Cathy Reisenwitz

How ironic is this. By telling women that they are best suited to and should enjoy staying home and taking care of kids, the culture influences their desire to do so. Most women don’t want to be seen as “masculine,” just as most men don’t want to be seen as “feminine.” Mostly without ever realizing it, women are making choices that ensure they meet what they’ve spent their whole lives hearing are the expectations of their gender.

It’s also losing credibility as an accurate description of what women are best suited to as women are earning more degrees than men, and are also demonstrably better suited to earning money in an information- and service-based economy than are men.

Women Need Wives

The second response is that as now women are earning more degrees than men, it's time for women to step into breadwinner roles and men to become the new wives. This is a big part of the premise of Lean In.

The problem here is that, as the article shows, even men without jobs aren't doing as much in the childcare and household duties arena as unemployed wives do. And there is still societal stigma directed at men who don't do paid work. As mentioned before, gendered expectations persist. In this environment, unpaid work is seen as “feminine,” and a patriarchal culture swiftly punishes men seen a man acting like women.

In fact, TIME just posted a response to the NYT article, Vivia Chen: When Stay-at-Home Husbands Are Embarrassing to Their Wives, pointing out how many feel about such arrangements:

All of this points to our entrenched ambivalence about changing gender roles. Men in these situations often feel alienated, particularly if they are surrounded by stay-at-home moms. But the power moms with the stay-at-home husbands are just as uneasy, often more embarrassed than proud that they’ve upset the traditional order.

Workplaces Should Cater to Women

The third response is that American workplaces should adapt to allow women the flexibility they need to be primary caretakers AND earn big paychecks. This is the solution offered by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

The problem here is that it is kind of a fool's errand. As pointed out earlier, women don't want to work as long or as hard as men, and no amount of corporate coddling is going to make them want to.

The Fourth Way

Who should handle raising the kids and taking care of the house? Simply put, it should be whoever’s opportunity cost is lowest.

Besides being a hindrance to women, gendered expectations actually inhibit economic growth by distorting labor markets. This wasn’t much of a problem in the past. In an agriculture and manufacturing economy, most women really didn’t have as much earning potential as most men. But in an information- and service-based economy, that’s no longer true. Keeping women with high earning potential in the home because they feel that’s where they belong robs society of their potential value in careers.

But where does that leave men? Simply put, high-earning women who want to unlock their potential should wife uneducated men. The big drawback to this solution is that it requires that individuals defy gendered expectations. This is a tall order, and people who defy expectations are stigmatized accordingly.

But it’s an economic reality that people who arrange their lives this way will be more financially successful than people who either don’t get married or cling to traditional gender roles. Economics will eventually re-dictate gendered expectations to conform to what’s most effective. The winners will be the early adopters.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a Young Voices Associate and a D.C.-based writer and political commentator.