A new study finds that men and women increasingly desire egalitarian relationships, yet household labor often remains gendered and imbalanced. So what’s the holdup? Study co-author, sociologist Sarah Thébaud, explains to USA Today that workplace policies surrounding paid leave, flexible scheduling, and child care are making it harder for couples to balance household work:
“There is a lot of research showing that, in today’s economy, it is tremendously challenging for couples to strike an egalitarian division between work and family responsibilities. … Women who ‘opt out’ of full-time careers often report doing so not because it was their ideal preference, but because the inflexibility of their work hours or the high costs of childcare left them with few options. This limited set of options ends up reinforcing gender inequality, despite the fact that people are increasingly endorsing more gender-egalitarian attitudes and beliefs.”
Co-author David Pedulla adds that women, especially, need supportive workplace policies:
“[If] supportive policies are in place, women are much more likely to prefer egalitarian relationships and much less likely to prefer neo-traditional relationships.”
The study is based on a 2012 survey of a representative group of 18 to 32-year-old unmarried, childless men and women in the United States.
When Julia Pierson’s name first appeared in national headlines last year, it must have sounded like a perfect solution. President Obama appointed Pierson as the nation’s first female Director of the Secret Service following the aftermath of an embarrassing scandal in which several agents hired prostitutes on a presidential trip to Columbia. Many saw Pierson as uniquely positioned to purge the organization of its hyper-masculine culture and revive its good name.
After an intruder succeeded in running across the lawn and into the East Room of the White House, however, a firestorm of criticism prompted Pierson’s resignation. Writing in the New Republic,Bryce Covert suggests that the very gendered conditions of Pierson’s hire preconfigured her administration’s failure from the start. Such is the unfortunate case, he argues, for a large number of women in leadership roles:
As with Pierson, women are often put in these positions because rough patches make people think they need to shake things up and try something new—like putting a woman in charge. When it’s smooth sailing, on the other hand, men get to maintain control of the steering wheel. Women are also thought to have qualities associated with cleaning up messes.
You’re familiar with that unseen barrier to power called the “glass ceiling”? Covert cites research by psychologists Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam to show that female leaders often reach top jobs that come with an inordinately high risk of failure. Social scientists call this precarious position the “glass cliff”.
Covert builds his case on a wealth of research exploring the risks that await women at the top of the corporate world:
Multiple studies have found that women are most likely to be given a chance at top roles in the corporate world when things are already bad. One found that before a woman took over as CEO of a Fortune 500 company between 1996 and 2010, its previous performance was significantly negative. Another found that FTSE 100 companies who appointed women to their boards were more likely to have had five months of consistently bad performance compared to those who picked men. Another found that companies were most likely to choose women for their boards after a loss that signaled the company was underperforming. Even in a lab, students and business leaders are more likely to pick a woman to lead a hypothetical organization when performance is on the decline.
A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that more dads than ever are staying home full-time with their children. In families consisting of married couples with children where one spouse worked at least 35 hours per week, roughly 3.5% of those households include a stay-at-home dad.
This study, led by University of Illinois sociologist Karen Z. Kramer, attaches solid data to perceived changes in family gender roles over the past few decades. Today, roughly one-third of families consist of a stay-at-home mother, down from one-half during the 1970s, and families where both mom and dad work at least 35 hours a week has increased from 46.1% to 63.2% during that time.
This study provides many openings for further research, such as changes (or lack thereof) in gender equity in the workplace and the home. For example, families with stay-at-home dads earned about $11,000 less than those with stay-at-home moms. How much of this difference is attributable to the gender pay gap? Or do breadwinning mothers differ from breadwinning fathers in areas such as educational attainment and job prestige?
With this study as a point of departure, social scientists interested in such areas as gender, the family, and the life course, as well as many others, will have plenty of material to work with.
Women watch porn and go to strip clubs. They also pay for sex. Sociologist Kassia Wosick from New Mexico State University says this reality is now becoming part of the television canon, making it more “real” for the rest of society. Shows like HBO’s Hung and Showtime’s Gigolos revolve around women as sexual consumers. In an interview with Las Cruces Sun, Wosick explains her motivation:
I wanted to do research like this as opposed to just going out and asking women about their experiences to see the way the media constructs this, because media is essentially supposed to be a reflection of our everyday lives….
Still, we might ask, is this what women want to watch or what they’re given to watch? Through content analysis and focus groups, Wosick has found that women do feel connections with the shows. The racy viewing might be exactly what they need to chip away at a taboo of sexual consumerism and enjoy some the same pleasures that men are allowed—in fact, the images might be empowering and support egalitarianism:
Women participating as sexual consumers challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality, which I argue is key in equalizing gendered power dynamics within society.
Our lives are often defined by the impossibilities we face, and that can lead to some strange decisions. Take, for example, the hit TV show Breaking Bad: a middle aged chemistry teacher with inoperable lung cancer decides it’s easier cook and deal meth than to ask others for help with his treatment. That’s the whole premise, and a new article in The Sunday Times suggests Mr. White’s decision may be the result of a heavy dose of the “masculine mystique.”
First published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 1963, Betty Friedan’sThe Feminine Mystique argued that the dissatisfaction women felt with their lives wasn’t due to a “modern lifestyle” driving them away from an ideal feminine identity, but rather their inability to even imagine living full, independent lives. Friedan called upon women to recognize this possibility: a life free of gendered expectations.
Today, Stephanie Coontz suggests the media blitz over the “crisis of boys” (lower grades, reduced college graduation rates, and slipping economic prospects for men) stems from a similar problem with gender roles:
In fact, most of the problems men are experiencing today stem from the flip side of the 20th-century feminine mystique—a pervasive masculine mystique that pressures boys and men to conform to a gender stereotype and prevents them from exploring the full range of their individual capabilities.
The masculine mystique promises men success, power and admiration from others if they embrace their supposedly natural competitive drives and reject all forms of dependence. Just as the feminine mystique made women ashamed when they harboured feelings or desires that were supposedly “masculine”, the masculine mystique makes men ashamed to admit to any feelings or desires that are thought to be “feminine”.
Coontz also uses research on men’s shame around femininity and its impact on boys’ ability to imagine excelling in the classroom. Sound familiar?
In a book to be published next month, the sociologists Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann demonstrate that most of the academic disadvantages of boys in education flow not from a “feminised” learning environment, as is often claimed, but from a masculinised peer culture that encourages disruptive behaviour and disengagement from school. As Debbie Epstein, the British researcher, puts it, “real boys” are not supposed to study. “The work you do here is girls’ work,” one boy told an educational ethnographer. “It’s not real work.”
Gender roles create impossibilities for men and woman. And, while Breaking Bad takes the masculine drive for independence to a fictional extreme, the new lag in boys’ educational and economic achievement can be a new century’s call to get everyone to, in Coontz’s words, “act like a person, not a gender stereotype.”
Hey fellas! Craving a little yogurt, but worried about your masculinity in the dairy section? What a dilemma. Luckily, Ned Resnikoff with MSNBC has some great news. A new product, Powerful Yogurt (aka, “Brogurt”), is being marketed just to men. One of the company’s ads heralds a new day in gender equality:
Your wife and sister aren’t the only ones who can take yogurt to work with them. Protein-packed Powerful Yogurt can help fuel you through your workday or even that pick-up game with the guys.
Resnikoff readily admits that he is new to “the sexual politics of fermented milk” and other nonsensical things so he cites an expert on the topic, Sociological Images’Gwen Sharp, who has been tracking products that reinforce or create irrational gender stereotypes. As can be seen Sharp’s Community Page, Brogurt is just the latest product to be so heartily gendered it looks like a parody. (See also: manly candles in manly scents. For men.)
The proliferation and marketing of these products reinforces a stereotype problem. Needlessly gendered products are clearly trying to capitalize on gender norms we hope are well past their expiration dates.
We all love when our partners help out around the house, but the type of tasks we’re doing might affect our sex lives. A recent study by Sabino Kornrich and her colleagues found that married, heterosexual men who do traditionally masculine chores, like mowing the lawn and taking out the trash, reported more frequent sex than those who tackle traditionally feminine chores, like cleaning. The findings imply that heterosexuals are essentially “rewarded” for sticking closely to socialized gender roles.
But what about the married men who enjoy cooking and shopping? Ultimately, a couple’s sex life depends on the happiness and satisfaction in the relationship. There are plenty of couples that don’t divvy up their chores along rigidly gendered lines and still manage to be sexually fulfilled. The dealbreaker, even Kornrich says, is when the man doesn’t play any part in the script—masculine or not.
“Men who refuse to help around the house could increase conflict in their marriage and lower their wives’ marital satisfaction,” Kornrich said.
“Earlier research has found that women’s marital satisfaction is indeed linked to men’s participation in overall household labor, which encompasses tasks traditionally done by both men and women.”