Exploring the Social Imagination

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Brad Wilcox on Marriage and Family Life

Prof. Brad Wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, and a member of the James Madison Society at Princeton University. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and his Ph.D. at Princeton University. Prior to coming to the University of Virginia, he held research fellowships at Princeton University, Yale University and the Brookings Institution.

In his book, "Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives, we can read
essays on biological and social scientific perspectives that seek to evaluate the transformative experience of parenthood for today's women and men. They map the similar and distinct roles mothers and fathers play in their children's lives and measure the effect of gendered parenting on child well-being, work and family arrangements, and the quality of couples' relationships. Contributors describe what happens to brains and bodies when women become mothers and men become fathers; whether the stakes are the same or different for each sex; why, across history and cultures, women are typically more involved in childcare than men; why some fathers are strongly present in their children's lives while others are not; and how the various commitments men and women make to parenting shape their approaches to paid work and romantic relationships. Considering recent changes in men's and women's familial duties, the growing number of single-parent families, and the impassioned tenor of same-sex marriage debates, this book adds sound scientific and theoretical insight to these issues, constituting a standout resource for those interested in the causes and consequences of contemporary gendered parenthood. Wilcox in an interview with Denis Rainy on family life, clearly stated that gendered parents as in best practices even in our modern society for raising children are male/female gendered households. There are changes in our modern society regarding women's roles and Wilcox recognizes that a lot of women today work outside the home and thus feel on equal footing in respect of financial provision and this is 'equal footing' is expected in the household concerning daily routine/tasks; I work, you work and we both work at home is basically the gist of his research outcomes. However, those maybe the expectations, marital quality is not improved by those expectations/practices.  
      The companionate theory of marriage suggests that egalitarianism in practice and belief leads to higher marital quality for wives and higher levels of positive emotion work on the part of husbands. Our analysis of women's marital quality and men's marital emotion work provides little evidence in support of this theory. Rather, in examining women's marital quality and men's emotional investments in marriage, we find that dyadic commitment to institutional ideals about marriage and women's contentment with the division of household tasks are more critical. We also show that men's marital emotion work is a very important determinant of women's marital quality. We conclude by noting that her marriage is happiest when it combines elements of the new and old: that is, gender equity and normative commitment to the institution of marriage.
The new we know - I can be whatever I want to be and be a mother/wife. The old - I want to feel protected, secure, adored, raised up as the 'biblical' queen in your life... the old ideal is still vivid. As we can read in Ephesians 5.  Such a conclusion is due to our socio-christian heritage, whether modern women believe or not, this heritage has been embedded information given and passed on and continues to be passed on as what is to be expected and striven for.  The social imagination of family life is based on role relationships, males and females have distinct features both physical and emotional. Because of that, there are then expectations as to roles- who is best suited for what and why. Since, women are biologically designed/prepared for motherhood, it makes sense that they have babies and nurture them and that father too is involved but that his role is different and cannot be exactly the same. He is expected to lead, to protect and to be the head of the family. Of course, we can argue that the female can be both mother and father. She can bear children, raise them and protect them. But the question then is who protects her? Why would a man be expected or asked to protect her if she can do it all herself. We can argue that he would do it. However, to protect a strong woman would require a strong man, stronger than her in order that he can do the job. Otherwise, she might as well protect herself and him. Some say that is ok ... but what then is the man's role? He can't be the mother as he cannot bear children. Point being, men need a distinct role. They cannot be confronted with a partner that can do both roles, do his role and do it better. What is his role in the family? To be lost in the background, to be the 'same' sex / gender, to pretend to be a woman or be both? As a Christian, and a sociologist, I agree with Prof. Wilcox, marriage needs to be gendered and that has to be clear. It means that one person is designated to be one gender and the other person the opposite; which means that they have different roles and those roles are respected and applied in the household with continuity so that family stability ensues. As far as I can tell, we already have designated genders. So, why are we trying to re-create what already has been created as a best practice?

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