Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How It Is Done. Or Popularizing Gender Research

A new study about the impact of shared parenting on mothers' self esteem could be picked up for a model of how these studies are so often popularized.

One starts with pointing out how women have been totally messed up by feminism, in some form or another:

Dads are helping out with childrearing more and more these days. The result can be both a boon and a letdown for super-moms, whose self-competence can take a hit when paired with husbands who are savvy caregivers, new research finds.

The findings reveal the fallout as women have entered the workplace in droves over recent decades, many of them leaving young children at home. One result is mothers have less time for care-giving. Past studies have shown working moms are torn between full-time careers and stay-at-home duties. And lately more diligent dads are helping out with the diaper-changing and other household duties.

But since mothers pride themselves on being just that - moms - their self-esteem can take a blow.

That's a beaut of a quote! Lots of loaded words all nicely together. Note the use of "fallout", like something from a nuclear explosion, and also the use of "torn" for women, "savvy" and "diligent" for men. And working mothers "leave young children at home," not working fathers!

If you stopped reading at this point you'd go away with what impression, exactly?

But of course the research didn't really use all those loaded expressions. It was the popularization. The usual next step is to summarize the study and introduce some more correct information about it. Here's what the lead author of this study says:

When mothers perceived fathers to be competent caregivers, the more time those dads spent solo with children, the lower was mom's self-competence rating. But when mothers considered spouses relatively incompetent caregivers, increased father-only time with kids was unrelated to mothers' self-competence.

As for why a mother's self-competence took a hit from perfect dads, Sasaki suggests pressure to keep up with societal norms plays a role.

"In American society, women are expected to take a main role in parenting despite increasingly egalitarian sex roles," Sasaki said. "Thus, we believe that employed mothers suffer from self-competence losses when their husbands are involved and skillful because those mothers may consider that it is a failure to fulfill cultural expectations."

Sasaki added, "Husbands do not suffer from self-competence losses even when their wives are involved and skillful because that is consistent with cultural expectations."

And what does the popularization suggest that we do about all this? Astonishingly, the women with jobs are not told to drop them:

The results don't suggest a stay-at-home mom is the answer. For one, the study showed work hours can boost a woman's perception of self-competence. And a father's care-giving was linked with a mother's marital satisfaction.

Here are some tips for working moms on how to juggle work and home.

I bolded those two sentences because they are so explicitly about gender politics. The problem is a problem for women and hence they are to juggle it. It's their fault, to begin with, because they shouldn't be having paid jobs and what do you expect then? So go and juggle.

That the self-esteem problems the study found might be because of societal norms in the first place is ignored. What is also ignored is that most people work because they need the money, and that goes for both fathers and mothers. But only mothers are to feel guilty about that.

Note that I'm not writing about the study here but about its popularization. I am not surprised to learn that women have role conflicts, given the extremely strong cultural messages about who is supposed to take care of children and the cultural approval of only certain kinds of mothering. It helps to be aware of those messages, I believe.
Thanks to res ipsa for the link.