June 16, 2024

Today’s Economist: Nancy Folbre: Patriarchal Norms Still Shape Family Care

Nancy Folbre, economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Nancy Folbre is an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She recently edited and contributed to “For Love and Money: Care Provision in the United States.

Many women are rightfully proud of fulfilling responsibilities for family care. At the Republican convention, Ann Romney spoke of the mothers holding our nation together. At the Democratic convention, Michelle Obama referred to herself as “mom in chief.” Both vouched for their husbands as good fathers and good men.

Today’s Economist

Perspectives from expert contributors.

Yet neither woman moved beyond a self-description as wife and mother, perhaps because both feared alienating swing voters if they did so.

It’s easy to find references to patriarchs, patriarchy or patriarchal attitudes in reporting on other countries. Yet these terms seem largely absent from discussions of current economic and political debates in the United States.

Perhaps they are no longer applicable. Or perhaps we mistakenly assume their irrelevance.

Here are some examples of recent usage in The New York Times: Osama Bin Laden was a patriarch. Patriarchal values are discouraging educated women’s labor-force participation in Dubai. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is “committed to upholding traditional and patriarchal values around a woman’s place in society, and many Egyptian women need no convincing.”

Considerable evidence suggests that a significant percentage of Americans are also committed to upholding traditional and patriarchal values around a woman’s place in society and that many American women need no convincing.

In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, declared that a wife should “graciously submit” to her husband’s leadership. In 2000, shortly after the convention declared its opposition to women as pastors, former President Jimmy Carter severed his longstanding ties with the group. Official Southern Baptist doctrine remains largely unchanged today.

The Mormon Church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, holds similar views on wifely submission and imposes even stricter curbs on women’s access to positions of spiritual leadership. The church actively campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment and excommunicated its most visible Mormon spokeswoman.

Not all members of these religious groups agree with official doctrines, and the rise of feminist Mormon bloggers represents a particularly fascinating example of dissent. Southern Baptists and Mormons are not the only two religious groups in the United States that embrace patriarchal values. But their ideological convergence could help explain why most of the Christian Right supports Mitt Romney.

It could also help explain why political allegiances are not as strongly affected by household wealth and income as we might expect. The political analyst and linguist George Lakoff describes Republicans as the Disciplinarian Father party and Democrats as the Nurturing Parent party.

A simpler description, occasionally invoked in this year’s presidential campaign, is the Daddy party versus the Mommy party. This description, related to but distinct from the gender gap, helps explain the relevance of patriarchy or “rule of the fathers.”

Traditional patriarchal systems restrict women’s legal and economic rights. Even in countries like the United States, in which women enjoy virtually equal opportunities outside the home, patriarchal norms assign them primary responsibility for family care.

Such norms continue to exercise a powerful influence. In 2010, the General Social Survey asked a representative sample of Americans whether they agreed that “it is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” About 35 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed.

The sociologists David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman show that levels of agreement with this statement in the General Social Survey diminished steadily between 1977 and 1993 but have changed little since then. Gender differences in likelihood of agreement are smaller than differences based on age and educational attainment.

Many women enjoy new economic opportunities, sometimes gaining the confidence to flout traditional gender norms. But their very success has elicited a cultural reaction and led some to declare the “end of men.”

Maybe we should try to end patriarchal norms instead. We could start by defining family care as a challenging and important achievement for everyone rather than a sacred obligation for women alone.

Easier said than done — but it would help if our presidential candidates spoke out on this issue. I’d like to hear more about their possible differences of opinion.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/women-should-take-care-of-home-and-family/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Speak Your Mind