Women Who Become Like. Traditional Men and Traditional Men. Who Stay As They Are
Couples who are not affected by the first two sources of tension can still be vulnerable to a third—the assimilation of women to the values of the dominant male culture. I have focused a great deal on how much working fathers have been able to cross the “gender divide” and pitch in with work their mothers used to do at home. But the more troubling trend moves in the opposite direction. Women may be pitching in at the office with the work their fathers used to do, while no one does much at home. Men and women may gradually come to share the work at home more equitably, but now they may be doing altogether less of it. The latent deal between husband and wife is Til share, but we’ll do less.” A strategy of “cutting back” on the housework, the children, the marriage may be on the rise, with correspondingly reduced ideas about what people “need.”
Among egalitarian couples who shared the work at home, some couples were oriented primarily toward work, both playing the “father role.” Others were more oriented toward the family, both playing the “mother.” The first were cutting back equally on family life; the second were cutting back equally on career.
Middle-class couples who put family first often felt at odds with the “commitment norm” in their careers, as did Adrienne and Michael Sherman (the parents of the twins who got into the motor oil). Adrienne struggled against her chairmans definition of success, Michael with the hopes of his proud parents and the priorities of his colleagues. Both struggled with their own inner desire to make scientific discoveries and write great books. They tried to live “balanced” lives, to avoid both being “father.”
Other couples, however, seemed to capitulate to a workaholism a deux, each spouse equitably granting the other the right to work long hours, and reconciling themselves to a drastically reduced conception of the emotional needs of a family. One thirty – seven-year-old woman lawyer, married to another lawyer, each of whom was trying to make partner in different firms, commented:
Our careers are important to us. Before we had children, we could work hard and play some too. We used to go out a lot together, sometimes to a different movie every night. We bicycled weekends. But when our practices got up to fifty-five hours a week and Kevin was born, we went into a stage of siege. No one tells you how a child turns your life around. For a while, there we were, just surviving, very little sleep, no sex, little talk, delight in Kevin and adrenaline. We just say hello in bed before dropping off. Were still doing this.
Although they were still doing this, it felt odd; it hadn’t become normal.
To others, such a life seemed normal. For example, a thirty – two-year-old accountant married his wife with the understanding that the house “didn’t matter, v they could eat out, cater parties, and engage a “wonderful nanny” for the children. They were egalitarian in the limited sense that they equitably shared an aversion to anything domestic. Since the “wonderful nanny” tended the children, cleaned house, and cooked meals, this man and woman had little of the second shift to share. They had almost totally parceled out the role of mother into purchased services.
In their single-minded attention to career, these couples also focused less than others on their children. Their homes were neater; there were fewer paintings stuck to the refrigerator door, fewer toys in the hallway. The decor in the living and dining rooms was more often beige or white. The space where the children played was more clearly separated from the rest of the house.
Such couples shared in whatever little family life there was to share. Sometimes such marriages degenerated into rivalry. One highly successful businessman and his wife, a lawyer, the parents of a five-year-old son, began to compete for who could be more busy and away from home than the other. As the wife explained: “I found myself doing things all workaholics do—deliberately creating a situation where I had to be at work late. You fritter away time during the day knowing you wont get all your work done. That way, when Jim called, I could tell him I had to work late without lying.” Each thought of staying home or caring for the child as a “defeat.” Caring less was a victory. Not until the couple separated did the wife look back at this competition with regret and begin to devote real attention to her son.
Each source of marital tension has a link back to male participation in the second shift. In the first group of marriages—like that between Nancy and Evan Holt—tension focused on a clash between the husbands view of his role at home and his wife’s. In the second group of marriages—like that between Carmen and Frank Delacorte—the tension centered on finding an acceptable way for a man to do a womans work. In the third group of marriages, the tension centered on the gap between the care a family needs to thrive and the devaluation of the work of caring for it.
The first tension could be resolved if the Evans of the world shared the second shift. The second tension could be resolved if the Franks could earn enough so the Carmens could stay home. (If husbands wanted to stay home with their children, it would resolve an as yet largely hypothetical tension, if their wives could earn enough to support them in doing so.) But these would be hollow victories indeed, if the work of raising a family becomes devalued because women have become equal to men on traditionally male terms.