In reading The New York Times’s article “When Mom and Dad Share It All” by Lisa Belkin, I could not help but think about whether or not the “equal shared parenting” described here is really the best option in a household. It seems that what we have read about and what tends to be posed in literature when it comes to the splitting of parental roles are the two extremes: the traditional model with the maternal figure being the primary or sole caretaker and this “equal parenting” with a 50-50 split between the two parties. An example of this latter strategy can be seen in the Vachon family, where “They would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence” (Belkin).
But what if one has a naturally more demanding career and does not have as much free time? Or what if one person loves cooking and another hates it? Should these things still be evenly split no matter what? Perhaps rather than splitting each task itself in half, tasks can be split according to skill set or flexibility. Even in just remembering that long list that we came up with as a class of household tasks one must oversee, it seems inefficient to try to split every single one up, and potentially unfair if it puts more of a burden on one parent to meet those needs.
Judith Warner supports this notion and even takes it a step forward in her Time post “Equal Parenting: Why We Need to Rethink a 50-50 Split.” She talks about how, if one partner wants to do more of the caretaking role, should they not be allowed to because it would break that balance? Or if the breadwinner of the family — and in her case she talks about instances where the wife inhabits that role — feels they are unable to dedicate their full half, does that make them an inadequate parent? I think that rather than “equality” necessarily, we should focus on the concept of “fairness” when it comes to the matter of shared parenting.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
Warner, Judith. “Equal Parenting: Why We Need to Rethink a 50-50 Split.” TIME.com. TIME, 1 June 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
As our understanding of gender evolves we must ask, “What defines motherhood?” Until the mid-twentieth century, motherhood was generally confined to reproduction, childcare, and housework. , Despite many decades of change, this traditional understanding of motherhood remains the basis of our social knowledge. Nonetheless, with the groundwork done by previous waves of feminism, today’s mothers are challenging traditional feminine motherhood unlike ever before.
With third-wave feminism’s reevaluation of femininity, mothers are uniquely challenging the presumed responsibilities of motherhood. Specifically, they are exploring different divisions of childcare and housework. Instead of accepting traditional motherhood responsibilities such as feeding and clothing, women are asking why they shouldn’t be the ones to mow the lawn. Moreover, many are noticing and demanding change in the unequal amount of time they spend (while working full time) on household chores and childcare compared to men. Today’s women are increasingly focusing on inequalities in their family lives, meaning tomorrow’s mothers and fathers may approach the world from a different perspective.
The question of what motherhood is must also be asked in the context of family variability. Increasingly, there are families comprised of two gay or lesbian parents. Can a family have zero or two mothers? For many today, motherhood is separate from reproduction. Outsourced childcare, especially to nannies of vastly different cultural upbringings, is increasingly common. Many women have children through alternative processes such surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization, meaning children may not be biologically related to or physically born from their mothers. Variability means that today’s motherhood is about complicating, if not transcending gender.
Ultimately, our evolving answer to the question, “What is motherhood?” is of particular importance due to the historical role motherhood plays in the family—humanity’s foundational social unit. In considering the bigger picture, we thus must ask, “As motherhood changes how will our society as a whole change?”
 Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “The Sexual Politics of Sickness,” in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women, 2nd ed. (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), 113.
 Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 189.
For some odd reason, when black women decide to wear their hair naturally, this decision is construed as a social commentary. When I came home for the first time, my grandfather asked me was I a social activist now because I had not straightened my hair. Contrarily, a white woman leaving the house without styling her hair is inconsequential. Without sounding like a toddler, this system is incredibly unfair. In a fair society, people would be able to make similar chooses with similar consequences. Instead, we face a system in which even our understanding of hair is subject to bias.
In the Dark and Lovely Ad, there is language entrenched in civil rights, including “You have a right to unstoppable curls” and “never shrink from who you are.” While our hair can be used to raise consciousness, this certainly should not be the assumption. Spade fights “for a world in which diverse gender expressions and identities occur, but none are punished and membership in these categories is used less and less to distribute rights and privileges” (29-30). His statement certainly can be applied to the world of beauty and hair care to create a fair environment for everyone.
Women are expected to do the housework and childcare. In the US, women with husbands and children often have to go to work along with taking care of their home and children. They usually receive little to no assistance from their husbands. “The wife-to-husband ratio for child care in the United States is close to five to one.” (Belkin) Even couples who decide to equally split the housework and childcare often run into difficulties. Because of the influence of societal norms, men may have less flexible work schedules and women may be judged more on the appearance of their home and children. So what is fairness in the realm of housework and childcare?
Fairness varies depending on the couple. The division should be discussed between the parents until a split that satisfies both is reached. While I believe that an equal split in housework and parenting is ideal, it is undeniable that each couple is unique, with a different situation and desires. Still, theory may not work in practice, which is why the couple should be open to negotiating the division again if someone finds themselves dissatisfied with how the split is playing out. Open communication is key to fairness in partitioning housework and childcare responsibilities.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 15 June 2008. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.
Fairness is equity. It is a state in which one is free from discrimination and injustice. Not everyone experiences fairness. For those who seek fairness, may not experience it in the same way. In Ellen Samuels essay, “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discussion,” she describes the discrimination and that nonvisible disabled individuals face on a daily basis. Coming to terms with “disability as a valid social identity,” (237) is certainly difficult, especially when the disability is not visible. The unfairness that derives from this situation reoccurs every time a disabled person must “construct a specific narrative explaining her body to a skeptical ignorant, and somewhat hostile audience” (238). That is not fair. Fairness exists when an audience or a society does not discriminate against one’s abilities or disabilities, visible or invisible. A fair-minded society, moreover, is one in which a nonvisible disabled individual can live without having to “pass,” or show exterior signs of his or her disability (Samuels 240).
Samuels, Ellen. “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse.” Project Muse. (2003): 233-255. Print.
“We provide the ultimate solution for Asian women who seek to become the ideal beauty”
These Uniface Masks promise to give women “a lifetime’s worth of confidence…to satisfy today’s beauty standards”. It may sound ridiculous but this funny concept is not far from the normal standards of beauty that encourage women to disapprove of themselves. “Giant anime eyes, long lashes, a high nose bridge, and narrow chin and cheeks are all in one product.” Although the product is a joke, these are often the features women aim to attain when altering their appearance with products and plastic surgery in order to fit into perceptions of beauty. Mainstream media’s beauty standards constantly encourage women to alter their appearance in some shape or form. “The ultimate solution” indicates that there is something wrong with the appearance of women and their appearance must be fixed. Women so often do not have the free choice of being themselves and feeling comfortable with their natural aesthetics because standards do not allow women to be satisfied with their looks. Do we have a free choice in our aesthetics if they are only acceptable when followed by the mainstream standards of beauty? Especially if such standards are not aligned with what women actually look like? This also reminded me of a video I viewed on YouTube that displays a woman posing during a photo-shoot and the after effects of the image once altered in Photoshop. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17j5QzF3kqE While viewing the video one can see the huge amount of editing involved in order to change the woman’s features to fit the ideal. In the beginning she looks like a normal person but the subject changes drastically to reflect the perfect body and face. There are no free choices available for beauty if only certain looks are normalized. The UniFace Mask also reveals how industries love to profit off of women’s insecurities. As mentioned by Kilbourne, the media sells only one option of what is beautiful and it is often profitable for business when we feel bad about ourselves (Kilbourne 55). If industries are profiting on women’s insecurities then ours choices of expressions are narrowed because women will only want to conform to the ideal.
In our reading, “When Mom and Dad Share it All” by Lisa Belkin, we learn about families who try to divide parenting and housework equally and fairly, compromising around each parents’ job and home life/work preferences. But what determines true “fairness” in splitting chores? Does “fairness” mean that the chores are split 50/50 at all times, and are kept gender-neutral (cleaning and cooking does not always fall to the wife, for example)? I think that it depends on the individual family situation what constitutes as a fair divide of work. In the article, parents Amy and Marc work to create an equal split in home chores, but they allow their personal preferences to create possible inequality; Marc enjoys paying bills and mowing the lawn, while Amy loves to buy her children’s clothing. If both partners’ preferences and concerns are taken into account, then they could consider their splitting of chores “fair,” even if sometimes the work is split 60/40. What is not fair, however, is when chores are determined not by the parents’ preferences or availability, but by gender stereotypes. If the mother enjoys cooking, great! But if she prefers to share that responsibility with her partner, then that should be taken into consideration, and her partner should not refuse cooking based on gender (other situations, such as job times, etc. would be reasonable arguments against splitting that chore). Belkin writes how women often feel pressured by onlookers in their community to keep their households in order, because society says if there is anything awry, it is her fault, and not her partner’s. That too is unfair. Equal responsibility needs to be put on both partners in a relationship; what they choose to do with that responsibility is up to them, but “fairness” exists primarily when everyone in the relationship is putting in equal effort.
When Mom and Dad Share it All. Belkin, Lisa. NYTimes Magazine. 2008.