Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Economic inequality could trigger old tensions about gender roles


When I was growing up in the 50s and early 60s, I had absorbed a perception that men had an inherent obligation to protect women and children, and that generally women were not to be expected to make it on their own economically.  I even remember a Ladies Home Journal article around 1957 (why was I reading that?) that asked, “Who would you rather see have a college degree, you or your husband?”  Indeed, all of this has changed, and how radically.
  
There was a perception that if a man did not marry a woman and have children by her, he was denying a woman somewhere a chance to become a mother, and relegating a female person to poverty.  Obligation to others didn’t wait until a man got a woman pregnant.  It existed anyway. Remember the ideas about "the family wage"? 
   
All of this weighed in as I grew up, and certainly had relevance when I was thrown out of William and Mary in 1961 for telling the Dean of Men (under pressure) that I was gay.  Furthermore, I was an only child, so if I didn’t meet “The Obligation” my parents’ marriage would produce no lineage at all and essentially come to nothing.  I think that’s in large part how it was seen.All of this came to a boil in my stay at NIH as a "patient" in the latter half of 1962.
  
Stephanie Coontz has a relevant op-ed in the New York Times, Sunday Review, July 27, “The New Instability: Women expect more, while men can provide less”, link here

Coontz doesn’t undercut gender (or even sexual orientation) equality in economic and workplace spheres.  But she does say that class inequality (partly related to race but not always) is making these old gender issues fester again. 
    
If you think about it, you can see that the old strict rules about sexual morality (no sexuality except for procreative monogamous marriage) would, could they be followed, result in a certain kind of cultural “equality”, however easily corrupted.   George Gilder’s writings in the 70s and 80s (“Sexual Suicide” and “Men and Marriage”) seem to be forgotten, and Allan Carlson's books on "the natural family" don't have much following.  But Charles A. Reich’s “The Greening of America”, a coworker present with a job change in 1971, is still remembered.   

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