Saturday, June 15, 2019

"All the Rage" by Darcy Lockman

Even though I'm not a parent (in the active sense, anyway), I find parenting issues interesting (well, some of them, anyway ;)  ). I enjoy reading about them, and I sometimes find myself wondering what kind of parent I would have been and how I would have responded to the unique challenges of modern parenting.

"All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership" by Darcy Lockman reminded me very much of "Fed Up" by Gemma Hartley (reviewed here), as well as Brigid Schulte's "Overwhelmed (review here) and "All Joy and No Fun" by Jennifer Senior (review here), as well as some of the other "women & rage" books I've been reading over the past year.

"All the Rage" tackles one of the more contentious issues of our time:  how the promise of equal partnership in marriage, more often than not, (STILL!!) tends to fall apart once children enter the picture. Lockman quotes journalist Jill Filipovic, who writes that modern fathers remain in "a strange limbo where men's actions haven't totally caught up to women's expectations."

Both women and men shoulder some responsibility for this state of affairs. "Together, we do this," Lockman notes near the end of the book. Some topics Lockman explores here (and some of the quotes that I marked with post-it notes) include:
  • Fathers are more involved in their children's lives and share more of the housework than they used to -- but still don't do nearly as much as women do.  
  • Marital satisfaction tends to decrease with the addition of each child to the family, and division of labour is a primary source of conflict. 
  • The idea that this can be explained by biology (gender essentialism, or nature) -- that men & women are essentially different, that women have an innate maternal instinct, and that men can't change -- is a fallacy that benefits men. Parenting skills are not innate;  they are learned... and "When one parent gets into the habit of quickly responding to an infant's needs, the other is likely to accommodate that habit by failing to respond. This pattern then calcifies over days and weeks and months and years." (p. 87) 
    • As the "default parent," women quickly develop a greater "parental consciousness" -- a greater awareness of the children's needs (i.e., "the mental load"). (p. 139-40) 
  • Men and women are raised very differently, and gender socialization is deeply ingrained in our culture, starting from birth (or even before!). 
    • Fighting this is hard work, and women who fail to conform to gendered norms are subjected to backlash.  
    • It's not enough to be aware of and acknowledge women's greater burden:  "to acknowledge it without trying to alter it is to perpetuate what has already been perpetuated." (p. 131)
  • "The rising status of women outside the home has actually increased our inclination to reinforce male dominance inside it."  (p. 123) 
  • "Men's refusal of responsibility and the cult of female sacrifice." (This was a really interesting -- and infuriating -- section!)(p.153) 
    • "Feminism often plays the straw man in these discussions, as if the very desire for equality were problematic, rather than the fact that equality has yet to materialize." (p. 162) 
    • Women receive positive reinforcement for caregiving from a young age;  men don't. "You adapt in order to survive within a framework. But the framework doesn't seem to be changing... Men are not socialized to feel guilty for having freedom or for not being there for other people." (Boston College psychologist and psychoanalyst Usha Tummala-Narra, p. 164) 
  • Faced with the knowledge that they cannot "have it all," many women are losing interest in marriage and motherhood. Birth rates are plummeting in many developed countries. (p.169) 
  • "Kids are more important than grown-ups," the author's daughter announced one day when she was 5 (!) (p. 174) in a section that explores the modern phenomenon of "helicopter parenting," "intensive mothering" and "maternal gatekeeping."  
    •  " the traditional pressure on men to be primary breadwinners has lifted, the traditional pressure on women to be primary caretakers has not." (p. 185)  
    • "Women who can't count on their partners to execute their duties in good faith may feel little choice but to keep the gate." (p.191) 
    • Some women take great pride in their role as the primary parent and find it difficult to give up that primacy ("I like the idea of being irreplaceable," one mother confesses on page 203). 
    • "Men, for their part, don't seem to get quite what they are missing... Mothers and fathers may both have something to lose when men become co-primary parents. But likewise, there is so much that they'll gain." (p. 204) 
  • "Do not ask why change is so slow;  instead, ask why men are resisting." (p. 205) The short answer: it's in their interest to do so.  "In marriage, this requires a stalwart commitment to denial of the obvious: that men simply feel entitled to our labor." 
  • Equal co-parenting tends to happen under only three, often overlapping conditions (p. 218):
    • when there is an explicitly steadfast commitment from both partners to staying on top of parity,
    • when men really enjoy the kind of regular and intimate contact that only mothers typically have with their kids, and  
    • after fathers have taken substantial paternity leave. 
  • Stereotypes of inept fathers may get in the way of men becoming more effective and involved parents ("stereotype threat").  This can be countered by putting a stop to the ways in which we marginalize fathers, and by shining a light on the fallacy of the stereotypes. (p. 224-227) 
  • We need to continue to advance a more egalitarian masculinity, including encouraging men to more fully embrace their identities as fathers. (p. 231-32)
  • Women have become more like men, but men have not become more like women, and show little interest in doing so... "Men see nothing to gain in becoming more like women." (p. 254-58)
  • "Entitlement gets a bad rap, but too little of it can leave one wanting... When not explicitly encouraged to give themselves a break, mothers don't always sign up for one." (p. 268)
(Interesting note, especially for those of us without kids: many of the themes Lockman explores here also apply in the workplace, where women too often get stuck with -- and even volunteer for! -- the jobs that no one else (i.e., men) want to do.)

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads. It was well written (a fairly easy read) and very well researched. (My copy is stuffed with yellow post-it note flags.) My rating might have been even higher, but I'll admit I found my eyes glazing over with some of the academic studies quoted (particularly in the section about biological differences between women & men).

Also, while the book was excellent in analyzing the problem thoroughly, it came up discouragingly short in terms of solutions (although, of course, there are no easy ones!), and kind of peters out at the very end.

"Only once we begin to see all sexism as blatantly hostile will there be pushback, an end to justification in each imbalanced home," Lockman writes. (p. 273-74) She points out that group attitudes always drag behind societal change, "But exactly how long is that lag supposed to last?" (p. 274)

"Equality is not so much an end point as a process," she concludes. "But responsibility for the process must be shared. This is not one more thing for mothers to spearhead alone." (p. 275-76)

All I could think was "Yes -- but who's going to convince the men?"

Nevertheless -- this was an excellent book overall, about a problem that plagues many of the mothers I know (as well as some non-moms!), and a great starting point for discussions and efforts to change.  I would encourage both women AND men to read it, think about it, talk about it -- and DO something about it.

If you're wondering whether you'd find the book interesting, you might want to try reading Lockman's recent viral New York Times article on the same subject:  "What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With."

This was book #19 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 79% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 9 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :) 

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