Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Immigration

This collection of articles provides analyses of how gender informs the migration process, produces new gendered outcomes and relationships, and how men and women navigate their lives as (im)migrants. Gender is central to all the research here, but gendered processes, outcomes, and experiences are shaped by the state, work, and family, as well as the intersectional identities of (im)migrants. Spanning research from several countries, these articles will prompt students to question conventional notions on how, for instance, migration leads to gendered empowerment or how human rights-based measures are automatically beneficial for immigrant women. This research also provides insights on how the consequences of migration also provide new gendered opportunities for experiencing masculinity, re-arranging care work, and creating more sustainable and supportive communities. Despite these opportunities, migration and immigration (enforcement) policies also have its costs; the article on immigrant organizing against deportation and research on migrant domestic workers underscore the enduring struggle for legibility and mobility.

Andrews, Abigail. 2014. Women’s political engagement in a Mexican sending community: Migration as crisis and the struggle to sustain an alternative. Gender & Society 28 (4): 583-608.

This article demonstrates how Mexican women’s migration to the U.S., and subsequent return migration creates new gendered opportunities for women to become politically engaged in sustaining their communities of origin. This article includes a wide array of data, including participant observation, 51 life story interviews with Mexican Mixtec men and women in Vista, California and San Miguel, Mexico, and survey data. Faced with the ‘crisis’ of living undocumented lives in the U.S., many migrant women returned back home to help build sustainable communities through civic participation, which was previously limited to men. Women’s increased participation in these spaces were successful, newly acceptable and often, necessary as many migrant men remained in the U.S. to fulfill breadwinning duties. This article lends insights on how hostile contexts of reception and subsequent return migration creates gendered consequences and new opportunities for survival.

Das Gupta, Monisha. 2014. “Don’t deport our daddies”: Gendering state deportation practices and immigrant organizing. Gender & Society 28 (1): 83-109.

This article focuses on Families for Freedom (FFF), a grassroots organization dedicated to assisting families that have deported or deportable immigrant fathers with criminal convictions. Das Gupta expertly outlines how researchers and activists have often relied on the affective pull of heterosexual family ties to challenge deportation. The data for this study includes personal narratives, or testimonios and interviews with members of FFF and the New York chapter of the New Sanctuary Movement. Das Gupta finds that FFF testimonios protest deportation by placing an emphasis on the emotional, care and parenting work that fathers provide for their families. Interviews with FFF leaders also reveal the strategies the organization must use to build solidarity and make criminalized fathers legible. Aside from the research and arguments presented, students will likely benefit from reading Das Gupta’s useful background on contemporary immigration and deportation policies.

Choo, Hae Yeon. 2013. The cost of rights: Migrant women, feminist advocacy, and gendered morality in South Korea. Gender & Society 27 (4): 445-468.

Focusing on frameworks of citizenship, this paper explores how feminist organizations in South Korea used a discourse of victimization and human trafficking to argue for human rights-based provisions for marriage migrants and migrant women working as hostesses. Choo’s data includes extensive fieldwork with Korean migrant advocacy organizations and Filipino migrant communities. Choo finds that migrant women in her study did not pursue human rights-based provisions because doing so would contradict the moral and stigma-reducing logics they have assigned to their relationships and work. Claiming victimhood to access human-rights provisions, in some cases, also appeared to make less economic sense. Highlighting immigrant women’s agency, this research illustrates how there can be a cost to accessing certain rights.

De Regt, Marina. 2010. Ways to come, ways to leave: Gender, mobility, and il/legality among Ethiopian domestic workers in Yemen. Gender & Society 24 (2): 237-260.

Recognizing the dearth of literature on migrant domestic workers in the Middle East outside of research exclusively on exploitation or violence, this article focuses on how gender shapes the migration trajectory of migrant domestic workers and how (il)legality subsequently impacts their mobility. Spanning more than a ten-year period, the data for this article includes extensive fieldwork and interviews with Ethiopian migrant domestic workers working in Yemen. Students may appreciate reading interview narratives that demonstrate how the pre-migration options have important consequences for migration. Migrant women recruited through family members often experience more mobility compared to women who are recruited through agencies as contract workers.

Schmalzbauer, Leah. 2009. Gender on a new frontier: Mexican migration in the rural mountain West. Gender & Society 23 (6): 747-767.

Challenging the notion that migration is always empowering for women, this article provides important insights on how the context of reception matters for how migrants experience their new lives and gendered relationships. Pulled from ethnographic data gathered in rural Montana, Schmalzbauer demonstrates that the process of migration and settlement in Montana reproduces gendered relationships between partners that typically impacts women in a negative way. The lack of available jobs for women means migrant Mexican women are relegated to the home, even when they may have had previous work experience. Women are further socially confined because of the geography of the area and limited public transportation. As a destination with few migrants, Mexican women also feel their presence is especially highlighted in public places which is an especially dangerous problem for undocumented women. Despite these issues, for those with children and experience living in high-crime urban areas, the area represents a safer place to raise their children.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by Cassaundra Rodriguez, University of Massachusetts. Comments or suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu

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Getting More Men Involved – But Which Men?

By Tal Peretz

Men’s involvement in anti-violence and women’s rights movements has increased in recent decades, and feminist groups and organizations have been increasingly interested in engaging men for gender justice. Emma Watson and The United Nations have #HeForShe, former President Obama and the White House Council on Women and Girls started It’s On Us, and NGOs around the world have recently formed the MenEngage Alliance.

The literature on men’s feminist engagements has a noticeable shortcoming, however: despite decades of feminist scholarship on the importance of intersectionality and early hints of the importance of intersectionality in men’s engagement (like this book), what we know about engaging men is still mostly about engaging white, middle-class, college-age, heterosexual, Christian, cisgender men. In an attempt to expand our knowledge of men’s feminist allyship, I spent a year observing, engaging with, and interviewing the members of two men’s anti-gender-violence groups directed towards marginalized men.

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Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence (MMADV) is a mostly-African-American Muslim group, formed when the director of a Muslim women’s shelter noticed the benefit of male allies. The Sweet Tea Southern Queer Men’s Collective (Sweet Tea) is a group of gay, bisexual, and queer-identified men, mostly of color, who address the ways sexism and male privilege show up in LGBTQ+ communities. Both are small community groups that organize online, by phone, and in members’ homes, occasionally producing public events or documents. Both received some training from an anti-violence organization called Men Stopping Violence (MSV), but found MSV’s programming an ill fit for their communities’ concerns.

When I asked MMADV members how they got involved, all of their stories had a clear pathway-style narrative, beginning with a sensitization experience[1]. Parenting daughters or reading social media accounts of Muslim women experiencing domestic abusive were common. Most of the men were specifically invited to get involved by women in their lives, like Sayeed[2], a man of Desi Indian descent, who got a call from a woman colleague telling him “there’s a group called Men Stopping Violence…, I want you to do the[ir] internship program, because we need more Desi men to speak out against domestic violence.’” When they wanted to deepen their understanding of the issues, MMADV members relied on formalized educational experiences, which caused major shifts in their gendered understandings of the world. Waleed told me MSV “was a big eye-opener for me, it also helped me in dealing with my wife and watching how I spoke to her and how I treated her.”

While these narratives from MMADV members approximated the pathways of men already represented in the literature, an intersectional analysis added detail. The thin dispersion of Muslim men and their disinclination to socialize with unmarried women increases the likelihood that their sensitization and engagement opportunities occur online, for example, and the importance of age and parenting was not captured in the previous studies of younger men.

Unlike the men of MMADV or in the literature, Sweet Tea members tended to explain their engagement through reference to their own intersecting identities and experiences as gay/queer men of color. Because of this, their sensitization experiences began much younger—Mark said “it starts with being a little gay Black boy”–and did not rely on women’s motivation. They told no narratives about how they joined the group, instead tending to just say, like Jeune, “I was just invited to be a part of the collective by [another member].”

Finally, Sweet Tea members never mentioned a deep shift in gendered understanding, but instead described learning a language for things they already knew. Their own experiences of marginalization along the axes of sexuality, race, and in some cases gender expression intersect with masculine privilege, preempting these transformative gendered learning experiences and sensitizing them to issues of gender justice without recourse to women’s experiences.

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All these men’s pathways relied on intersecting gendered, religious, racial, familial, and sexual identities; their male privilege interacted with racial, sexual, and religious marginalization to create their sensitization and opportunity experiences. While MMADV’s experiences add nuance to previous pathway models, though, Sweet Tea members’ experiences demand a fundamental revision of the models. This suggests that there may be a special salience to sexual and gender-based oppression: a non-normative sexual or gender-identity not only invites investigation and explanation, but encourages these in reference to gender. These findings are not generalizable, but they do powerfully illustrate the importance of intersectionality when considering men as allies.

[1] The terms I use to describe men’s pathways to anti-violence engagement come from Casey & Smith (2010), whose pathway model begins with sensitizing experiences, and moves through engagement opportunities and a shift gendered meaning (in either order) to antiviolence engagement. They recognize that a “glaring gap in both [their model] and research about male antiviolence allies more generally is the experiences of men of color” (Casey and Smith 2010, 970).

[2] All participant names are pseudonyms

Tal Peretz, assistant professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Auburn University, has engaged in and studied men’s anti-sexist and anti-violence activism for over a decade. He is the author of “Some Men: Male Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women”,  co-written with Michael Messner and Max Greenberg. His scholarship on men, masculinities, and feminism has been published in academic journals, edited volumes, popular and activist/professional newsletters, magazines, and blogs. His latest research looks at how intersecting race, class, religious, and sexual identities shape men’s gender justice organizing.

Dismantling Victim Credibility in the Child Sexual Assault Trial

By Amber Joy Powell, Heather R. Hlavka, and Sameena Mulla

Two male attorneys cross-examined 12-year-old Jacob for several hours. They repeatedly questioned him about the lack of visible bruises on his body from the two male defendants Jacob testified sexually assaulted him. While 7-year-old Jessica was accused of “poor hygiene” and 15-year-old Sofia appeared puzzled on the stand as a male attorney accused her of fabricating sexual assault by a family friend because she wanted to rebel against her strict parents. Another male defense attorney told a jury that 15-year-old Tasha “[didn’t] look like a common sexual assault child victim” because she did not cry on the witness stand, nor exhibit the visible signs of distress expected of a teenage victim following sexual assault.

The criminal justice system’s suspicion of sexual assault victims is not new. Decades of feminist scholarship and activism have disputed cultural rape myths that suggest “real” victims are attacked by strangers, do not engage in alcohol use, do not dress in ‘promiscuous’ ways, display intense emotional and physical trauma, and immediately report the assault to law enforcement officials. These myths not only contradict many victims’ experiences, but they also subject them to “revictimization” by police, forensic nurses, attorneys, judges, and jurors. And while feminist exploration of these cultural rape myths has provided critical insight to our understanding of the gendered dimensions of sexual violence, we know little about children’s experiences of revictimization in the criminal justice system. Children are uniquely situated within the context of the courtroom because their claims are made further suspicious due to their age. Our ethnographic work employed an intersectional analysis to show how attorneys invoked common cultural narratives about gender, race, class, and sexuality to construct legal narratives about the credibility of black and latinx children and youth during the sexual assault trial. 

Jurors Only 2013- Hlavka
Photo taken by Heather Hlavka in 2013 from the fieldsite upon which the article is based. 

From May 2013 to April 2015, we observed several child sexual assault jury trials. Using our observations, transcripts, and court records, we noted how defense attorneys and prosecution utilized rape myths to either dismantle or establish children as credible witnesses. Our findings illustrate three key, often overlapping themes in attorneys’ narratives of credibility: invisible wounds, rebellious adolescents, and dysfunctional families. Attorneys used these themes to argue that the lack of physical and emotional wounds were evidence that sexual assault could not have occurred. Physical bruises and visible emotional responses, such as the ones that Jacob and Tasha failed to produce, were described by defense attorneys as “common sense” and “human nature.” Despite their legal status as minors, attorneys accused teenagers of rebellious, often sexualized behavior in order to distance them from common notions of childhood innocence and depict them as “more adult.” It was not uncommon to hear stereotypes like “teenagers lie” and are “not so innocent.” Defense attorneys argued that teenagers were driven to fabricate allegations of assault by their sexual fantasies, crushes, or personal vendettas against defendants. Black and latinx victims encountered additional vulnerabilities, as they were more susceptible to common racialized tropes of “bad girls”  and “jezebels.”

And yet, children were not alone in their scrutiny on the witness stand. Attorneys also discredited their families, and their mothers in particular. Attorneys often emphasized intrafamilial strife, working and living conditions, unwed and “unfit” mothers, and substance abuse to portray the family as dysfunctional. Children’s mothers were especially vulnerable to accusations of lying, in part because of their often complicated sexual history with the defendant. And youth were implicated and embedded within these familial stories.

Our work applies an intersectional analysis in order to center the process of courtroom testimonial violence and inequalities rather than to focus on the trial outcome alone. It is clear that non-normative images of victims and disadvantaged social status create vulnerabilities in the court and sustain particular cultural stories of doubt that burden youth of color as they are uniquely subjected to assumptions about sexual deviance and lack of innocence. These narratives situate structural inequalities in ways that coalesce to justify the dismissal of black and latinx youth claims of victimization.

Amber Joy Powell is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her current research interests include crime, punishment, law, and the intersections of race and gender. Her work focuses on institutional responses to sexual violence.

 

Heather R. Hlavka is associate professor of Criminology and Law Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University. Her research joins socio-legal studies and social control to focus on sexual violence.

 

Sameena Mulla is associate professor of Anthropology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University. Her research is at the intersection of legal and medical anthropology, and focuses

MAKING A CAREER: Reproducing Gender within a Predominately Female Profession

By LaTonya J. Trotter

Stephanie had always planned to be a physician. She never wavered as she marched through the premed curriculum at college. But in the years after graduation, she began to have doubts. While applying to medical schools, Stephanie was working at a clinical research center. She had shadowed physicians before, but working alongside them made her notice the mundane rather than the esoteric: physicians worked very long hours. “Oh my God,” she thought, “I’m a woman! I want to have children!” How would she manage motherhood with such high demands? She began to reconsider medicine. And to consider nursing.

Nursing had never had much appeal for Stephanie. But at the research center, she had an up-close view of a different kind of nursing work: that of nurse practitioners (NP). Becoming an NP seemed to offer the possibility of independently caring for patients without fighting her way through medicine. It was a professional choice. It was a respectable choice. And it seemed to promise a better balance between work and family. “I wanted to be able to have a flexible timeline and a flexible career,” she explained. “And that’s what nursing is. Flexible.”

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Google Images

Women have made great strides in terms of workplace equality. Yet there remain clear obstacles regarding career advancement. While some women encounter glass ceilings, the maternal wall is a more pervasive stumbling block. Employers expect and reward workers unfettered by family responsibilities. Faced with these expectations, men and women often find themselves making gender specific choices: men invest in work and women invest in family. For women wanting to invest in both, workplace flexibility has become the policy equivalent of the Holy Grail: highly sought after but difficult to find. Inflexible workplace policies dead-end some women’s careers while pushing others out of paid employment altogether. The observation that women continue to crowd into female professions like nursing is usually attributed to women’s preference for caring labor. What if these choices were as much about opportunity as gendered predispositions? Is this a win for gender equity? Or gender inequality by another name?

In my Gender & Society article, I explore the career biographies of NPs and NP students in order to understand the role of nursing’s institutional arrangements in women’s labor market decisions. I focus on NPs because they are a highly educated subgroup of nurses that have cleared a series of credentialing hurdles to order to make careers. In some ways, nursing is a shining example of how flexible arrangements not only help workers manage family commitments but actively encourage career aspirations. Nursing’s flexibility begins with education. Nursing is one of the few professions that make it possible to accrue educational credentials in cohesive fragments. Forty-one-year-old Hana described a fifteen-year trajectory that started with a two-year community college degree. That was enough to begin working as a registered nurse (RN). A few years later, Hana enrolled in a structured bridge program that allowed her to leverage her two-year degree towards completion of a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Moreover, the bridge program enabled her to pursue her bachelor’s part-time while working as a full-time nurse. Ten years later, Hana took advantage of similar accommodations to complete her master’s degree to practice as an NP. “I call myself a kind of Cinderella story,” she told me. “I came up from community college all the way up to the Ivy League.”

Nursing’s flexibility facilitated motherhood as well as social mobility. Women entering high status professions often delay childbearing. The demands of advanced schooling and early career leave little room for parenting. The ability to build a career over a longer time horizon meant that motherhood might change the rhythm of a career, but it did not stop it. A similar level of flexibility was mirrored in nursing work. Hospital nursing’s reliance on 12-hour shifts over 3 days gives full-time workers more days at home to spend with children. For NPs who spend part of their careers as hospital RNs, this allowed them to more effectively juggle work, family, and eventually, graduate education.

For individual women, these institutional arrangements provided a private solution to balancing work with family life. However, these solutions have broader consequences for gender inequality. Because these arrangements were sequestered within a predominately female occupation, they reproduced gendered expectations about women’s investments in family life. Flexible scheduling ensured that women retained primary responsibility for family caregiving. Moreover, nursing’s flexibility reproduced flexible women who could switch specialties, change jobs, or delay graduate education to accommodate the inflexible jobs of partners and spouses. Flexibility became both an opportunity and an obligation. Nursing’s accommodating arrangements are themselves a product of the historical legacy of gender inequality. The continued existence of two-year RN programs is the preference of employers, not the profession. As a female dominated profession, its aspirations remain tempered by hospital demands for an inexpensively trained workforce.

My work suggests an additional explanation for why women continue to crowd into careers like nursing. Women may gravitate toward caring work, but they also care about creating careers. Nursing’s flexibility stands in contrast to the inflexibility women encounter in other parts of the labor market. My work also serves as a caution for relying on workplace policies alone to solve the dilemmas of working women. Without subsidized, national programs for parental leave and child-care, women alone will be pressed to “choose” flexibility. When only women are the beneficiaries of such arrangements, they quickly become segregated into “mommy tracks” or “women’s professions.” The unequal benefits that follow can too easily be attributed to women’s preferences rather than as the product of gender inequality.

LaTonya J. Trotter is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. She is an ethnographer and sociologist of medicine whose explores the relationship between the organization of medical work and the reproduction of racial, economic, and gender inequality. The empirical terrain of these explorations ranges from professional negotiations between medicine and nursing to organizational shifts in older adult care.

Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research

By Wendi Johnson

One cannot begin to enumerate the number of articles, papers, and book chapters that have addressed the gender symmetry debate within the literature on intimate partner violence (IPV).  Yet the academic sparring between family and feminist scholars has led to a circular argument with no clear winner and has ultimately hindered progress on IPV research.  Thus, this entry will not be another weighing in of the debate, but instead I will focus on providing several suggestions to IPV researchers. While most of my comments are likely to reflect my quantitative orientation, by no means are they meant to exclude qualitative researchers.  I do not claim credit for any of these ideas, as they have been introduced previously in other outlets.  Rather, this is meant to simply serve as a reminder to myself and other IPV researchers of areas that could benefit from scholarly attention. Continue reading “Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research”

Why Women’s Money Means Less

By Nadina L. Anderson

Is men’s money different than women’s money? How can we tell?

While men make more money than women, most scholars assume the physical dollars and cents are interchangeable. A woman’s dollar looks and feels the same as a man’s dollar. However, in practice, people exchange money in particular patterns.

Within families, husbands and wives earmark income to pay for different costs: rent, food, kids, parties, savings, etc. They decide whether to pool their income or leave them separate, when to spend versus when to save, who should manage joint resources, and how joint resources should be used. Together these decisions form a system or strategy of money management that couples use to survive and succeed in daily life. I argue that these strategies tell a revealing story about gender, money, and power.

I study how couples share money in Ukraine. By spending nine months conducting interviews with couples in Kyiv, I uncovered several patterns of exchange in families. In my paper for Gender & Society, I focus on the practices of thirty-four working class couples—describing how they spend, save, and share money. I discover that women’s money is not exchanged the same way as men’s money.

Managing money in Ukrainian families

 For poorer couples, earning money generally does not give Ukrainians a sense of pride or accomplishment. Men in particular feel exploited and betrayed by their employers and the labor market, making 40-50 cents an hour. Even in full-time positions, men cannot pay for their family’s most basic necessities.

Women try to save their husbands from feeling depressed or disheartened. They actively bolster men’s spirits by managing men’s money in ways that position their husbands as providers. However, this does not mean that husbands out-earn their wives. Out of the thirty-four couples in my study, twenty-two wives earn the same or more than their husbands. However, men’s money is spent and saved differently than women’s money, regardless of relative income.

I discover three main ways money becomes “gendered” in the home. These practices make men feel more like breadwinners, even when both partners contribute roughly equal amounts towards family expenses:

Placement and access: Men overwhelmingly bring their money home in cash, making it accessible to other family members. Women often keep their money separate: hidden in a bank account or kept in a secret envelope in a closet. This preserves the idea that women’s money is “private.” Men give money to women and ask them to pay bills, but women rarely give men money to do the same.

Earmarking: Women use men’s money to pay for “important” expenses, like rent, utilities, or car payments. They spend their own money on less visible things like education, food, medicine, train-tickets home to visit family, and other services. Over time, men’s money transforms into durable, tangible items like TVs, phones, cars, furniture, apartments, while women’s money seemingly disappears.

Timing of use: Couples sometimes spend men’s money first every month until it runs out. One third of my sample use this “his-then-hers” system. The couple spends the man’s money throughout the month until his cash disappears or his bank account gets too low, then the woman’s money “kicks in”. Women’s extra earnings are earmarked as shared savings. This helps both partners “feel” like the husband is the breadwinner, even if his wife earns more.

These findings suggest that couples use money to construct a gender boundary in the home: one that casts men as breadwinners and women as domestic managers. However, the gender boundary has some positive effects, like saving men from feeling emasculated in the labor market. Furthermore, when men give money to women, women interpret it as a gesture of deference and a token of gratitude. Men’s money provides a means of signaling respect for women’s unpaid labor. 

When I conducted my fieldwork in 2015, Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine. I talked to many families who were struggling to keep their jobs, pay their rent, and stretch the budget from month to month. They often earned cash, lived with extended family, and managed to survive by working two or four jobs. This changed the priorities of my sample. Couples were not overly concerned with fairness or equality in the home—they were more worried about how to pay rent next month. Because of these constraints, my respondents’ stories are most representative of other poor or financially struggling couples, not wealthy couples. However, my research did lead to some larger take-aways about money, power, and couples.

Generalizing Beyond Ukraine

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1) Money becomes symbolic through exchange. When money changes hands, it can become symbolic. Money can symbolize care, affection, disdain, condescension, guilt, trust, and much else besides. Whether through communication or through unspoken understanding, couples usually come to agreement about what money means in the relationship. For example, if one partner thinks exchanging money means “care and affection” while the other assumes it means “disdain and disrespect,” conflict can emerge. Money can produce power when it invokes a sense of debt or gratitude in the other. Without feelings of debt, the link between money and power is severed.

2) Money can build trust. Because sharing money can be risky, successfully sharing money helps partners trust each other. Sharing can take on many different forms of exchange—unilateral giving, pooling, tit-for-tat, even dividing up costs in a systematic way. By behaving responsibly, partners prove to one other that they are trustworthy and competent. I found that men gave money to women as a gesture that husbands “trust” their wives, even if wives earned more money than their husbands.

3) Money isn’t everything. To understand power, one also needs to examine other resources, like labor. While money can cause friction between partners, monetary arrangements generally reflect deeper dynamics of the couple’s relationship. Fighting about money often reflects deeper disagreements about whose labor and well-being is more valuable. I discover that for many families, exchanging money is a method of symbolically giving value to labor. Couples in my study positioned the husbands as “givers” in part to symbolically give value to women’s unpaid reproductive and domestic labor.

Nadina L. Anderson is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Arizona. She is currently completing her dissertation entitled “Money Talks: Trust, Power, and Exchange in Ukrainian Households” in which she explores processes of conflict and cooperation in marriage. her other research examines housing, migration, and internally displaced people in Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Gender Differences in Working and Caring? A New Mom’s Perspective

By Mara A. Yerkes

For the past fifteen years, I have studied how men and women combine their paid jobs with care for children. I look at how governments and businesses differ in creating policies that can help people reconcile these responsibilities, and at how men and women differ in the way they work and provide care when they have children. In the past year, research from myself and others took on a new dimension as I experienced the combination of work and care first-hand after becoming a mom in late 2015 and returning to work a few months later.

Flexibility when going back to work

As a new working mom, it became clear to me how flexibility upon returning to work is valued by mothers. In an Australian study about the flexible arrangements mothers enter into when returning to work (e.g. part-time work, reduced hours work or working flexible hours), we found that mothers without university education and/or in female-typed occupations with limited career prospects rarely question the fairness of the arrangements they enter into when returning to work after having a child. But for mothers with university degrees, what is ‘fair’ when returning to work is much less settled. For all mothers, how they are treated at work when negotiating these arrangements matters.  If mothers feel they have been treated fairly and appropriately, they are much more likely to perceive flexible work arrangements as fair despite any long-term disadvantages.

Who works and who cares?

Becoming a working mom also heightened my awareness of gender differences in how men and women share work and childcare tasks after having children. In the US,  nearly two-thirds of mothers with at least one child under the age of 14 work.

Yerks_3In the Netherlands, where I now live, – nearly three-fourths of mothers are employed. But here, women are much more likely to work part-time than US mothers, particularly after having children. Despite these differences, the US and the Netherlands share a similarly unequal division of care tasks between mothers and fathers. In the US, mothers spent more than twice as much time as fathers providing physical care to children on an average day in 2015. The most recent data for the Netherlands (from 2011) tells the same story. In fact, research on the gender division of care tasks confirms that in most western countries, mothers consistently spend more time caring for children than fathers, and which types of care tasks moms and dads do differs as well.

Yerks_2Why do moms and dads differ in how they care?

So why do moms consistently provide more care than dads? And why do they often spend more time doing more tasks than fathers? In another Australian study, my colleagues and I investigated how couples negotiate who does which care tasks after having a baby and how they explain these choices. Even in couples where dads take an active role in caring for their child, key differences exist in the type of care tasks that parents perform. Our study shows that fathers often opt out of care tasks they perceive as difficult, such as comforting a very upset baby or night care. Moms and dads rationalize these differences by talking about mother’s superiority in caring for and nurturing infants, for example. Mothers’ willingness to step in and do care tasks when fathers step back supports and reproduces these gendered differences.

The need for better work-care policies

Such gender inequalities are persistent and difficult to address. On the one hand, such inequalities can reflect personal work and care preferences of mothers and fathers, as well as differing country contexts. For example, I feel lucky to live in a country where it’s possible for my to each spend at least one day a week caring for our son. Living in the Netherlands, our jobs are flexible enough to make this possible. On the other hand, gender inequalities in work and care reflect structural problems, such as unequal access to time off from work to care for children or unequal access to childcare alternatives, such as formal care. Unequal access to paid leave following the birth of a child helps to establish gender unequal divisions of care that persist long-term. If I have learned one thing by becoming a working mom, it’s that fathers can and do play a crucial role in caring for their children. Providing fathers with opportunities to care is not only essential for children’s development, it is key to improving gender inequality in care and paid work. Hence work-care policies that provide fathers with such opportunities are crucial to achieving greater gender equality in work and care.

Mara A. Yerkes is Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Social Science at Utrecht University and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), University of Queensland. Her research interests include work, care and family, the sociology of gender and sexuality, comparative welfare states, industrial relations, social inequality and women’s employment. She is the author of Transforming the Dutch Welfare State: Social Risks and Corporatist Reform (2011; Policy Press) and co-editor of The Transformation of Solidarity. Changing Risks and the Future of the Welfare State (2011; Amsterdam University Press). Yerkes is also the author of multiple articles, including the recent article on mothers’ perceptions of justice and fairness in paid work ] and an article on attitudes towards the social and civil rights of diverse families.  She is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society.