Maternal care: The role of husbands
For the past 20 years, research by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has consistently found that women employed outside of the home shoulder 65 percent of child-care responsibilities, and their male partners 35 percent.
Studies have also found that fathers who work long hours have wives who do more child care, while mothers who work long hours have husbands who sleep more and watch lots of television; that working mothers with preschool-age children are two and a half times as likely as fathers to get up in the middle of the night to tend to their kids; that men with babies spend twice as much weekend time engaged in leisure activity as their female partners do. Mothers remain more likely to miss work to tend to sick kids, to spend time with kids in the absence of another adult, and to maintain overall responsibility for managing the details of their children’s lives.
In 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development called the uneven distribution of unpaid labor between men and women in the home one of the most important gender-equality issues of our time. And the problem isn’t going away; it afflicts even relatively young parents. “Millennial Men Aren’t the Dads They Thought They’d Be,” read a 2015 New York Times headline. MenCare, a fatherhood campaign working toward child-care parity in 45 nations, estimates that at the current rate of change, it will be another 75 years before women achieve gender equality in the home —a more optimistic figure than the 200 years the United Nations International Labour Organization predicted in March, on the eve of International Women’s Day.
Reports of the modern, involved father have been greatly exaggerated. As the social psychologist Bernadette Park has put it, any change “is more in ‘the culture of fatherhood’ than in actual behavior.” The so-called marriage-between-equals discourse, ever present in certain corners of the country, bears little resemblance to what really goes on in the home. Even among couples who say they’ve achieved equal partnership, studies find that their mutual decisions tend to favor the needs and goals of the husband much more than the wife.
Men perpetuate the notion that women should keep in mind the extremely unequal past, or perhaps other people’s extremely unequal present, and not focus on their less unequal lived experience.
Social psychologists commonly distinguish between “benevolent” and “hostile” sexism. Benevolent sexism flatters women while also undermining their ambition and autonomy. Hostile sexism devalues them altogether. One study out of Germany exposed women to either benevolently sexist statements (“Women have a way of caring for others that men are not capable of”) or to hostile ones (“When women work together they often get into catfights”). Later, the women who’d read the benevolent statements were significantly less likely than the others to say they would participate in social action to rectify gender discrimination.
Motherhood triggers false assumptions that women are less committed to their careers—and even less competent.
A study found that the maternal bias is the most severe gender bias. When an employer found out that the candidate had children, 79% said that woman wouldn’t be hired. If she were to be hired, she would be offered a salary below the average of 11,000 USD.
Gratitude is a brand of benevolent sexism, a force that repels change. To offer thanks for whatever contributions men happen to make reinforces the implicit idea that parenting is women’s work. For too long, women have paid for this imbalance with their well-being—financially, emotionally, existentially.
Interventions to promote the involvement of men during pregnancy, childbirth and after birth are recommended to facilitate and support improved self-care of the woman, improved home care practices for the woman and newborn, and improved use of skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period for women and newborns.