This post is going to be a little different. At the recommendation of a dear friend, I recently read All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership by Darcy Lockman. Here, I will offer a brief summary of what I see are the main points of the book. In my next post, I will offer some thoughts on how to consider her research from a biblical perspective.
As the title makes clear, All the Rage is about the inequities that exist worldwide between mothers and fathers: mothers do a higher percentage of unpaid work in the home, including housework and childcare, and are disproportionately responsible for keeping the whole family on track. The underlying argument is that complete equality and interchangeability between mothers and fathers is the desired goal for families (pregnancy and breastfeeding excluded). Lockman argues that both parents should be equally free to pursue their careers, with neither being hindered inequitably by the upbringing of children.
Perhaps it is just me, but Lockman’s book seems to meander in identifying both problems and solutions. Here is an attempt at the key problems she identifies, not listed in order of importance, but enumerated for clarity. First, there is the inhibition of women’s careers by inequities in the childrearing burden. Second, there is a societal lack of esteem for parenting done by women. Third, there is an imposition on women of caring for others, and keeping households running, even when men are sharing in some of the household work. Fourth, she notes that gender essentialism, or the idea that women are more wired for the caregiving and communal roles, is constantly undergirded and reinforced by male-run and biased research. Fifth and finally, even with an effort to get men more involved, because of widespread acceptance of the idea of gender essentialism, couples display a continual default or resumption to inequitable division of labor in the home. Women have to keep asking men to help and reminding them to do things they have already agreed together that husbands will do. Women tire of asking, and just do it themselves. And so nothing changes.
Lockman proposes several solutions to the above identified problems. One solution is government subsidized early childcare (p. 48). This is quickly evaluated as inadequate. In her opinion subsidized childcare only solves part of the problem. This is because when children are sick it disproportionately falls to wives to stay home from work. The logistical details of coordinating their transportation, remembering their appointments, homework, food needs, etc. are usually handled by mothers. In order to solve this disproportionate load of family management, it is required of mothers to stay tough on insisting that the fathers become knowledgeable of the schedule and needs of their children, and not continually give way to “himpathy,” (p. 249) the guilt mothers feel over making fathers do things which are uncomfortable to them.
Therefore, the greater goal laid out in her book is an equally shared responsibility for childcare between parents. She writes, “Women will never be as powerful as men as long as their strivings and comforts are more encumbered than men’s in the home.” (p. 256) However, one problem with equitable sharing of childcare is that the rare real life couples Lockman can find who do share childrearing and home responsibilities equitably experience an impediment to BOTH parents’ career paths. Lockman finds that unsatisfying. Her goal, evidently, is that having children makes no impact on the career paths of either parent. (Here, again, Lockman is a bit self-contradictory, as she certainly believes parents should be nurturing their children, which inevitably has an impact on their career paths.)
Achieving equitable sharing requires starting equitably as soon as children arrive and vigilantly policing the division of labor. Over time, inequality seems to be the easy default, and many women begin to accept it, even if they do so grudgingly. Keeping all the details of running their households in their minds, at the same time as pursuing a career seems to be a natural skill that women have and men lack.
Or is it? Over the totality of the book, Lockman is not consistent. Early in the book, she reports that there is a widespread assumption of “gender essentialism” – that women are more wired to care for others and for the home than are men. There have been many studies done by women to debunk these long standing assumptions. Lockman cites the scientific studies which are done on gender differences, showing what she calls “statistically small” or “hardly more than zero” differences (pp. 57-93). She does not say the differences are absent. Rather, she advocates for a cultural restructuring and resistance to accepting the differences and accentuating them. Lockman sees the acceptance of gender essentialism as fostering discrimination against women (p. 59) and “cultural misogyny” (p. 49). Gender essentialism both blinds the public to the forced subordination of women and prevents scientific study which might lead to addressing the inequities. Ironically, later in the book Lockman cites other studies on “agency” and “communality” which suggest a more hardwired difference between men and women.
The solutions which Lockman proposes at times suggest a generalized rejection of caring for other human beings, children in particular. But then she flip flops to propose that perhaps primary parenting is actually the better role than pursuing a full time career because it is the role which gives greater access and influence on the next generation of human beings. However, this positive assertion is quickly diminished by the fact that men don’t want the primary parenting role. They are glad they are not women. Women often aspire to be more like men, but the reverse is not true. So the joy of having the better role is sucked away if only women think it’s the better role.
There is also the problem that parenting tasks, when done by men, are praised, but are expected of women and largely unlauded. When women shoulder a heavier role in childcare and family maintenance, they feel undervalued, both as breadwinners and as parents. Their role is not esteemed.
But mothers also want the freedom that men seem to feel to be irresponsible, plan things for time when they were expected at home, or to to relax and put the family momentarily out of their minds. Men have “agency” (independent decision making skill) and low levels of “communality.” Women want both more esteem and agency. Lockman notes that studies show a recent shift in women becoming “agentic” (more like men) but not in men becoming more “communal” (more like women). So one solution she proposes would be to train men to aspire to greater “communality.”
How should we respond to Lockman as Christians? My first reaction is to carefully read her, take her concerns seriously and evaluate her proposed solutions. While reading this book, I have had a few conversations with young mothers. Based on these conversations, Lockman’s perceptions about how women feel about childcare appear to be somewhat accurate. But I also noticed something Lockman said almost in passing. Is the problem partially a result of many women entering parenthood with the expectation of equality in sharing the burden of having children? Lockman does mention that women who know ahead of time that their husbands will take the primary role in breadwinning while they shoulder the primary role of parenting generally are more satisfied than women who expect to share parenting equally but then find themselves shouldering the heavier load.
However, I think there’s more to it than that. Lockman’s work was thought provoking. The Bible has a lot to say about women, the work they do, and how God values our work. In my next post I will discuss my thoughts on Lockman, the Bible, and work.