Embracing Caregiving and Respecting Choice: An Essay on the Debate Over Changing Gender Norms
Nicole B. Porter
University of Toledo College of Law; University of Denver Sturm College of Law
February 17, 2012
Southwestern University Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2011
University of Toledo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-06
The work/family balance debate has been raging for years. How do women achieve equality in the workplace when they remain the primary caregivers of their kids and other family members who need care? One facet of this debate is a disagreement about whether we should be attempting to change gender norms when proposing policy initiatives aimed at ending what I call the “caregiver conundrum,” the difficulties caregivers face balancing work and family. On one side are scholars who believe we need to change gender norms in order for women to achieve equality in the workplace. To accomplish this gender flux, scholars believe that women should be encouraged to do more market work and/or men should be incentivized to spend more time at home. On the other side of the debate are scholars who do not disapprove of women continuing as primary caregivers as long as that status is celebrated and not penalized. In this Essay, I explore the history of this theoretical debate and stake a claim in it, explaining that I do not fall neatly on one side of the line or the other. Instead of attempting to change gender norms or believing that all women (and only women) are biologically destined to care, I describe my position as one of “embracing caregiving and respecting choice.” Even though I recognize women’s decisions to be the primary caregivers are often socially constructed and not biological, I nevertheless believe that the problem is not that women give care. The problem is that caregiving has not been valued. We need to embrace caregiving, regardless of who does it, and respect the choices that individuals make in coming up with their own work/family balance. I justify my position in this theoretical debate by explaining why changing gender norms is unwarranted, unrealistic, and unnecessary. It is unwarranted if it is accomplished by getting all caregivers to work the ideal worker norm; it is unrealistic if our goal is getting men to share equally in caregiving and household labor; and it is unnecessary because we can end the caregiver conundrum without changing gender norms.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 42
Keywords: caregiving, social norms, gender norms, work/family balance, employmentAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 18, 2012
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