“Gender Republicans”

I just finished reading Katha Pollitt‘s excellent new book of essays, Learning to Drive. It’s a moving exploration of the times when our personal lives and politics meet, often in confusing, combustive ways. In this Guardian America interview with Pollitt, my TAP colleague Ann Friedman zeroes in on one of the most interesting phrases in the book, "gender Republicans." This, Pollitt writes, is what many well-meaning lefties (including herself and former husband) become once they have kids, and they’re forced to decide how to divy up childcare and other domestic work. Here’s the exchange:

The phrase "gender Republicans," from the chapter about the birth of your daughter, really gets at the heart of the feminism’s unfinished business in the domestic, personal sphere.

What struck me so forcefully about having a baby as an experience was my feeling that I had just done this incredible thing, and it’s so great, and it’s such an intense and joyful experience, so different than other things I had done. But having a baby is a moment when the latent gender expectations of the couple are revealed. Not just the expectations psychologically, but, more importantly, they realize they have put themselves on a path that makes certain outcomes rational. That’s when it turns out to matter who’s got health insurance, or who’s the freelancer, or who’s the free spirit who is not on such a straight and narrow path. And there I think the free spirit often loses out.

Of course, it doens’t always take a child to become a "gender Republican." Many feminists I know feel that in any romantic relationship with a man, they’re constantly fighting such expectations.

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