Gender in the Home
Most little girls can name all of the Disney princesses and how they found their Prince Charming. You don’t have to watch Disney princess movies or Jane Austin films for romance either; movies like The Sound of Music, Harry Potter, and Star Wars all have romance where couples happily end up together. These portrayals are common in society and showcase the positive side of love and romance, but rarely the realities and hardships of marriage.
For example, imagine a newlywed couple. Both have college degrees and are excited to make a difference in the world. They weather all of the adjustments that come with being newlyweds. Then, the couple decides it’s time to start a family. With that decision comes even more decisions: what constitutes good parenting, should both the parents or just the wife take family leave, who will watch the child after family leave expires, among many others. Typically, women are the ones who will end up watching the children and maintaining the home. In fact, women do twice as much housework and five times more childcare than men. At the same time, women's equality has improved drastically considering they were not able to own property in revolutionary times and not able to vote until 1920. But despite these improvements, why are women still primarily responsible for childcare and housework?
|Courtesy of Pamela's Photo.|
Authors Lawless and Fox explain that when people conform to gendered stereotypes, they believe they are doing what is standard. With the emphasis on gender equality, however, not everyone wants to conform to society’s expectations anymore. In 2008, Lisa Belkin wrote an article describing parents who resist gender roles by more evenly dividing childcare and housework. For example, a family from the article chose to have both parents work part-time so that both could be home with the kids, and each parent had substantial duties around the house.
While many aspects of the article spoke positively of equality, some might feel Belkin took equality too far. One couple in the article even acknowledged that true equality in that sense was too stressful and not rewarding enough professionally. Consequently, the wife assumed more responsibility in the areas of child care and housework by becoming a stay-at-home mom.
From a religious standpoint particularly, some could feel that encouraging women and men to more equally share work and family life contradicts doctrine. This article will focus primarily on the religious beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) because of my own religious experience with the church and the relevance of the LDS church in Utah, where I live. In regards to gender in the home, the LDS church issued a statement maintaining that men are providers and women nurturers by “divine design.” The statement goes on to say that not all families are alike and roles can be adapted, but the gendered precedent was established.
The question, then, is whether or not members of faiths that seemingly restrict a woman’s equality support such teachings of equality. In a related field, Nancy Burns found that in churches that prohibit female ordinations, those outside of the Catholic faith supported the churches limitation. Interestingly, women in particular supported the restriction. Why would women back a policy that appears to disadvantage themselves? In regards to the LDS faith, this could be explained by the doctrinal emphasis on priesthood being a male responsibility. Such support raises the question, however, of how much support other religiously enforced gender roles receive, such as women’s responsibility in the home.
Gender in the LDS Community
To find out the level of support for gender equality in the home among a religious group, I administered a survey to students predominately affiliated with Utah County, Utah. Although the survey was distributed to my friends and acquaintance, especially those at Brigham Young University, I purposely tried to only give the surveys to people that had lived or currently live in Utah County and that were college age. Both married and single people were invited to take the survey. By focusing on the young adults in the LDS faith, it is possible to see how this particular generation focuses on gender inequality.
In the survey, respondents were asked questions about how they viewed the division of child care and house work in a marriage. Multiple choice and short answer were used so that people could better explain their reasoning for their choices. Of the people who took the survey, 74% envisioned the mom as the primary caretaker of the children. From the comments, it was apparent that some just assumed women would be in the home. One female used the reasoning “Raising a family is a full time job and the most important thing I could be doing. Besides…I couldn’t handle two full time jobs.” Another female phrased it differently as “Need a mom in the home.” A man simply explained “My mother worked part-time.” Such responses show that the respondents haven’t really considered anything other than a stay-at-home mom. Other comments either directly or indirectly referred to the LDS statement referenced above. Of course, there were more reasons that just those mentioned, but the belief that women should be in the home was apparent. In terms of house work, however, 74% of respondents chose a response that emphasized a more equal division of chores.
The survey also had two questions on more equal parenting, as described by Belkin. After a short description of equal parenting, respondents were asked how much they agreed with such an arrangement, and a short answer question let them explain why. Almost 49% of respondents did not approve of equal parenting, and only 14% approved. Comments centered on the negative effects of keeping score so to speak, of unrealistic work schedules, and doing what works best for your particular family. Several comments endorsed helping a spouse, but that such things can’t be split evenly or planned for. For example, one respondent said, “I think it should just be done with the mindset of helping each other out with housework.” This highlights that although many disapproved of the idea or were neutral, it does not necessarily follow that spouses are unwilling to share responsibility. To some, having things as equal as possible is too complicated. As one person said, “It seems too rigid.”
After describing Belkin’s idea of equality in marriage, people were asked how much they agreed with it. Results are number of respondents who picked the option, not percentages.
As these results show, in many ways LDS young adults do endorse more traditional ideas of family life. Every respondent acknowledged that religion has influenced how they view their spouse and children, but that in no way means that their views on child care and housework equates endorsing beliefs that limit or malign women. As one respondent put it, “… I have been taught at church that a husband and a wife should work together in all things.”