Families and changing gender expectations

1) Families and changing gender expectations

Ideas about family, as Disch writes in the introduction to this unit, “reflect gender expectations within particular cultures, and cultures themselves are shaped by surrounding or embedded social forces such as sexism, poverty, and homophobia” (297). In the US today, our gender expectations concerning families have in some contexts changed substantially from the traditional notion of a heterosexual, patriarchal nuclear family unit (in which the husband works outside the home, the wife cares for the home and the children) that dominated in the mid-twentienth century.

In some respects, these changing gender expectations have resulted in more equitable family structures. For instance, family responsibilities such as household chores and childcare are shared more equally between men and women. The legal definition of marriage has expanded to include gay and lesbian couples, and the cultural prevalence and acceptance of divorce and single parenthood have grown.

Despite these positive changes, however, the US is still home to persistent gender inequalities regarding families. Disch cites a statistic that found that husbands at the end of the twentieth century who worked outside the home while women engaged unpaid labor inside the home constituted only about 19 percent of families, though this did not preclude working women from continuing to take on the lion’s share of childcare and household duties (a.k.a. women’s “second shift”). Moreover, while more couples are electing to marry at later ages, sometimes due to the greater preponderance of women in the paid workforce, the pressure to leave work (at least temporarily) still falls primarily on women, and mothers who have interrupted their careers for family reasons often find it difficult to pick up where they left off. And, though the Supreme Court ratification of gay and lesbian marriage was an assured victory, “the structure of marriage with its many benefits rankles fair-minded people who believe that all family structures—single parents, unmarried couples of any kind, older siblings or close friends living together, other household compositions—deserve and need the supports that marriage often brings, such as access to a partner’s health insurance coverage, hospital visitation rights, tax benefits, inheritance rights, etc.” (300). Poverty and homelessness continue to be pathologized by US institutions and mainstream media culture, its victims blamed for their conditions, particularly poor mothers of color, even though, as some scholars point out, the focus should be on “the economic structure as the source of blame and potential solutions” (299).

2) “Contemporary Challenges to Black Women’s Reproductive Rights” by Jeanne Flavin 2) “Contemporary Challenges to Black Women’s Reproductive Rights” by Jeanne Flavin

In “Contemporary Challenges to Black Women’s Reproductive Rights,” Jeanne Flavin points out the historical persistence of oppressive regulations of black women’s reproductive capacities in the US since the era of slavery. Our studies thus far in this course have taken care to incorporate race into discussions of gender and other social issues, but this kind of attentiveness is not characteristic of many contemporary discussions of poverty and single-parent families—discussions which Flavin calls “race-blind” or “color-blind.” Though contemporary discourses concerning poverty and single-parent families tend to declare the irrelevance of race as a major contributing factor, as Flavin argues, “declaring something to be true does not make it so. One cannot discuss poverty without describing a reality that is not only disproportionately experienced by black women, but also is conceptualized in racialized (and racist) ways” (301). Whereas during slavery, black women’s fertility was encouraged, contemporary public and private policies seek to limit and control it, evincing a pattern in which once the economic value of https://umb.umassonline.net/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_46663_1&content_id=_1884909_1#https://umb.umassonline.net/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_46663_1&content_id=_1884909_1#

black women’s reproduction declined for dominant white Americans, it was actively discouraged by those same dominant classes.

Throughout her essay, Flavin details efforts on the part of the government and private groups to devalue and control black women’s reproductive rights, such as “family caps,” the establishment of incentives for contraception and sterilization, medical surveillance of pregnant women, foster care, and termination of parental rights. She describes such policies as “increasingly punitive and controlling” and traces them to cultural stereotypes and the history of paternalism over women’s reproductive rights in this country. To take just one example from the many she provides, the policies surrounding medical surveillance of pregnant women and the protection of “fetal rights” shows significant logical flaws and cultural bias. Some states punish women through incarceration and termination of parental rights for taking illegal substances during pregnancy. Such punitive policies are in turn based on the stereotype of the poor black “crack” mother, even though studies of prenatal cocaine exposure have shown small or no effects on the child’s mental and physical health and development. As Flavin points out, research has shown that “poverty, environment, and their correlates, such as poor nutrition and tobacco use, influence children’s development as much or more than prenatal exposure to drugs” (309). Moreover, even though prenatal exposure to alcohol has been shown to be a leading cause of mental retardation, only a minority of states require the reporting of fetal alcohol syndrome, even though some state statutes specifically mention prenatal drug exposure as a form of child abuse and neglect. Some states limit of definition of drug exposure to illegal substances, which absolves pregnant women who drink alcohol from any culpability.

Flavin argues that “[w]hat drives child welfare and other reproductive policies appears not to be a genuine and deep-seated concern about the physical and emotional well-being of children so much as a thinly veiled attempt to dictate what constitutes a ‘good mother,’ particularly when the mother in question is poor or black” (313). By stereotyping poor black mothers as “welfare queens who breed children to get more money” and drug addicts who “will ‘do anything,’ and are completely indifferent to any harm they may cause to themselves or others” (314), legislators can justify the punitive nature of their paternalistic policies regarding poverty and female reproduction, while also making it easier to blame poor black mothers for a range of social ills. As Flavin notes, “Many of our policies are developed by people who by and large do not appreciate the reality of poverty. They reflect middle-class Horatio Alger-like assumptions that all women can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if sufficiently motivated by, for example, financial incentives to not have children, or threats of having their children taken away” (315).

3) “Dilemmas of Involved Fatherhood” by Kathleen Gerson 3) “Dilemmas of Involved Fatherhood” by Kathleen Gerson

In “Dilemmas of Involved Fatherhood,” Kathleen Gerson discusses the rise of fathers who elect to spend more time with their families than older generations more accustomed to the traditional patriarchal familial model of a male breadwinner and a female homemaker and childcarer. She describes a shift in sensibility among some working fathers who expressed desires to spend more time with their spouses and children, along with a growth in more egalitarian arrangements regarding domestic duties. Such changes were in spite of the lack of economic and social supports for parenting. Many employers not only do not provide paid parental leaves for newborns, but are also unwilling to make more flexible work arrangements for parents—especially fathers—who would like to be more involved with their children’s lives. Moreover, Gerson notes that social value of public pursuits, especially paid employment, still exceeds that of private ones like domestic activities and childcare. She asserts that “Child rearing remains an undervalued, isolating, and largely invisible accomplishment for all parents. This has fueled women’s flight from domesticity and also dampened men’s motivation to choose it” (327). Our culture has traditionally associated domestic work and childcare with mothers and “fathers who become equal or primary parents are stigmatized—treated as ‘tokens’ in a female-dominated world” (327). Thus, there are significant socialhttps://umb.umassonline.net/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_46663_1&content_id=_1884909_1#

disincentives to even the most motivated of fathers who want to be more involved with domestic life and childrearing.

Gerson speculates in her essay that “[a]s more fathers become involved, their growing numbers should prompt wider social acceptance of egalitarian households, bolstering the option to make such choices” (333). While this essay is an excerpt from No Man’s Land: Men’s Changing Commitments to Family and Work, a book Gerson published in the 1990s, the situation of what she calls “involved fatherhood” has become more widespread and attained more public prominence since the 2008 recession, which resulted in substantial numbers of unemployed men. Instead of her term “involved fatherhood,” however, fathers who stayed home to care for children and perform more domestic tasks were often dubbed “house hubbies”—an arguably more demeaning description.

QUESTIONS-

1-Contemporary Challenges to Black Women’s Reproductive Rights” – Jeanne Flavin

In “Contemporary Challenges to Black Women’s Reproductive Rights,” Jeanne Flavin points out the historical persistence of oppressive regulations of black women’s reproductive capacities in the US since the era of slavery. Our studies thus far in this course have taken care to incorporate race into discussions of gender and other social issues, but this kind of attentiveness is not characteristic of many contemporary discussions of poverty and single-parent families—discussions which Flavin calls “race-blind” or “color-blind.” Though contemporary discourses concerning poverty and single-parent families tend to declare the irrelevance of race as a major contributing factor, as Flavin argues, “declaring something to be true does not make it so. One cannot discuss poverty without describing a reality that is not only disproportionately experienced by black women, but also is conceptualized in racialized (and racist) ways” (301). Whereas during slavery, black women’s fertility was encouraged, contemporary public and private policies seek to limit and control it, evincing a pattern in which after the economic value of black women’s reproduction declined for powerful white Americans, it was actively discouraged by those same dominant classes.

Throughout her essay, Flavin details efforts on the part of the government and private groups to devalue and control black women’s reproductive rights, such as “family caps,” the establishment of incentives for contraception and sterilization, medical surveillance of pregnant women, foster care, and termination of parental rights. She describes such policies as “increasingly punitive and controlling” and traces them to cultural stereotypes and the history of paternalism over women’s reproductive rights in this country. To take just one example from the many she provides, the policies surrounding medical surveillance of pregnant women and the protection of “fetal rights” shows significant logical flaws and cultural bias. Some states punish women through incarceration and termination of parental rights for taking illegal substances during pregnancy. Such punitive policies are in turn based on the stereotype of the poor black “crack” mother, even though studies of prenatal cocaine exposure have shown small or no effects on the child’s mental and physical health and development. As Flavin points out, research has shown that “poverty, environment, and their correlates, such as poor nutrition and tobacco use, influence children’s development as much or more than prenatal exposure to drugs” (309). Moreover, even though prenatal exposure to alcohol has been shown to be a leading cause of mental retardation, only a minority of states require the reporting of fetal alcohol syndrome, even though some state statutes specifically mention

prenatal drug exposure as a form of child abuse and neglect. Some states limit of definition of drug exposure to illegal substances, which absolves pregnant women who drink alcohol from any culpability.

Flavin argues that “[w]hat drives child welfare and other reproductive policies appears not to be a genuine and deep-seated concern about the physical and emotional well-being of children so much as a thinly veiled attempt to dictate what constitutes a ‘good mother,’ particularly when the mother in question is poor or black” (313). By stereotyping poor black mothers as “welfare queens who breed children to get more money” and drug addicts who “will ‘do anything,’ and are completely indifferent to any harm they may cause to themselves or others” (314), legislators can justify the punitive nature of their paternalistic policies regarding poverty and female reproduction, while also making it easier to blame poor black mothers for a range of social ills. As Flavin notes, “Many of our policies are developed by people who by and large do not appreciate the reality of poverty. They reflect middle-class Horatio Alger-like assumptions that all women can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if sufficiently motivated by, for example, financial incentives to not have children, or threats of having their children taken away” (315).

Do you agree with Flavin’s argument about the cultural stereotyping of black women and paternalism subtending US policies on poverty and female reproduction? What do you make of the example mentioned above regarding the punitive measures taken in some states against women who take illegal substances during pregnancy? Do you see such measures as color-blind or culturally biased against poor black women?

2- Dilemmas of Involved Fatherhood” – Kathleen Gerson

In “Dilemmas of Involved Fatherhood,” Kathleen Gerson discusses the rise of fathers who elect to spend more time with their families than older generations more accustomed to the traditional patriarchal familial model of a male breadwinner and a female homemaker and childcarer. She describes a shift in sensibility among some working fathers who expressed desires to spend more time with their spouses and children, along with a growth in more egalitarian arrangements regarding domestic duties.

Such changes were in spite of the lack of economic and social supports for parenting. Many employers not only do not provide paid parental leaves for newborns, but are also unwilling to make more flexible work arrangements for parents—especially fathers—who would like to be more involved with their children’s lives. Moreover, Gerson notes that the social value of public pursuits, especially paid employment, still exceeds that of private ones like domestic activities and childcare. She asserts that “Child rearing remains an undervalued, isolating, and largely invisible accomplishment for all parents. This has fueled women’s flight from domesticity and also dampened men’s motivation to choose it” (327). Our culture has traditionally associated domestic work and childcare with mothers, and “fathers who become equal or primary parents are stigmatized—treated as ‘tokens’ in a female-dominated world” (327). Thus, there are significant social disincentives to even the most motivated of fathers who want to be more involved with domestic life and childrearing.

Gerson speculates in her essay that “[a]s more fathers become involved, their growing numbers should prompt wider social acceptance of egalitarian households, bolstering the option to make such choices” (333). While this essay is an excerpt from No Man’s Land: Men’s Changing Commitments to Family and Work, a book Gerson published in the 1990s, the situation of what she calls “involved fatherhood” has become more widespread and attained more public prominence since the 2008 recession, which resulted in substantial numbers of unemployed men. Instead of her term “involved fatherhood,” however, fathers

who have since stayed home to care for children and perform more domestic tasks were often dubbed “house hubbies”—an arguably more demeaning description.

What do you think of Gerson’s description of involved fatherhood and egalitarian households? Are you currently in such a family situation? Did you come from a background in which involved fatherhood and egalitarian domestic arrangements were the norm or considered unconventional? Do you think that contemporary post-recessionary attitudes have changed for the better or not towards involved fatherhood?

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