Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

We’re all familiar with the common trope of the nagging wife who is never pleased. The media offers frequent depictions of husbands in fear of upsetting their wives or failing to please them, and enduring their nagging. Articles abound advising wives to be kinder and more pleasant. A 2014 study about nagging  found men “especially vulnerable to” the impact of their wives’ nagging, including a 50-100% higher risk of mortality when compared to those living nag-free lives .

Why do we position women as “naggers,” demanding,” and “impossible to please”? The answer lies in the social expectations of gender. Cultural expectations demand that women perform the bulk of household management and housework.

How does that lead to nagging?

Diane Boxer’s 2002 work found that women tend to nag about the completion of household chores. She explains that women nag due to their lack of power. Meaning, if the person responsible for the household chores possessed more power, there would exist no need for nagging. Why not? Because in that scenario, the “nagee” would simply honor the request at first ask. The very fact that women must nag to get tasks completed illustrates their lack of power to provoke their spouse to do chores at first ask. Boxer explains that this lack of power functions as the key to why women tend to nag. Tannen (1990) explained that men likely resist doing the task at first ask because they want to imagine that they are “doing it of [their] own free will”. Masculinity demands that men dislike having anyone tell them what to do, “especially a woman.” Thus, gendered power dynamics within marriages create the situation where women nag.

When considering the narratives of the men in my book, Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity, this understanding proves useful. These men internalized their wives’ nagging as evidence of her unhappiness and disappointment in him. However, they failed to see the connection between their refusal to complete a task at first ask and the resulting nagging. Nor did they look around and determine what needed to be done without being asked, a situation where the chore completion would, in fact, be of their own free will.

While it’s easy to blame these men, we must remember that the system oppresses all of us; it just looks different depending upon our particular statuses. Both these men and their primary partners function under this dynamic, and both suffer as a result. These men exist under a patriarchal system that teaches them to resist having anyone tell them what to do, especially women. They don’t just leave that socialization at the altar. They bring that tendency into their marriages and romantic partnerships.

Okay, that’s interesting, but how does that lead cheating?

Hochschild’s concept of the “economy of gratitude,” which refers to the central question of who is showing gratitude to whom and for what?, proves useful here. Under the economy of gratitude, if one partner performs a domestic task that they experience as a personal burden, and then they perceive a lack of gratitude from the partner who requested the labor, feelings of dissatisfaction and inequity may ensure.

These men internalized the combination of their wives’ nagging about domestic chores coupled with what the men perceived as their wives’ failure to express gratitude for having completed the chores as evidence of their disappointment in them.

No one likes to feel taken for granted. Did their wives actually fail to show gratitude for their labor? Impossible to know. Maybe the wives failed to show appreciation because they had to nag to get the men to complete the chore. Maybe they felt no need to express gratitude because the chore benefitted both parties. Maybe they did show gratitude, but the men failed to internalize it as such.

What matters is that these men believed their primary partners lacked appreciation for their contributions to the household labor, and thus believed their wives to be “impossible to please.” And then the men internalized both the nagging and lack of gratitude as evidence that they disappoint their primary partners. The men experience this dynamic as both upsetting and mysterious. They assume some failure of theirs as the root cause, but internalize that as a failure of character, manliness, and worthiness as a man.

Were men cheating because their wives nagged them about household chores? Not directly. However, men repeatedly asserted their belief that they exist as a disappointment to their wives, that their own lack of adequate masculinity provoked this disappointment, and that they deeply needed a female romantic partner who expressed enthusiasm and desire for them. Men’s conviction that their wives lacked interest in them as people, as partners, and as lovers originated from their reaction to their wives’ nagging about and lack of appreciation for their completion of household chores. Thus, their participation in affairs exists at least in part as an outgrowth of gendered power dynamics.

Alicia Walker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author ofChasing Masculinity: Men, Validation and Infidelity and  The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity. Follow her on twitter at @AliciaMWalker1

Nell Frizzell is a journalist and author who writes about gender, culture, art, and politics. She has written for The Guardian, VICE, The Telegraph, Elle, Grazia, The Pool, The Observer, Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Red and Time Out. She is also a Vogue columnist, writing about motherhood under the title Bringing Up Baby. Here, I ask her about her new book, released today: The Panic Years: Dates, Doubts, and the Mother of All Decisions.  You can find out more about Nell at,

KM: Beyond the biological component, are there other ways that you feel like women uniquely feel the pressure from society to have a baby by a certain time and why do you think this is? What do you think society and public policy – and perhaps the men in women’s lives – can do to ease the burden of this pressure and support women both while they are deciding whether or not to have a baby and then once they actually do start child-rearing?

NF: I am amazed by how ubiquitous the expectation that girls will have babies still is today. My 16-year-old sister has a list of her favorite baby names saved onto her phone. I wonder how many boys her age are ever asked what they want to call their children? It’s there in the way we talk about female ambition (as something that will run alongside family life), the way we encourage girls to practice caring in a play setting (playing with dolls, cooking, putting toys to bed in mini cots, pushing prams, etc.), the way we ask the most fundamental and private questions as though they were breezy small talk “So, do you want a baby?” Of course all this could and should apply to people who identify as men, but I fear it is not. We still allow, even encourage, men to consider having children as something peripheral and potential, rather than a reality that they could plan for, hope for or prevent right now, in their life.

There is also the very strong cultural narrative of the ‘geriatric mother’ and the ‘cliff edge’ of fertility after 35. The truth is of course much more nuanced, much more specific to each individual’s biology and lifestyle and therefore, hopefully, less scary. We are very happy to warn women that their fertility is finite without really mentioning the correlated decrease in fertility and rise in congenital illness, quality of sperm, etc. in men.

With regards to policy, well here’s a question. Firstly, let’s actually enact the demands made at the first Women’s Liberation Conference in 1970 at Ruskin College (it’s the anniversary this year!)

  • Equal pay
  • Equal opportunity
  • Contraception and abortion on demand
  • Free 24 hour nurseries

That way, the decision to have a baby is a far less polarizing one: it will have a less damaging impact on your career, it will cost you less materially, financially, socially and personally, it will be easier to avoid getting pregnant if you’re not ready or not in the right circumstances to raise a child, it will not affect your opportunities to reenter the public world after you’ve given birth.

I would love to see free childcare for all children under 5. It doesn’t just make sense on a humanitarian level – literally making the population healthier, happier and more likely to contribute to a well-adjusted society – but it makes economic sense not to have half the workforce taken away from their job in order to look after children OR almost half the workforce’s entire income going directly to someone else looking after your children.

Better paid parental leave – for the same reasons as above. A father and mother who have the opportunity to bond with and nurture their child are far more likely to treat that job with the care and attention it deserves; their child is going to benefit from a caring environment, they will be better equipped to navigate interpersonal relationships, if their parent chooses to breastfeed their physical health will be better – the list goes on and on.

I would also like men to just think about having babies. Not to push it to one side while they concentrate on ‘the big things’ i.e. studying, work, sport, friendships, sex, money. But to have it as a question, something to prepare for, or make contingencies for from the moment they are sexually active. Let them take on the burden of contraception, particularly if they don’t want children. Side effect free, hormone-free male contraception and, until that is on the market, let’s talk again about vasectomies. If you are a man who is certain you never want a child or don’t want any more children than enact that decision in your body – have a vasectomy – don’t instead expect women to spend their lives adjusting their bodies to conform to your desire.

KM: You often leverage data and statistics in support of the topics in your articles – from a sociological point of view, in your experiences from thinking about becoming a mother to actually doing so, do you feel there are areas of research in this field that need further exploration to understand this process better?

NF: Yes. The cost of childcare should be much much more widely understood than it is now. I had no idea, until I had a child, that I couldn’t afford to have a child. Also, if more people understood that the average cost of childcare for one child, under 2 in the UK, for someone on the UK average wage, is 43% of their income, hopefully they would agitate to change that before they have a child and are already, well, trapped.

The decrease in male fertility over time. I think we need to start talking much more frankly and openly about male fertility – stop putting the blame, the decision and the burden all on women’s bodies.

Finally, please god could someone do some research – a LOT of research – into the effect of hormonal contraception (actually, hell, all contraception) on female mental health. We know that the pill is literally killing women – driving them into depression and suicide. We all know anecdotally the horrendous side effects of so much contraception. And yet there seems to be so little scientific and sociological research into it.

KM: What made you decide to write a book on this topic? What is the one lesson or advice or insight you want readers to take away?

NF: Partly, honestly, because I’d had a baby I simply couldn’t work in the way I used to as a freelance journalist. I couldn’t pitch three ideas a day while also surviving on 5 hours broken sleep and under 24-hour care of a baby. A book would give me the opportunity to work on one project over the course of months, rather than having to turn around copy every day within hours just to pay the bills.

On a more creative level, I also wanted to write this book because, having lived through The Panic Years and going through my own Flux, I knew what a bewildering, devastating, disorienting and paralyzing time it could be. I wanted to give this thing a name so women everywhere could see their own experience as part of a social and biological phenomenon, rather than a personal crisis. I wanted friends, sisters, colleagues to have a short hand with each other to explain what they were going through “Oh, I think she’s hit her Flux, so maybe we should go over with a lasagna”.

I wanted us to see the ways our gender conditioning, work culture, sexual attitudes and social care were still oppressing us. I wanted to point out the underlying injustice that still exists around fertility, childrearing and contraception.

Also, more privately and personally, I wanted my partner, friends and family to understand what I’d gone through and how it had felt.

Kim McErlean is a Ph.D. student studying Sociology, with an interest in Family Demography, at the University of Texas at Austin.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

It’s no secret that there are a lot of people struggling economically in the U.S. Over the past year, the pandemic has made the need for help even more evident—for all the people now out of work and without savings to fall back on. It makes sense that people would turn to people in their lives for help—yet many won’t, even as they suffer.

After decades of erosion in government assistance for people who are struggling, the events of the last year make the need for a renewed, strengthened public safety net even more evident. Current proposals to expand rental and food assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment benefits, and other aid would all make an enormous difference for people who are suffering.

My book Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor describes a private safety net of social ties—people we know who we can rely on—that catches some people in the absence of adequate public assistance. This is simultaneously sad, even heart wrenching, because people can be in dire circumstances, lacking the fundamentals of food and shelter, and beautiful and joyous as others reach out a hand to help and let those struggling know they’re not alone. But a lot of people do not have a private safety net—and even those who do still often struggle to meet basic needs, a problem compounded by reluctance to ask for help.

In our research published last year using data from the Time, Love, and Cash in Couples with Children Study[1] (TLC3, connected to the Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study), Laryssa Mykyta and I found that some people will resist help from others, even when they’re really struggling, and especially if they have to ask.

Some families do not need to be asked. In an interview, Wendy[2] said she never asks her family for help. “I never pay them back, they never say anything. They’re always right there to help. We try to pay them back; they never accept it,” she said.

Other participants also reported getting help from family members and feeling really good about it, but a common theme was that the help was freely given. None of the participants who reported feeling so positive about the help they received from family members had to ask for help. Asking for help is far different from receiving help. In fact, having to ask is a barrier to support. As Rosa said, “it has to be that I really have nowhere else to get it, and it’s my only choice. It’s hard to ask.”

Some study participants were reluctant to take help even if they didn’t have to ask. Robert said, “I hate taking money. From anybody. I’m really like, ‘No!’ I mean … I’d rather be hungry.” These participants reported a sense of pride and a desire to be independent that would have been threatened if they received help, much less asked for it. Robert’s statement that he would rather be hungry than ask for help is a vivid example of how deep the reluctance to ask for help can be for some people.

An individualistic perspective, so common in U.S. society, is one reason study participants seemed to shrink from asking for help even when they were fairly confident it was available. Individualism is a big part of how Americans define responsible adulthood. We all want to believe we can survive and succeed independently. Hinting at the stigma that accompanies getting assistance from others, some participants said their pride would not allow them to reach out for aid, even from the closest family members. And many worried they would not be able to reciprocate, so some who felt an obligation to repay any aid they might receive were also reluctant to get assistance from others. But the biggest obstacle appeared to be the requesting of help. Participants positively experienced help that was freely offered or given, but generally felt negative about the prospect of asking for help.

As we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic, it’s essential to remember that research on stigma and social support shows that people aren’t likely to ask for help even if they need it. That’s why it’s so valuable when others simply offer it, without them having to ask. But those who are willing and able to help others should tread lightly, being mindful of the shame many feel about getting help.

Not everyone can provide financial help to struggling family and friends, particularly if they are facing their own economic burdens. But emotional support matters too, and we could all use some of that—all the time, but maybe especially now. While physical distancing is crucial as we battle COVID-19, the term social distancing is an unfortunate misnomer that stuck. Making sure people know they’re not alone in their struggles is incredibly valuable. Because in this time of immeasurable crisis, the last thing we need is social isolation. Truly, we all need our connections to others more than ever.


[1] TLC3 consists of four waves of interviews with 150 parents in 75 couples (some married, some not married) in three cities, first interviewed shortly after the birth of a child. Both mothers and fathers participated in in-depth interviews individually and as a couple in each of the four waves from 2000-2005.

[2] All names used are pseudonyms.

Joan Maya Mazelis is the author of Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor (NYU Press 2017). She is an associate professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Rutgers University–Camden, an affiliated scholar at Rutgers–Camden’s Center for Urban Research and Education, a Faculty Affiliate at the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, and co-leader of the New Jersey/Philadelphia chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, an organization of scholars that connect their research to legislatures, civic organizations, and the media. Follow her @JoanieMazelis.



Image by Mahesh Patel from Pixabay

Many of us likely remember how panic purchasing during the early days of the pandemic led to empty shelves in toilet paper and hand sanitizer aisles in stores across the country. Less surprising to me was the run on baby care items, including formula, wipes, and especially diapers. What many parents took for granted—abundant diaper supplies in a range of types, sizes, and brands—was no longer a given.

The one in three parents who struggled to access diapers pre-pandemic already understood this dilemma all too well. Diaper need, not being able to afford enough diapers without foregoing other essentials, has increased exponentially since March 2020. Due to pandemic-related job loss, financial hardship, and disconnection from others parents could previously rely on to help fill their diaper gaps, diaper banks have reported three- to six-fold increases in diaper requests.

Despite the tireless efforts of a growing network of diaper banks and pantries across the United States that distribute free or low-cost diapers to families in need, they can meet only a small fraction of our country’s diaper need. Although diapers are a basic need of early childhood, existing public programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), do not cover diapers. Welfare cash aid support is rarely enough to cover families’ other essentials, much less the $75 average monthly expense to diaper one child using disposables. Cloth diapering is infeasible among most low-income families due to prohibitively expensive start-up costs, limited access to in-home washers and dryers, and price-per-load for using public laundry facilities. For many families, lack of access to disposable diapers can perpetuate a cycle of financial hardship, whereby daycare center requirements for disposables lead to work and school absences when parents cannot afford diapers.

What, then, are parents to do when they face diaper despair? My research based on interviews with dozens of mothers who experienced diaper need revealed a variety of innovative, labor-intensive strategies caregivers pursue to provide enough diapers for their children in the context of poverty and limited public support for basic essentials. The women I interviewed did three types of what I call diaper work, the physical, emotional, and cognitive labor involved in managing diaper need and related anxiety and stigma. Mothers carefully tracked limited diaper supplies, asked others they knew for diapers or diaper money, and went without their own basic needs to afford diapers.

Mothers could tell me exactly how many diapers they had and predict within hours when they would use their last diaper. Maria, a 30-year-old, Latina mother of four, kept a chart to monitor her infant son’s liquid intake by the ounce, log every diaper change, and track a daily diaper quota based on whether her son had diarrhea or diaper rash. In describing her track-and-budget diaper work technique, Maria told me: “Diapers are lasting longer because I know when my son pees, how many times, how much he pees each time, and how many times fill up a diaper. . . . Diapers [are] the number one concern for me right now because I don’t want to struggle more, so I have to think about stuff in this way, and I can’t go over my daily limit. It’s hard living paycheck to paycheck, living diaper to diaper.”

“[L]iving diaper to diaper” often meant participating in an informal diaper economy that emerged through mothers’ efforts to manage their diaper need. Their strategies ranged from common money-saving tactics like couponing and asking for free diaper samples, to more extreme approaches such as theft, trading food stamps for diapers, and even selling their blood plasma. Mothers sold household items, cleaned others’ homes and cars, babysat others’ children, and collected recyclables all to earn diaper money. They bartered for, borrowed, and exchanged diapers and figured out who in their social networks could be relied upon to help with diapers or diaper money. Diapers were a unique form of currency for which mothers were willing to do almost anything if it meant their babies were clean, dry, and happy. As Natasha, a 35-year-old, Black mother of four explained to me: “My neighbors help with diapers because they know I’m trustworthy. If you don’t have a job, then you won’t be able to get Pampers, and you need someone to love you, help you get them.” For mothers like Natasha, diapers had a unique practical and symbolic importance that conveyed comfort, dignity, and love.

Mothers’ diaper work also involved deciding what their households, and especially they, could go without to afford diapers. Well aware of racist, classist, and sexist stereotypes about “welfare queens,” some emphasized foregoing what others might think were vanity goods or vices, such as hair and nail grooming, cigarettes, and alcohol. The most common stories, however, were of mothers regularly sacrificing or severely limiting their own basic needs, including food, medicine, clothing, and period supplies. Many had even used the latter, along with paper towels, pillow cases, and toilet paper, to create makeshift diapers when they had no other options.

One mother I met, Aisha, 20 years old and Black, showed me the growing hole in her thinning flip flops. As her daughter’s first birthday approached, she was still wearing the same shoes purchased for a few dollars during her second trimester of pregnancy. Subsisting on a diet of mostly tortillas and cereal, Aisha managed her diaper dilemma as many mothers did, by making household purchasing choices based on a per-diaper exchange rate. Just as mothers could tell me exactly how many diapers they had, they could also quickly tell me how many diapers in their child’s size could be bought for the price of a new pair of shoes they needed but went without.

Aisha was one of the mothers whose fears of entanglement with the child welfare system influenced her diapering choices. Beyond lacking ready access to a washer and dryer, the main reason Aisha could not use cloth diapers was because: “[T]hey might see it as a kid in rags. . . . If you go in front of a judge and be like, ‘Well, I didn’t have diapers or diaper money, so I used cloth,’ and your kid pees and soaks right through it, . . . they’ll say you’re not taking care of your kid.” The diaper work of mothers of color like Maria, Natasha, and Aisha went beyond the physical labor of stretching limited diaper supplies and the cognitive labor of tracking every diaper and expense. It also involved coping with the constant stress and anxiety associated with each diaper change and the stigma directed at mothers of color parenting in poverty.

What do we learn from studying mothers’ experiences of diaper need and the diaper work they do to manage it? It reveals how intersecting race, class, and gender inequalities intensify certain aspects of parenting and why we need to revise existing theories of parental labor to account for that. The theory of “intensive mothering” developed by sociologist Sharon Hays highlighted societal expectations for mothers’ parenting to be child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive, and financially expensive. As a theory used mostly to understand the experiences of middle-class, white mothers, intensity in parenting has primarily come to mean the work relatively privileged women do and the sacrifices they make to promote their children’s educational success and high-class status.

Focusing on diaper work reveals how marginalized mothers engage in what I call inventive mothering, which goes beyond being self-sacrificial, time-consuming, and child-centered to include strategies that are necessarily resource-stretching, dignity-protecting, and stigma-deflecting. Poor mothers are often regarded with pity and contempt, rather than admiration and respect, as they struggle to meet their children’s basic needs. Yet a close look at their perspectives and experiences of managing diaper need reveals highly innovative and laborious strategies that are just as deliberate, complex, and attuned to inequalities and providing children opportunities. These opportunities include clean, dry diapers, something every child requires and deserves, but not every family can easily afford.

Lifting the veil on mothers’ diaper work is an imperative to reevaluate our frayed social safety net and consider how deliberate policy choices have consequences like diaper need. As controversy stirs over President Biden’s proposal for a $15 hourly minimum wage, we should keep in mind that a single mother working full-time for the current $7.25 minimum wage must spend at least six percent of her annual gross income just to diaper one child. Most states still tax diapers, and only California offers diaper vouchers as part of its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare cash aid program. Changes to TANF, the only form of direct public aid families can use to purchase diapers, have also exacerbated diaper need. Due to time limits and eligibility restrictions, most families in poverty do not receive TANF, and states now spend only about 20 cents for every dollar of TANF funding on basic assistance that can be used to buy diapers.

State spending on cash assistance for families’ basic needs is lowest in states with higher proportions of Black children, which exacerbates racialized poverty and its myriad effects, including diaper need. We must address this need as part of our nation’s ongoing efforts to reckon with deeply entrenched structural racism. Mothers of color are more likely to experience diaper need and, according to the women I interviewed, more likely to be judged when they struggle with and seek help for it. Within the folds of a diaper may not seem a likely place to look for racial and economic justice. Yet, given diaper need’s close connection to adverse social, economic, and health outcomes for both children and parents—including intensive diaper work—it is a need we have a moral and political responsibility to address.

Jennifer Randles is Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Follow her on Twitter at @jrandles3 and reach her at

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

January 26 will be National Spouses Day, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  If you’re looking for a spouse — or hoping to become a better one — here are a few things you might want to know, including why you shouldn’t panic if no one is on the horizon.

Get a College Education

  • As late as 1970 more than 80% of US women age 40-45 were married, with few differences by education but a slight advantage for women with a high school degree. In the last two decades, however, a different and much larger educational marriage gap has emerged. As of 2014, 75% of women aged 40-45 with a Bachelor’s degree or more were currently married, compared to only 65% of those with some college, 59% of women with a high school diploma, and just 56% of women who had not completed high school.
  • In the 20th century, women with PhDs or professional degrees were the least likely women to marry. Today, women with such advanced degrees are the MOST likely to marry. More than 80% of women age 40-45 with professional degrees or PhDs were married in 2014.  
  • A college education is especially protective against divorce. The Pew Research Center reports that as of 2015, college-educated women had an 80% chance of their marriage lasting more than 20 years. For women with a high school education or less, the chance of a marriage lasting that long is only 40%.

Take Your Time

Get by with a little help from…the internet?

  • The most common way heterosexual adults met their future marital partners in the latter half of the 20thcentury was through friends. However, after peaking at 35% in 1990, the percent of heterosexual adults who met their partner through friends had fallen to 20% by 2017. Meanwhile, the number of adults who met their partners online had soared to nearly 40%, up from just 1% in 1995. For heterosexuals, the internet is now the most common way of meeting a marital partner. Bars and restaurants are the second most common place to meet a partner, with 27% reporting they met their partner there, up from 19% in 1990. Yet most of these initial in-person meet ups were actually precipitated by online connections, making the number of couples who owe their start to online dating even greater! Heterosexuals who meet on line tend to enter marriage more quickly than their counterparts who meet in other ways, but they do not have a higher risk of breakup.

Don’t be afraid to buck outdated rules

  • As of 2016, one in ten marriages involved partners of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, a more than three-fold increase from 1980. Among newlyweds, approximately one in six is married to someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Many researchers believe these trends reflect an erosion of the traditionally rigid boundaries between different faith communities and racial-ethnic groups.
  • In the past, marriages where women had higher education or higher earnings than their husband had an elevated chance of divorce. But in recent decades women’s advancements in education and the work force have ceased to threaten marital stability. Couples where men and women are educational equals are the least likely to divorce and those in which women are more educated than their male partners are no more likely to divorce than those where the man is more educated than the woman. Since the 1990s, couples where women earn as much or more than their husbands no longer have a higher risk for divorce.

When making marital wishes, don’t forget the nightly dishes

  • It turns out the best predictor of a happy marriage is not how good-looking, talented or rich your spouse is, but how much you share – in your conversations, your interests, and especially the daily routines of life, such as housework. Gender egalitarian and same-sex couples have some big advantages here, since they tend to share more equally. Sharing housework and childcare, especially, is associated with greater relationship quality – including more satisfying and frequent sex. But have a conversation about who is going to do what, because when it comes to sharing housework, some tasks matter more than others. If you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship and your partner won’t share the dishwashing, this could mean your relationship is headed in the wrong direction. 41% of women who do the majority of dishes say their relationship is in trouble, compared to just 20% of those who share dishwashing equally. Meanwhile, men are three times more satisfied with their relationships when their partner trusts their judgment enough to share the shopping.
  • Talk it out. For women who want their partner to share responsibilities for domestic labor, communication is key. Men who report higher quality communication with their partner are more likely to do an equal share of housework and childcare.

And always remember, single doesn’t mean second-best

  • Only 16% of men and 17% of women say that having a spouse is essential to their fulfillment. What IS essential for a fulfilling life, according to 57% of men and 46% of women, is having an enjoyable job or career.
  • Once you have an education and a secure income, you do have a better chance of getting married. But you also have a better chance of enjoying health, happiness, and a wide range of friendship networks if you stay single. In fact, at the highest income levels, never-married individuals actually report more supportive friendship networks then their married counterparts.
  • This is an important advantage, because having supportive and numerous friendships is a stronger predictor of mental and physical health than being married or living with a partner.

Reprinted from 2020

Daniel L. Carlson is Associate Professor, Department of Family and Consumer Studies, at the University of Utah, and a Board Member of the Council on Contemporary Families He can be reached at Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA and is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families. She can be reached at

Now fully updated just in time to plan your Spring 2021 syllabus, the below links will take you to all the blog posts we published in 2020 related to the Covid-19 pandemic and families.

Covid-19 and Romantic Relationships

Covid-19 and the Gendered Division of Paid and Unpaid Work

Covid-19 and Children

Covid-19, Telecommuting, and Working from Home: 

Covid-19 and Family Ties

Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and is the editor of this blog. Follow her on twitter to get updates about new blog posts @ATKuperberg or contact her directly at

Children face continued social isolation, with 21 of the 25 largest school districts in the country choosing remote learning instead of in-person classes this past Fall. This means children will consume more social media than usual. Media images will outnumber — and may well outweigh — real-life interactions with kids their own age. Although boys and girls consume the same amount of media, that extra dose of media exposure may have very different consequences for boys and girls, slowing down ongoing progress toward gender equality.

Do Girls Really “Rule”?
Girls and women have made many strides toward gender equality in the past 30 years. In 1977, two-thirds of Americans said it was better for men to do the breadwinning while women stayed home to take care of the family. By 2016, the figures were reversed: Two-thirds of Americans — and a full three-quarters of millennials – now say men and women should be equal both at work and at home. Thirty years ago, little girls were still routinely cautioned to “act like a lady” and not to compete with boys at school or in sports. Today, girls are encouraged to think they can excel in all sorts of activities formerly confined to men.

Many girls seem to have gotten the “girl power” message. Among Americans under age 35 today, equal numbers of men and women are practicing law, while 60% of physicians are women. Since Title IX was passed in 1972, there has been a nearly ten-fold increase in girls who play high school sports.

Or Is the Real Rule for Girls “Just Be Sexy”?
But at the same time, the mass media deluges girls and women with a very different message, one that encourages them to seek approval by the way they dress and look rather than by their abilities and talents. Beginning in early childhood, girls and women are bombarded with the message that the best way to have value and achieve high status is to be sexy. This message, which sometimes masquerades as a form of empowerment, perpetuates stereotypes that may prove just as difficult to overturn as those of “the feminine mystique.” The diffidence and modesty teens and young women were expected to portray in the past has been replaced with an equally restrictive expectation to wear revealing clothes that accentuate breasts and buttocks (surgically enhancing them if necessary), sport just the right amount of make-up to be alluring but not “cheap,” and carry themselves, preferably in high heels, as if constantly trying to attract sexual attention from (adult) men. Both ideals of women, past and present, center around their self-presentation, previously as passively submissive, now as active architects of their sexual objectification.

This message starts early. When researchers analyzed 10 of the most popular television programs among White and Latina elementary school girls in the U.S., they found that only 38% of the characters were girlsbut 75 percent of the time, these girls were presented in sexually objectifying ways. So girls are less likely than boys to be major characters or initiators of action on shows, and when they do make an appearance on the screen, they are typically wearing skimpy clothing, making comments about their bodies, and flirting with the boys’ characters. This delivers a two-pronged message: girls are less important overall than boys, and the only way to be important – to be noticed – is to be sexy, attractive, and flirty with boys.

Sexualized Messages Are Everywhere
On average, children in elementary school watch four and a half hours of television a day: At this rate of exposure, children see approximately 78,069 examples of “sexy girl” role models just in children’s programming alone every year. And with schools, playgrounds, and after-school activities grounded, children are likely to consume much more media this year.

Sexualized depictions of girls and women are prevalent in nearly all forms of mainstream media, including magazines, video games, music videos, television shows, and movies. A 2017 study published in Pediatrics reported that sexually objectifying portrayals of women appear in 52% of all magazine advertisements and 59% of music videos.

Music videos seem to be especially influential in propagating sexualized stereotypes. In a forthcoming paper based on our latest research, we asked seventh-grade boys and girls if they agreed with several statements expressing sexualized gender stereotypes, such as “there is nothing wrong with boys being primarily interested in a girl’s body,” “pretty girls should expect to be flirted with and should learn how to handle it,” and “using her body and looks is the best way for a girl to attract a boy.” All the students endorsed some of these statements, but of the seventh-graders who never watched music videos, only 17 percent agreed with more than half.   Among youth who watched between 4 to 6 hours per week, a third agreed with more than half these statements. And among seventh-graders who watched 7 to 9 hours of music videos per week, a full 50% agreed with more than half such statements.

This does not even count the impact of the sexualized toys marketed to young girls. MGA Entertainment, aiming at the 6-to-10 year-old market, recently released “L.O.L. Surprise! Dolls,” outfitted in mini-skirts, high heels or thigh-high boots, and fishnet stockings. As a recent viral video indicated, some of the dolls reveal clingy lingerie when dunked in cold water.

Girls Who Dress Sexy Are Assumed to be Popular, But Not Smart
Even before the end of elementary school, girls come to equate looking sexualized as a marker of popularity and status. Girls, especially prior to puberty, aspire to look sexualized before they have any understanding of sexuality or sexual behavior, and before they see it as a way to attract the attention of boys.  Instead they are reflecting what the media has told them their most successful peers are like and who they are most likely to hang out with. When six- to nine-year old girls were asked what outfit would be popular with other girls, they selected an extremely short black mini-skirt and an off-the-shoulder top, an outfit significantly more sexualized than what they said they wore every day, and more sexualized than what they thought boys would like. So looking sexy is seen as a route to be popular among one’s peer group.

On the other hand, looking sexy is not seen as admirable in other ways. Experimental studies with childrenteens and adults of both sexes reveal that women and girls who “look sexy” are consistently rated as less nice, less smart, and less competent than similar females who are not portrayed as sexualized. Indeed, they are often denigrated for these traits by the very same girls who aspire to look like them! In our research with elementary school children, children as young as 5 tell us that, compared to non-sexualized girls wearing jeans and a blouse, girls in skimpy clothing with heavy make-up and jewelry are not as nice, not as athletic, and not as smart as the other girls, but that they are more popular. When asked to describe a sexualized girl in a picture, elementary school-aged girls say things like, “Girls that dress like that aren’t very smart” or that they just “act dumb.” Yet a large proportion of girls aspire to look like the sexualized girl, even while saying she has very few redeeming qualities.

The Downside of Succeeding at Sexy
Unfortunately, the association of successful sexual display with shortcomings in other areas can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our research with girls aged 11 to 14 shows that when girls prioritize sexualized attractiveness, even temporarily, they appear to deprioritize, within themselves, traits they presume to be incompatible with sexiness, such as intelligence. This tendency shows up even earlier: When researchers gave some elementary-aged girls a sexualized doll (“Fashion” Barbie) to play with for just five minutes, the career aspirations they reported afterwards were more limited than those of girls who played with the non-sexualized Mr. Potato Head. Researchers in both Europe and the US find that, among girls, valuing being sexualized, or even just being exposed to sexualized images of girls, leads to lower levels of working memory (the memory necessary to solve math problems and remember the beginning of the sentence while reading the end of the sentence), plus worse performance in girls’ math, language arts, science, and social studies (in both their grades and standardized test scores).

In our research with middle school girls, we find that seventh-grade girls who believe that girls should be valued for their sexual appeal have lower academic motivation and less confidence in their academic ability by the eighth grade, regardless of how well they are currently doing in school. Even girls who do well in school report downplaying what they know when they value being sexualized, saying they don’t raise their hands even when they know the answer and they pretend to do worse on a test than they actually did. So instead of striving for academic excellence, we see middle school girls concluding that the most direct path to social status is to be sexy, and that requires “playing dumb.”

Once girls adopt a sexualized look, this penalizes them in their interactions with adults, who tend to assume that such girls are not just “playing dumb,” but actually are dumb. For example, when adults were shown pictures of a fifth-grade girl dressed in either a tee-shirt, jeans, and Mary Jane shoes or a short dress with a leopard print cardigan and a purse, the girl dressed in the sexy outfit was described as less intelligent, capable, competent, and determined than the girl in jeans. This held true even when the sexualized girl was described as being an honors student and the president of the student council! Given that adults also rate sexualized girls as less smart than non-sexualized girls, regardless of their academic accomplishments, girls who manage to live up to cultural ideals of sexiness face lowered expectations for their academic success from their teachers, their peers, and themselves.

Constantly seeing sexualized females affects boys and girls in even more disturbing ways. Elementary school girls who aspire to wear sexy clothing and think that sexy equates with popular are more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies, rating their ideal body as thinner than their actual body; by adolescence, that is associated with disordered eating, an early sign of the eating disorders that disproportionately affect girls in their teens.

Children in elementary school who were exposed to pictures of sexualized women in experimental studies rated those women as less than fully human and less worthy of being helped when in danger than non-sexualized women. In a recent meta-analysis of 59 different studies, researchers documented that the more sexualized media teens are exposed to, the more likely they are to endorse “rape myths,” such as the belief that it is okay for a woman to be raped if she is wearing suggestive clothing. The link between seeing sexualized women in the media and condoning sexual violence towards women was the strongest among White boys between the ages of 11 and 17.

Despite this long-range danger to women, the drive to be sexualized — to assume one’s value comes exclusively from sexual attractiveness — is largely coming from girls (or more precisely, girls’ reactions to the barrage of sexualized media messages) rather than from boys their own age. In our studies with elementary school children, when we ask children to tell us about the sexualized girls, it is girls who recount elaborate stories about why sexualized girls are more popular and attractive. Boys in elementary school are still pretty clueless about the different implications of a girl wearing a belly shirt or a hoodie. This fits our understanding of how stereotypes develop in children: we all pay more attention to the cultural messages that are relevant to us. Girls are closely paying attention to what is valued in women and girls – and despite all the feel-good slogans about “girl power,” the message girls get from the media is that sexiness is valued above everything else. As long as this is the standard girls learn from the mass media, full equality will be unattainable.

Christia Spears Brown, Ph.D., is the Lester and Helen Milich Professor of Children at Risk in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky, Director of the Center for Equality and Social Justice, and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: Raising Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reposted with Permission from the Gender & Society Blog 

Why do women leave academic science and engineering? This puzzle has plagued scholars and practitioners for decades. Despite a rising presence in graduate programs, women still constitute only 24 percent of tenured professorships in the natural sciences and only 15 percent in engineering fields in the US.

A popular explanation is that the job is very demanding. The work hours are long, and the structure, like the ticking tenure clock, does not make combining a career with parenting easy, especially for women. This is even more apparent now that COVID has exposed and exacerbated the disproportionate impact of caregiving responsibilities on women’s academic careers. It’s no wonder that some women don’t want to stick with it.

Though parenting demands are undoubtedly critical, they don’t paint a complete picture. Many women leave before they have children, and therefore, before they presumably encounter work-family conflicts. Further, parenthood doesn’t explain why women are more likely to leave science and engineering careers than other demanding professions, like law or medicine.

Fortunately, studies of academic workplace culture can offer some insight: gender-based discriminationexclusion, and harassment have been documented for decades in academic science and engineering. But knowledge about the ways in which academics actually communicate beliefs and assumptions about motherhood, in particular, remains limited. As such, it is an open question as to whether or not exposure to workplace beliefs about motherhood might help explain gender differences in early-career decision making.


Our study, based on in-depth interviews with 57 young, childless, PhD students and post-docs in natural sciences and engineering fields at four universities, fills this gap. We find two critical things. First, the young women and men that we talked to described a pervasive workplace culture that frames motherhood, but not fatherhood, in opposition to legitimacy as a scientist or engineer. In this context, it is widely believed that motherhood is controversial and should be feared, rejected, and hidden. Second, these ideas about motherhood disadvantage women in their day-to-day interactions and, ultimately, motivate some of them to leave academia.

Interviewees told stories of faculty saying things like “There’s more to life than babies” and “I don’t understand why women complain . . . you just have to decide you get a family or a career in chemistry, one or the other and just accept it.” One recounted how a professor’s “gist was that having children is sort of narcissistic. And she’s above that . . . like, simpletons want to have kids.” When asked what topics she might discuss with her dissertation advisor, one graduate student explained: “If it were something [like] ‘I’m having a child’ . . . I would feel uncomfortable about how he’d receive that because of the ‘women always fail’ thing.” Some described an alarmist narrative about motherhood, such that women’s, but not men’s, reproductive plans and decisions were publicly discussed and critiqued by colleagues.

Not surprisingly, most women reacted negatively to this culture. Words like “scary,” “frightening,” “worry,” “struggle,” and “stressed” routinely came up when we asked women their thoughts on combining family with a career in academic science or engineering. These words were never used when we asked men the same question. The more women were taught to fear motherhood, and the more they felt they could not discuss family plans, but rather had to reject and hide them, the more these plans seemed to pose an insurmountable obstacle to career success. We use the phrase the “specter of motherhood” to describe these circumstances.

These beliefs and practices surrounding motherhood made it particularly difficult for young, childless women to gain professional respect. Women recounted stories of having their commitment questioned and being asked why they were getting a degree since they would likely “end up dropping out anyway to have babies.” Others realized they would be taken more seriously and given more attention from their advisors if they made it known that they did not plan to have children. These experiences taught women that their already questioned presence in the profession would likely become more tenuous if they were to become mothers in the future.

We show how this recognition—that gaining professional respect requires continuously engaging in practices that reject, denigrate, and hide motherhood—disproportionately drives women away from academia. Of the people we interviewed who had already decided to leave academia, despite originally being open to it when they started graduate school, the specter of motherhood was a factor in nearly all of the women’s rationales. It was not a factor in any of the men’s.

It is noteworthy that most of the men and women we interviewed disliked or disagreed with these norms and practices around motherhood. Most perceived them as “extreme”, “odd,” and generally out of step with “normal” people—people who presumably value family and see motherhood as an ordinary aspect of life. Given that, it is not surprising that some women are unwilling to engage in this unusual approach to family life, especially if they can still achieve career success outside of academia that doesn’t require them to give up motherhood.

Our findings offer insights for academic institutions. A larger presence of mothers could help dispel the specter of motherhood and so policies that lead to better recruitment and retention of mothers, like tenure clock extensions are necessary. But our work reveals that interventions that target attitudes about motherhood are also critical. Programs that raise awareness about the many mothers who are successful academic scientists  and that describe the benefits of academia to mothers—like, scheduling flexibility and job stability—are crucial to counter the spectre of motherhood we discovered. Programs should also address motherhood during graduate advising to normalize seeing and talking about children in workplace settings.

Our study is focused on academia but the specter of motherhood may be present in other professions, especially elite male-dominated ones. If ideas about motherhood are similarly powerful in shaping women’s career aspirations in other occupations, then measures that target these attitudes are  critical for addressing the stalled progress toward gender equality more broadly.

Sarah Thébaud is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research identifies cultural, social psychological, and institutional processes that contribute to gender inequalities in the workplace, families, entrepreneurship, and higher education. She earned her PhD in Sociology at Cornell University and was a postdoctoral 
fellow at Princeton University. 

Catherine J. Taylor is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a mother. Her main research and teaching areas are gender, work and occupations, social psychology, health, and methods. Before joining the faculty at UCSB, Professor Taylor earned her PhD in Sociology at Cornell University, was a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University, and was a faculty member 
at Indiana University. 

I was excited to find out that two of my favorite scholars who study the family and gender, Kathleen Gerson and Sarah Damaske, have published a new book about interviewing, The Science and Art of Interviewing. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kathleen Gerson about this book. Dr. Gerson is a sociologist and author of several books, including The Unfinished Revolution, and The Time Divide. In her new book with Dr. Sarah Damaske, author of For the Family? How Class and Gender shape Women’s Work, and the forthcoming book The Tolls of Uncertainty, they discuss the science and art of conducting interviews, the method they most often use to do their own research.

AK: How did you and Sarah decide to write a book about interviewing?

KG: The idea began with James Cook, my editor as well as Sarah’s at Oxford, who asked me over lunch one day how I went about doing my own research. At the time, I responded casually that there’s “a method to the inevitable madness,” never imagining this would prompt him to follow up by asking if I would like to write a book about how to tame the unwieldy process. My immediate reaction was skeptical. How could I find the time? Yet when Sarah and I learned that James had approached both of us, we started to brainstorm about the possibilities for what we could accomplish together. Although neither of us had planned to write a book of this kind, the prospect of working together as teammates began to feel irresistible.

Sarah and I had already worked together closely over the years and knew we shared a passion for interviewing. We also agreed about the principles that underlie successful interview studies. The more we talked, the more excited we became about writing a book together that would explain how and why interviewing is such a powerful method. We kept hearing the same questions from our students and colleagues, many of whom were puzzled about what interview-based research can and should do. How do you formulate an interview project? How do you conduct good interviews? How do you analyze interview material? And, above all, how do you use interviewing to build theory as well as to provide thick description? Since many of the practices that produce great interview studies remain largely invisible, we became convinced that social researchers of all stripes could use a step-by step guide for tackling the conceptual and practical challenges that arise at each stage of formulating and carrying out scientifically grounded interview-based research.

Around the same time, the publication of Colin Jerolmack and Shamus Khan’s controversial article, “Talk is Cheap,” served as another spur to action. The debate sparked by that article’s limited depiction of what interviews (and other self-reporting methods) can contribute fueled our growing enthusiasm. We saw a clear need to dispel the many misconceptions surrounding interview-based research. From that point on, our mission became clear: first, to explain why and how interviewing is an irreplaceable and indispensable method for understanding society; and, second, to show how to craft theoretically informed and empirically rich interview studies.

AK: Your research examines issues related to families, gender and work. Asking people about their families and the gendered division of labor can often surface resentments and strong ideological beliefs. Do you have any advice specifically for people collecting interviews on especially sensitive topics?

KG: Interviewing is especially well-suited – and, arguably, the best method – for exploring sensitive topics. Good interviews create a “safe space” by removing people from their ordinary contexts and allowing and encouraging them to discuss their most private concerns. Like the proverbial meeting of two strangers on a train, interviews provide a setting where people can discover and explore their most deeply held but rarely articulated thoughts and experiences. Over the decades, countless participants have talked with us about events and emotions they had never before shared with even their closest friends and intimates. The biggest challenge, then, is to create that safe space and use it to make a genuine connection.

To get off to the right start, first put yourself in the right state of mind so that you can then put the participant at ease. At its core, an interview is an exchange. We ask strangers to share their time and their life experiences, and we owe them our undivided attention and unequivocal support in return. This appreciation of their generosity and commitment to accept to what they convey does more than help interviewees feel comfortable; it also sets the stage for listening carefully, following up neutrally, and remaining open to surprises that upend your expectations and preconceived ideas. Interviewers need to resist any temptation to prejudge, assign blame, or reduce a person’s views to some form of false consciousness. Once your preconceptions are set aside, it becomes easier for both of you to stay in the moment and for you to offer any support that may be needed when sensitive issues arise. This atmosphere empowers people to disclose painful experiences, air a full range of emotions, and express controversial and even distasteful views. The good news is that this approach creates a win-win outcome for everyone. Participants can – and, in my experience, usually do – gain new insights about their lives. And you are able to make conceptual breakthroughs by grappling with the unexpected complexity that your interviews elicit.

AK: Do you have any advice for family researchers in particular?

KG: Because families are arguably the most intimate realm in our lives, interviewing offers an especially powerful tool to learn about them on multiple levels. In contrast to surveys with pre- coded answer categories, interviews can delve deeply into the subtle, often contradictory dynamics of private life. And in contrast to ethnographic observation, interviews can obtain information on a person’s inner life, private activities, and past experiences that no external observer can see. Whatever aspect of family life you may be studying, my advice is to take advantage of these strengths. Inquire about families’ many dimensions, including its members’ mental states and behavioral strategies, and then explore the links between these dynamics and the wider social contexts in which families are embedded.

Given the diversity of family circumstances and the many aspects of family life that command our attention, it’s necessary to make some basic choices at the beginning. Sarah and I are in favor of posing a “big” question, which you can then answer by crafting a focused, theoretically informed research design. Since you can only interview so many people in one study, its important to build any necessary controls and comparisons into your sampling strategy. And it’s equally important to construct an interview guide that collects the information needed to answer your questions while also providing an organized, enjoyable structure for each participant. Our book offers techniques for accomplishing both of these goals. We recommend using theoretical sampling, which means defining the parameters for whom to include (and exclude) and then making certain you have the necessary variation within those parameters to make strategic within-sample comparisons.

When it comes to the interview guide, we stress the need to structure the interview chronologically, so that people can relate pivotal events and family histories in order and use this timeline as a scaffolding for talking about their family experiences, practices, hopes, fears, and plans. We also recommend nesting questions in a sequence that inquires about the various dimensions of family life, first asking about what happened and then following up with questions about the responses and consequences that ensued. All in all, this approach makes it possible to trace the interaction between the institutions that shape family life and the actions people take to reproduce or change those institutional arrangements. To borrow from Marx, interviews allow us to discover how people make families, but not under conditions of their own choosing.

[Bonus Question] AK: The one great tip I have always remembered from my grad school research methods class on interviewing was to start by asking people what they want their fake name to be in your project, as an ice breaker, and to reinforce the idea that their answers will be confidential. What is one great tip you have for a brand new interviewer starting out? What about a tip for a seasoned researcher trying to improve their practice?

KG: It’s difficult to limit myself to just one or two tips, but here are a few short and simple ones that I keep in mind and would offer to beginners and more seasoned interviewers alike:

  • Choose a topic that inspires your passion and keeps you going when the going gets tough.
  • Remain curious. The reason for doing the study is that you don’t yet know the answer.
  • Expect things to change along the way.
  • Greet surprises in the field as an opportunity to learn rather than as a threat to your earlier
  • Be patient and persistent, especially when matters don’t work out as planned and you
    need to make adjustments.
  • When you hit an obstacle, remember that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
  • Stay confident amid the uncertainty. In the end, all the hard work will be well worth the

Kathleen Gerson is Collegiate Professor of Arts & Science and Professor of Sociology at New York University, where her work focuses on the intertwined revolutions in gender, work, and family life taking place in the U.S. and globally. In addition to “The Science and Art of Interviewing” (with Sarah Damaske), her books include “The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family” and “The Time Divide: Work, Family, and Gender Inequality” (with Jerry A. Jacobs), among others. She is now at work on a book about Americans’ responses to the intensifying conflicts between earning an income and caring for others amid rising economic insecurity and family uncertainty. 

Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the editor of this blog. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Reposted with permission from Psychology Today.

The pandemic has shone a light on inequities that have long existed in American families. But now locked at home, what might have been hidden is exposed to the light of day, after day, after day of spending time at home with our families. Even those of us who go out to work come home to stream TV shows and movies for leisure because nothing else is open.

A whole cottage industry has sprung up among researchers (including myself) to measure whether being at home so much more has shined a lot on just how much domestic work is hidden, and in so doing, encouraged men in heterosexual relationships to step up to the plate, to do their fair share. The short answer is maybe, but not really.

Some studies suggest men are doing more housework and child care, but other research finds that is not so. It seems, however, that the consensus is that the new job of homeschooling, often known as supervising online education, has fallen almost entirely on mothers. My colleagues and I hoped that the younger couples would be the more egalitarian ones, but we found no differences by generational cohort.

So when the slow progress toward equality here in America started to be depressing, I turned to the only entertainment available, streaming, for some consolation. I had read about a Danish television show Borgen, which centered on a fictional female premier of Denmark. Surely I could binge my way into existing at least temporarily, in my imagination, in a feminist future. After all, while the World Economic Forum ranks Iceland as the winner in gender equality rankings, Denmark (and the other Nordic countries) are close behind. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, Denmark scores 77.5 out of 100 points and leads the other European Union countries in the areas of health and money. The gender inequality most pronounced in Denmark is in the area of power, and no surprise, men still have more.

To avoid suspense, the show is incredibly depressing when you expect a feminist utopia. Here is a show with strong feminist women characters—the tough prime minister, as well as the central journalist of note, who is a young ambitious, brave, and brash young woman. The characterizations of these women are complex: Each is devoted to her work and each really enjoys good sex. Each can hold her own in any spitting test with a colleague. The prime minister even wins a political poker game with the most powerful industrialist (and of course, man) in Denmark. While gender equality is definitely portrayed as still a work in progress in the public sphere, the feminists are winning. The prime minister even manages to pass a quota system so that women have to be appointed as 50% of corporate boards.

So what’s the rub? Why did I go to bed depressed once the first season was well underway? (Spoiler alert: Stop reading if you don’t want to know.) Because even in a Danish television show, men’s self-esteem and even their interest in sex is portrayed as tied to their success at work. Mr. Danish First Gentleman has agreed to scale back his career to accommodate his wife’s political ambitions. Now, it’s not as if the Prime Minister has demanded he become an economically dependent stay-at-home dad whose sole job is to cater to her and the children. No, he has just stepped down as a CEO to become a professor teaching international finance while his children are young. This is something political wives do all the time. Just ask Michelle Obama. But what is just expected of political wives is considered impossibly degrading for political husbands. He loses interest (or is it ability?) in sex, at least with his powerful (and beautiful) wife. He starts flirting with a student. Eventually, he takes a demanding and lucrative job without even discussing it with his wife. When it becomes clear that his new company stands to benefit from her government’s decisions, she demands he resign. He does so, and then their troubles truly begin. Poor Mr. First Gentleman cannot spend a few years as a professor, rather than an executive, while his wife runs the country. His very masculinity is at stake.

How does he get his mojo back? After taking the job, he “takes” his wife while she is sitting on the kitchen countertop shocked that he has made such a major decision affecting their family without so much as a phone conversation. He then begins an affair and insists on a divorce.

Gender still matters, even in European countries so far ahead of us in their march toward equality. There are two major feminist cautionary take-home messages from this Danish TV production. It is at home where gender equality is most entrenched. When mothers are not the primary parent, they are suspect as women. And when fathers are the primary parent, they often feel emasculated. Even in Denmark.

This leads us to the second takeaway from this show: Men are the problem for gender equality. Women have changed dramatically. We have learned to wield power, to win at poker, and even the ambiguous skill of compromising our absolute integrity to get the job done. Men, on the other hand, are stuck in definitions of success that require women to be their (and their children’s) caretaker so they can slay dragons or run big companies. The message Borgen shouts from the rooftops is that women who are powerful in the world will have to go it alone because men continue to need wives that put them at the center of their universe. Men have not learned to be second fiddles, to support their wives’ careers, even if that career is running the country.

Similarly, the beautiful, smart, and ethical journalist Katrina despairs at her 31st birthday that she is still single and childless. She avoids going home because her mother will harangue her about being a spinster. Even in Denmark.

Once again, this show reminds us that gender matters. Gender is not just an identity, nor even a set of stereotypical roles for women and men, but rather a system of inequality. The racial uprisings this summer have reminded all of us that racism is structured into the very fabric of our society. And so too, sexism is structured into the fabric of American society, and clearly, Danish society as well. Gender structures our beliefs about ourselves, our expectations for others, our ideology, and even our legal systems.

Both our sexist response to this pandemic, with women shouldering most of the burdens of more family time and responsibility for children’s schooling, and the failure of a series featuring strong Danish women both show how deeply gender is structured into our lives. As I argue in my most recent book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles With the Gender Structure, the only way forward is to leave gender behind entirely. We need a fourth wave of feminism that diminishes the sex assigned at birth from a main source of inequality and difference, leaving behind its relevance only to biological reproduction. Why raise boys and girls to be different kinds of people? Why expect female spouses to support their high flying partners, but not expect the same from husbands? Why should we impose gender socialization or expectations on one another? Some liberation stories include the refrain, “Let my people go.” But here, the refrain is for all of us: Let all people go. Let gender go.

Barbara J. Risman, Ph.D., is a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Where The Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure.