« on: April 18, 2008, 12:57:03 AM »
I think the idea that gender equality means simply making roles gender neutral and acceptable for either men or women is a rather unrealistic approach.
The phenomenon of housewives exists because generation after generation of culture and tradition glorifying motherhood and 'homemaking' as an ideal, or at least acceptable, "occupation" for women, has institutionalized itself, with housewife mothers and breadwinner fathers showing their daughters that its an easy or even optimal way to get through life, and that their sons can expect it. This arraignment originated from when women didn't have most civil rights and couldn't be professionally employed, and reproduction was harder to control.
It serves some real material interests in the same way that having paid domestic servants does: it makes some people's lives (namely their husbands and children's) very comfortable...there is therefore an incentive for a lot of people to reproduce the institution over generations. This leads to playing it up as a fulfilling lifestyle (i.e. "being a mother is the most important job in the world") in order to encourage women to be housewives, and those who are already housewives have an incentive to play it up as fulfilling and enjoyable as well because everyone tends to feel like they need to be able to rationalize and justify their choices (especially when its too late to back out).
So while the material conditions that allowed the patriarchal family to develop originally(legal gender inequality and poor birth control options) no longer exist, there remains an incentive to perpetuate it.
Because there is no historical, multi-generational social basis for 'househusbands' there is no culturally influential ideology to perpetuate them. Housewives as a lifestyle have the evangelicals, the catholics, the mormons, and generations of parents saying that its at worst acceptable and in some instance expected.
Some guys might think they'd *like* to be a househusband...in theory...because they've drunk the koolaid over it the same way housewives have...but without the supporting culture constantly reinforcing and encouraging that lifestyle choice (no one says 'raising children is the most important thing a man can do') it probably wouldn't be so nice...
Similarly, some women who want to be able to devote themselves to real lives out of the home might think that if they want kids they need someone to give them constant attention and a househusband is somehow making a meaningful contribution...but really overestimating the amount of effort and attention that needs to be devoted to children (as if spending x amount of time with them is a moral necessity) is part of the ideology that justifies the gendered division of labour by creating an imagined necessity for housewives. Its probably healthier for kids to interact more with people their own age, depend less on a single parent exclusively, and have more social independence and autonomy anyways; just because parents seem to think that micromanaging them is important doesn't mean it is.
So in conclusion to this rant, I can't imagine wanting a househusband or thinking its acceptable; who wants to be married to a loser who stays home all the time and doesn't have a real life apart from his family? The women's lib movement ensured that women would have a way out of such an insular, dependent position, why would anyone want to similarly degrade men?