Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kathleen Gerson's "The Unfinished Revolution"

Kathleen Gerson is Professor of Sociology and Collegiate Professor at New York University. The author of No Man's Land: Men's Changing Commitments to Family and Work and Hard Choices: How Women Decide about Work, Career, and Motherhood, she frequently contributes to such media as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and CNN.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America, and reported the following:
As the last page of the first part of the The Unfinished Revolution, page 99 alludes to one of the book’s central arguments: amid the gender revolution at work and in the home, “flexible approaches to work and parenting help all types of families overcome economic uncertainties and interpersonal tensions (while) inflexibility in the face of new social realities leaves (other) families ill prepared to cope.” Contrary to popular images, 21st century families are unfolding pathways, not static types, and their fate depends on the ability of parents and other caretakers to respond to unexpected economic and interpersonal crises in flexible ways. The generation who came of age in this era of revolutionary change agrees that gender flexibility in providing both money and care is the key to achieving family well-being. Women and men from all family, class, and ethnic backgrounds thus hope to share earning and caring in the context of a flexible, egalitarian, and lasting partnership.

Page 99 concludes that “building on these lessons, young women and men from all family backgrounds are searching for new, more flexible ways to combine love and work. But mindful of the obstacles that block this path, they are also preparing for a bumpy journey with no preordained destination.” This conclusion hints at the central story of the book’s second part, in which we find that, despite their egalitarian aspirations, today’s young women and men are preparing for “second best” options that may put them on a collision course. While the gender revolution has created new ideals, it has not provided the supports needed to achieve them. Fragile relationships and rising standards for marriage leave women doubtful about the chances of finding a suitable partner to share family and work, while time-greedy workplaces leave men fearful of the heavy penalties that family involvement imposes. Amid these fears, women and men are falling back on different – and conflicting – strategies, with women seeking self-reliance through work and men hoping for a neo-traditional relationship that leaves primary caretaking to someone else.

Despite the obstacles, we can take heart in the high aspirations of young women and men. In today’s uncertain world, gender equality and family well-being are not in conflict. To the contrary, the welfare of a new generation and the generations to follow depends on creating the flexible jobs and child-supportive communities that will help them close the widening work-family divide.
Learn more about The Unfinished Revolution at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue