The Domestic Sphere

Ann Friedman did a great book review that turns into a sort of broad overview of the contemporary landscape from a feminist point of view:

Today, Collins writes, the biggest factor contributing to the wage gap is not likely to be overt sexism or discrimination, though there is some of that (just ask Lilly Ledbetter). It is “almost certainly” due to women’s “tendency to drop out of the workforce or to scale back to part-time employment when they had children.” As women’s work-force participation steadily climbed in the decades following World War II, men may have felt they were losing standing at work by competing with women for jobs, but they stood to gain at home. A wife with a nonthreatening wage-earning job eased the economic burden. In the 2000s, Collins writes, “the question was no longer whether [women] would have jobs but whether they would be able to stick with them consistently enough to make real progress when it came to paychecks and work satisfaction.” We have come to a point where women will be able to achieve fulfilling careers only when we make clear that families — and, by extension, men — stand to gain when parents are willing to make equal sacrifices.

This is not a battle that can be won with legal challenges or legislation. Yes, it would undoubtedly be greatly aided by the passage of major social policies such as universal child care. But at its core, this is a fight that plays out within homes and between partners. And as Gerson’s research makes clear, the fight has not changed all that dramatically in the past 30 years. The public revolution may be unfinished, but the private revolution has barely begun.

Yes. I think there’s a tendency to underplay this. Really taking seriously the idea that men and women deserve equal consideration in the set-up of our culture, our institutions, and our lives has quite dramatic implications and there’s a huge mismatch between the level of acceptance of very abstract precepts about equality and the ground-level implementation of their consequences.