Re-Thinking Who Does What: The Case of Interracial Partnerships and Housework

By Catherine Bolzendahl and Zoya Gubernskaya

For many Americans, women’s housework is synonymous with love. Imagine the Thanksgiving dinner, where the moms, aunts, sisters, and grandmas gather in the kitchen, working all day to make the dishes so proudly displayed on the table. Stereotypically the dads, uncles, brothers, and grandfathers congregate in family room, watching football and telling jokes. Times are certainly changing and no one would be too surprised if Uncle Leo had a great dish of scalloped potatoes he wanted to make, or Cousin Linda preferred to play a pick-up game of football in the back yard. Still, the core chores of the home fall on women, who spend more than twice the time men do on cooking, cleaning, shopping, and laundry. Why are women still doing so much more housework? A variety of explanations help account for some of this: women’s lower or less intensive employment, men’s greater earnings, intra-family status, social policy, and gender ideology. The last of these – gender ideology – is particularly interesting because it tells us how people feel about who should do what. Both men and women (but more men) think women are better at these tasks and take to them more “naturally.” As many gender scholars have noted we become stuck in these notions, and to make matters more complex these roles and chores become interconnected with culture, love, support, and family ties. After all, no one wants Grandma to go on strike when it’s time for some homemade apple pie.

How then can we understand how gender expectations frame our understanding of women’s and men’s housework time? If we create these differences, does that also mean they can be undone? To help get at these questions, we looked at people who partnered with someone of a different race or ethnicity. Part of the construction of family and gender roles is linked to the fact that most Americans partner homogamously (i.e., with someone very similar to them). Homogamous partnerships protect economic, occupational, educational, and yes, racial, differences in society by reproducing what already exists. By disrupting one aspect of this, partnering with someone of a different racial or ethnic group may allow individuals to rethink many things taken for granted – gender roles among them.

Increasingly, we know that racial/ethnic groups differ in the average time men and women spend on housework – even controlling for a variety of socio-economic differences. This suggests already that there are cultural differences in how housework time is decided. In our own study, we confirm some prior work – the gender gap in housework is biggest among Hispanics, and lowest among blacks with whites and Asians being in the middle.  However, we go on to show that those in racially/ethnically homogamous relationships have a much bigger gender gap in housework time compared to those in interracial unions. In other words, interracially partnered respondents have more housework equity. This happens because the women partnered to someone of a different race/ethnicity spend less time on housework compared to the women partnered to someone of the same race/ethnicity. The drop is especially steep for Hispanic and Asian women – they spend about 20-25 minutes less on housework per day if married to someone of a different race/ethnicity.

Bolzendahl1Does this pattern hold for all types of interracial partnerships? This question is not easy to answer as the prevalence of intermarriage varies by race and gender. For example, almost 53 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics marry someone of another ethnicity, with 90 percent of those being to whites. In contrast, only 7 percent of black women and 17 percent of Asian men marry outside of their racial group. Our analysis of the largest groups show that Hispanic women partnered with white men and white women partnered with black men have more equal division of housework than their homogamously partnered peers. More research is needed, but these findings suggest that the partners’ race/ethnicity may not matter as much as the fact that they are different.

Time on housework is not a given. A combination of factors matter, and these include cultural expectations about time on housework. Inter-racial/ethnic partnerships provide a window into this process. Mama (of Mexican origin) may decide the tortillas don’t need to be homemade this year, and Dad (European mutt) may decide to dust off the family recipe for latkes. The love remains but now the ladies can join that game of jenga in the family room.

Further reading:
– Bolzendahl, Catherine, and Zoya Gubernskaya. 2016. “Racial and Ethnic Homogamy and Gendered Time on Core Housework.Socius 2:2378023116676277.
– Pinto, Katy, and Scott Coltrane. 2009. “Division of Labor in Mexican Origin and Anglo Families: Structure and Culture.” Sex Roles 60:482-95.
– Vasquez, Jessica M. 2014. “The Whitening Hypothesis Challenged: Biculturalism in Latino and Non-Hispanic White Intermarriage.” Sociological Forum 29(2):386-407.
– Wang, Wendy. 2012.The Rise of Intermarriage: Rates, Characteristics Vary by Race and Gender. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
– Wight, Vanessa R., Suzanne M. Bianchi, and Bijou R. Hunt. 2012. “Explaining Racial/Ethnic Variation in Partnered Women’s and Men’s Housework: Does One Size Fit All?Journal of Family Issues 34(3):394-427.

Catherine Bolzendahl is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research intersects with political sociology and the sociology of gender. She is currently an editorial board member for Gender & Society. She co-authored an award-winning book on American definitions of family, and has published several articles in peer-reviewed sociology and political science journals, including Social ForcesBritish Journal of Sociology, Gender & Society,Political Studies, and Social Politics

Zoya Gubernskaya is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Her research interests are at the intersection of sociology and demography of family, immigration, aging and health. She has published several articles in peer-reviewed sociology and interdisciplinary journals, including Journal of Marriage and Family, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

The Societal Womb

By Jeanne Flavin & Lynn M. Paltrow 

Where do we come from? There are many ways to answer this, but most of us come from a womb inside of a person we think of as “Mom.” As we’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day and March for Moms, we wonder: to what extent do we really celebrate the pregnant women our mothers once were? How much does our existence and our well-being trace back solely to this one person, this one nine-month period? We give moms a lot of credit. We also assign a lot of blame. So we pause here to explore here some of the things we could fix by recognizing the problems pregnant women face and by taking some collective responsibility for improving the health and well-being of women and babies in the United States.

HAMZA BUTT / Creative Commons

Despite having the costliest maternity care in the world, pregnancy and birth remain health- and life-risking events in the U.S. Each year, an estimated 800-1,200 women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth in the United States. Another 55,000-60,000 women suffer near-fatal close calls. Deaths and near-misses are both on the rise. Globally, maternal deaths have dropped by nearly 50 percent since 1990; the United States is the rare wealthy country in which these deaths have increased. Since 1950, black mothers have had maternal death rates at least three times higher than those of white women. Many of these deaths are preventable, too. For example, after a woman gives birth (when most pregnancy-related deaths actually occur), the focus is often on the baby’s health. Giving more postpartum attention to the mother would reduce her risk of dying due to hemorrhage, infection, eclampsia or suicide.

Moreover, contrary to what advice books lead people to expect when they’re expecting, people don’t have complete control over their pregnancies. Pregnancy losses are common. Each year, 26,000 women in the United States will experience a stillbirth and approximately one-third of all pregnant women will have a miscarriage, usually due to a deadly chromosomal abnormality unrelated to the parents. As many as half of these miscarriages will occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. Those women who experience pregnancy losses often find that they do not get the support they need or—worse still—may be accused of a crime for that pregnancy outcome. Indeed, it is all too common for everyone, including the pregnant woman herself, to assume she did something wrong if she experiences a loss or gives birth to a baby with any kind of health problem.

But babies do not only grow in the wombs of the people who carry them. They also develop in the “societal womb”—from the places where “their mothers eat, breathe and live.” As sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman explains, “the biggest determinants of the health of that baby are done deals, most of them written in by the time the mother herself was born. Race, class, neighborhood–where that mother herself grew up, where she is living in this pregnancy–those are the biggest determinants of infant outcome.”

One might expect that we would provide social supports and safe physical environments. In reality, the societal womb is often an unfriendly and threatening place. Women continue to be pilloried and punished for being pregnant and using certain drugs despite scientific evidence that claims of harm from the criminalized ones are exaggerated and unfounded, and even though virtually no drugs prescribed to and taken by pregnant women have been tested for safety on them, and social and environmental hazards pose far more of a risk to a woman’s health and pregnancy than her use of controlled substances.

Though we espouse concern for expectant and new mothers, our actions shout volumes to the contrary. The societal womb is a place where the deaths of pregnant women from accidents, homicide and suicide continue to go unrecorded and undercounted. It is located in a country where once again we face the prospect that insurers will be allowed to treat postpartum depression and cesarean surgeries—which account for 1 in 3 births—as grounds for denying insurance coverage or charging higher premiums. Pregnant women face the prospect of arrest and the possibility that their health care providers will report them to the police. Tens of thousands of mothers of young children are incarcerated. The societal womb is also a place particularly hostile to Black women and their babies and where the chronic “weathering” stress of poverty and racism has longstanding and multigenerational consequences.

We expect pregnant women to guarantee their babies will be born alive and healthy when such a guarantee is impossible to achieve under any circumstance—and when we offer no guarantee of life and health to women themselves. In the absence of government supports and buffers that make good maternal and infant outcomes more likely, this is just plain wrong.

Pregnant women and new mothers deserve better than our greeting cards. They deserve safe and secure physical and social environments and lives free of racism and violence. Today and this past Mother’s Day—and perhaps every day—let’s show some love by helping to free the mothers who are locked up because they are too poor to post bail, fighting to preserve universal health care and access to patient-centered health care, and defending our planet against fracking, pollution and other assaults on the environment.

** The original post, a similar article can be found at Ms. magazing blog here:

Jeanne Flavin is a professor of sociology at Fordham University, author of Our Bodies, Our Crimes and National Advocates for Pregnant Women board member. Lynn M. Paltrow is a lawyer and the founding executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.


Gender & Society: Table of Contents, Volume 31, No. 3

GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 31 No. 3
Read this issue on SAGE:

No Place for a Feminist: Intersectionality and the Problem South
SWS Presidential Address

Gender and the MBA: Differences in Career Trajectories, Institutional Support, and Outcomes

The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women

To Provide and Protect: Gendering Money in Ukrainian Households

Mobile Masculinities: Migrant Bangladesh Men in South Africa

Book Reviews
Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women and the Politics of the Body
by Beverly Yuen Thompson

Violence against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and
the Persistence of Anti-LGBT Discrimination
by Doug Meyer

Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Cultures
Edited by Gul Ozyegin

Buttoned Up: Clothing, Conformity, and White-Collar Masculinity
by Erynn Masi de Casanova

Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline,
and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work
by Kimberly Kay Hoang

Tourist Attractions: Performing Race and Masculinity in Brazil’s Sexual Economy
by Gregory Mitchell

Food and Femininity
by Kate Cairns and Josée Johnston

Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food and Contamination after Fukushima 
by Aya Hirata Kimura

Female Suicide Bombings: A Critical Gender Approach
by Tanya Narozhna and W. Andy Knight

Veiled Threats: Representing the Muslim Woman in Public Policy Discourses
by Naaz Rashid

There Is No Maternal Instinct

By Amy Blackstone

Cross-posted with permission from Huffington Post (May 10, 2017).

Mother and baby girl lying on the bed together looking at each other.
Mother and baby girl lying on the bed together looking at each other.

While we give the mothers in our lives their well-deserved thanks and recognition, this Mother’s Day, let’s remember something very important about motherhood: It’s not a given. Not every woman wants to be a mom.

Despite our culture’s deeply held belief that women are uniquely wired to want children, the notion of maternal instinct is a myth. Evidence for the idea that women are innately drawn to having children is scant, if it exists at all.

Not one of the over 700 entries in Sage Publishing’s Encyclopedia of Motherhood is dedicated to the concept of maternal instinct. Professor Maria Vicedo-Castello reviewed the history of scientific views about maternal instinct and concluded that “there is no scientific evidence to claim that there is a maternal instinct that automatically gives women the desire to have children, makes women more emotional than men, confers upon them a higher capacity for nurturance, and makes them better equipped to rear children than men.” Continue reading “There Is No Maternal Instinct”

Asian American Characters in Orange is the New Black

By Minjeong Kim

In a 2016 New York Times article, Asian American actors spoke out against persistent racism in Hollywood. Although television viewers have seen more Asian American characters in shows Fresh Off the Boat, Dr. Ken, and Master of None, a string of films were charged with “whitewashing”—having white actors fill Asian roles or tell Asian stories (e.g., Aloha, Doctor Strange, Ghost in Shell). This trend prompted not only a number of online petitions demanding Hollywood producers to stop whitewashing but also twitter hashtag #StarringJohnCho, where people post famous film posters with John Cho, Asian American actor of the Harold & Kumar fame, as the lead, to call for more Asian American representations in Hollywood films. The New York Times article also discusses the lack of meaningful portrayals of Asian characters. While the diversity scale in Hollywood has increased, actors of racial minorities are still relegated to supporting roles and Asian American roles are further marginalized. The hit Netflix show, Orange is the New Black (OITNB) is no exception to this insidious trend.

In 2013, OITNB was debuted with critical and popular success for its unprecedented racial and sexual diversity in characters. Since then, the show has galvanized critical debates among feminist scholars regarding its depictions of race, class, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, privilege, and the criminal justice system, and the contributors of Feminist Perspectives on Orange is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays (eds. April Kalogeropoulos Householder and Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, McFarland Publishers, 2016), analyze these various issues from intersectional feminist perspectives.

Brooke Soso (left); Mei Chang (right)

My chapter in the volume, “ ‘You Don’t Look Full … Asia’: The Invisible and Ambiguous Bodies of Chang and Soso,” closely examines the two Asian American characters—Mei Chang and Brooke Soso—in the first three seasons, and argues how this “feminist show” fails to push the boundary for Asian American representations. Chang’s androgyny and Soso’s feminist outlook appear to separate them from the typical Asian woman stereotypes—Lotus Blossom and Dragon Lady. But the chapter demonstrates how (1) Chang’s invisibility both before and during her time in the prison and (2) Soso’s racial and sexual ambiguity perpetuate orientalist theme of Asian inassimilability—Asian Americans are viewed too different to be incorporated into the mainstream society.


Kim_2In the first season, Chang appears less than five minutes altogether. On one hand, she plays a role of comic relief. She sometimes acts silly, and other times appears impudent, especially with sexually explicit talk. On the other hand, she is characterized as distant from others, and stands on her own. Chang’s flashback episode, with a not-so-subtle theme of invisibility, shows how she overcomes gender hierarchy but feels lonely as unable to realize the norm of heterosexual pairing. I had to wonder: Does this add another layer to this character? Or does this reinforce the trope of Asian American inability to connect with other people?

Soso’s character is introduced in Season 2. Though she is friendly, she is quickly perceived as too perky and too naïve. Her racial ambiguity (biracial) and sexual ambiguity (“gay for the stay”) leads to her isolation from other inmates. In Season 3 her struggles with depression were appreciated by viewers because mental illness is considered a taboo subject among Asian American communities. However, Soso’s character was only accepted by other inmates through her romantic, interracial relationship with Poussey, which I call “assimilable epiphany” where Asian characters become assimilable only through interracial pairing (traditionally usually with white men), leaving the Orientalist notion of Asian inassimilability unchallenged.

Chang and Soso are included in the racialized landscape of the Litchfield Penitentiary, upping the diversity scale of the show as Asian Americans. However, it stops there. The two characters were forced to become bunkmates because of Asian identity, but they cannot get along. Unlike other groups in the show, who come together around their collective racial identity and deal with internal conflicts, the show fails to portray a sense of solidarity that Chang and Soso could have felt, thus missing an opportunity to portray Asian American racial politics.

The marginalization of Asian American characters in OITNB continues in Season 4. Soso and Chang are still not included in promotional posters. With a wave of new characters, the viewers are introduced to Stephanie Hapakuka, Hawaiian American, representing Pacific Islander. However, Chang disappears only after three episodes. Soso has her own flashback story with a dramatic storyline, but she has yet to be the center of the story. It is difficult to imagine if any of them would ever be in this series.

OITNB’s representational diversity and its impact on popular culture and American public has been significant. Finding a first-generation Asian immigrant, biracial Asian American, and a Pacific Island American altogether in one show can be a rare treat for viewers. But watching Asian American characters in marginalized roles feels incongruous when some new shows tell Asian American stories in unique voice with depth and nuances. These new shows attest that one of the ways to increase the representational diversity of Asian American stories is to have Asian American producers. TV show Fresh off the Boat, inspired by chef Eddie Huang’s book, was created by Iranian American producer Nahnatchka Khan. Indian American Aziz Ansari (who was a panelist at a 2015 ASA Plenary) and Taiwanese American Alan Yang created Master of None. Further, we need viewers to want to see Asian characters. Not just more faces but better stories with depth and range. To do so, we all need to be critical viewers.

Minjeong Kim is an assistant professor of Sociology at San Diego State University. She is interested in studying gender, race and sexuality in popular culture. She also studies gender, family and the politics of belonging in the context of international migration. Minjeong is an editorial board member for Gender & Society

Gender Inequality and the Two-Body Problem

By Jaclyn S. Wong 

When an opposite-sex couple decides whether to move for a job opportunity, their outcome often depends on the gender of the person who was offered that opportunity. When men are offered career opportunities requiring relocation, couples usually accept them and women move for men. However, when women are given job opportunities in another location, couples usually forgo them and women stay for men.  In both scenarios, couples’ behaviors result in adverse consequences for women, including interrupted work histories and lower pay over their life course. How do couples keep reproducing gender-unequal outcomes even when they favor egalitarianism – gender equality in work and family?

I answer this question by interviewing both partners of 21 heterosexual couples considering relocation for job opportunities following graduation from graduate or professional school. Studying this particular group of people allowed me to identify how gender shapes couples’ decision-making. Partners in graduate or professional school were similar to one another in their educational background and qualifications, so there was no clear career leader among men or women in these couples. Further, these contemporary young adults endorsed egalitarian attitudes toward work and family, meaning they did not assume men would take primary responsibility for working while women would take the lead in family affairs.Wong_2.8.17

I interviewed each person three times over the course of nearly two years to document how couples navigate their job applications and transition into their first careers. This over-time study allows me to capture peoples’ desired work-family arrangements as they prepare to launch careers at Time 1, their negotiations over actual work-family roles at Time 2, and their evaluations of their outcomes at Time 3. Continue reading “Gender Inequality and the Two-Body Problem”

Aggressive and Loving Men: Gender Hegemony in Christian Hardcore Punk

By Amy D. McDowell

Christian Hardcore band, photograph by Amy McDowell

During the 2017 presidential campaign, James Dobson, the evangelist and founder of Focus on the Family, urged Christians to vote for Donald Trump because the leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton scared him “to death.” After writing that Hillary “haunts” his nights and days, Dobson asked other Christians to “pray for our nation in this time of crisis” (emphasis added). In conservative white evangelical communities, a nation in “crisis” is one in which men and women are confused about gender and sexuality and do not fulfill Biblically defined gender roles.  This fixation on a crisis in gender relations has far-reaching effects; it shapes evangelical anti-LGBTQ politics, anti-abortion campaigns, and the very practice of evangelism.

In my Gender & Society article, I use ethnographic observation and interview data to show how young white evangelical Christian Hardcore men respond to a perceived crisis in gender relations as they attempt to minister to secular men in hardcore punk, a male dominated music scene rooted in anti-establishment attitudes and rituals. Christian Hardcore men, like other conservative Protestant evangelical leaders and practitioners, want the U.S. to be a Christian nation. They reason that God calls them to hardcore music, as one interviewee put it, because “He” wants them “to save the nation from the underground up.” From their perspective, the underground is full of young men who have lost sight of God, church, and family. In an attempt to pull these “lost” men into evangelical Christianity, they create Christian infused hardcore music that they can use to make contact with secular men at live shows. Continue reading “Aggressive and Loving Men: Gender Hegemony in Christian Hardcore Punk”