What is Free Choice?

After reading Lisa Belkin’s “When Mom and Dad Split it all,” I began wondering: even as families try to reconstruct gender norms in parenting roles, is there such a thing has having free choice or we ultimately weighed down on some level by the roles of males and females as parents within society throughout time? In the article, many parents try to a lot equal responsibilities for the father and mother while caring for the children as well as housework. While some families were able to keep “equal parenting,” many were not. With one couple “they agreed to share chores at home too, but their varying definitions of “done” soon made things unequal.” The wife stated that her husband’s  “level of alertness to mess is quite different than mine. I see dirt two or three days before he does.” In another couple, the husband stated “It’s a 60-40 split, with her doing the 60, I am aiming to bring my percentage up to 42.” In these scenarios,  we must ask if this free choice is limited by women’s and men’s expected role of labor in the house having an impact on how efficient men’s and women’s labor is? Why is it that the wife sees dirt three times before her husband? Is this as simple as a difference in personality and possibly up bringing and teachings towards cleanness, or on a larger scale, have women been trained to see dirt before men? These questions may help us to understand our limitations of free choice when it comes to gender roles.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

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4 Responses to What is Free Choice?

  1. ashleyware19 says:

    I do believe free choice is limited by women’s and men’s role in the amount of housework they participate in. Sure the idea sounds great, men and women equally sharing household and child care duties, but in all actuality, The average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14. While sharing the work equally may slightly work out in the beginning, more likely than not it will eventually fail. In Belkins ”When Mom and Dad Share it All ” couple Tim and Jo share housework and childcare duties, ultimately Jo ended up leaving her job and staying home full time, doing nearly all the childcare and housework.

    This division of housework extends beyond just husband and wife. For example, in my household my mother always tells me to wash the dishes or to clean the bathroom, while my boy cousin is told to take out the garbage. One time after being fed up with cleaning the bathroom I suggested my cousin clean it, very bad outcome. He managed to make the bathroom messier than it was before he “cleaned” it. Growing up I often heard my mother make comments such as: “a woman should be in the kitchen” or ‘that is the problem with the world these days, women are trying to be men.” This is how my mother was raised, the women should do all of the necessary housework, and the man brings home the bacon. Even after raising my brother and I as a single mother who worked as a registered nurse and took both the roles of the “man” and “woman.” So while free choice sounds so liberating and ideal, I think it difficult to achieve that balance of housework. Face it, you cannot send a man to do a women’s job. Well, at least if you want it done right.

  2. meganjoymansmann says:

    The first question you ask prompts me to think of my own family. While my mother and father have both always worked, my mother had a more flexible, closer-to-home job. The reasoning behind my mother’s job (as her degree and experience would qualify her for a stronger position elsewhere) had been that she was a quick five minutes from both our home and the school my brother and I attended, should we ever have needed her. She of course was also preparing meals, running errands, keeping up the house, etc. based on not only prescribed gender roles but also because she would actually be home while my father would be traveling for days at a time on business.
    About three years ago, my father was hospitalized. He was not medically allowed to work for a very short period, but after that his only restriction he was not allowed to be in a car longer than an hour (his business region covers a large area, requiring him to travel) for several months. While he did some work at home, he was largely out of commission for about half a year. While my father didn’t lose his job, during this time my mother happened to began working a more powerful job that required more time and dedication. The logical thing here would be that my father would take over the “housekeeping” (he was physically able–technically his only medical restriction was SITTING for too long!).
    But, as you could probably have expected, my mother continued to do the work she had been doing before her new position. While this literally is not fair, I believe it is true that societal gender roles ultimately weigh us down. My parents were each raised in similar families: a father who worked and a mother who cared for the many children (4 on one side, 7 on the other). My parents were raised with this concept ingrained as a part of their daily lives, and as children, we often do not question our parents ways. Though today women still do not have equality, they are certainly becoming more involved in the work force. While my parents are in a sense conforming to these modern times, as shown with my mother working full time and being able to rise in the work force, I do not expect either of my parents to radically change what has been ingrained in them for over 50 years. All I can say is give it more time– since my mother is working but still following some gender norms (unlike her mother who completely conformed to gender roles), who is to say that by time my generation is through college, I might have a powerful career with a stay at home husband, following still fewer gender roles? While time will not change the system entirely and by no means will it “fix” the “fixed” roles, I see a small pattern appearing.

  3. dawna2012 says:

    The idea that you raise about gender roles ingrained in our childhood playing a role in our adult behaviors is very interesting. It seems plausible to me that women subconsciously develop more of an instinct to clean if gendered expectations that women should be clean/organized are a part of their childhood. Growing up, I remember that I always kept a clean room and, at the same time, it was a running joke in my family that my brother’s room was a mess. Looking back, I believe that the idea of cleanliness and whose responsibility it was to clean messes was somewhat ingrained in my mind as I witnessed my mom reorganize messes in my brother’s room. I currently have a male roommate and I often find myself cleaning up after both of our messes, sometimes without even noticing that I’m carrying more of the burden with regard to cleaning. In fact, he didn’t even notice it himself because he was so accustomed to his mom cleaning up after him back home. Thankfully, the conversation that we had in class about dividing domestic duties inspired me to have a conversation with him and now our division of cleaning tasks is much more even. This leads me to believe that we do have free choice and can transcend the roles we were raised with. I may be a woman, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be my instinct to clean any mess in sight and my roommate can learn to “see” his messes sooner. All that’s necessary is for all parties to be aware of the gender roles ingrained into their childhood and for all parties to have a desire to react against gendered expectations of cleanliness.

  4. irism999 says:

    You bring up a great a question in regards to whether or not free choice truly exists in the gender roles we perform. It is true that individuals may make a conscious effort to challenge certain gender norms but that ultimately there will still be some decree of unfairness and compliance with society’s expectations. I believe that in the case of the division of housekeeping, the fact that the women still ends up doing more of the work is because of the underlying social expectations that still exist despite the decision of the couple to separate the work evenly. The two individuals may agree that each will do 50% of the job despite how the house may look or what each person’s abilities due to previous experience is. However, when visitors for instance come over, when representations of society are present, the pressure for the house to look presentable is increased. And so it is probable that the woman in the relationship feels that it is her duty to make sure that the house looks descent despite the fact that she may have to put in an extra 15% of work into the housekeeping. But you see, this action is not done because the woman enjoys cleaning. The action is performed for saving face, for making sure that society who holds specific expectations, does not chastise the woman, the individual who they think is responsible for the presentation of the house.

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