically to “gender equity”.

    In fact, the traditional male breadwinner spends more time on average with his children than either gender equity men or women – despite having longer hours of paid work than any other group.

    It is the traditional breadwinner men who are the modern “superdads”.

    Finally, a word about choice. It was pointed out earlier that when Norwegian men were given a choice to leave work to take up paid paternity leave, only a tiny percentage opted to do so. So the government coerced them to do so.

    So it’s not really the provision of choice that is being pursued, but a certain outcome, namely the abolition of our sex as an influence in family life.

    This aim assumes that our sex either doesn’t naturally influence our choices within the family, or that it does but can be made not to matter to satisfy a political aim.

    I think all these assumptions are wrong and that sex does naturally influence our choices, so that men and women will never seek exactly the same family roles; that these natural preferences are hardwired into us and will never be permanantly suppressed (short of genetic engineering); and that the political aim of trying to abolish the role of our biological sex is based ultimately on arbitrary premises.

  • Helen says:

    You’re entitled to your opinion!

    No time to address all these points before I go to work, but your interpretation of the data doesn’t jive with all the couples I know (yes, that’s anecdotal.)

    In the families I know where roles are simply reversed, the dad doesn’t spend less time with the kids – that’s just a nonsense. In our family, which tries (!) to be Gender Equity, Dad does spend a lot of face time with kids. There isn’t any nappy-changing type work any more as they’re older, but he did do alll that.

    Your interpretation of the data is questionable. Why don’t men take up parental leave when it’s offered to them? Maybe couples are backed into a corner because of housing costs and other externalities which are similar here?

    There’s a very interesting thread on Crooked Timber at the moment relevant to this topic which describes the kind of feedback loop which can militate against gender equity.

    And, you put forward your position at the end of your last comment and its an essentialist one; although I agree biology has some part to play in our lives, it’s a position I do not agree with. So you pretty much have Buckleys of convincing this blogger (and many of my commenters.)

    Your glass-half-empty language – “lose the breadwinner role”, belies the fact that some men might see that as a life opportunity, not a loss.

  • sooz says:

    Ok a couple of things.

    Firstly, I said it before and I’ll say it again, that gender equity ideals are not being born out in reality in terms of men’s assumption of domestic labour is a problem. That they don’t take up the choice to take paternity leave or use their less work time surplus to raise kids and do chores is most definitely a problem. We agree!!

    But I don’t agree about a couple of other things in your data interpretation and theorising.

    Firstly you are still not addressing the nature of the time traditional breadwinners are spending with kids, and the demonstrated difference between ‘spending time with’ and ‘domestic labour to raise’. Your so called superdads are still not replacing mother’s labour with their extra time. There is a wealth of research to demonstrate this. They are not superdads because they include children more in their leisure time – they are superdads when being a dad comes close to providing the parental needs mothers currently overwhelmingly provide. That other blokes don’t do this either does not make breadwinner dad look better I’m afraid.

    But secondly I think there are some problems with the biological determinism of gender that you subscribe to. The really serious problem with it is that the role of traditional man is heirarchically valued over women’s. That sex may in fact drive us to occupy, pursue, get pleasure and satisfaction from certain roles over others is less of a problem for me (though still a problem!) than the idea that being a good woman makes you dependent on and vulnerable to a man in a way that being a good man does not. Read Bob Connell’s work on gender for a good challenge to the link between sex and gender.

    Seeking a world in which men and women share the valued and paid work in the big wide world (and the freedom and security and choices that come with it), as well as undervalued and unpaid work of washing dishes and holding kids hands whilst they get the dentist’s drill (and the boredom and drudgery that comes with it) as well as the emotional and intimate work of raising children (with it’s increadible joys of presence and bonding and deep responsibilities of eternal commitment) is most certainly not arbitrary! It is a goal based on trying to get a fair deal for all. This isn’t politics – it’s evidence based research about the fall out of traditional gender divisions clashing with the values of the modern world.

    If women are now ‘victims’ of men’s avoidance of procreation, sharing of domestic labour, lack of commitment or whatever, they are not worse off that the generations of women who were bonded to the man they married or who fathered their children and had no responsibilities whatsoever beyond economic provision (and even that was sometimes up for debate). Who were powerless to leave a crappy or violent relationship because they were prevented by law from working after having children and would not get a divorce unless they could prove their husband was renegging on the marriage contract. Not always so easy to do.

    While sex may well have something to do with it, the deal was crooked enough for the world to have radically shifted on what is fair to women in the last little while, whilst making a fairly short order of similar shifts from men.

    Not just radical feminist mafia types, but mainstream legislators and the general population now recognise that women not only have a right to work, but they have an obligation to work. Men not only have a right to be more than a provider (as has been the traditional view, even though it may be, as you say, on the wane), they have an obligation to help to raise their kids. Not because we should all be the same, but because everyone benefits from sharing.

    And just quickly on choice – many men responded to surveys about the Norweigan law saying they now took parental leave because their employers could no longer coerce them into NOT taking the parental leave they so wished to have. Because despite being entitled to take such leave, employers there (just like here! Fancy!) make clear to men who wish to be gender equity dad that their careers and capacity to provide for that family they so cherish will be dashed if they dare. So, you know, choice is complex. And how we choose is determined not just by our innate drives, but also by the way those choices are loaded for us after the fact. Again, I refer you to Alison Morehead’s excellent work on what influences choices.

  • Just stopped lurking for long enough to say I’ve REALLY enjoyed this discussion. Thanks!

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