Changing Attitudes About Family Roles

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Recently, the New York Times published an article discussing women in the workforce – specifically mothers and the job market. The article makes some valid points about the disparities that still exist between men and women in the job market, most of which are examples of why we still need feminism today.  The article states that, “There are still only 15 Fortune 500 companies with a female chief executive… Overall, full-time female workers make a whopping 23 percent less on average than full-time male workers.”  For the most part, the article is right about how we need policy changes that allow people with families, mainly women with children, the freedom and protection to find balance between their family responsibilities and advancing in careers; however, I found that the article made some statements that bothered me.

Not too far into the article, the writer, David Leonhardt, plays into gender stereotypes by saying, “What’s going on? Men and women are not identical, of course. Many more women take time off from work. Many more women work part-time at some point in their careers. Many more women can’t get to work early or stay late.”

Maybe it’s not just Leonhardt gender-stereotyping, but the fact that this is a pretty common attitude about women that really bothers me.  Moreover, the stereotype tends to emphasize that most women are unable to devote adequate time to their careers. In all fairness, Leonhardt’s piece does a good job of outlining how new policy would have a positive effect on the job market, not just for women, but for all people with families.  In addition to this, he stresses that it will take a combination of legal and cultural changes to make a difference. However, the article brings up an interesting question: Why are there still so many negative stereotypes about females in the workplace, especially females with children?

It seems the stereotypes and the fact that more men than women are CEO’s is a result of this ongoing cultural idea that a woman can’t do the job as well as a man. This idea is one that feminists have been fighting against for a very long time. And while we have made headway in the fight against gender discrimination at work, society still needs to change the way they view women.

Leonhardt’s article also mentions that “women can’t get to work early or stay late.” I focus on this line mainly because it seemed confusing to me. Is he saying that women with families obviously have more work around the house to do and are mostly responsible for childcare, and these reasons are why they can’t get to work early or stay late?  Is he assuming, then, that men with families don’t have to do as much around the house or have the same responsibilities for childcare, so they obviously can devote more time to work and their careers?

This gender stereotype, about women’s roles in families, is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to changing both the cultural and legal landscape for the job market. In Sweden, both men and women take leaves to take care of the children, equally. Granted Sweden is much more work/life balance friendly when it comes to people being able to take leave from work and not be penalized, but it is a great example of the gender equality the U.S. needs to aim for.

Women in the U.S are constantly expected to be either “career-driven” and, therefore, have no family.  Or they have a family and, therefore, can’t be “career-driven.” It is a double-edged sword for women who ask, “why can’t I have both?” Men can just as easily stay home and take care of the kids, or assume an equal share of the household and family responsibilities.  And many of them today do. But much of society works under the impression that that is still the “woman’s job.” Clearly if America is ever going to see gender equality in the workplace, our society needs to start with changing how we define family roles.

One thought on “Changing Attitudes About Family Roles

  1. I have to read “The Second Shift” for my class, this made me think of your article

    “Since more mothers of small children are now in the labor work force, we might expect more to work part time. Instead, of all the mothers of children three and under who worked in 1990 and in 2001, 69 percent worked full time. And of all the moms of children one and under who worked in 1994, 66 percent worked full time; in 2001, the number had risen to 68 percent” (page 2).

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