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Contentions

It’s Not About the Kids, It’s About the Woman

Surely the most talked-about “lifestyle” piece of the month will be Lisa Belkin’s cover story in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, called “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The subject is a movement called “equally shared parenting,” according to whose tenets all tasks relating to a couple’s children are divided 50-50 between father and mother. There’s nothing new here — the piece details how, no matter what happens, women do twice as much housework and parent-duty work as men; that it was true 90 years ago and is true now; and that this just doesn’t seem fair. Key paragraphs:

The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one. If you break out couples in which wives stay home and husbands are the sole earners, the number of hours goes up for women, to 38 hours of housework a week, and down a bit for men, to 12, a ratio of more than three to one. That makes sense, because the couple have defined home as one partner’s work.

But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all.

The lopsided ratio holds true however you construct and deconstruct a family. “Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

“And the most sadly comic data is from my own research,” he adds, which show that in married couples “where she has a job and he doesn’t, and where you would anticipate a complete reversal, even then you find the wife doing the majority of the housework.”

When behaviors are as deeply ingrained as these seem to be, social science has no answers for why this is happening. Neither does Lisa Belkin. What is astonishing about her piece is that the equal-parenting movement has absolutely nothing to do with the children. No one claims in the course of this piece that it is better for the children that fathers and mothers share all tasks equally. That would be an interesting piece, with an interesting argument. The sole issue for Belkin is the burden placed on the woman in a marriage, and how it might interfere with her self-actualization. The women in the article all have husbands who have bought into the equal-parenting line. And yet, all they do is whine. Or condescend to the men in their lives. Which, given the whining and the “I just didn’t want to be part of the rat race” blather the men indulge in, is really quite understandable.



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