In studies, spouses aspiring to equal parenting express awareness about gender politics, share dual commitments to work and family, and feel poorly served by traditional gender roles. They try to reach their goals through actively negotiating family life, questioning gendered entitlements, developing new competencies, and paying mutual attention to family tasks. Equality is not as much an end point as a process.
The so-called marriage-between-equals discourse, ever present in certain corners of the country, bears little resemblance to what really goes on in the home. Even among couples who say they’ve achieved equal partnership, studies find that their mutual decisions tend to favor the needs and goals of the husband much more than the wife.
Empirical research shows that no domestic arrangement, not even one in which the mother works full time and the father is unemployed, results in child-care parity between heterosexual spouses. The story we tell ourselves, the one about great leaps toward the achievement of gender equality between parents, is a glass-half-full kind of interpretation. But the reality is a half-empty glass: While modern men and women espouse egalitarian ideals and report that their decisions are mutual, outcomes tend to favor fathers’ needs and goals much more than mothers’.