An article called Homeward Bound, by Linda Hirshman, as well as one in Thursday's New York Times on how women are leaving men in the dust when it comes to college education confirms a discussion I had with a German/Greek doctor and a fellow AMMF colleague about how the next phase of feminism is liberating men so that they are comfortable and feel as rewarded by sharing equally in domestic and child caretaking.
The discussion took place in our Brussel's homestay. I was discussing how the Bilbao parliament had instituted a policy in which 50% of all government positions were to be filled by women and that the challenge of enforcing that policy had to do with the fact that housework and childcare were still done by women.
The first thing that was brought up in the discussion was the idea of how the "quota" should make sure that it's not unfair against qualified men. Proudly a product of affirmative action, this point always makes me laugh.
The fact is that in many professional fields (for example, law and medicine) in Europe and the US, women are nearly 50% of graduates. Yet that doesn't lead to the logic that there are underqualified men taking the place of more qualified women in the professions, where the proportions are not maintained. For example, if US law schools are graduating/have been graduating, for at least that last 25 years, 40% women, and yet only 26% of the members of the US Congress, which is predominantly made up of lawyers, are women, does that mean that 14% of the men in Congress are taking the place of more qualified women?
The heart of the discussion was the notion of women's choice which is addressed in Hirshman's article. According to Hirshman:
Great as liberal feminism was, once it retreated to choice the movement had no language to use on the gendered ideology of the family. Feminists could not say, “Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor.”
As a 34 year old, professional woman, with career ambitions and the difficult decision as to whether to have a child (note: only the possibility of one) or not, I wonder about "elite" women's choices. The first waves of the feminist movement were allowing "elite" mostly white women access to public work. Of course, black women in the US always worked as slaves, laudresses, and maids, thus the critique of some mainstream feminism. But black women still lacked the public recognition of our work as valuable because it was in the "domestic" sphere and of course because of racism, so there was some common struggle. I have chosen to have a career. I have chosen to get married, which for a graduate of Bryn Mawr College is always a difficult choice. But will I get to choose to maintain a career and raise children.
Our hostess, the German/Greek doctor, summed up what is a stake very nicely. For elite women, like she and myself, it has been mostly proven that we can be equal breadwinners to our male partners. In fact, we are one of the first generations of elite women who can claim that. Again, from my working class, African-American background, I had always assumed that men and women were equal breadwinners because they had to be. But now, we need to help prove that our male partners can be equal caregivers as us. I am lucky that my husband and I make the same amount of money and careers a quite equal, so that when it comes time to decide on having a child, we can make it as equal partners, at least in breadwinning. But what about in caregiving?
The redesign of gender roles - phase two
Hirshman recommends elite women to perhaps marry men beneath their age and class (poor artist types) or older men who are more B-types or retiring into more B-type personalities. But that only switches the sex of the gender role and does not address the need for equality.
I am married to a man who is sensitive and caring, and I always thought would make a much better "mother" and caregiver than I would. I know lots of men who are sensitive and caring, yet it is their wives who are the primary caregivers, although they do try to help out. And even I struggle with convincing him that he should be the primary caretaker of our child, which now is substituted by the dog for whom I am the primary caretaker.
But there is also my desire to have him be a co-partner in ambition and success. I don't want some poor artist type. Nothing personal against poor artist types, I just have a thing about both parties being financially independent. Yet, now that he has a job in which he makes lots of money, can do good things for Africa, yet travels all the time; I wonder if I can ever convince him to be an equal caregiver. We now disagree on who will care for the dog when we both have to travel. For the record, we sent the dog to be boarded.
So how do we redesign gender relations...
The Scandinavian countries seemed to have figured it out partially: access to childcare, equal pay for equal work, flexible work schedules for men and women. More radical gestures could be making caregiving a paid occupation at its market rate, which is something like $100,000.00 per year. A male quota for home economics courses in high school and college, which becomes more akin to physics and chemistry that it really is. Ending the quest for manhood or womanhood to focus on humanhood. A guess its returning to the feminist fight against gender stereotypes, but with the objective of liberating men from their oppression and incompletion due to male stereotypes that keep them from being the best caregivers they can be.