I enjoyed reading Barbara Risman’s take on the whole Mommy Wars thing, allegedly reignited by the Hilary Rosen-Ann Romney flap.
Risman, the head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Council on Contemporary Families’ executive officer, called it a bunch of silliness, while acknowledging a truth (emphasis mine):
(T)here is a serious issue hidden in the silliness of the alleged mommy wars, and it is the contradictory, conflicting beliefs we have about the value of taking time to care for other people. Who should take care of young people and their grandparents, and how should they be rewarded? We claim to value families, but we don’t really value what it takes to care for them. tweet
Then she talks about gender equality and the research that led to her book, Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition:
(E)ven in the consciously feminist families I wrote about in my book, “Gender Vertigo,” men share the “work” of raising their children; I didn’t interview one man who described fatherhood as a career. And it took me a long time to find couples that really shared the work equally. tweet
Her book came out in 1998 — have things changed? Yes and no, and I would say many women would say no, the work is not shared equally, while many men would say yes. But a big part of that, as I noted in Can same-sex couples teach heteros about equality?, is that we’re still mentally stuck in the “Mad Men” era of men as the providers and women dealing with the poopy diapers and dust bunnies — even if she’s CEO of a start-up. Marriage laws encourage specialization and even cohabiting couples gender up when it comes to chores and caretaking.
As Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law associate law professor Deborah A. Widiss says, maybe we should stop idealizing marriage as something that’s equal and realize it’s more efficient to specialize. Either that, or change our marriage laws.
Makes sense to me.
But there was something in Risman’s article that made me pause, her statement that, “All mothers work, nearly all of the time. And so do many fathers.”
So I emailed her, questioning: “All” women but only “many” fathers? Wouldn’t a father working to support his family be working “all” of the time?
And she graciously wrote back: “Some men work all day, as do their wives, and expect to be waited on at night.“
That moved things from just Mommy Wars territory to Spousal Wars territory, which reminds me of two posts that address what I call the great gender divide: posts from Michael Noer and Elizabeth Corcoran in Forbes a few years ago, who debated the pros and cons of marrying a career woman, and from dating coach Evan Marc Katz, who addressed “What men really want from women.”
As Katz says (emphasis mine):
We are not nearly as concerned with your merits as much as how you make us FEEL. … Understand, men DO value intelligence, but they also want from their girlfriend what they CAN’T get from their business associates. Warmth, affection, nurturing, thoughtfulness. Lightness! tweet
Did you see the “nurturing” part? OK, I will say it: From my experience with men, that fact that I have been successful in my career mattered less than the fact that I am nurturing (as well as warm, affectionate and thoughtful). Not quite a woman who “waits on” her partner, as Risman notes, and certainly not a woman who treats a guy like his mommy (men really don’t want that), but a woman doing what most women do very, very well — nurture.
We don’t seem to want to give a decent monetary value to those who nurture and caretake, but our children need someone to do that. Who will it be? But when it comes to romance, men still very much appreciate that trait in women — especially when it’s directed toward them.
According to a recent study, both men and woman say these traits are essential in a partner: Mutual attraction and love, dependable character, and emotional stability. But men added “good cook and housekeeper” as desirable. That’s part of a woman’s nurturing side (although I question that study’s total lack of a mention of sex).
Nurturing — it’s what women (well, many women) do well. It’s what Cosmo recommends (not that I’m promoting that mag as words of wisdom!), and what relationship expert Dr. Gail Saltz advises (ditto). It’s also what Risman notes above: We claim to value families, but we don’t really value what it takes to care for them.
If being nurturing toward our mate is part of caring for our family, shouldn’t we value that as well?