Gendered Parenting, Same-Sex Parenting and Presidential Politics

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{I haven’t posted here for some time.   This is cross-posted from my own blog, Related Topics. )

I suppose more specifically I mean vice-presidential politics.   As in Sarah Palin.

I doubt I have much original to add to the outpouring of commentary, but I thought I’d try to string some thoughts together as clearly as I could.   To do this, I’m going to start some distance away before arriving at the main point.

When I think about gendered parenting what I mean is the idea that men and women parent in some significantly different way–that “mother” and “father” are gender specific roles, with women qualified to be mothers and men qualified to be fathers.   So, for example, if you hear someone say “a child needs a mother and a father” that is an endorsement of gendered parenting.     A ungendered version of the same statement might be “a child needs two parents.”     (I do recognize that many people will argue even with the second statement.     Just look at yesterday’s post.     The issue is number of parents, not gender. I want to focus on gender here.)   If a child needs a mother and a father, then it is because a mother and father each bring different things, defined at least in part by the fact that one is female and one is male.    

I think an attachment to gendered parenting has to lie at the heart of the argument against parenting by same-sex couples.   After all, if you think a child needs two parents, two men or two women will suffice, just as a man and a woman will.   Two is two no matter who the two are.   It’s only if you think that there must be a mother and a father and that only a man can be father and only a woman can be a mother that you can reject the same-sex couples.

This linkage is something of a two-way street.       That is to say, same-sex couples succesfully raising children undermine norms of gendered parenthood.   After all, if two women or two men are successfully raising children, then it seems pretty clear that the gender of parents isn’t decisive.

The same ideology that leads one to say that men and women are different and that a child needs a mother and a father also typically leads to an ideal about what it is women/mothers do and what it is men/fathers do.   After all, if women could do what men do (or if mothers could do what fathers do) then you wouldn’t have to have one of each.   A second woman/mother could play the role of the man/father.   Which is to say that I think an attachment to gendered parenting has to include some attachment to different roles for men and women, mothers and fathers.   he classic, of course, is the female homemaker/male breadwinner.   See, e.g. June and Ward Cleaver.

(Please note that same-sex couples don’t necessarily undermine the idea of a two-parent labor-divided home.   It is possible that same-sex couples with kids could organize themselves into a homemaker/childcare person and a breadwinner/income earning person.     One might find after some study that same-sex couples don’t do that, or even that different-sex couples don’t do that, but this is a different question.   The only point I want to make right here is that if two women can raise a child or two men can raise a child or one man and one woman can raise a child, then the gender of the child-raisers isn’t a critical factor.)

Now this brings me to Sarah Palin.   Whatever else you can say (and yes, there’s a lot to say) she’s a woman/mother who is not performing the traditional gender role.     I mean, I haven’t read that much of what’s out there, but whatever she may be she is not the stay-at-home caretaker mom. Which makes me think, that whatever else is going on, the acceptance of Sarah Palin as a candidate for vice-president says something about the erosion of gendered norms of parenting which in turn might have some implications for same-sex parenting.

–Posted by Julie Shapiro (cross posted from Related Topics)

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