Equality Between The Sexes: A Load Of Crap
In her new book, Shattered: Modern Motherhood And The Illusion Of Equality, Rebecca Asher tackles a hot topic: shared parenting.
We’ve come a long way since our parents’ generation: we have successful careers, we’re getting married later in life and we expect our husbands to split the parenting duties smack down the middle (why wouldn’t they?).
If only life were so simple. Women today are still bearing primary responsibility for bring up their children – to the detriment of everything else in their lives, says Asher. And the men? They’re thrust into the role of primary breadwinner, becoming semi-detached from their families. It’s the children who are suffering most.
We caught up with Asher, mom to a 3-year-old boy and pregnant with her second, to get her take on parenting, power struggles and the commercialization of motherhood.
What does modern motherhood mean to you?
It means struggling… You’re trying to keep your head above water in your professional life while actually enjoying your career – as well as the intellectual and social life you had before children. But you’re also finding yourself responsible for everything on the domestic front. Motherhood is a struggle to reconcile the two.
So many families today find themselves in a vicious cycle: the mother is cutting back on paid work to look after the children because the father is working long hours. Then the father begins working even longer hours to support the family. What effect does this have on women?
It has an obvious financial effect on them. That may not matter in the immediate term if the father is earning well and still able to manage – but it will absolutely matter if they split up or if father loses his job at one point. One’s self-esteem is also affected by how much she earns, and it certainly affects the power relationship within a couple. Women who don’t earn as much as their partners feel they don’t have as much say in the relationship. Two women I write about in the book earned more than their husbands pre-kids, then cut back to look after the children, and now they feel embarrassed or unable to spend money on a haircut or anything that’s for them alone and not for the family. One woman said she and her family had just moved into a new house; she felt she had no say over how the house was decorated because she wasn’t paying for it.
Shattered is described as “a call to arms for a revolution in parenting.” Why is a revolution so necessary?
Everybody has been let down by the way things are organized [in traditional homes]. It doesn’t work for anyone, really. It’s not just women who suffer but men, as well, because they’re essentially being excluded from the home. They carry the stress of being main earner. And it’s children who lose out – they’re not growing up in stable environments but rather with huge stresses. It plays it out in social level.
Why is it so difficult for parents to just split responsibilities down the middle?
One of things with sharing parenting is that it’s a constant negotiation – there are no givens. You’re constantly having to negotiate who does what: who’s picking up from nursery, what you’re going to do about dinner or the school play. With defined roles, don’t need to negotiate. So in many ways it’s harder work to share roles equally.
What would you say to people who claim that men and women are simply wired differently?
Biological determinism has reared its ugly head in past ten or so years – that argument has been popularized by books like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. There’s a belief in popular culture that men and women are different, but I believe their commonalities are much greater. Women give birth and breastfeed but, apart from that, men have just as much of a nurturing side. Men are denied the chance to develop that capability. If we truly believe women are hard-wired to look after kids, then what the hell are we doing spending money on educating women?
Why is it that after years of family-friendly legislation, mothers are still three times more likely to ask for flexible work than fathers?
Our attitude plays a big part. We need to be more challenging of our roles. We need to question what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – and if it’s in best interest of children.
Early motherhood is extremely commercialized, which frustrates you. How so?
I was flabbergasted by the range of products that claim to be beneficial to your children or that will somehow advance them. I was in the supermarket one day looking at rice biscuits for really young babies; one particular brand claimed to develop hand-eye coordination. This is ridiculous! You can’t by packet of biscuits without pondering the advantage it might give your child. It made me irate.
That type of branding isn’t limited to food alone.
No, the other thing that I find crazy is that there’s a big debate about whether one should have a pram (stroller) in which the child faces inwards as opposed to facing outwards. They claim that an inward-facing prams allow eye contact between mother and child, which puts the child at an advantage, whereas disadvantaged children face out – and that’s when we start to see destructive behavior later in life. Surprise, surprise – the inward-facing ones are twice the price of face outward ones. It’s just another thing that encourages parents to spend money; it plays on their fears as parents of wanting to do the best for their child.