Mothers as Wives in an Individualistic Society
I begin this chapter with a discussion of some of the unintended consequences for women that can result from "gender-blind" stances. Although the belief that people should be judged on the basis of their performance and not on their gender has served as a spur to modern feminism, efforts to implement this belief by "ignoring" gender have not been entirely successful. I argue that genderblind policies superimposed on an underlying structure that works against women—specifically, the implicit rules of the marriage contract—may temporarily exacerbate rather than counteract women's disadvantage. I discuss this in connection with Blood and Wolfe's study of power in the family and with no-fault divorce laws.
From a psychological standpoint the cultural emphasis on sexuality coupled with individualism helps explain the obsessive concern with sexual orientation as a quality of the whole person. The cultural emphasis on the individual also explains the creation of the concepts of "masculinity" and "femininity" themselves—concepts that have little meaning in other cultures. "Femininity" requires women to render themselves harmless and to enhance the male ego by means of deference displays that must never become crudely obvious. This "femininity" is seen as a pervasive quality of the person and becomes a built-in handicap for women in competition with men, whereas at the same time, failure to be "feminine" keeps women from being let into the game at all. The concept of "femininity" is the generalized personality cognate of "wife" and is a necessary prerequisite to being "chosen" to be a "wife."
Within the context of individualism, movement toward greater gender equality seems to be taking the form of a decreasing salience of the wife "role" for women and a new definition of what being married may mean. The "new love ethic" and the high divorce rate are connected with greater independence for women. Increasing age at marriage, female longevity, and nonmarriage also mean less dependency on husbands for women and offer women opportunities for greater connectedness with other women.
Overall, I argue that "the maternal values," which in some respects contradict "individualistic values," may ultimately become more prominent in the society as a whole as women become increasingly active as citizens and gain a stronger foothold in the public sphere. As maternal values themselves are given more credence in the society, they will reinforce the trend for fathers to participate in child care in a way that is less reinforcing of the debilitating aspects of "femininity." At the same time, maternal values can lead to an increasing insistence that the welfare of children should depend not on individual parents alone but become instead the responsibility of the nation as a whole.
Individualism and Sexism
In contrast to previous periods in which the division of labor between women and men was relatively clear-cut and each gender depended on the other for survival, the modern doctrine of individualism, coupled with the idea of economic rationality as the guide to behavior, has rendered women "unequal" in a new way.
"Sexism" in the Economy
Modern individualism in my view grew out of patriarchy and narrowed "father rule" to the nuclear family unit. Patriarchy was made to fit individualism by making the relevant individuals husbands and fathers. The idea is simple: women are linked to the economy through the men they marry; men are free to be individuals so long as they provide; women are to live vicariously through their husbands. The male provider became rational "economic man," and his wife and children became his economic dependents. Thus the economy took care of the "welfare issue" posed by "nonworkers"— that is, women and children not earning in the market economy—
by assigning them to husband-fathers. It has been only since married women began to work in the market economy and to become divorced that we have been able to understand the extent to which the marriage contract has rendered women economic dependents, a form of juvenilization.
Marxists have showed the myriad ways in which these dependent women are in fact doing "work." Housework is necessary work that is unpaid. They have also showed how housewives (whether in the paid labor force or not) as consumers increasingly have had to take on, without pay, tasks that capitalist enterprises and "professionals" themselves could be doing. Christine Delphy, a Marxist, points out, however, that there is not much point in discussing the value of women's work so long as it is not theirs to exchange. She argues convincingly that it is not the nature of women's work that causes it to be unpaid, but rather women's work is not paid for because it is performed within marriage. The nature of women's tasks has no connection to their relations of production because all married women, no matter what they do or do not do, have the same relations of production. Women's work is paid for in goods and upkeep by their husbands. Women's "relations of production," that is, the way they make their living, are very different from those of men. Men are paid in the market; women as wives are paid in goods by men.
Delphy may overstate her case, especially in times when marriage is decreasing in importance, but I believe she is correct to stress the marriage contract itself rather than the more often used "family," or "wife-mother" or "patriarchy." As I have argued throughout, it is not what women do, including women's mothering, that puts women at a disadvantage; it is the way the implicit marriage contract sidelines wives and mainstreams men. Delphy goes on to argue that "the position of women in the labor market and the discrimination that they suffer are the result (and not the cause) of the marriage contract."
In my view, marriage continues to define women's secondary position in the wider society. In a very direct and often explicit way, the expectation that women are married, will be married, or have been married accounts for their disadvantage in the occupational world. In answering the question, why female workers in this country earn considerably less than male workers earn, some
employers may still explicitly state that a woman does not need to be highly paid because it is her husbands job to provide for her. Wives' work is seen as supplementing the husband's income. The extensive job segregation, which acts to defeat the "equal pay for equal work" principle, is also directly related to women as wives. Jobs held predominantly by females are seen as requiring less commitment (and therefore less pay) than men's jobs, because a woman is expected to put her major effort into her marriage. Whereas most analyses of women's secondary status in contemporary society have focused in one way or another on women's work, I am arguing that ultimately in this society women's secondary status is related to the definition of women as wives.
As married women increasingly enter the labor force, however, the older assumption of women's dependency on men is forgotten and the liberal rule of gender blindness prevails. This is important, necessary, and good under some circumstances, but gender blindness can cover over the handicaps under which women operate. Because marriage organizes gender roles and even defines gender difference in terms of women being dependent wives and men being providers, the system is rigged against women at work outside. Assumptions of genderlessness give the appearance that men have won out in the job market in some sort of fair competition, a naturally satisfying view for winners.
An example of what I mean by this last statement is provided by Blood and Wolfe's now-classic study of power in the family. The authors fairly burst with liberal pride when they announce that gender no longer determines who holds the power in the family. Patriarchy is dead because power now belongs to the person who brings home the most resources and "sometimes" that person may be a woman. They find that family power is based on economic power, income, education, occupation, and organizational membership, but they assume that gender no longer determines who does what. and so it is possible for women to "earn" family power in free competition. The implication is, then, that if women do not "choose" to go out and earn as much money as their husbands, then they have no right to resent his power.
In 1971, Dair Gillespie subjected Blood and Wolfe's "personal resource theory" (which I describe above) to a scathing critique. She argues that, in addition to "socialization," the marriage con-
tract itself determines who brings home the bacon. It is not a matter of personal choice; it is a matter of the implicit marriage contract that assumes that men are the breadwinners and are expected to support their wives, who are in turn supposed to care for home and children. Thus, sexism takes over when gender-blind individualism fails to see how marriage rules define gender roles and how these rules handicap women by not taking motherhood into account.
More recently, Lenore Weitzman has reported, from a fifteenyear study of the results of no-fault divorce laws, that the assumption that men and women are individuals whose individual circumstances must be taken into account in making decisions about who gets what in divorce settlements has so far worked to the detriment of women. According to Weitzman, men experience a 42 percent improvement in their post-divorce standard of living, and women experience a 73 percent decline. This disparity results from the inadequacy of court awards, the expanded demands on the wife's resources because she is likely to have the children with her, and the husband's greater earning power. Overall, it is a testament to wives' and children's economic dependence on husbands. Court awards are likely to be inadequate because judges often assume that the divorced wife has the same market opportunities as the divorced husband. She does not, of course, because she has been a wife and has never had the help of a wife, and because the jobs available to women generally pay less than the jobs available to men. Beyond this, husbands tend not to pay the child support assigned to them, and judges and attorneys seem reluctant to enforce the rules on their fellow males.
Gender-blind rules do not work if they are simply written over and above a structure that still disadvantages women in terms of the old "rules," which assume male-headed nuclear families. But the solution is certainly not to do away with no-fault divorce and return to the status quo ante, as Phyllis Schlafly suggests. The old laws assume that women require economic support; the new laws assume women can support themselves. The older view assumes that women are nothing but wives and mothers; the newer view forgets that women are wives—dependent on men for their and their children's livelihood—and gives women responsibility as persons under assumptions of an equality which does not exist.
Certainly, liberal individualism must not be destroyed. As I have noted before, individualism provided the ideological impetus for the feminist protest in the first place. Women, like men, want to be treated as persons. Women cannot have equal opportunity, however, if the implicit marriage contract that makes women into wives and subsumes women's mothering under husband-fathers remains in place. There are no easy solutions. My suggestion is that we become more aware of the unequalizing effect of the wife role as it is currently defined. And beyond the marriage contract, we cannot ignore the sexism that characterizes heterosexual relations in general.
"Sexism" in the Psychology of the Heterosexual Couple
The structure of the heterosexual couple relationship has a psychological aspect as well as an economic aspect. Both aspects work toward making women into wives who are secondary to men. In Chapter 8, I discussed the idea that for women marriage means finding a man who they feel is superior to them. This seeking the superior ultimately might be explained entirely by women's economic dependence on men, but certainly it is also embedded in our psychological concepts and our ideas about love and romance and may, as I have suggested, have to do with men's fathering. Seeking a husband who is one's superior is the adult echo of being a daddy's girl.
In heterosexual contexts that are not cross-cut by class or age, male gender serves as a marker for dominance in the psyches of both men and women. As the specific and elaborate differences in men's and women's societal roles decrease and as women are included more in men's world, this tendency may become more rather than less apparent. In other words, the difference does become one of dominance, when nonmaternal, economistic individualistic assumptions reign supreme.
The idea that it is the essence of femininity to be associated with a male whom one genuinely believes to be one's superior is the core assumption behind Freud's definition of femininity and remains alive and well in the social structure and in many men's and women's psyches. Thus heterosexuality itself is often identified
with the "psychological necessity for the male to be superior." Psychoanalysis did not invent this view, but it did contribute to the general emphasis on subjective states rather than political action, and it provided women with a subjective sense of self in which femininity meant seeking a male partner whom one felt was superior enough to justify one's subordination.
It can be no accident that psychoanalytic theory that swept the field in the early part of the century coincided with an emphasis on the heterosexual couple. As we have seen, what psychoanalysis ultimately does is to define gender in terms of sexual aim and sexual object. Its core assumptions mystify the nature of gender difference, at least from the standpoint of many women's perceptions of it. As I argued earlier, women and certainly feminists do not necessarily see the difference between women and men as being that women are more dependent on men than men are on women and so forth. This mystification then becomes the psychological legitimation for making mothers into wives and for making male-dominated heterosexuality the single most important organizer of the self.
Homosexuality as Antithesis
The reason for our cultures preoccupation with homosexuality as deviance is undoubtedly related to the contemporary emphasis on the male-dominated heterosexual couple as the central social relationship in the society. The Japanese psychiatrist, Takeo Doi, makes this connection explicit:
I was astonished to discover the special emphasis laid in American, unlike traditional Japanese, custom, on the ties between the sexes, not only after marriage but before it as well. . . . For members of the same sex always to act together, or to show excessive familiarity, is to lay them open immediately to suspicion of homosexuality, and people are particularly sensitive on this score. Japan, on the other hand, is the ideal place for enjoying friendship with members of the same sex openly and unashamedly.
(Doi's observations on tolerance may become increasingly less true as emphasis on the heterosexual couple and the isolated nuclear family gains ascendancy in Japan.)
Foucault's writings have led to the recognition that the terms heterosexual and homosexual applied to individuals as total persons
are themselves social products of relatively recent times. In other times and places what might be labeled "homosexual" now in the United States would have been considered a part of the normal spectrum of human eroticism and might or might not have been considered deviant. Certainly, in other places the distinction would not have been so overwhelmingly salient nor so totally encompassing of an individuals personality. But before homosexuality could be labeled deviant, or so totally damning, it had to be seen as totally characterizing who a person was. Homosexual subcultures designed by homosexuals to counteract the pathological label given to homosexuality have unfortunately strengthened rather than weakened the conception of homosexuality as being an absolutely fundamental quality of the total person.
In Lévi-Strauss's analysis, men and women were induced to marry each other because the gender-based division of labor in a society in effect constituted a "taboo" against men doing women's "work" and vice versa. This meant that certain activities essential for both genders could be performed only by one gender, which according to Lévi-Strauss, made marriage necessary for both to survive. The degree of structural differentiation characterizing modern industrial societies would make basing gender on occupational assignment, as it was in simple societies, out of the question. Now, in a highly differentiated, individualistic, achievement-oriented society, the emphasis on heterosexual attraction seems to serve as a mechanism for sustaining the usefulness of women and men to each other. The conception of "vive la difference" does not refer to differentiated roles in society so much as it celebrates heterosexuality itself. The problem with this, however, is that the structure of adult heterosexual relationships takes power away from women.
Individualism and the Concept of Femininity
In contrast to the term wife, which implies a lesser status or role in a marital or quasi-marital relationship, the term femininity is used to describe an all-encompassing "quality" characterizing the total person. The concept "wife" can be talked about cross-culturally since it is a universal status vis-à-vis superior husband that assumes different shapes depending on the wider social organizational con-
text and depending especially on how it is embedded in wider kinship systems. "Femininity" is a more culture-and class-bound concept that fits in with individualism and its focus on the overall qualities of individuals rather than on disparate social roles. "Femininity," as well as "wife," is related to female subordination.
"Femininity" might be defined as an ever-present readiness to be "the lesser." Femininity connotes being little, vulnerable, indecisive, in need of protection, soft, delicate, frivolous, and in every way, a nonthreat. Femininity is an attitude, a stance of playing "weak" to his "strength" in a way that both emphasizes and disguises inequality. "Femininity" also connotes the happy, light, fun things, and can be a kind of denial of weighty, noisy, self-absorbed masculinity. But when women embrace this "femininity" with all its temptations, they abdicate power and the right to be taken seriously.
"Femininity" did not disappear when women became workers. It is alive and well in the workplace. Susan Brownmiller describes how women use "femininity" as a competitive maneuver in getting and keeping jobs. Women try to succeed in the occupational world by being "feminine"; this is supposed to give them the competitive edge, because it pleases men who are the gatekeepers. In a sense "femininity" allows the wife role to move into the market-place and to become glamorized in the process.
Brownmiller's definition of femininity correctly focuses on making oneself harmless. Her definition tends to merge exactly those qualities that I keep separate, however. This merging of course is understandable since the concept of femininity does merge concern for others with dependence. Brownmiller defines the masculine principle as "a driving ethos of superiority designed to inspire straightforward, confident success, while the feminine principle is composed of vulnerability, the need for protection, the formalities of compliance and the avoidance of conflict—in short, an appeal of dependence and good will that gives the masculine principle its romantic validity and its admiring applause" (p. 25). Thus, she, like so many others, merges "weakness" with conflict-avoidance and good will. This buys into the more typically masculine way of looking at the world. Conflict-avoidance and good will represent not weakness but an alternative to the "dominate or be dominated" principle that threatens to destroy the world.
If women's more relational orientation is to prevail, however,
and shift all relationships to a less adversarial mode, then women must have power. "Femininity" in the sense of weak and dependent must give way to "female," and "female" must emphasize the humanity that women in their maternal aspect have fostered. Brownmiller barely mentions women as maternal, and when she does, it is to say that motherhood makes women vulnerable and in need of protection, or alternatively that maternity makes women less "feminine" by causing unattractive stretch marks (p. 137)!
Women in patriarchal societies, although clearly oppressed by modern standards, are not oppressed by the concept of "femininity." Women are able to view their lives as a series of unfolding and interlocking family roles rather than identifying as a total person with "femininity," or the role of woman viewed as a single entity, as in modern society. Women in patriarchal societies do not perceive gender as a psychological category connected with a generalized orientation; rather, being a woman involves a number of dissimilar roles. Manisha Roy, in explaining the situation of the traditional Indian woman, argues that such a woman does not think of herself as "feminine" in the sense of possessing a set of traits for all time, but rather she thinks of herself as filling "roles" that change throughout the life cycle. In India a woman is not thought of as more or less feminine; she is feminine by virtue of being a woman, presumably meaning her ability to have children. Her "femininity" does not depend on her ability to attract and appeal to males. Rather, what is expected of women and the power they wield depends on their age and stage in the life cycle. Roy suggests, for example, that aggressiveness is quite acceptable in a Bengali woman if she is a forty-year-old matron mother. Significantly enough, the low point comes with marriage itself, and suicide is all too frequent among young brides in India, and formerly in China. In classic patriarchal societies a woman's power tends to increase with age, but this is less true in the United States where aging is considered a threat to maintaining that all-important "femininity," that is, non-threatening youthfulness. In a sense "femininity" permanently "juvenilizes" women as it "sexualizes" them.
Generally, as agrarian patriarchies modernize, it is not as difficult as one might suppose for women to hold jobs in the public sphere alongside men or to act in positions of authority over men. In these situations women are not regarded by men as sex objects,
nor do they try to relate to or appeal to men sexually. Instead, men and women relate to each other in terms of the idioms of kinship. Thus Roy notes that a woman in India may treat her male office colleagues as she would her male cousins. Even in modern China, kinship terms still predominate, and strangers may be assimilated by making them into elder or younger siblings. This has the effect of removing heterosexual connotations from the interactions. In South America, a woman running for public office would likely play on the image of mother and grandmother as a means of gaining respect. Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir adopted images of powerful mothers of adult children.
These ways of compromising with the system should not allow us to forget, however, that in an overall sense women were characterized in patriarchal societies as naturally weak and dependent creatures requiring protection from father, husband, and sons. African societies, by contrast, although highly variable with respect to the degree of male dominance, are likely to allow for, even to expect, female initiative and assertion. Individualism, in one sense, is the key to modern women's equality, but, paradoxically, individualism works against equality to the extent that women are defined with reference to heterosexual contexts and interaction, because in these, women are expected to be "the lesser" in the couple.
One way of dealing with "difference" in an individualistic society is to declare that gender should not make a difference and to make rules that are gender-blind. Gender-blind rules create the impression that women's relative lack of power is a result of their own actions, their own individual choices. Gender-blind assumptions ignore the way gender relations are organized by the implicit marriage contract, which specifies the rights and duties of each gender, and these rights and duties in turn profoundly affect individual choices. The stigma of homosexuality acts as a psychological reinforcement to marriage and male dominance, and the economic dependence of wives serves as the economic reinforcement to marriage and male dominance.
Just as liberal individualism has its virtues, so does marriage. Marriage for women can be a defense against far more exploitative
sexual and economic arrangements with men. Marriage is also potentially egalitarian and offers women an opportunity to "socialize" men. My point is, however, that we must be aware of the degree to which two potentially good things—individualism and marriage— are in conflict and the extent to which the implicit marriage contract and the psychological definition of femininity place women at a disadvantage.
What Is Happening to the Nuclear Family?
The last several decades represent a critical period of economic and ideological transition affecting marriage, and the amount of dislocation is great. Poverty among women and children is increasing. Men are coming to resent the male provider role, and women seek to be less economically dependent on men. Until very recently the penalties for nonmarriage for white women have been greater than the inequities embodied in the implicit marriage contract. Now many middle-class white women are postponing marriage, and some have children without marriage. Black women, partially because of discrimination against black men, have often had less to gain from marriage, and the nonmarriage rate among blacks too is increasing. As all females' work participation becomes more continuous, the discrepancy between women's and men's earnings remains. As marriages break up, women still overwhelmingly seek custody of children and have primary and often sole responsibility for them without adequate financial resources. Lesbian mothers are likely to be denied custody of their children. Working mothers with husbands are overworked. Moreover, things may get worse for women and children before they get better.
Even though the economic problems involved, from one standpoint, are paramount, they do not in themselves effect changes in gender relations. Even in countries that have made far greater progress than the United States has with respect to pay equity and child care, gender relations themselves remain remarkably unreconstructed. In some ways, the United States has moved farther toward gender equality than other industrialized societies. The process of reconstructing marriage on a more egalitarian basis is well advanced and involves both feminists and those who do not identify as feminists. In one sense this is but a continuation of a
long-term trend toward greater inclusion and equality that has to do with American individualism.
Since the 1960s, the trend toward increasing individualism as applied to women has led to a decline in the isolation and the salience of the nuclear family. It is not so much that we are moving to a new family type as that the lines between the nuclear family and other relationships are becoming blurred and the nuclear family itself is becoming less stable as married couples break up. The family can be seen as consisting in the less stable couple relationship and the more stable mother-child relationship. Because of these changes, we are able to understand and be more critical of the assumptions underlying nuclear family living. It is always difficult to predict, however, where we are going and where feminist movement will take us.
In the following sections I discuss three main areas in transition: the marriage relationship, parenting, and women in the public sphere.
Trends in Marriage
College texts give a strong egalitarian gloss to their descriptions of marriage. They deplore sexism, tout equality, and in so doing reinforce the view held by many students that the struggle for equality is over, feminism has won and is no longer needed. Actually, we have a long way to go and outcomes are increasingly uncertain. Inequality is so much a part of the fabric of marriage that it is not perceived.
To ask how we can make marriage more of an equal proposition is, in the last analysis, to ask how we can have marriage without "wives." Making marriage equal in this society means breaking up the connection between primary identity as a female and being a wife, that is, secondary. It requires redefining both the term wife and the term femininity. How to be loved and loving, committed and the object of commitment, and not be defined as a wife?
Both increasing individualism and the push for more equality in marriage have fed into the development of a "new love ethic," which potentially decreases the centrality of marriage to the individual's "identity" and hence the salience of "wife." It also redefines the relationship between spouses. Although the new love
ethic continues to embody expectations of diffuse involvement and solidarity, the relationship need not necessarily last a lifetime to be considered successful, nor is it expected to be absolutely exclusive. Thus the new love ethic is a compromise between romantic-love approaches to marriage and more contractual approaches. Marriage is seen as an ongoing negotiable and renegotiable love relationship that needs attention to make it go well. It challenges the notion that marriage fixes ones identity for life and defines marital love as something that changes and grows. Whereas the older love was characterized as "true and deep," the newer love is more likely to be seen as "vital and alive." The older emphasis on self-sacrifice gives way to an emphasis on self-realization. At the same time it implies a new legitimacy for marital breakup.
The new love ethic fosters egalitarian relations by its emphasis on honest communication, sharing, and negotiation between partners. In the new ethic a wife is expected to be assertive and to have her "own" work. She is not locked into her husband's world so tightly. Thus the new love ideology is compatible with egalitarian relations and more individualism for women.
Men in modern times have never defined themselves as husbands as totally as women have defined themselves as wives, so these changes will affect women more than men. Although I do not expect to see the centrality of the couple relationship end in this society, there are many indications that it has become less salient in the lives of middle-class women and it was never as salient for women in classes where extended kin and quasi-kin relationships assume more importance.
As women gain power as people, they gain power within marriage itself. Increased female labor force participation, increased divorce and hence remarriage, increased singleness among women, increasing age at marriage, and increased female life expectancy all provide opportunities for women to expand their horizons and their relationships with others, especially with other women. Women gain more opportunity to see themselves in other relationships and in other capacities than that of "wife."
All of the liaisons and connections a woman may develop outside marriage decrease her dependence on her husband and give her a basis of equality with him. As more and more women are employed, they form friendships at work, friendships that are not con-
nected to being a wife. Indeed, one objection husbands have had to their wives working is that it threatens their centrality in their wives' lives. Women may also gain a sense of efficacy by working for wages even when the work itself is not pleasant.
Although the nuclear family "ideal" remains very much with us, the nuclear household exists for only some women and for only part of women's lifetime. In the middle class, women are marrying later and divorcing more frequently, thus the period they are married is shorter. Even though most divorced people eventually remarry, older women remarry less than older men. But even remarriage can weaken the centrality of "wife" by extending the ties that married women have with others.
Another factor likely to produce more egalitarian attitudes within marriage is the increasing age at marriage. The consequence for young adults of leaving home earlier and marrying later as they are now doing is that they spend a longer time living independently and gain more experience in forming relationships alternative to family living. Longitudinal surveys of young adults show that young women who had lived independently are more likely to expect to be employed, to want fewer children, and in other respects to hold less traditional views than those who lived with their parents. Young men were affected in the same direction but less so. Moreover, college education and nonfamily living both appear to reinforce each other in creating less traditional attitudes and more egalitarian expectations in marriage.
In addition, women are more likely to be widowed than men because women live longer than men do. Not to be married can mean loneliness in this coupled society, but it also creates the possibility of forming ties with other women as non-wives. Indeed, one of the most important (and unprecedented) demographic changes that will affect gender relations and reduce the salience of "wife" is the aging of the population. Since most older people are female, a population of single women is rapidly growing. These older women are potentially in a position to lead a movement toward less "husbandoriented" relationships. As the periods of nonmarriage lengthen in women's lives, women gain opportunities for forging ties that expand their identity beyond that of "wife." Moreover, not being married forces a change of consciousness on women as they learn to do things on their own and thereby gain confidence in their abilities.
Essentially, the move toward more egalitarian marriages that I have outlined is being bought at the cost of less stable marriages and a decreased salience for marriage itself. It is possible that marital relationships could become more stable as women become partners rather than wives.
In my view, for a loving egalitarian relationship to "work," it would need to be patterned more like women's relationships to women than "normal" heterosexual relationships. What most women seek is not power but the absence of domination. Also, as we have seen, most lesbians and heterosexual women are relationship-centered, but the words we use to describe this, such as caring and nurturant, sound vaguely insipid. Our language itself is predicated on the individual, isolated from relationships, so that one is at a loss for ways to talk about that "something else" that binds us together. Women are in a better position than men to move us toward a new language of love that can somehow overcome the sharpness of the distinction between self and other without domination or selfabnegation.
Married couples as "loving partners" would be more than sexual partners or business partners or friends, although they would be these too. Loving partners would be tied together by love made increasingly stable by the experiences, both the good and the bad times, they have shared together. Women as loving partners to men would act neither as men's mothers nor men's daughters nor men's wives. They would be loving adult female partners of loving adult males. Moreover, there should be nothing in the concept of "loving partners" to prevent people of the same gender from formally and freely joining together in a love relationship. Ending the definition of women as wives would allow homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships to exist as "marriages" without dominant partners.
Fathers, Mothers, and Trends in Parenting
Precisely because of the progress toward legal equality that women have made, we are now at a point where we can begin for the first time to examine gender differentiation and the significance of parental influences more dispassionately and with a keener sense of the implications of such study for gender equality. Ignoring gender does not make it go away. It will not disappear because we stop
investigating it. To the contrary, the considerations discussed in the last section suggest that we must take the opposite tack and examine gender in order to effectively create more equal relationships between women and men.
Almost all feminists, with the exception of some radical feminists, have advocated that fathers share child care equally with mothers. Equal parenting viewed as a "solution" to the problem of child care has great appeal especially for middle-class women accustomed to the isolated nuclear family, because it preserves the husband-wife relationship and the integrity and isolation of the nuclear unit. As I have suggested throughout this book, however, there may be problems with equal parenting because of gender differences and because "husbands" and "wives" are not equal. Equal parenting may be more of a Utopian vision that attempts to preserve the integrity of the nuclear unit than a realistic aim. Moreover, the focus on male parenting deflects attention away from alternative forms of child care and societal responsibility for child care.
While equal parenting may be Utopian, I applaud the idea of finding ways to include men more constructively in parenting. One important reason for including fathers as child-carers is that if males are nurturant, the male child would find it easier to identity with being male and would not have to deny femaleness so compulsively. Beyond this, if fathers or other male caretakers included nurturance in their views of appropriate male behavior, boys and men might be able to nurture themselves more adequately.
As things stand now, men depend too much on women for nurturance and then, fearing that the nurturance they receive is infantilizing, they may deny their dependence by shows of power. As we saw in Chapter 7 men who cannot nurture others or themselves may also tend to resent the nurturance they see their wives give their children. This resentment and hostility may show up in their relationship with their children in the form of direct violence or in the form of hostile withdrawal. Violent or hostile fathers cannot counteract the fear of males in children and deter their sons' ability to identify comfortably as "male."
Beyond urging less distancing and more warmth, there are few clearly agreed upon guidelines for fathering. Supporters of equal parenting suggest that if fathers were more involved in their chil-
dren's day-to-day care, it would decrease the possibility of their becoming sexually involved with them. On a very general cognitive level it is likely true that the more one is committed to being a parent and the more one defines oneself as a parent responsible for a child's well-being, the less likely one would be to sexually abuse one's child. A conscientious father who finds himself sexually aroused by his child would try to put himself into another gear by reminding himself that he is a parent, not a lover. Incest's greater frequency among stepfathers than among natural fathers is compatible with the argument that the more one feels oneself to be a parent, the more one is committed to the parental role and the less likely one is to sexually abuse. Stepfathers can tell themselves that they are not the child's "real" father and thus are not required to behave in a parental way.
Increasingly there are fathers who are able to be genuinely loving—neither sexually threatening nor rejecting toward their children. We need to know more about how this balance is achieved and what other attitudes on the part of the fathers themselves and what structural arrangements might contribute to this good outcome. The question of structural arrangements is complex. For example, less isolation of the family and less emotional intensity within the family might decrease the likelihood of incest (see my discussion in Chapter 7). Family breakup and the increasing presence of stepfathers may increase the likelihood of incest. Either possibility makes the empowering of mothers as people especially important.
Certainly one basic deterrent to incest would be greater equality in the husband-wife relationship. As I noted in Chapter 7, an important aspect of ending father-child incest is to strengthen mothers to support the child when they need protection from the father. All too often, mothers now give their primary allegiance to incestuous fathers rather than to their children because of their own and their children's financial and social dependence on him.
In my view, the issue should be less that of attempting to get fathers to participate equally in child care than of helping fathers learn to bring out their own maternal, human, empathetic feelings toward their children. In so doing they can come to represent a new definition of "manhood," not the definition purveyed by their male peers but a definition that rests on a maternal base. Ideologi-
cally, we have been slowly moving toward a definition of fathers as mothers for several generations, perhaps even longer, and the current generation of fathers seems to embody this definition to a greater extent than any previous one. Sons are amazing their own fathers with their new attitudes. The factors encouraging these new attitudes I believe are increasing individualism for women and matrifocality.
In Chapter 9, I suggested that de facto matrifocality in the professional segment of the middle class may have had some important effects on the psyches of the children in these families. Even though they were criticized for it, many mothers in the 1950s were not totally appendages of men, and emphasized mothering instead. They were well-educated, ambitious and likely to be their upwardly mobile husbands' superiors or equals in class background. They encouraged achievement in both girls and boys, even though they themselves were not able to directly model it. I argued that these mothers may have had a distinct influence on the role crossovers that occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s, which culminated in the antiwar movement and feminism.
Now mothers themselves have joined the labor force, and in the middle class we are moving toward a more genuine matrifocality in which women have gained more public respect as people outside of the family. Beyond this, women's maternal attitudes are coming even more to prevail over paternal authoritarianism within the family. That is, fathers are increasingly moving toward a more maternal stance. This should discourage strong gender-typing in children and lead to more egalitarian marriages.
When wives were not employed outside the home, fathers were the only representatives of the outside world that middle-class boys and girls had. Many adult women's attachment to their fathers rests on their fathers having served as a model for them. As more and more mothers work outside the home, women may more directly become models for their daughters and they will be perceived more as mothers and individuals than as wives. Moreover, mothers will be able to act more freely as a caring parent and less as persons constrained by being father's wife.
In a sense the fragility of marriage is changing the context of child-rearing, and middle-class mothers are no longer quite as in-
volved with their children as they used to be. In the 1950s, a frequent media theme was that fathers were absolutely essential to save children from the clutches of their mothers. But as women become less totally psychologically invested in their children, the felt "need" for fathers to "rescue" children should also decline. Although male models are needed, households without "fathers" are not necessarily pathological. Although single mothers are often poor and operate under extreme financial and time pressures, single mothering can be a positive experience for women to the extent that not being a "wife" allows them to act on their own—as an adult. Women without husbands learn to trust their own judgment in a way they may not have when they were wives. They must be themselves. Having a mother who is not a wife is bound to affect children's view of what women are like—they are real people who are also mothers, not wives.
Much of the psychoanalytic account of gender development rests on the assumption of a nuclear family, isolated from other relationships and offering a very distinctive and separate kind of emotional closeness. As individuals become integrated in a wider set of relationships outside of the nuclear unit, the power of this account to define the proper relations between women and men will decrease. Moreover, the psychoanalytic account, both the gynecentric and phallocentric versions, will simply have less relevance because the isolation of women and of the nuclear unit will have decreased. In short, there will be less compulsion to overcome women's psychological power as mothers and to solve it by making mothers into wives.
Supports for Parents.
As things stand now women are not paid equally to men and this is rationalized by the belief that women do not need equal pay because they are dependent wives. We are still rewarding male providers but not female providers. Employers justify paying men more than women on the grounds that they have a family to support, but when a woman is in fact supporting a family, she is not paid more; indeed, she may be considered a less good worker. The deeper truth is that our society rewards men who financially support families but not women who financially support families. Over half the families living below the poverty level are headed by women only.
The labor force participation rate of women with children is now over 60 percent. This represents an increase of more than 50 percent since 1970. Working mothers with and without husbands need day care. Indeed, mothers, working outside the home or not, and their children need day care. Husbands and lovers as childcarers are no overall solution, any more than women being at home alone caring for children full-time is a solution. Out-of-home child care is not something one turns to when mothers "fail"; such care is at least potentially good for not only mothers and fathers but also, and especially, for children.
Sheila Kamerman calls child care an issue for gender equity and for women's solidarity. I agree, good child care arrangements beyond "the couple" are long overdue. The United States is woefully behind other industrialized nations, capitalist and socialist, in the provision of out of home care. In the future, although the actual time a mother spends with her children may be lessened, the control women exercise over child care may be strengthened. This would include working toward equal economic opportunity and wage equity, control of fertility, various child care options, and custody rights in divorce. This would be a kind of matrifocality that is compatible with individualism.
Sylvia Hewlett has written an impassioned plea for recognizing the handicaps under which mothers are placed as they attempt to survive in a competitive economy. Hewlett tends to blame feminism for this. I disagree and have provided a different and more complex picture of feminism—one that shows its "maternal" facet. One must not let her critique of feminism, however, prevent us from taking her description of the desperate need to end the handicaps of working mothers very seriously.
Women in the Public Sphere
Throughout this book I have attempted to justify women's "difference" in terms of an alternative, nonmarket or nonindustrial set of standards, that is, general humanistic standards that de-emphasize difference and hierarchy and emphasize interdependence between women and men. These are the standards that women as mothers have fostered, and if more typically maternal values predominated
in the public sphere, idioms of kinship and friendship might begin to take precedence over male-dominated heterosexual relationships and over the male peer group. In the workplace mutual egalitarian respect could counteract the "old boys' network" and the expectations that women workers are merely displaced "wives." If this is to happen, "femininity" as it is currently defined, and the definition of women as wives, must go.
The overall impact women can make in the public sphere may be to introduce a way of interacting that cross-cuts "politics" to some extent and changes men's own approach. The overall result could be that women will be truly included in the category of "people" as opposed to "wives" and that instead of being assimilated to the category of men, women's presence can cause men to alter their own approach.
It is also possible that women can make a direct political difference, but so far the voting gaps between age, class, and race groups are far greater than the voting gap is between genders. The main impediment to women's solidarity with each other is their vested interest in marriage, which forces their economic "class" interests to coincide with their husbands', even as the unwritten rules of marriage penalize women. Exciting as the prospect may be, in view of marriage and the emphasis on couples in this society, it is not likely that women as a group are going to band together to vote as women, but the other side of the coin is that men are also in a position to be influenced by "their" women. As William Goode has pointed out men have been converted to feminism by witnessing discrimination against their "own" wives and daughters. Although I view this proprietary attitude with some ambivalence, conversion by this means is better than no conversion at all.
I do not expect to see a mass movement led by women without men, because many men may join them. Part of feminist movement means supporting increasing individualism; the other aspect is bringing maternal values into the public sphere. Because of men's orientation to economic "rationalism," they may be most likely to join women with regard to issues supporting increasing individualism.
For example, there was little "gender gap" between women and men with regard to the ERA proposal, which was based on mini-
malist and individualistic assumptions. In spite of earlier reports to the contrary, Ronald Reagan's 1980 anti-ERA stand lost him votes from about equal proportions of male and female supporters of the ERA. Women did indeed vote against Reagan because of the ERA, but so did men. In fact a greater percentage of men than women reported supporting the ERA. Men who favored the ERA were likely to have wives who worked, whereas men who opposed the ERA were married to housewives. Women who were housewives were not less supportive of the ERA, however, than were working women. This is probably because many housewives see themselves as potential workers and can identify with employed women. In sum, men are more likely to support measures that fit with individualism for women if their wives work.
With regard to maternal values, the issue on which almost all researchers agree there is a consistent and persistent gender gap is the use of force and violence. Women tend to differ from men in being against aggression, both domestic and foreign. Feminist and nonfeminist women alike were more likely than men to have opposed the Vietnam War, and women are more reluctant than men to prescribe the use of force in the event of urban unrest. In view of the orientational differences between women and men I described earlier, these findings would certainly be expected. Women's more relational stance clearly involves a stance against aggression.
The next largest gender difference occurs with regard to women's tendency to favor policies that regulate and protect consumers, citizens, and the environment. Women's interests in peace and environmental issues coalesce in their strong stands against nuclear power. Finally, there is some tendency for women to vote favorably on so called "compassion" issues, such as spending on social programs to improve social welfare, education and health, but this tendency is cross-cut by voting that shows that women are still more traditional and conservative than men.
In sum, although the differences between the voting and opinion patterns of men and women are relatively small, the differences that do show up reflect women's association with nonaggression and preservation—the maternal or humanizing values. It is likely that child welfare issues, including good day care, will prove to be another cause around which women as a group can rally. Women in executive positions are already concentrated in the human ser-
vices, and political support for these services (the liberal agenda) should increase their power.
There is often an implicit assumption among "minimalists" that equality depends on assuming identity of capacities and equal sharing of tasks. I have argued instead that within the larger trend toward role-sharing and role crossovers which I applaud, it is naive to believe that denying all difference will make difference disappear. I have also argued that difference in itself need not produce inequality; it is what we make of gender difference and what we do about it that produces inequality. In my view we must take into account that women bear children and are likely to continue doing so and that women will generally be more involved in early child care than men. If this minimal division of labor is not to penalize women in the public sphere, public supports for child care are necessary.
In the past, women's childbearing has been taken into account by making individual mothers into "wives," dependent on husbands for support. I have deliberately focused on the inequalities of the marriage relationship that juvenilizes women as a counter to the reigning assumption that women's childbearing and child-rearing inevitably causes women's inequality. It is the male-dominated context of women's childbearing and child-rearing that underlies inequality. Women are strong as mothers but made weak by being wives.
Throughout the book I have tried to show how the concrete fact of women's childbearing is related to orientational differences between women and men. Women's greater ability to sustain relationships is not a defect but a virtue. At the same time these orientational differences between men and women are relatively small and they in no way justify confining women to domesticity or to jobs that can somehow be defined as maternal.
Assumptions that women will work outside the home and are both different from men and equal to men are impacting change even as the term feminism is less used. Young people today have mothers who work outside the home and who have divorced. These young people have had a different set of experiences and are ready for new definitions and new forms. They are still familyoriented but family does not mean the same thing that it used to.
Neither women nor men are complete rationalists, saying one could live without solidarity with others, but the personal solidarities are more shifting and the individual as community citizen becomes more prominent.
It is probably true that one needs to go through a period of emphasizing the notions of equality, similarity, and individualism before it is possible to study gender difference without playing into the tendency to render women "the lesser." I have tried to specify the nature of difference in a new way—one that does not act as a rationalization for inequality but that locates sources of inequality.
The dialectic within feminist movement between similarity and difference has been with us a long time and will continue. Both emphases are necessary and correct. I have tried to spell out a contemporary relationship between a focus on similarity and difference that I hope will prove healing among us.