December 7, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This being CNN, it’s surprising how much the writer, Elissa Strauss, gets right about her subject, maternal gatekeeping (CNN, 12/6/17). What’s not so surprising is her off-the-rack inability to grasp the larger realities of that subject. Put simply, her assumptions are largely misguided.

Those assumptions run something like this: (a) women generally would prefer to work for a living; (b) men’s doing less childcare limits their ability to do (a); (c) biology has nothing to do with sex roles or women’s desire to play the maternal role and (d) women generally make better parents than do men, but sometimes men can be good enough.

So, for example,

Outside homes, society is largely organized according to a men-on-top-women-on-bottom power structure.

No, society isn’t organized that way; it organized itself that way. That is, men and women both tend to adopt gender roles that have existed for untold millennia. Yes, there has been change, with men doing more domestic work and women more paid work. But overwhelmingly, men cleave to the role of provider and women to that of mother. Women earn more than they used to, but about half of working women say they’d prefer to stop work entirely. If men are “on top” in the public sphere, it’s because they perceive their role to be that of provider to their loved ones and therefore work longer and harder than do women. And women generally want it that way. After all, for a man, the greatest predictor of his wife’s filing for divorce is his loss of his job.

Wives and moms tend to call the shots in most matters related to housework and child care…

Women didn't ask for this power.

They may not have asked for it, but they certainly don’t give it up very readily either. Mothers are vastly more likely than fathers to request sole or primary custody when they file for divorce. As researchers Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen learned, the primary reason that women file the great majority of divorce actions is that they know they’ll get the kids. Plus, the notion that women “didn’t ask for this power” is a strange one coming in an article about maternal gatekeeping that is not only a request, but a demand for exactly that power.

Women don't just want men to do more housework and child care because such labor can be tedious and exhausting, they want it because men not doing it is hurting women professionally.

I’ve debunked that particular absurd notion more times than I can count. Generally speaking, women prefer child care to paid work. Countless studies and surveys demonstrate the fact. Studies of female law school graduates, MBA recipients, S.T.E.M. graduates and the like find women opting out of work and into motherhood at an astonishing rate. Not only that, but, as Judith Warner found, when they opt out, they tend not to opt back in once little Andy or Jenny is in school most of the day. Strauss needs to get out more and read a few things that don’t agree with her preconceived notions.

Many moms -- often unintentionally, sometimes unconsciously -- stand in the way of progress.

Note that “progress” is defined solely as that which gets more women into the workplace and keeps them there. Strauss might make a note of the fact that, far more than any other factor, it’s women who are impeding that “progress.”

The fact is that, due to an array of parenting hormones, women are biochemically bound to the children to whom they give birth. It is therefore no surprise that they often ditch work in favor of staying home with the kids. Fathers, biochemically inclined as they are toward being the secondary parent, i.e. the one who stands in for Mom when she can’t or won’t do the parenting job, tend to step back and let them act on that preference. Women don’t see going to work as “progress;” they tend to see it as a necessity brought about by an economy that doesn’t allow most men to earn enough on their own to support their families.

Indeed, Strauss might want to read this article reporting on a Forbes survey (Forbes, 9/12/12). In it, she’d find pithy details like these:

Approximately half of working moms agree their overall happiness would increase if they didn’t work… On the other hand, only nearly one in five (19%) of stay-at-home moms admit their overall happiness would increase if they worked outside the home.

That’s not exactly a rousing endorsement by women of the corporate rat race, not that Strauss would notice.

Finally, it’s amazing that Strauss buys into the idea that mothers gatekeep “unintentionally” or “unconsciously.” We’re routinely told that women are emotionally smarter than men, that they’re more aware of their own feelings and motivations and those of others. But now Strauss wants us to believe that, when it comes to one of the most important endeavors in anyone’s life – parenting – women are clueless, not about other people, but about themselves. I doubt it.

That Strauss managed to write an entire article about male and female roles and parenting without once referring to biology is quite remarkable. It’s a sure sign that she wants her readers to believe that the only thing holding women back (i.e. denying them “progress”) is a society bent on keeping women barefoot and chained to the stove.

Still, about maternal gatekeeping, she gets a lot right. More on that tomorrow.

 

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