Thursday, June 30, 2011

An example of female privilege or who has the upper hand in relationships?

Read this and tell me if you see anything wrong with it?

A few years ago she had a baby – a beautiful strong-minded little girl – and after much toss and turn – she decided that she was not going to return to work as a teacher. So now she is a stay at home mom. [...] This is like the best mom ever, a woman who studies and thinks out all her moves as a mom – what food her daughter should eat, what fabrics should be close to her skin, how much television is too much television – or is she better off with non at all? This woman who washes her own diapers because she’s worried about the earth and yes, she has a partner – who happens to be a man – who works day and night so that she can stay home and raise their daughter in the way she thinks is best. This is a job, and important one, is it not? It is also a job she loves and one that she feels has great meaning for her.

She decides that she stays at home and raises their daughter in a way she thinks is best. A job she loves and has great meaning for her and well, he works day and night to make that happen. Good for her it seems.

I am not saying anything about the relationship at question. I don't know how they came to the conclusion how to live their life. [EDIT: Feministcupcake made it clear in the comments that their friends have an egalitarian relationship] The way the author writes about her friend makes it seem as there is no "we" in this relationship. The role of the father is down-played (she raises their daughter in a way she thinks is best) and it seems he has no say in the matter at all (her decision) and just has to work to make it happen.

When it comes to relationships it seems women have the upper hand, or society expects women to have the upper hand or the final say. This goes beyond stereotypes of nagging women:

Of the 1,260 men and women whom Pew pollsters surveyed over the summer [in 2008], 43% responded that the woman makes most of the major decisions for the family, with 31% saying that the couple makes most decisions together. There was a small difference (within the margin of error) between the control exerted by wives who earn more than their husbands and those who earn less (46% versus 42%). But in both cases, women wielded sole decision-making power far more than men did, indicating that what "father knows best" is when to defer to mom.

Certainly that was what University of Iowa researchers found last year [2007] when they measured how couples negotiate conflict over household decisions. That study not only confirmed that men will usually go along with their wives but found that when couples do disagree, wives are far more persuasive than husbands in changing their spouses' minds.

[... T]he researchers saw that when spouses engaged in debate, the women gained more ground than their husbands did. "[The women] were communicating more powerful messages and men were responding to those messages by agreeing," Mr. Vogel stated in a press release.

The hypothesis that men hold more sway in relationships because they typically make more money didn't play out.

If a bigger paycheck did mean more power in any area of family decision making, the most likely one would be finances. But even there women are in charge, with more women than men in the Pew survey saying that they manage the couple's budget and wives in the Iowa study winning out over husbands in money disagreements. According to Pew, 45% of women said they hold the family purse strings compared to 37% of men.

This despite two-thirds of the couples reporting that the man had the higher income. In fact, in recent years a substantial amount of research has shown that wives lose some of their household decision-making power when they earn more than their husbands, possibly because by spending fewer hours in the home they forfeit claims to certain household "expertise."

[.. A]dvertisers have been tracking the buying habits of American families since the 1940s. What they have found is that women made more of the household purchasing decisions before the advent of the feminist movement and that they make more of the purchasing decisions now, regardless of how big or small their paychecks are. These marketing surveys have been remarkably consistent, and they haven't changed much in the past 60 years.

To be fair, many of the scholarly studies' conclusions include a "final say" contingency -- many husbands claim that they have veto power when they feel very strongly about an issue. But consumer research shows that with the exception of what car to buy and when to buy it, men rarely claim strong enough feelings to override their wives.

"Across all decision-making realms, it tilts to the woman," noted Rich Morin, the Pew study's lead author. "I was surprised by the percentage of men who made none of the decisions in any of the areas. A significant percentage were just bystanders."

[...] The general consensus of sociologists is that, whereas a woman's marital satisfaction is dependent on a combination of economic, emotional and psychological realities, a man's marital satisfaction is most determined by one factor: how happy his wife is. When she is happy, he is. Working within this framework, most husbands are unwilling to dig in their heels on any issue unless they have a tremendous incentive to do so.

Warren Farrell wrote about this, too. From "Women can´t hear what men don´t say" [p.21-22]:

Researchers find that when only one sex expresses argument-provoking feelings, it is likely to be the wife - by a ratio of almost six to one (85 percent vs 15 percent). When both sexes participate but one dominates, women are about twice as likely to dominate. Overall, women are more willing to initiate conflict, no willing to escalate conflict, better able to handle it when it occurs, and, when they have initiated it, are quicker to get over it.

These findings come from numerous sources. They are found among couples of high, medium, and low socio-economic status. They are found using a variety of methodologies: the couples at themselves acknowledge the gap, and, much more reliably, researchers who systematically observe couples verify the couple's own assessments.

Probably the most respected researcher in the field is John Gottman at the University of Washington. He records pulse rates, heart output, skin conductance, and other indicators of stress. Then he videotapes the couples to observe facial expressions and body language. He does not ask the couples to fight, since that would be artificial. Instead, he basically works with the couple and when a major air are of disagreement naturally even though this, he asks them to discuss it and attempts to resolve it. When a fight naturally occurs, the equipment is there to record it.

Gottman found that men are more intimidated by angry women than women are by angry men. Men are more stressed by marital arguments, while women are more comfortable with emotional confrontation and are better at it.

Even in the feminist movement, the medium is the message: feminists express anger even as the message is that women cannot express anger; men repress anger even as they are judged to be the sex that has no problem expressing it! We often hear we have a battle of the sexes when, in fact, we have a war in which only one side has shown up. (Men put their heads into the sand and hope the bullets will miss!)

Withdrawal is not the way men do battle with men. It is the way men do battle with women. Because the purpose of doing battle with men was to prepare men to protect women from conflict, not to be the source of conflict.

It is kind of funny when you realize that the titel of the first post I linked was "Social Justice is about everyone, isn’t it?". Yes, it is. One day this might include a more egalitarian view of relationships.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Really - Since I wrote this, perhaps I should clarify - This is a choice they made together. They did not want to put their daughter in daycare becasue they wanted to be in control of her influences - She would be perfectly happy to be the one working - He wanted to work - he loves his job. So they decided to have her stay home. I'm not sure where you get your ideas about equality but perhaps you should explore peoples views a little further - I believe in equality for all read this, which I posted a couple of days ago.



  3. Meh, it starts even with dating. Hell, go online and read the profiles of men and women. Both are generally easy to criticize. But, even with the anonymous internet, women will hardly ever pursue because that would forgo control of the relationship. He must prove, worship and come to her. It's simple unilateral equality in form of another gender privilege that women refuse to give up. Have her cake and eat it too. The average woman couldn't handle a fraction of the rejection of dating as a man in the U.S., but they don't have to. I use to have dreams of dating a woman who was my best friend, but I have learned that this country isn't the place to find such a female.

  4. @feministcupcake: You left your caps-lock on it seems. Anyhow, as I stated in the article it was not about the couple at hand, it was the way you wrote about them ("I am not saying anything about the relationship at question. I don't know how they came to the conclusion how to live their life. The way the author writes about her friend makes it seem...").

    When I read your posts it irked me in a wrong way (you could have made it worse if you wrote "her daughter" instead of their). It was about her while the father merely existed to finance her dream. The problem I have with this is that there are still much stereotypes about fathers as second class parents around.

    In addition to that, there is also the privilege part. I get the feeling these days it is a tad easier for a woman to choose what she wants to become then it is for a man. Not that you misunderstand me, I have a daughter and I am thankful for the opportunities she will be having in the future (thanks to feminism) but hope if my hypothetical-future-son will want to become a stay-at-home-dad in the future society will be a-ok.

    Now, I am really not against your friends. If they are fine with their life this is great, more power to them. I also noticed your blog via the feministing post, so I know you are pretty egalitarian, which is great. That part of your post however....I mean, how do you see it?

  5. Don't mind the caps - as you can see from my post on anti-male feminists, I am enraged at the idea that not everyone envisions equality for all. I see how you are irked by the language of my post - but the context of the post was about her relationship to other feminists who saw her job as a stay at home mom as pointless and not feminist - In particular, I was interested in the idea that to be empowered a woman must enact the kind of job that belonged only to a man prior to the feminist movement. My implication was that her daily job as parent is just as important as a job she might have in the corporate world - it was not my intention to imply that the husband played no role in the raising of his daughter. I was actually critiquing other feminists who under valued the role of a stay at home parent and I would feel this same way about some one who dismissed the work of a stay at home dad. The world is clearly critical of the stay at home dad - but a stay at home dad is breaking the rules or boxes created by the heteronormative perspective of our culture and so, much like a woman who chooses to have an elective hystorectomy before having children because she has no desire to ever have children, he will be ridiculed and looked at as an oddity. In other words - breaking cultural norms is always unwelcome and the understanding of the oppressions caused by masculinity are really just coming into the light. So - being a man is still filled with pressure and being a man who deviates from the traditional role is still ridiculed - but we cant be blind and dismiss women's suffering - or the suffering of other groups.

  6. I get the context of your post and mostly agree with it (there is disagreement because I wouldn't say it is caused by masculinity). What you describe in your post is something my mother experienced as well (stay-at-home-mum "bashing" by well meaning feminists), so that isn't foreign to me. And I am not sure if you are implying that I am blind to / dismiss women's suffering? (I am not blind to it, nor do I dismiss it. This blog however has an androcentric focus and is quite critical of mainstream feminism)

  7. I think we mostly agree. I wouldn't say it was caused by MEN - rather the construct of masculinity, and what I mean by that are the gendered attributes that we have attached to the male sex - these attributes are often practiced by women and they this standard of domination equaling success. What defines mainstream feminism for you?

  8. Hey fleckless - have you see these guys - - I'm a huge fan and I think you might like to check it out.

  9. Okay....enough is enough, why do people always write fleckless instead of feckless? I don't get it...wth does fleck even mean (as you might have guessed, you are not the first one to call me that way)

    Anyhow, those guys are already in my linklist, and I must admit I am pretty impressed. Good posts, good discussions.

    Back to topic. I do believe it is both men and women's "fault" (not really fault, we are socialized that way). Feminity polices masculinity and vice versa. You see this everywhere, for instance men should show more emotions, sure, yet when they do they appear less attractive (recent study, women think men who don't smile are the most attractive). Or the fact that women don't negotiate their wages such as men do. Sure they could negotiate more, yet they get penalized when they do. Does this make sense to you?

    About mainstream feminism, if I'am only allowed to use 3 words I'd say "feministing and such". The more popular blogs in the blogosphere and powerful feminist networks (feminist majority foundation, NOW etc). How would you define it?

  10. Not sure to be honest - I feel like the voices are pretty diverse and as far as my thinking I think there are a lot more men involved right now - like James Gilligan and Michael Kimmel - Kimmel is giving one of key notes at the NWSA conference this year. I'd like to think that mainstream feminism is growing more and more diverse -

    sorry about the "l" - Feckless.

  11. Btw, I wasn't mad or something, just curios where the l comes from happens every other day.

    There certainly is a development when it comes to feminism. We will have to see where it goes, would love to see a truly egalitarian movement.

    Personally I have my problems with Kimmel (and feminists) that claim that there is no sexism against men (the benevolent sexism argument).