The best way to have it all--both a full family life and a career--is to halve it all. That's the message of Francine Deutsch's refreshing and humane book, based on extensive interviews with a wide range of couples. Deutsch casts a skeptical eye on the grim story of inequality that has been told since women found themselves working a second shift at home. She brings good news: equality based on shared parenting is possible, and it is emerging all around us. Some white-collar fathers achieve as well as talk about equality, and some blue-collar parents work alternate shifts to ensure that one parent can always be with the children.
Using vivid quotations from her interviews, Deutsch tells the story of couples who share parenting equally, and some who don't. The differences between the groups are not in politics, education, or class, but in the way they negotiate the large and small issues--from whose paid job is important to who applies the sunscreen. With the majority of mothers in the workforce, parents today have to find ways of sharing the work at home. Rigid ideas of good mothers and good fathers, Deutsch argues, can be transformed into a more flexible reality: the good parent.
Halving It All takes the discussion beyond shrill ideological arguments about working mothers and absent fathers. Deutsch shows how, with the best of intentions, people perpetuate inequalities and injustices on the home front, but also, and more important, how they can devise more equal arrangements, out of explicit principles, or simply out of fairness and love.
Even better than I remembered it. This is some seriously good applied research - thought-provoking and intellectual, but very readable and lively. I definitely recommend it for parents or prospective parents who are thinking about division of labor in parenting. Deutsch shares material from her interviews with a wide range of parents who equally share the care of their children (as well as some who have an uneven distribution of care) and explains what factors affect why some parents do share care while others don't. Hint: It's not ideology. Many equally sharing parents came to it out of practicality, while other unequally sharing parents believe in theory that men and women should share in parenting, but don't practice this. Also: It's a process, not a fixed outcome. Some parents had an unequal division of labor early on, but settled into a more equal pattern; while others did the reverse.
I was so impressed by the way Deutsch brought in the various issues surrounding this one: work/family life balance policies, quality of daycare, gender and identity (as parent and worker), how class affects beliefs and practices about gender and parenting, etc. She explores all these issues while still maintaining her focus and illuminating the various pathways to greater equity.
I definitely resonated with her description of how equally sharing mothers' friends tell them "You're so lucky", and loved the responses by moms, like: "It's not luck. It's planned and it's teamwork and it's talked about and I wouldn't have it any other way." "Everything is always how lucky I've been rather than isn't it wonderful that you've been competent enough to . . . marry the right person." (p. 95)
She got a lot of great quotes by men from unequally sharing families describing their various forms of resistance to house work and child care: One dad: "I think I ... try to sleaze out of it (responsibility when at home) as much as I can ... I try to dicker or make an excuse or something as my first response, but I usually end up, perhaps somewhat nastily, taking care of them (household chores)." (p. 75) Another dad about getting the kids dressed: "I just don't possess the tools to deal with girls' clothing, whereas she can." (p. 75) Another dad about housework: "It would be a struggle for me to do the laundry. I don't think I do it as well as Roz. I think she is better with sort of the peasant stuff of life." (p. 77)
While it's fun to rage with Rage, there aren't a lot of reasoned questions in that title, let alone answers. Deutsch's book is here the fill that gap. She looks at how couples divide up household chores in an academic way and tries to suss out patterns in the data. It's not super scientific, but it is nicely systematic.
Deutsch is looking at two things: the perception of the division of labor and the reality of it. This gives her a data set perfect for shooting down the usual theories.
"Only men who are committed to feminist ideals split household chores evenly." "It's all about the money- guys make more so women have to be the one to take on the brunt of household chores." "Women want to stay at home; they don't like leaving it, and they are naturally closer to their children in a way that fathers can never dream of."
Deutch proves each of these ideas to be incorrect. What was most surprising to me was the number of households who actually choose to make less money by having the dad work/work more hours outside the home than the mom. This happens across socioeconomic brackets, so it's not a simple question of money. Deutch also points out that in cases where the man does make more money, in many cases this is because he has been able to put in the training/time to reach that level of better economic returns. In many cases, if the woman had had that same opportunity, the story might be very different.
Halving It All starts with the what (simply, plainly) and starts to delve into the why. After all, Rage alone never comes up with a reasonable plan.
I absolutely loved this book. I loved the way she emphasized that every family finds what works for them. I love the way she boiled down how gender effects identity, and how it is socialized, I love the way she outlined what principles are involved in equally sharing households, how different fathers fit in different roles in parenting, and how women's ambivalence is complicated and certainly not indicative of a desire to stay at home with children. I took notes, I'm going to blog about this, I have to shout it from the rooftop.
This is a great book and affirms what I know from a metaphysical perspective, gender is an illusion. Genderless or equally shared parenting has allowed me to always puruse my dreams without feeling like I was sacrificing a quality relationship with my sons. I also appreciate that the author interviewed both white collar and blue collar families.