Work-family policy debate in the United States has focused on work and the workplace, and has presumed its primary beneficiaries are women. Women’s increased participation in the workplace brought the conflict between work and family sharply into view, and generated solutions geared toward assisting women. An underlying assumption has been that men would change at home by taking on a fair share of family work and care, consistent with norms of equality and gender neutrality.
Consistent with these norms, if equality were defined as co-equal shared parenting to balance dual wage-earning, equality would generate a revolutionary shift in fatherhood. Recalibration toward equality, however, has not taken place. Women continue to not only do wage work but also do a “second shift” of household and family work.
Most men are not coequal caregivers; at best, they are secondary caregivers, at worst, uninvolved with their children.“New census data on family living arrangements suggest that fewer fathers may be participating in their children’s lives than in any period since the United States began keeping reliable statistics.” The persistence of inequality is linked to the minimal scope of the United States’ work-family policy as well as ongoing employment discrimination against women despite their increased presence in the workplace.
Beyond the lack of supportive policy and persistent discrimination, however, is the slow pace of change at home. The dramatic change in the position of women with respect to wage work—albeit still unequal to men—has not been matched by a similar change in men’s role and work at home. While the ideal of care has changed, the reality has shifted only slightly.What is the reason for this asymmetric pattern? The answer, I suggest, lies in the construction of masculinities.
If we want to achieve a different reality of men’s care, then we must reconstruct masculinities. In order to have a better father, you must have a better man. . .
For more information about Professor Dowd’s Donahue Lecture (which served as the basis for this article) as well as photos and audio from the event, please click here.