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Posts Tagged ‘maternal wall’

Somewhere on the way to gender equality, young women have apparently lost the ability to iron a shirt or roast a chicken.  So says a patronizing new study — titled “Male and female roles in the 21st century: breaking gender stereotypes” — by Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle.

What we learn from an exclamation-point-studded press release from McCrindle’s company is that when it comes to the tricks of the traditional housewife trade, millennial women fall short.  They are much less able than their mothers to bake a birthday cake, hem a skirt or grow a plant from a cutting.   (Insert gasp here)  On the other hand, McCrindle found that these women  are more likely to pay the bills, wash the car, or even change a lightbulb — bless their hearts — presumably, while their male counterparts are cooking dinner, stacking the dishwasher or changing their babies’ nappies.   The study also found that 61.2 percent of the men surveyed could also work magic with a steam iron.   About the testosterone shift, McCrindle tells us in his press release:

“What we are seeing is not so much a decline in ‘man skills’ but rather a change in family dynamics, reflecting that both parents are likely to have full time jobs and greater demands on their time than ever before.”

“Even though skills such as woodworking and mechanics are on the decline, men are picking up new talents such as cooking, ironing and an increased role in bringing up the kids. The advent of “Kitchen TV” in particular seems to have influenced our nation’s men, with over half the population saying men can now fire up the oven to bake a cake, or cook for a crowd at a dinner party,” McCrindle continued.

Fancy that.  As for the Millenial women:

Mark McCrindle said, “Gen Y women are sometimes disparaged as having lost the traditional skills of their mothers, yet the reality is that they are a multiskilled generation. The fact is that they are more likely to text a photo than dust a photo frame, or work with spreadsheets rather than mend bedsheets is testament to their twentieth century roles.”

Feeling patronized yet?

What’s funny in that not-really-funny-kind-of-way  is that, despite its title, the study breathlessly defines these “changing gender roles” in terms of silly gender stereotypes.  And in doing so, completely trivializes the point — if not misses it completely.    We are at a place in time when truly changing gender roles is more important than ever before.   In terms of career options, women’s roles have evolved to the point where, just like our male counterparts, we too can work 40 hour weeks that add up to 52.  We can be doctors or lawyers, bankers or brokers.  We earn more than our share of advanced degrees.  And we grow up knowing that, for most of us, work is not a choice, but a necessity.

And yet.  While all those doors are open to us, once we walk inside them, we’re faced with workplace structures designed by and for men.  (You know, the ones with the wives at home with a chicken in the oven.)  As we’ve noted in this space time and again, though we’re welcome in the building, we rarely make it upstairs to the boardroom:  Sooner or later we slam up against that maternal wall that prevents women with kids from moving forward in their careers for fear that childcare responsibilities might interfere with their performance — and women without kids are also held back because, you know, they might have them.  On the other hand, a man with kids gets to be a “family man.”  As in, all around good guy:  reliable and raise-worthy.

Meanwhile, maternity leave?  Paternity leave?  Available day care?  For most families, more pipe dream than reality.

And then comes the second shift where studies show that the household division of labor often reverts back to the days when men earned the bread and the women baked it.  So yeah, it’s sweet that men can load the dishwasher or change a diaper, but really, who cares?  If gender roles are truly going to change, it calls for a much deeper conversation on more substantive issues than chickens and nappies.  And in fact, there’s one going on now over at Role/Reboot, a new website that challenges members of the “shift generation” to employ the book club model to start talking about how to make change in a meaningful way:

Definitions of womanhood and manhood are breaking down, along with all the expectations and baggage that come with them. And for that, we’re thrilled. But we often feel like the country hasn’t really caught up – or worse, is again entering a period of woeful feminist backlash – and the realities of our lives aren’t well reflected in the media (thanks “The Bachelor” and “Bridalplasty”!) or the policy arena (Oy, where to begin…). Society is still so conflicted about women and men’s roles, and often we are too – both personally, and within our relationships. It’s a confusing moment, and like our 60s sisters, we want to talk about it.

But back to the McCrindle’s study.   Despite the fact that it’s nonsense, I must confess two points of resonance.  One, the only person (including me) who has ever used an iron in our house is my son-in-law.  And two, unlike my millennial sisters, I can cook a killer roast chicken.  If it matters, I’ll be glad to show you how.

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So today I thought I’d offer a quick riff about double standards.

Case number one, the most obvious:  Rep. John Boehner’s weepathon on “60 Minutes.”  The prospective Speaker of the House cries.  Don’t know why.  But as USC Professor Kathleen Reardon points out on HuffPo, it’s perfectly fine — if somewhat creepy — if a Republican male cries on TV, but can you imagine the outcry if Nancy Pelosi had done the same?  From Reardon’s post (Note:  videos from “60 Minutes” are embedded here):

Men get to cry with impunity lately, especially those considered tough, stiff, distant, difficult, demanding or dispassionate. The context matters; nowadays in politics talking about old friends, soldiers, children, harm done to one’s family, or personal challenges provide opportunities when a tear or two can do more good than harm.

Republican crying is more acceptable than Democratic crying because liberals are expected to be softer – “bleeding hearts.” Republicans are perceived as tougher, less sensitive, often more concerned with business priorities. So, crying works well for them. It’s the violation of expectations that makes conservative crying persuasive. It’s the beauty of not being predictable.

Women, whether in business or politics, are in a more difficult position with regard to any sort of emoting. Since it is expected of them, crying doesn’t serve as a balancing technique. It merely confirms that they are soft. Of course, if a woman like Margaret Thatcher were to shed a tear, it would violate expectations and in the right context might serve her well — once or twice.

Yet the tough Nancy Pelosi won’t take that risk. When asked about John Boehner’s tendency to cry, Pelosi responded:

“You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.”

You can’t blame Pelosi. She remembers what happened to Hillary Clinton.

So do we.  She cried on the campaign trail.  And was roundly castigated for it:  How, you know, like a woman to be so emotional.  And so it goes.  Need we say more?

Case in point number two:  While reading the paper on Sunday, I came across a curious, dated expression not once but twice.  Family Man.  As an accolade.  Really, hadn’t that phrase had gone the way of the beehive hairdo?  Apparently not.  The first reference came via a column about our newly elected District Attorney and his newly appointed chief deputy, his best friend.  The columnist took pains to note that both were “dedicated family men”, each with two kids.  The subtext?  Well, it might have been to note that though the two men are close, they are decidedly hetero.  But that’s beside the point.  The implication is that, because they are fathers, well, you can trust them to get the job done.  More in a minute.

The second reference was to some movie star or other.  I think it was Matt Damon.  But again — and I’m embarrassed to admit that I read such stuff, but what the hell, it gave me meat for a riff — shortly after the nutgraf, he was described as a “family man.”  As in, what a guy!

Now, I like families as much as the next girl.  I have one of my own, which I guess means you could call my husband a dedicated family man.  But have you ever heard of a “family woman”?  Yeah, thought not.  And here’s where that double standard comes in.  As we discuss (okay, at length) in our book, studies have shown that women are held back in their careers because they have families, which is bad enough, but also because they might have families.  It’s called the maternal wall, and there’s an impenetrable bias there.  As one of our sources, University of Illinois business professor Jenny Hoobler, told us: “ If a man has a picture of a child in the office, it makes them look like they’re stable, like a good, solid trustworthy employee, but if a woman has pictures in the office, it looks like, uh-oh, she’s not really dedicated to the career.  Will she leave the workplace early to pick up her kids?  Will she take an extended maternity leave?  Will she even come back after the birth of her next child?”

Ugh, right?  Right?

And then, there’s this: A study on fathers out of the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that the dads confirmed that having a baby enhanced their self-image at work, in terms of reputation, credibility and even career options.

I’m sure there are a plenty more examples, but, frankly, I’m off to find my Kleenex.  And so, I leave the cries and whispers to you.  Anything to add?

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Last week Forbes released its list of the hundred most powerful women in the world and Broadsheet’s Mary Elizabeth Williams had a big beef with it.

Not the women who were chosen or, for that matter, why they were chosen.  She was pissed because of a chunk of info that was included in each woman’s bio:  marital status and whether or not these rockstar women had kids.

Let’s check:

But why, as NARAL’s Mary Alice Carr pointed out Wednesday, did Forbes feel the need to include the marital status of and number of children produced by each of its world-shaking women? One might understand that in highlighting the achievements of television host and gay rights advocate Ellen DeGeneres, marriage, and the right to be married, are a huge part of what she stands for. But Danica Patrick? Not so much. Hey, Forbes readers, meet Indra Nooyi! She’s 54, she runs PepsiCo — and she’s married and has two kids. And say hello to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — and note that she is “single.”

Sexist, sexist, sexist.  Right?  Williams also took issue with the fact that Forbes never defines  men in terms of their personal lives.  (Of course, as numerous commenters pointed out, she was slightly off-base: Forbes indeed includes the same info on the world’s wealthiest men, or so we learn from the so-called wisdom of the crowds.)

But who cares.  That’s not the point.  Or at least not mine.  Now, let me just say that I love Mary Elizabeth Williams, and rarely do I disgree with her smart commentary.  But here I do.  Why?  Because for the past 14 years I have taught college women who seem to believe that they have to choose between family or dreams.

You think that impacts their career decisions — or lack of same?  Duh.

There is no question that women suffer from what’s been called the maternal wall:  penalized and considered less promotable because of family committments.   As University of Illinois management professor Jenny Hoobler found, this holds true even when women have no kids — and don’t plan on having any.  We interviewed Hoobler for our book, and here’s what she told us:

[Her study showed] “this lingering stereotype that women aren’t as dedicated to their careers because they are or will at some point take the primary responsibility for caregiving in the family.  What we found was that even when women did not have did not have children, did not have an elderly parent to care for, didn’t have a sick spouse, their bosses still felt  that they had higher conflict between the family and work than their male counterparts did.

“People think that this is something that has gone away. I think there is a misconception when you are talking about workers with kids that male and female parents share equally the responsibilities for the home but many research studies have shown recently that that is not the case.  While men are doing a lot more that their fathers did a generation ago, in dual career families, women are bearing the lion’s share of the caring of people in the home.  But what our study showed was that even when women DID NOT have those responsibilities, their bosses felt that they still did.”

We also found a study on fathers showing that having a baby enhanced their self-image at work, in terms of reputation, credibility and even career options.  Ugh. But that’s another story.

So, hideous, right?  Every bit of it.  Major inequities.   But you have to wonder.  How do we change all this garbage, not only for all the young women who think they have to choose between med school or, you know, preschool — but for their bosses as well, who assume they are doing the girls a favor by NOT giving them the challenging assignments that might take them away from home — but ultimately impact their promotability?

How do we allow women the same ability to have a family and career that men have always taken for granted?

I think one way you break down that maternal wall is with role models.  The Forbes list may indeed be sexist in defining women in terms of their traditional family relationships — or lack of same.  And that stinks.  But what that list also does is this:  When we’re being held back because of who we are, when it’s assumed we can’t take on a challenging assignment because we have family obligations — as if our male counterparts don’t — it gives us the goods to back up our claim that we can get the job done.  Whether or not we’ve got anything going on at home.

You know.  Just like the men.

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