Marriage in the. Stalled Revolution
ach marriage bears the footprints of economic and cultural trends which originate far outside marriage. A rise in inflation which erodes the earning power of the male wage, an expanding service sector which opens up jobs for women, new cultural images—like the woman with the flying hair—that make the working mother seem exciting, all these changes do not simply go on around marriage. They occur within marriage, and transform it. Problems between husbands and wives, problems which seem “individual” and “marital,” are often individual experiences of powerful economic and cultural shock waves that are not caused by one person or two. Quarrels that erupt, as we’ll see, between Nancy and Evan Holt, Jessica and Seth Stein, and Anita and Ray Judson result mainly from a friction between faster-changing women and slower-changing men, rates of change which themselves result from the different rates at which the industrial economy has drawn men and women into itself.
There is a “his” and “hers” to the economic development of the United States. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, it was mainly men who were drawn off the farm into paid, industrial work and. who changed their way of life and their identity. At that point in history, men became more different from their fathers than women became from their mothers. Today the economic arrow points at women; it is women who are being drawn into wage work, and women who are undergoing changes in their way of life and identity. Women are departing more from their mothers’ and grandmothers’ way of life, men are doing so less.
Both the earlier entrance of men into the industrial economy and the later entrance of women have influenced the relations between men and women, especially their relations within marriage. The former increase in the number of men in industrial work tended to increase the power of men, and the present growth in the number of women in such work has somewhat increased the power of women. On the whole, the entrance of men into industrial work did not destabilize the family whereas in the absence of other changes, the rise in female employment has accompanied the rise in divorce. I will have more to say about the “his” and “hers” of economic history in Chapter 16. Here I’ll focus on the current economic story, that which hangs over the marriages I describe in this book. Beneath the image of the woman with the flying hair, there has been a real change in women without much change in anything else.
The influx of women into the economy has not been accompanied by a cultural understanding of marriage and work that would make this transition smooth. The workforce has changed. Women have changed. But most workplaces have remained inflexible in the face of the family demands of their workers, and at home, most men have yet to really adapt to the changes in women. This strain between the change in women and the absence of change in much else leads me to speak of a “stalled revolution.”
A society which did not suffer from this stall would be a society humanely adapted to the fact that most women work outside the home. The workplace would allow parents to work part time, to share jobs, to work flexible hours, to take parental leaves to give birth, tend a sick child, or care for a well one. As Delores Hayden has envisioned in Redesigning the American Dream, it would include affordable housing closer to places of work, and perhaps community-based meal and laundry services. It would include men whose notion of manhood encouraged them to be active parents and share at home. In contrast, a stalled revolution lacks social arrangements that ease life for working parents, and lacks men who share the second shift.
If women begin to do less at home because they have less time, if men do little more, if the work of raising children and tending a home requires roughly the same effort, then the questions of who does what at home and of what “needs doing” become key. Indeed, they may become a source of deep tension in the marriage, tensions I explore here one by one. ‘
The tensions caused by the stall in this social revolution have led many men and women to avoid becoming part of a two-job couple. Some have married but clung to the tradition of the man as provider, the woman as homemaker. Others have resisted marriage itself. In The Hearts of Men, Barbara Ehrenreich describes a “male revolt” against the financial and emotional burden of supporting and raising a family. In Women and Love, Shere Hite describes a “female revolt” against unsatisfying and unequal relationships with men. But the couples I focused on are not in traditional marriages and not giving up on marriage. They are struggling to reconcile the demands of two jobs with a happy family life. Given this larger economic story, and given the present stalled revolution, I wanted to know how the two-job family was progressing.
As I drove from my classes at Berkeley to the outreaching suburbs, small towns, and inner cities of the San Francisco Bay to observe and ask questions in the homes of two-job couples, and back to my own two-job marriage, my first question about who does what gave way to a series of deeper questions: What leads some working mothers to do all the work at home themselves—to pursue what I call a supermom strategy—and what leads others to press their husbands to share the responsibility and work of the home? Why do some men genuinely want to share housework and child-care, others fatalistically acquiesce, and still others actively resist?
What do each husband’s ideas about manhood lead him to think he “should feel” about what he’s doing at home and at work? What does he really feel? Do his real feelings conflict with what he thinks he should feel? How does he resolve the conflict? The same questions apply to wives. What influence does each persons consequent “strategy” for handling his or her feelings and actions with regard to the second shift have on his or her children, job, and marriage? Through this line of questioning, I was led to the complex web of ties between a family’s needs, the sometime quest for equality, and happiness in modern marriage, the real topic of this book.
We can describe a couple as rich of poor and that will tell us a great deal about their two-job marriage. We can describe them as Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, black, Chicano, Asian, or white and that will tell us something more. We can describe their marriage as a combination of two personalities, one “obsessive compulsive,” say, and the other “narcissistic,” and again that will tell us something. But knowledge about social class, ethnicity, and personality takes us only so far in understanding who does and doesn’t share the second shift, and whether or not sharing the work at home makes marriages happier.
When I sat down to compare one couple that shared the second shift with another three that didn’t, many of the answers that would seem obvious—a man’s greater income, his longer hours of work, the fact that his mother was a housewife or his father did little at home, his ideas about men and women—all these factors didn’t really explain why some women work the extra month a year and others don’t. They didn’t explain why some women seemed content to work the extra month, while others were deeply unhappy about it. When I compared a couple who was sharing and happy with another couple who was sharing but miserable, it was clear that purely economic or psychological answers were not enough. Gradually, I felt the need to explore how deep within each man and woman gender ideology goes. I felt the need to understand the ways in which some men ahd women seemed to be egalitarian “on top” but traditional “underneath,” or the other way around. I tried to sensitize myself to the difference between shallow ideologies (ideologies which were contradicted by deeper feelings) and deep ideologies (which were reinforced by such feelings). I explored how each person reconciled ideology with his or her own behavior, that of a partner, and with the other realities of life. I felt the need to explore what I call loosely “gender strategies.”