Can a primary caring responsibility for children be equally shared?

By Tina Miller

The question in the title is currently occupying me as I near completion of a new book manuscript. This question returns me to well-trodden and contested ground, but it is where I have found myself after more than 20 years of qualitative longitudinal research focused on how we organize caring in family lives. Taking apart and exploring the micro-processes of transitions, intentions and practices, identity work and caring have led me all the way back here.

Just like many researchers, it was my own biographical experiences of motherhood (it’s not like they said it would be in the books), which got me starMiller_blog photo_4.21.16ted on my first major qualitative research project, following a group of women through a year in their life as they too became mothers (here). ‘Is this what motherhood is all about?’ asked one new and tired looking mother as my tape recorder whirred in the background, capturing hers and later other women’s accounts as they tried to make sense of first-time motherhood (here).

Now, many years of research later, including researching men’s experiences of transition to fatherhood, parenting experiences as babies grow, start school and become teenagers, it is these unfolding accounts of parenting in heterosexual, couple-households, which are the focus of my new book. What becomes clear is that no amount of preparation can prepare you for the fact a small baby occupies every space (emotionally and almost physically too, with all the ‘necessary’ paraphernalia a ‘good’ mother must have) and that a sense of a ‘24/7 thinking responsibility’ descends as a baby is born. And someone has to take on that responsibility.

Regardless of intentions to change gendered practices of caring by mothers and fathers and to share caring in equal ways, mothers typically very quickly become the parent who is most practiced at caring and doing the ‘mental labor’ (Walzer, 1996), first of the baby, then toddler, then young child and so on. Exhaustion for everyone in the early weeks and months of becoming a parent make it a difficult time at which to challenge and try to disrupt gendered arrangements in the work place and so corresponding possibilities in the home.

Becoming practiced leads to perceived ‘maternal’ expertise and fathers can ‘get it wrong’ if they are left ‘in charge’: everyone falls back into traditionally gendered positions. What emerges are practices of parental caring which indicate father’s increased emotional engagement and possibilities of change as well as maternal and paternal ‘gate-keeping’ of particular practices. Patriarchal habits and dividends and motherhood wage penalties continue to underscore the terrain. But it is the daily, micro-processes of caring, documented over many years which shows the ways in which gendered practices become accepted, reinforced and quite quickly ‘invisible’ and where inequalities and gatekeeping co-exist.

Even though it must be possible (mustn’t it?) for a 24/7 thinking and caring responsibility to be shared equally, why is this equation so hard to balance in relation to parental caring? Rather than focus on the division of tasks, their type and hours spent on them in trying to promote more gender equitable choices in home and work spheres, at the heart of these matters sits the assumed singularity of a primary responsibility. For all the sharing, it is this singularity – so obdurately stuck to motherhood – which demands our critical attention if meaningful change is to be finally achieved.

Tina Miller is a Professor of Sociology. Her research and teaching interests include motherhood and fatherhood transitions, constructions of gender and identities, masculinities, reproductive health, narratives, qualitative research methods and ethics and she has published in these areas. Tina has recently completed a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship focusing on the topic of ‘Managing modern family lives: public understandings and everyday practises of caring and paid work’. Her CUP monongraph based on her findings will be published late 2016. She is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society. 

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“These critics (still) don’t write enough about women artists”

By Pauwke Berkers, Marc Verboord, and Frank Weij

In 1985, feminist art collective Guerrilla Girls created a poster titled:  “These Critics Don’t Write Enough about Women Artists.” It included the names of 21 art critics and stated: “Between 1979 & 1985, less than 20% of the feature articles & reviews of one-person shows by these critics were about art made by women” . Surely, things must have improved since 1985, or at least, there is more gender inequality in Europe, right? Our research shows  that – by large – this is not the case.


In our article, we studied the extent and ways in which gender inequality in the elite newspaper coverage of arts and culture differs between in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, 1955-2005. Through a quantitative content analysis, we mapped all articles that appeared in two elite newspapers in each country in four sample years 1955, 1975, 1995, and 2005 (15,379 in total). What did we find? Continue reading

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Women-Led Movements versus Mixed-Gender Movements 

By Manisha Desai

From Black lives Matter to the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton women leaders are highly visible in politics not only in the United States but also around the world.  In her article in Yes!,  Rucha Chitnis argues that in the context of economic injustice stemming from corporate capitalism and climate change, movements led by women are offering a revolutionary path.  This path includes a redefinition of leadership – one that is collective and collaborative rather than focused on an individual – and development – one that challenges the myth of  “there is no alternative” to neoliberal capitalist development.  It understands issues and oppressions based on race, class, sexuality, disability as interconnected and privileges solidarity and movement building as the best response to marginalization and exclusion.

She provides important examples of women’s movements from around the world to demonstrate this.  For example, in the U.S. #Say Her Name campaign highlights how police brutality affects Black women as a corrective to mainstream media focus on Black men.  Via Campesina, a movement of peasants, landless farmers, small producers, and indigenous communities that originated in Brazil but now spans the globe, chose this International Women’s Day, March 8th, to challenge the capitalist violence perpetrated against women and men all around the world.

I had made a similar argument in my book Gender and the Politics of Possibilities, that global politics, which I defined as transnational activism of non-state actors, including movements, against a variety of global issues was essentially feminist politics as it was based on the practices and principles of women’s movements around the world.  While women-led movements continue to chart a revolutionary path, mixed gender movements demonstrate a less radical trajectory. Continue reading

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I’m Sure I’m Uncertain **

By Jenny Lendrum

Ethnographic research is far messier than I anticipated. And harder.  And complicated. And…well, you get the idea. As a novice researcher, I’ve repeatedly found myself in situations that mountain of methods books warned about but failed to prepare me for. The reality is that qualitative research is a process that is perpetually evolving. And to be blunt, I often find I have no idea what I’m doing—let alone doing it right. However, I remain optimistic that the more experience I amass in the field, the more skilled I’ll be as a feminist qualitative researcher. Continue reading

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When Home is the Mouth of a Shark* : Gendered Consequences for Syrian Women Refugees

By Stephanie J. Nawyn

The war in Syria has produced the largest refugee migration since World War II. According to estimates from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, more than 4.8 million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries (with most experts agreeing that this is a conservative estimate), and are mostly entering Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. In the last year many more Syrians have attempted to seek asylum in Europe. The conditions under which these refugees struggle to survive are not entirely unpredictable, as many refugees throughout recent history share sadly similar experiences. But the scale of the crisis and the socio-political climates in the countries providing (and not providing) safe harbor have created conditions for Syrians that are somewhat unique to their situation, with some having gendered consequences.

Crossing conflict zones to reach safe countries is always dangerous, but because of the size of this migration many surrounding countries are restricting access to their borders. This has increased the use of smugglers, particularly for Syrians attempting to enter Europe. The expense of using smugglers affects all Syrians, but for women the increased costs and dangers of crossing national borders are compounded by an increased vulnerability to sexual violence. Further, as the difficulty of travel increases, women with small children or without a male family member to provide protection are less likely to attempt the journey.

While not all women are more socially isolated than men, women who before the war had less education, were not participating in the labor market, or were caring for small children tend to be more socially isolated than men, and this social isolation affects their access to information. Information is a key commodity for refugees; social media is aflame with discussions among Syrians of how to find a smuggler, the increased restrictions on certain routes, and emerging routes available for travel. Women without good information are more dependent upon others to seek safe passage out of Syria. Good information is sometimes necessary to survival, as smuggling exploitation of Syrians is rampant; some of the bodies of drowned Syrians have been found wearing fake life preservers stuffed with newspaper.

Currently most Syrians have sought refuge in countries that provide them with limited opportunities to permanently settle, notably restriction of the right to work in the formal labor market. Given that material assistance to refugees is limited, labor exploitation of Syrian refugees is widespread. In Turkey, for example, there is a large informal labor market (with estimates ranging from 30 to nearly 50 percent of all workers employed in the informal sector) that provides almost no worker protections, and wage theft of Syrians is common. Legislation passed in 2013 intended to provide Syrians with work permits has not yet produced a mechanism for Syrians to work legally.

These limitations to legal work affect all Syrian refugees, but women are especially vulnerable. Syrian women refugees are more likely to have sole responsibility for supporting young children, making it harder for them to work outside their homes. They are also more likely than Syrian men to engage in prostitution as a survival strategy. While there are concerns among policy makers and advocates that Syrian women are being trafficked into sex work, it is difficult to determine how common coercion by third parties is; Syrian women may feel forced into sex work more from dire economic circumstances than from traffickers. The stigma of sex work among Syrians makes collecting data on this problem extremely difficult.

The war has also led to an increase in child marriage and multiple marriages among Syrian girls and women. Families desperate to find support for their daughters have resorted to arranging marriages for their minor girls, and some countries have seen an increase in Syrian women entering marriages with non-Syrian men as second wives. Rather than viewing these practices as essentialized cultural practices, it is more accurate to understand them as culturally-specific strategies for women and girls in a context in which attaching oneself to a man is the only viable way of ensuring survival.

Because people tend to see women and children as more pitiable than men, Syrian women and children have dominated the images of refugees that variouSyrian photo_Nawyns groups mobilize to increase sympathy for those affected by the crisis, and to raise funds for organizations providing assistance to refugees. And the image of Arab men as potential terrorists makes Syrian men particularly unsympathetic to Western audiences. While images of Syrian women with their children appearing destitute and hopeless might elicit compassion in the short run, in the long run such imagery risks constructing Syrian women as perpetual victims of this war, always and forever dependent and incapable of rebuilding their own lives. Portraying Syrian women in this way may ironically lead to less willingness on the part of national publics to accept Syrian refugees permanently in their countries. So while it is important for people to understand the suffering of Syrians and the gender-specific ways in which the war has affected Syrian women, it is also important to hold up stories of survival and resilience.

* This title of this essay is borrowed from the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire, a Somali refugee woman born in Kenya and currently residing in London.

Stephanie J. Nawyn is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology with expertise in gender and migration, focusing on forced migration and the ways that structural inequalities inhibit immigrant incorporation. Her work has primarily focusNawyn_2016ed on refugee resettlement and the economic advancement of African migrants in the U.S.More recently Dr. Nawyn began a study of human trafficking in Turkey, and was a Fulbright Fellow at Istanbul University during the 2013-14 academic year. Dr. Nawyn has a co-edited a book with Steven J. Gold, The Routledge International Handbook of Migration Studies, and her most recent articles were published in Insight Turkey and Demography. Dr. Nawyn has provided consultation to refugee resettlement organizations in the United States and Turkey, and has contributed to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report on the conditions of human trafficking in Turkey. She is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society. 


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Leaning in or pushing down: Do powerful women in corporate America help or harm the advancement of women subordinates?

By Kevin Stainback, Sibyl Kleiner and Sheryl Skaggs *

Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) may be the most well-known and influential woman in corporate America. Her 2010 TED talk entitled “Why we have too few women leaders” has been watched more than 6.1 million times. Her subsequent 2013 book, Lean in: Women and the Will to Lead, has been widely read, making both the New York Times and Amazon best sellers lists.

Sandberg argues that women “lean in” and work diligently at achieving what they want at work. In effect, regardless of the gendered biases and inequalities confronting women in the paid labor force, they should strive to do it all—a “make advances, not excuses” self-help approach. Sandberg acknowledges that women have a more difficult situation navigating both the work and the work-family nexus than men; and she hopes to inspire women to go after their ambitions despite structural obstacles.

Yet while Sandberg acknowledges some structural obstacles, the main argument of Lean In suggests that women should strive to overcome them to succeed.

Notwithstanding the criticism it has received and its overly agentic emphasis, Sandberg’s message is a powerful one—even if for no other reason than generating the fodder for conversations and debates that would otherwise be absent.

Although Sandberg and other women who have been successful in the corporate world have received enormous attention in the media, women’s representation in corporate leadership positions, such as executives and directors, remains incredibly low.

For example, Catalyst Inc.’s estimates of women’s representation in Fortune 500 firms, suggest that women continue to hold very few leadership positions—only about 17% of corporate board positions and less than 15% of corporate executive positions. Moreover, on this indicator and others of women’s opportunities progress has stalled. It will take much more than leaning in to overcome the structural barriers blocking women’s access to the corporate suite. Continue reading

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Beyond the Tampon Tax: Menstrual Activism Going Mainstream

By Breanne Fahs

Menstruation has made a splash in recent weeks as three major events have shifted menstruation from a relatively sidelined subject into the mainstream media spotlight.  First, New York City passed a bill that eliminated the sales tax on tampons (they are currently taxed with regular sales tax in nearly every city in the United States).  Other states are also in the process of either considering such legislation (South Carolina, Tennessee), or have already put forth such legislation formally as a proposed bill (California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Utah, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C.).  Many rightly see this move as a shift in thinking about menstruation, moving it out of the “shame” closet and recognizing that menstrual products (in their various forms) are not luxury items but are instead necessities.

Second, New York City has recently called for a bill that would provide free tampons in public school restrooms, homeless shelters, and jails. Recognizing that access to tampons and pads is a privilege that not all women share—as poorer women spend a disproportionate amount of their income on menstrual products compared to more wealthy women, and women in prison and homeless shelters often forego these products out of economic necessity—this bill again shifts the thinking about menstrual products by asking us to consider the ordinariness of the menstrual experience.  Further, these shifts in thinking about menstrual products signal that certain blindspots are created when men create laws—a reality that even President Obama commented upon asked about the tampon tax by a young YouTuber.  (He is also the first president to speak about menstruation at all.) Continue reading

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Motherhood earnings penalties and work-family policies: Is more always better?

By Irene Boeckmann, Joya Misra & Michelle Budig *

Mothers earn less than fathers and childless men on average, but also less than women without children at home. Part of these earnings difference can be explained by the work experience mothers might lose due to employment interruptions or part-time work while caring for their families.

Even after taking differences in education, labor market experience, job characteristics, work hours, and marital status, mothers still earn significantly less than women without care responsibilities.

Indeed, in a study we recently published, we find that U.S. mothers pay an earnings penalty of 8% per child.

American women are not alone in experiencing earnings losses in connection with motherhood. These earnings losses—often called “motherhood penalties”—can be found in most wealthy countries.

Our research examines mothers’ earnings in 21 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, North America, Australia and Israel. We find that mothers in all but three countries in the study incur statistically significant earnings penalties (controlling for age, education, relationship status, and part-time work).

However, the impact of children on women’s earnings is not the same everywhere, as seen in the figure below.  For example, mothers in western Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg lose between 15-20% of their earnings per child. In contrast, children have little or no significant impact on women’s earnings in Poland, the Slovak Republic, Russia, Australia, and Israel. Continue reading

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Upstream vs. Downstream

By Martha McCaughey *

It’s amazing what we learn when we read outside our field.  A 2015 article by William Scott (here), reveals that those engaged with sustainable development efforts face many of the challenges those of us doing sexual assault prevention face.

Specifically, Scott and his colleagues feel that they’ve done too much “downstream remedial” work (measures that deal with the consequences of harm) and not enough “upstream prevention” work (interventions to address the underlying causes of problems).  Sound familiar?

Scott describes an N.E.F. report, which “argues for prevention, and says that bottom-up prevention is best, with people and organisations becoming more resilient: building up their own immune systems, both literally and metaphorically, so that they become less susceptible to harm, changing attitudes and capabilities so that they are better able to take positive actions themselves.” Continue reading

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This Is What Women Are Forced To Do To Avoid Street Harassment

By: Tara Culp-Ressler

Cross-posted with permission from ThinkProgress here.

The street harassment that plagues U.S. women in public spaces has far-reaching consequences for those women’s personal lives, according to new survey data released by the international nonprofit Hollaback!.

The survey, which polled more than 4,800 people living in the United States, found that the threat of street harassment results in a heightened level of fear and anxiety that can end up distracting women when they’re at work or school. It also leads many people to change their behavior in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have. Continue reading

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