Date of Award

5-20-2000

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)

Department

Liberal Studies

First Reader

Susan Walzer

Second Reader

Pat Ferraioli

Abstract

Parenting, in our society, is a highly gendered activity, with mothers overwhelmingly taking responsibility for the care of children. This responsibility is frequently associated with negative effects for women in terms of workplace opportunity, financial security, work load, and emotional wellbeing. The identity of "mother" is a positive one, and there is nothing inherently gendered about its features. The identity is, however, conflated with certain parental behaviors, such that "mother" identity and mothers' behaviors have a common underlying meaning; being a mother by definition, therefore, involves undertaking primary responsibility for childrearing. Gendered parenting arrangements are reinforced by interactions with every aspect of society, in particular with workplace structures which devalue pregnancy, support occupational segregation by sex, and maintain a substantial gap in earnings between men and women. To effect gender-neutrality in parenting arrangements, women could individually attempt to break the link between "mother" identity and mothers' behaviors, and men could attempt to forge such a link for themselves. Structural changes such as state funding of pregnancy disability leave programs, elimination of the wage gap between men and women, and an increase in the monetary value attached to jobs associated with parenting are more likely to bring about positive change by equalizing the status of men and women in the workplace. Such change would equalize the factors influencing how men and women make decisions about parenting responsibilities, and would help to render the parental behavior patterns of men and women more similar. Similarity in parental behavior patterns of men and women could eventually lead to changes in the meanings attached to motherhood, fatherhood, and parenthood, such that parenting would be considered a more gender-neutral institution.

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