Long gone are the days of Father Knows Best… That sepia-toned era when mom stayed home to tend to the housework while dad worked from nine to five, provided for the household, played golf on weekends and patted the kids on the head before they went to bed.
The idea of a “head of household” is a dated concept
Today, 43% of women make the household decisions and 31% collaborate on decisions with their male partners. The idea of a “head of household” is a dated concept. But the seething remnants of patriarchy persist, journalist Stephen Marche writes in The Unmade Bed, his musings about what happens when he quits his job to stay home and raise the child whilst his wife goes off to work.
Marche’s friends reacted along generational lines to his new role as primary caregiver. Boomers considered him the “woman” in the family. People his age were less judgmental, and many fellow fathers had partners who earned more than they did.
Marche writes that he experienced what it felt like to be the “addendum” and to rely on someone else financially. Working women expect to need to balance the demands of home and work life, but framing this as a feminist issue and excluding men does families a disservice, he argues.
Caring for the kids is the parental unit’s responsibility
Caring for the kids isn’t women’s or men’s work; it’s the parental unit’s responsibility. Balancing the demands of work with home life is a problem for both genders, Marche writes – and despite those egalitarian words, reality tends to be messier.
“Anything boys can do, girls can do. Anything girls can do, boys can do,” he writes. “And yet every bit of culture, every inflection of voice, no matter how minor, remains gendered.”
In many ways, women have closed the gap
Since the mid-1990s, American women have graduated from college at a faster pace than men. In 40% of the American households with children younger than 18, women are the major breadwinners, up from just 10.8% in 1960. The pay gap has decreased: In 1980, women earned 64% of a man’s wages; in 2012, they earned 84%. For workers under age 30, women earn 93% of what men earn.
Even so, women’s improved economic equality hasn’t translated into a parity of power, Marche writes. In North America, men still hold the majority of board positions and dominate the upper echelons of most fields. These statistics reveal what Marche considers a “hollow patriarchy: The shell is patriarchal, but the insides approach the egalitarian.”