Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The problems of home life

The Parent Trap By JUDITH WARNER The New York Times: February 8, 2006
Although it often seems anecdotally to be true that domestic tasks and power are pretty evenly divided in families where both parents are working full time, the statistics argue quite differently. The fact is, no matter how time- or sleep-deprived they are, working women today do upwards of 70 percent of household chores for their families. The gender caste system is still alive and well in most of our households.
After all, no one really wants to do the scrubbing and folding and chauffeuring and mopping and shopping and dry-cleaner runs. (I'm leaving child-minding out of this; in a happily balanced life, it doesn't feel like a chore.) Once the money for outsourcing runs dry, it's the lower-status member of the household who does these things. It is the lower-status member of the household who is called a "nag" when she repeatedly tries to get other members of the household to share in doing them.
This is just one indication that the feminist "revolution" that was supposed to profoundly reshape women's lives remains incomplete. Another is the fact that there are no meaningful national policies to make satisfying work and satisfying family life anything but mutually exclusive for most men and women.
Ms. Friedan herself anticipated this issue, in the final pages of "The Feminine Mystique," when she called for changing "the rules of the game" of society at large. In 1970, she came back to this thought, arguing that if we did "not only end explicit discrimination but build new institutions," then the women's movement would prove to be "all talk." Thirty-six years later, with women having flooded the professions and explicit gender discrimination outlawed, the institutions of our society simply have not changed to embrace and accommodate the new realities of women's lives.
The problems of home life seem to me now to be an all but hopeless conundrum. Yet the enduring failure of our social institutions to realize the larger promises of the women's movement is something we can address, straightforwardly and comparatively easily. We owe to Betty Friedan, to our daughters and to ourselves.
Ms. Friedan said last year, "We are a backward nation when it comes to things like childcare and parental leave." That's just the beginning. We need universal preschool, more and better afterschool programs, and policies to promote part-time work options that don't force parents to forgo benefits, fair pay and career prospects. We desperately need leadership on these issues. Without it, our national commitment to family values is truly "all talk."Judith Warner, who has been writing the "Domestic Disturbances" blog for the last month on TimesSelect, is the author of "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety."

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