Free choice is traditionally construed as unrestricted liberty – the ability to do what one wants without limitation. Interestingly enough, though, in our highly gendered society, free choice is not quite so simple. In contemporary American society, whether a man wants to have leave to care for his children is irrelevant – societal standards dictate that such a liberty is denied to him, for fear of societal condemnation and significant earning penalties. Free choice here, then, is not reached through absolute, unrestrained liberty.
Things are not quite so in Sweden, though, with “eight in 10 men [taking] leave [from work to care for their children,” (Bennhold). This drastic rise in the trend is a result of Sweden’s law “reserving at least two months of the generously paid, 13-month parental leave exclusively for father,” (Bennhold), with refusal to adapt resulting in a loss of a month’s worth of subsidies. Men in Sweden now feel they have the ability to take off from work to care for their children if they want. In a very ironic way, the infringement of liberty helped to expand it.
Free choice is an interesting concept: while one would think the best way to attain liberty would be to instantiate total liberty, this is not the case – indeed, it seems true liberty can only be achieved through its initial curtailment. Giving people the excuse of necessity to allow them to make decisions that go against the norms seems to be the only way to allow society to finally have a really, truly free choice.
Bennhold, Katrin. “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All.” The New York Times. June 9, 2010. Accessed December 3, 2013. Web.
Image Courtesy of Business Insider
This advertisement for a Swiffer mop offensively uses a powerful image of American feminism to sell a product associated with centuries of female oppression. Although the racist and patriarchal elements of Rosie the Riveter make her a problematic icon to begin with, Swiffer’s equation of housework productivity with female empowerment is contrary to current feminist goals. This advertisement is reminiscent of pre-second-wave feminism—a time in which technological improvements like the washing machine were viewed “as liberating, rather than as oppressive, agents.”
In addition to misusing Rosie the Riveter, Swiffer also employs the common advertising tactic of the alluring female glance. This Rosie’s seductive glance portrays womanhood as sexual and compliant rather than direct and assertive, which negates her authoritative arm-cross. This ad is also unrealistic. The actor’s appearance is significantly modified by makeup and editing, and the kitchen undoubtedly belongs to an upper-middle class family, inaccurately representing Americans’ real economic conditions.
Image Courtesy of Ad Forum (text refers to celebrating a quiet vacuum)
The possibility of a different advertising culture has been proven in Sweden, where “ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers.” Below, is one such ad for a vacuum. While this image suggests Sweden may have an problem with race variability in its advertising, it notably does not portray an adult woman. This is representative of the gender-neutral shared housework responsibilities existent in Swedish families.
Although there are significant differences in the racial, economic, and governmental conditions between the US and Sweden, this ad provides hope for alternatives. Perhaps nonsexist American advertising will only appear widely when an expansion of the social welfare system in the US creates more support for families. Until then, American consumers should demand advertising changes from the companies they buy from through investment strategy and product boycotts.
 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), 191.
I believe equality in the household is a sentiment and not a number. Two parents may divide up hours of housework and childcare exactly even and still not be equals. A true sense of equality in the household begins with a simple acknowledgement – that you are my partner – and a fundamental, mutual drive towards an agreed-upon goal. Certainly, this is easier said than done; in fact, reaching an absolute equilibrium may be extremely difficult. A vast amount of implicit respect for one’s partner is essential for a “shared” system to work. Lisa Belkin writes about a couple who uses a computer chart to help them adhere to their “shared parenting” plan (Belkin 7). While concrete measures like this are undoubtedly helpful in sticking to any goal, in no way is it a guarantee of equal dedication to tasks or respect for the other. Factors that affect this sense of respect do not just exist within the household or the relationship; they are largely societal. Katrin Bennhold points to increasing cases of “daddy leave” in Sweden as proof of greater equality in the household. However, I think the bigger force at play here is the tacit, growing acceptance of men’s doing domestic work – a growing legitimization of parenting as real labor and as both a man and a woman’s duty. While societal biases and stereotypes are a huge hindrance in the quest for domestic equality, it can certainly be achieved. True equality, though, cannot be measured.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web.
Bennhold, Katrin. “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All.” NYTimes. The New York Times, 9 June 2010. Web.