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Hullabaloo


Sunday, May 29, 2016

 
It's a man's world

by digby




















Food for thought:

Gordon Dahl at the University of California, San Diego and Enrico Moretti at the University of California, Berkeley noticed more than a decade ago that men are more likely to marry, and stay married to, women who bore them sons rather than daughters. In an analysis of American census data, they found that men were more inclined to propose to their partners if they discovered that a baby in utero was a boy, and they were less prone to getting a divorce if the first child was a boy rather than a girl. In the event of divorce, men with sons were more likely to get custody, and women with daughters were less likely to remarry.

To confirm this relationship between sons and marital harmony, Laura Giuliano, an economist at the University of Miami, analysed a survey of parents of children born in America between 1998 and 2000. She found that couples with a son were indeed more likely to be married three years after the birth of their child than those with a daughter. This effect can be seen in data on households across a number of rich countries, which show that adolescent boys are more likely than girls to live with both biological parents. The difference is small – in America, for example, 39% of 12- to 16-year-old girls live without their biological father in the house, compared with 36% of 12- to 16-year-old boys – but consistent. “I have never found a single statistic on a father’s presence in the household that didn’t have a significant gender difference,” says Shelly Lundberg, an economist who specialises in family behaviour at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

What is going on here? Do fathers simply prefer sons? Or are there other forces that bind fathers to homes with boys?
Well:
Part of the appeal of having a child of the same sex as oneself is what Pharaon calls the “mini-me phenomenon”: parents hope to create someone who is both similar to and better than themselves. By granting their children opportunities that they themselves lacked, and by behaving as the parents they always wanted, many seek to remove the same obstacles they believe were set on their own paths as they were growing up. “A lot of parents will see themselves through their child. They think, ‘Here is where I can get it right’,” Pharaon says.

This desire is hardly exclusive to men. Faith, a woman in her mid-60s with long dark hair, concedes that it was “kind of a relief” to have daughters. “There’s something we have in common,” she says of her three girls, now women in their 30s. “At each stage of their lives I would relate to how I felt at that age, and what I wished my mom said to me.”

But among fathers, this preference is plainly more profound. Sean Grover, a family psychotherapist in New York and author of the book “When Kids Call the Shots”, suggests that this is because men often feel less intuitive as parents than women do. Mothers offer babies their first opportunity for attachment; their bodies are literally essential for nourishment. Many fathers find it takes longer to connect with their children, not only because they lack that physical bond, but also because they are often stuck at work during the day. “A lot of men complain that when the baby arrives they don’t know what to do with themselves,” says Grover. “Once you get past their bravado, they are really lost.” Some men, says Pharaon, “attach themselves to the idea that at least my boy will need me to throw a ball around.” They feel a sense of purpose in the job of modelling what it means to be a man.

Fathers also like to see themselves as “the fun dad who takes their kids places,” says Grover. Mothers often get stuck with the lion’s share of routine child care – all the cleaning and feeding and whatnot – whereas fathers tend to swoop in for more recreational experiences. So it makes sense that the activities they are most eager to share are the ones they enjoy themselves. Nick, a journalist in his early 50s with two sons, aged 22 and 14, adds that men in general tend to like “bonding over a third object”, such as technology or sports, which can seem easier to do with a boy. “Men are much more gendered in their behaviour, and in their expectations of the behaviour of their kids, than women are,” says Michael Lamb, a professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge whose research investigates parent-child relationships. “Fathers tend to be more involved and engaged with sons than with daughters, and this distinction only gets more marked over time.”
[...]
A new study of California’s paid-leave benefit, for example, found that fathers were twice as likely to take paternity leave for a son than a daughter. American time-diary data from 2003 to 2006 found that married fathers with a child between six and 12 years old spent nearly 40 more minutes per day with sons than with daughters, mostly doing things like playing sports and watching television. In married families with two children of the same sex, fathers with sons spent between 22 and 27 minutes more per day on child care, and said they had less leisure time than those with daughters. Married mothers, on the other hand, spent only around six minutes more per day with a daughter than a son.

I think this is all pretty primitive stuff. I have, for instance, known plenty of women who favored their sons as the "keeper of the family legacy" which is also plainly gendered stuff.These currents run deep. And they manifest themselves in the wider culture in ways we are not always fully aware of. None of these fathers are bad people who don't love their daughters. That's not the point.

The reason I bring this particular story up is just to illustrate in another small way that gender affects our thinking in ways we don't necessarily consciously comprehend or purposefully act upon. These gender roles are more primal than any other form of human interaction, going all the way back to the caves. If one genuinely believes in freedom and equality, to dismiss it, to not care about it, to think that it isn't real is ... wrong. And it's disorienting and painful for those of us who know it is real, who see the subtleties in this dynamic everyday, who feel this gendered imbalance in our culture, to hear people tell us it isn't happening. Just saying.


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