Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ask Someone Who Knows: News from the ASA Convention (Day Three)

From Ash:

En Montreal.

Today is hard to capture in terms of an overall theme, but I learned a few fascinating facts that I can pass on.

Role-playing in Sex:

No, not that kind of role-playing. (Well, at least not in the session I went to today.)

What we're talking about is how expectations of gender-roles aren't just limited to housework, child care and who mans the barbecue for the last summer party. Instead, well, sex roles play out in sex. And this may be one of the things that will change the least, in our "post-gender" society.

Studying young adults, 18-26, in a partnered relationship (either marriage or cohabiting), a sociologist from the University of Texas, Austin, determined that traditional sex roles still were operating, even for these young ones who have been raised in a post-feminist, more egalitarian era. These youngsters will think that men are still supposed to be the aggressors, the initiators of sex, the women are more submissive and passive. Not only did they think that, that's what most of them were acting those parts.

And that was the case, even for the women who had more egalitarian views about everything else. They even thought housework, for example, should be a shared task, and they were sharing it.

Cleaning house= equals. Playing house= boy's still in charge.

Of course, they're not sure why this is. One theory is that your sex life is less visible, and thus susceptible, to public opinion. Your friends may notice who is regularly doing the vacuum, and they'll tell you what they think about that, whether or not you really wanted to hear what they had to say. And there's a certain pressure to conform to their (and the larger society's) expectations.

But you have to tell them about what you're doing in bed, only if you're willing to, and, if you don't like their response, you can either stop discussing it or lie. So you can much more easily ignore or evade any potentially disapproving influences.

Another theory: sex roles really are sex roles. Ideas about sex and gender are so entrenched in us to the very core: ideas of who does what during sex are supposed to define manhood and womanhood. And, in this most intimate of relationships, it's awfully difficult to separate sex from sexual stereotypes.

Since I'm here, uh, I'd feel remiss not to mention that women who had more egalitarian ideas about gender, including sex, had more orgasms. I'm just saying.

Social Security:

First, right now, about 60% of women who receive benefits do not get those benefits because of their work history. Instead, they get benefits based on the work history of their spouse, because you get the higher of the two. (Of course, if you were a full-time stay-at-home mom or housewife, that's the only basis that you could have, or you wouldn't get anything at all.)

And that 60% isn't likely to change in the coming years. This seems to be a fundamental issue when considering the possibility of Social Security reform, but according to sociologists who have studied the matter, not a single outlet (media or policy) really has addressed this fact when they talk about Social Security reforms. So the next time the issue comes up, ask how individual investment accounts are supposed to compensate the majority of women.

Child care and Welfare Reform

Another scholar reported on welfare reform's requirements forcing women to work to maintain their eligibility, and the obstacle to work for many on welfare who wanted work -- they had children and couldn't afford any care for them. So as part of the reform, funds were allocated to help the women pay for child care. Were the mix of requirements and funds for child care successful?

Yes and no. Prior to reform, 96% of those interviewed considered child care to be a problem - and a major one at that. Post-reform, that response was down to 40%. Somehow, the majority have figured out a way to have someone watch the kid.

The problem is now that that "someone" is often proving to be wholly unreliable. The women interviewed who had child care reported cases of the caregiver's neglect, even cases of abuse and molestation.

So the issue now is not just the mere use of child care, but a need to improve its quality. So child care is still a problem, but in a much different way. The issue isn't "if" they can get care for their children, but "what" the care is and what it can be.

One more day! A bientot!


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