By Barbara J. Risman, Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago
There is no debate about the remarkable lack of men as child care workers. This occurrence of apparent gender stereotypes driving one man away from the profession illustrates some core issues in the continuing saga of a somewhat stalled gender revolution. Another illustration of the state of current gender politics is a Stanford educated lawyer, once her husband’s mentor in a law firm, describing herself as the mom-in-chief.
These two narratives are opposite sides of the same coin. By the end of the 20th Century, American women had proven that they were quite capable at getting into and graduating from prestigious colleges, with graduate degrees. White collar women began doing well, if not as well as men, in the labor force, even in jobs that had heretofore been male jobs. Some of those jobs even flipped and became predominantly female jobs, for example, veterinarians and pharmacists. Cecilia Ridgeway shows that over the course of the late twentieth century, women continue to be presumed to be nurturing and empathetic, but there was some movement to also presume, and accept, they can be agentic and effective. But there has been no real movement, in social psychological cognitive findings, towards men being seen as nurturing or empathetic. Cognitive bias research suggests men are still presumed to be agentic, effective but not empathetic caretakers.
So caretaking continues to be the linchpin of gender inequality. If men have to run the world, moms have to be chief parent. Michelle Obama starred in that story line at the Democratic convention . Sure, she might be smart, hardworking, and her family’s previous breadwinner, but when all is said and done, she’s a mom, he’s a president. And while we there is much writing about the “new father,” very few men describe fatherhood as a profession even when they take time out of the labor force to be primary parent to support a higher earning wife. When a man chooses to take care of children for a profession, he’s immediately under suspicion as a pedophile. According Lata Murti, Adam’s every action was watched, and the parents presumed him guilty with little evidence. In a world with such stereotypes, why would a man choose child care as a profession? And if you cannot hold an entry level job, there can be no glass elevator to ride.
The social problem here is the cognitive stereotypes that push women toward full responsibility for children and men away from nearly any hands-on responsibility. In my view, until we realize that men too can not only be caretakers, but have as much moral responsibility to do so as do women, we are going to be left with a world where mothers, if not women, are never equal to men. And children are deprived of relationships with the men in their lives, and any other men as well.