Parenting, childcare and gender equality

To what extent is there equality in relationships between men and women when it comes to childcare?

Some research suggests there is greater gender equality

Research by Gayle Kaufman consisting of interviews with 70 American fathers with at least one child under the age of 18 found that between 1977 and 2008 the average American man increased the amount of time spent on household chores and childcare by more than 2 hours per day on average each workday. Statistics suggest that increasingly men are performing a ‘second shift’ when they return home from work, spending on average 46 hours a week on on childcare and housework, which suggests that it is increasingly men rather than women who face the ‘dual-burden’.

Kaufman identified two new types of dad based on how they responded to the challenges of balancing work and family life.

  • ‘New Dads’ which were by far the largest category placed a high priority on involvement with children and made some minor adjustments to their work practices – such as getting to work later or leaving earlier, or ‘leaving work at work’ or bringing work home with them, and trying to juggle that and family duties.
  • Superdads actively adjusted their work lives to fit in with their family lives – by changing careers, cutting back work hours or adopting more flexible working hours. These dads saw spending time with their children as the most important thing in their lives, with money and career as less important.

However, we are a long way from actual equality

Focusing on the UK, ONS data reveals that at the end of 2012 there were just over 6,000 more full-time, stay-at-home dads looking after babies and toddlers than there were 10 years ago, which is hardly a significant increase

Also, although fathers always say they want to spend more time with their kids rather than working, the evidence does not back this up – a third of men don’t take their two weeks paternity leave, 40% say they don’t intend to take the 6 months they are now entitled to and 90% say they wouldn’t take more than 6 months if it was offered to them.

More recent research from NatCen reveals that while trends in housework are moving towards greater equality, the same CANNOT be said for trends in childcare.

Mothers spent more than twice as much time than farthers doing ‘physical’ childcare, which includes such chores as feeding and bathing children,

Mothers spent 28 minutes per day on ‘interactive’ childcare such as playing, reading and talking with their children, compared to 19 minutes for fathers – this is the smallest difference of all the activity types, but arguably the most pleasant!

Mothers spent almost twice as long on ‘other childcare‘ activities such as taking children to school and after-school activities.

You can read a more detailed version of the report here.

The Emergence of ‘Intensive Motherhood’ suggests things might even be getting worse for some mothers…

According to Sharon Hays (1996) it is still mothers, rather than fathers who remain the target of most parenting advice, and today all mothers are expected to live up to a new norm of ‘intensive mothering’ – a style of mothering that is ‘expert-guided’ and child centred as well as emotionally absorbing, labour intensive and financially expensive, requiring a 24/7 focus on the child.

Hays suggests that intensive mothering has become the taken for granted ‘correct’ style of mothering , and the the focus is typically on the mother and not on the father.

Radical Feminists also remind us that 9/10 single parents are female.

Sylvia Walby’s Six Structures of Patiarchy

To Sylvia Walby, the concept of Patriarchy must remain central to a feminist understanding of society. She argues that there are six patriarchal structures which restrict women and maintain male domination – the existence of these structures restricts women’s freedom and life-chances compared to men. However, she does recognise that women of different class and ethnic backroads and different sexual orientations experience these structures in different ways.

 Walby also recognises that patriarchal structures can change and they can be affected by the actions of both men and women – and in more recent works she talks of ‘gender regimes’ rather than patriarchy to reflect this greater fluidity.

 Walbys’ Six structures of Patriarchy

Paid Work

Walby believes that paid employment remains a key structure for disadvantaging women in Britain. Today, men continue to dominate the best paid jobs and women are still paid less than men, and do more part-time work. Many women choose not to work, or work part-time because of poor job opportunities.

gender-pay-gap-uk

Household Production

According to Walby individual men still benefit from women’s unpaid labour. Women still do most of the housework and childcare. However easier divorce means women are not as trapped as the once were by marriage and some black feminists see family life as less exploitative than the labour market, where there is considerable racism.

gendered-division-of-labour

Culture

Walby believes that that the culture of Western societies has consistently distinguished between men and women and expected different behaviours from them, but the expected patterns of behaviour have changed. The key sign of femininity today is sexual attractiveness to men, and not just for younger women, but increasingly for older women.

male-gaze

Also, the increase in Pornography increases the freedom of men while threatening the freedom of women. To Walby, the ‘male gaze’, not that of women, is the viewpoint of pornography which encourages the degradation of women by men and promotes sexual violence.

Sexuality

Despite the sexual liberation of the 1960s, there is still a ‘sexual double standard’ in society – males condemn women who are sexually active as slags and those who are not as drags, which males with many sexual conquests are admired.

sexual double standard.png

Walby also argues that ’heterosexuality constitutes a patriarchal structure’ – there is more pressure today for women to be heterosexually active and to service males through marrying them.

Violence

Like many other Feminists Walby sees violence against women as a form of male control of women, which is still a problem for many women today, although she concedes that it is difficult to measure how much progress has been made in this area, because of validity problems where the stats are concerned.

domestic-violence-stats

The state

To Walby, the state is still patriarchal, racists and capitalist. She argues that there has been little attempt to improve women’s position in the public sphere and equal opportunities legislation is rarely enforced.

women-politics

 

Is the UK really the 18th most gender equal country in the world?

According to the Global Gender Gap Index, the United Kingdom is one of the most gender equal countries in the world, but if you drill down into the statistics, women and men appear to both more and less equal than the headline data suggests.

The BBC’s ‘How equal are you?’ interactive infographic allows you type in any country and see how equal men are to women across a range of different indicators – These statistics come from the latest Global Gender Gap Index, produced by the World Economic Forum which analyses more than a dozen datasets in order to compare gender inequality in 144 countries.

For example in the UK we are told that:

  • The UK ranks 18/ 145 in the world for gender equality.
  • However, women are still not equal to men
  • For every £100 a man earns, a woman earns £83
  • 43% of graduates are male (the only statistic where women appear to be outperforming men.
  • 72% of women and 83% of men are either in work or looking for work (so I assume from this we can imply that women are slightly more likely to take on the caring role)
  • 65% of senior managers and legislators are male
  • 77% of government ministers are male.

The Global Gender Gap Index gives each country a score card – The UK’s Gender Gap Score Card looks like this:

Gender Equality Indicators in the UK
Gender Equality Indicators in the UK

Just a quick glance at the above chart should be sufficient to demonstrate some of the flaws in the Global Gender Gap Index:

  • We rank 68th out of 144 for primary school enrolment – we couldn’t get any better but I’m guessing we’re brought down because there must be 67 developing countries where more girls are enrolled in primary school than boys (making up for years of gender discrimination)
  • We rank 1st for sex ratio at birth – OK I know it’s lower in many developing countries because of female infanticide, but in the many countries where this simply isn’t significant, surely we’re just being rewarded here for very minor ‘luck of the draw differences’ in child sex at birth?
  • We’re 81st for healthy life expectancy – surely here were just being penalised for women suffering from degenerative conditions linked to longer life expectancy compared to men’s? Surely this is a problem of low male life expectancy?
  • Also, if you look at our real ranking success story – we’re effectively first in the world for gender equality in education, the real story is that despite ranking first in the world for gender equality in education, these gains have not been translated into economic, political or health advantages. This is hardly good for women.
  • Our other great gender equality success story is the number of years with a female prime minister – Thatcher in other words. Given that Thatcher = neoliberalism and neoliberalism = increasing inequality, there’s plenty of disagreement over the extent to which this particular indicator can be interpreted as being positive for women.

There’s quite a few other things these stats don’t tell you – for example, there are enormous differences in the gender pay gap by age:

gender pay gap age

 

There’s also been enormous, rapid progress with women moving into Politics in increasing numbers…. The Gender Gap Index hasn’t been around long enough to show you this….

Male to Female Ratio of MPs in the UK 2015
Male to Female Ratio of MPs in the UK 2015

So how useful is the Global Gender Gap Index?

I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly interested in the issue of gender inequality, so I’m not particularly passionate about tracking down criticisms of data sets related to the issue, but it’s only taken me 30 minutes to find seven criticisms of the validity of this particular data applied to the UK, so I’m left wondering whether these world rankings have any meaning at all?