An article published this past weekend in the Opinion section of The New York Times poses the question, “Do millennial men want stay-at-home wives?” Apparently, data is showing that, increasingly, they do. But judging by her horrified and rather sanctimonious tone, it’s clear that the author, Stephanie Coontz, thinks they really shouldn’t.
The article cites two studies which both found that young men today are more likely to favor a family structure in which the man works and the woman stays home to take care of the children than they were twenty years ago.
Coontz refers to families where both parents work as “egalitarian.” And she asks, “Are we facing a stall or even a turnaround in the movement toward gender equality?” The fact that I really need my computer to write this reaction (and that it’s got a really pretty pink cover that makes it delightful to look at) is really the only thing that kept me from throwing it across the room after reading this article. Because, honestly, what a big, fat load of you know what!
Where to begin? Okay. The idea that a family in which the husband works hard all day at an office and the wife works hard all day in the home isn’t “egalitarian” really irks me. Equal doesn’t mean identical. A pound of bricks is equal to a pound of feathers, but they’re still two very different things.
Look at it this way: there are certain things that, objectively, must be done in order to run a successful family. Money must be made, children must be cared for, food must be acquired, housework must be done, etc. But there are an infinite number of ways to divide these tasks such that the amount of work each partner is doing is equal, without it being the same. The work that I do in my home every day is equal to the work that my husband does at his office. His work makes mine possible, and my work makes his possible, in that it allows him to focus on his career in a way he couldn’t if he was also responsible for the household.
Coontz wants us to believe that this data reveals that men are sexist. That they don’t believe that women should be allowed to have careers. Which is why she’s weeping and wailing about gender equality. But where, in any of these studies, does it say that?
Is being a stay-at-home mom not a respectable and valuable career path? Should women who want to stay home and who believe in the power and benefit of one parent in the home not be allowed to do it? Where’s the equality in that? The studies only say that men are increasingly likely to favor a more traditional family model. And, interestingly, (though it’s buried a bit in the article since it doesn’t support the author’s outrage), these studies also found that women are showing an increased inclination toward this type of family structure as well, though at a lower rate.
Can women who work be good mothers? Of course they can! Can they be good wives? Definitely. But should I give up my belief that staying home with my son is the best choice for my family just so my husband and I can be “equal”? My husband and I are equal. We’re just not the same. (Which is good since I definitely wouldn’t want to be married to myself.)
Listen, we ought to live in a world where (within the confines of physical ability) the doors that are open to men are open to women. But women don’t have to walk through those doors. And men don’t have to choose as their partners women who want to walk through them.
The choice to be a stay-at-home mom is a philosophical one, made because you believe that this type of parental dynamic is best for your children and your marriage. You don’t have to think that. (Not to mention the fact that, for some families, this structure isn’t financially feasible.) But it is a parenting philosophy that many men and women hold. And it makes sense, when choosing a mate, to choose one who holds similar philosophical ideas about how to run a family.
Preferring a more traditional family structure doesn’t make a man a sexist. The studies Coontz cites don’t say that men who prefer this structure intend to marry the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and force her to be a stay-at-home mom. They simply state that an increased number of young men subscribe to this philosophy. Which means, presumably, that they will choose wives who subscribe to it too.
Coontz seems to want us to think that “gender equality” means that all women must choose to work outside the home, and that all men must favor mates who do so. But I don’t want to live that kind of life. And, apparently, neither do an increasing number of men and women across the country. If “equality” means that I can’t live the kind of life that brings me joy, then I don’t want to be equal. But I don’t think it means that at all. Do you?