Dr Gail Freynes Care, Justice & Gender is one of the freshest, most enlightening contributions to feminist theory and marriage counselling now available. It enables both counsellors and couples alike to recognize the missing link between what makes for a troubled marriage and what constitutes an emotionally satisfying relationship.
This is a book for those who want to understand marriage from both sides. This is a book for women and for men. It helps women understand their own emotional responses to marital conflict. It enables men to understand what women really want. Most of all, it helps both women and men to see what theyre each missing in the institution of marriage as we now know it. Care, Justice & Gender belongs on the shelf of every married couple and counsellor in the field.
Gail Grossman Freyne is a solicitor, a psychotherapist and a mediator. But it is also her feel for the human situation of troubled marriages that enables her to chart a way to the win/win of a satisfying relationship. In her book "family values" get a freshness they seemed to have lost.
To most of my clients... I am, you might say, in the conversion business. This character of Dorothy Dunnett, my favourite author, is a make-up artist called Rita Geddes. I am a psychotherapist. You would not think that Geddes and I had much in common. But, while she wants to make people look better - or worse - I want them to feel better and definitely not worse.
This book is about what causes the problems between men and women. It is not simply about suggesting solutions to the difficulties we experience in our relationships, to put a better face on them, but to discover, and then to radically undermine, the source of these problems. The aim is to propose that each of us can become fully human. Rather than remain limited to the behaviours considered suitable for our socially constructed gender identities the aim is for each of us to attain the fullness of our human potential. In place of the war of the sexes, where each of us is a member of a sex that has been constructed in opposition to the other sex, we can achieve harmony in our relationships.
Within these covers is the story of my journey in the practice of psychotherapy. This journey arose out of my need to re-think the conversations that I have with couples, and about the discipline I am working in, which, I believe, has stalled on one version of reality that is defined by the nature of gender relations themselves.
The blurb on the back cover of Dunnetts novel says that The Dolly novels are ... delicious: funny, ingenious, glamorous, clever. They also dredge up, if you are looking, interesting little tidbits of information about women and nature, those twin sources of life which we, as a species, have consistently failed to respect. In the course of a dinner party on board the good ship Dolly, Dunnett slips in a wicked vignette on the invisibility of women:
To the swinging chicks, who were never introduced, but just referred to by sort of tacky pet names, Natalie paid no more attention than anyone else, talking across them at dinner as if their seats were empty.
I admit, I never went to a dinner party unnamed or unaddressed, but the sentence did nevertheless resonate with a game of informal research that I play on social occasions with the male guests. If I describe myself as a lawyer, the conversation, to pursue the nautical metaphor, runs before the wind. If I describe myself as housewife and mum, it invariably founders. Point: if women do what men do, they have an even chance of being taken seriously; if they talk about what almost all women do, housework and mothering, they are not.
The dinner party long over, Dolly sails on through the pages of Dunnetts novel, this time encountering the ineluctable force of nature:
... By the time we were at the banana plantation, it had become a tropical storm, moving slowly west at the rate of fifteen miles an hour ... before it hit us. Unless, of course, it weakened first. Unless, of course, it strengthened, from a tropical storm to a hurricane... Hurricanes in one day release the same energy as a 420 megaton hydrogen bomb. Dont ask me about hurricanes (1).
Precisely. Let us not talk about nature. It has a rather dampening effect on human hubris to realise that what our clever brains have just recently invented - the hydrogen bomb - has been one of our less useful imitations of the limitless forces of nature. The obvious question, of course, is what does all this have to do with human relationships? Women, half the human race, take relationships very seriously. Nature is apparently irrelevant in this context, most often understood as being all of creation apart from humans. But women and nature have a great deal in common. Women have been background to male foreground, just as we speak of nature as our environment. Both have been thought of as mere resources for men, she as domestic handmaid and nature as always available to supply mans needs. Both are less valued than men, because although woman has intrinsic value as a human, her special nature represents a difference that has rendered her inferior to him. The ecosphere is viewed as having no intrinsic value.
It is the link between women and nature that is at the heart of the problems that we encounter in human relationships. The purpose of this book is to examine this link, to uncover its origins, to trace its effects across time and to suggest a solution.
For twenty years I have worked as a founding member of the Family Therapy and Counselling Centre in Dublin. My clients told me stories of extra-marital affairs, of alcohol, their children, the boss, the problem of being gay in a homophobic society, not being able to communicate with each other and too often about violence. It never occurred to us that the culturally defined institution of marriage might itself be the problem. We all knew that he had the job and she had the children, and therefore her options were more limited than his, but that was the way their lives were. Then I began to read the work of feminist psychotherapists, who told me that to talk with my clients within the boundaries of their individual family systems ignored a much more complex reality. What was required, they contended, was an appreciation of the fact that each of these marriages nested within a network of gender and power relations, an interaction that meant that women and men did not come as equals either to partnerships or to the consulting room. Gender and power, they taught, must become salient features of all therapeutic conversations. Most importantly of all, I discovered the work of ecofeminist philosophers who insisted that the concept of nature must form a part of all feminist analysis. Not just nature in the form of rivers and fields, the sea and the sky, but the bodily, feeling, emotional part of each person. In the context of human relationships, they too wanted to talk about the virtue of care.
These ecofeminist philosophers had once again taken the history of ideas in the west and shaken them like a bag of witch doctors bones. When thrown on the ground what could be read was the story of how reason had been aligned with men and justice and the public world in which they operate. Nature, on the other hand, was associated with women and care and the private domain of the home. But ecofeminist philosophers are now insisting that we cannot keep splitting the human person into two parts, that of rational man and natural woman, because such a traditional reading would preclude the possibility of what it means to be a full human being. At the very moment of constructing our identities in opposition to each other, we ensure that conflict between the sexes will be inevitable. If we limit ourselves to masculine and feminine identities that are prescribed for us by the cultural presuppositions of gender, none of us can become fully human. So, how could relationships between women and men benefit if we started to live in accordance with an ecofeminist ethic of interdependence?
If we appreciate the way in which we are utterly dependent on the natural world for our existence, we come to understand that humans are, of their very essence, dependent beings. We could begin to deal with the denial of dependency that is so endemic in our culture: men denying their dependence on women, and the marketplace denying its dependence on the home. We would then be able to outline behaviours of mutual respect. If we come to understand both our continuity with the rest of creation, how we are made of the same stuff, and how we are different from it in our capacity to reason, we can begin to understand what men and women share with each other and how they are different. We are in a position to ask the one really important question: What can we learn from each other? Perhaps it might just be that women are not naturally predisposed to care any more than are men.
If we learn to value nature, reason is demoted as the sale source of ethical reflection. If we observe the way in which the flourishing of one part of nature must await the flourishing of another part, we learn that sometimes my needs must be served before yours, or yours before mine. But in each case all our needs must form part of a balanced and sustainable whole.
To be fully human, to dissolve the classic Mind/Body dualism, for all of us to embody both reason and nature, we must find a way to attribute equal value to our differently sexed and gendered bodies as well as to our minds. To date, we have failed to cross this frontier. On the one hand, if we remain satisfied as feminist therapists to aim for an equal distribution of power between the sexes, we have achieved a great deal. But, on the other hand, we have quite simply placed the quest for the fullness of our humanity beyond the boundaries of our imagination. Why be content to share equally in what is incomplete?
The main purpose of this book is to make it clear that it is impossible to participate equally in a model of humanity that has been formed by the exclusion of women and nature.
I begin in Chapter 1 by describing the radical change that has taken place in our understanding of the family, and by outlining feminisms contribution and response to this change. While feminism has emphasised the fact that all of us are relational beings, it seems that the responsibility for relating has, to date, been left to women.
In Chapter 2, I explore how it came to pass that the impulse to care, an ostensibly human activity, is still understood as an almost exclusively female function. So long as women are left with the primary responsibility for doing the caring work within our families and communities, it is my belief that feminism will fail.
I discuss this proposition in Chapter 3, and the ongoing debate within feminism as to how equality for women is to be achieved. Should we rely on asserting our natural, sexual difference or rely upon the social construction of gender roles as the primary tool of analysis? Are we born equal but different, or must we focus on re-balancing the power differential between men and women? Whichever avenue we pursue, we will be confronted by the Gender Dilemma, a problem that arises when our now explicitly stated belief in equality runs headlong into the qualities that define our deeply internalised beliefs about our masculine and feminine identities, what it means to be a good man and a good woman.
To resolve this dilemma, I address, in Chapters 4 and 5, the integrative philosophy of ecofeminism. Beyond the polarising dualisms of men/reason/justice/public life and women/nature/care/private life lies the celebration of difference and the acceptance of what is shared between the sexes. Can it really be so shocking to believe that women are as rational as men and that men can be as caring as women? Or to imagine that both sexes can function at will, and with mutual respect, within both public life and the home?
In Chapter 6, I discuss the respective merits of an ethic of justice and an ethic of care. I suggest that sometimes justice is not enough, and, indeed, that we consider justice only when we have failed to care sufficiently for each other.
Finally, in Chapter 7, I turn to the application of the ideas so far discussed to reshape the therapeutic conversation with both a heterosexual and a homosexual couple.
Throughout this work, I have repeatedly returned to the perennial questions that arise in all philosophical reflection within western thought: What is human identity? And, what is the best way for us to live together? I hope you will find the ecofeminist answers to these questions and the possibilities they generate for human relationships as stimulating as I have.
1. Dorothy Dunnett, Dolly and the Bird of Paradise, London: Penguin, 1984.
FEMINISM AND THE FAMILY
I first encountered Harriet when she arrived at my office seeking couples therapy. She was a frightened woman wearing a brave smile, torn between her desire to be a good wife and mother, and yet, also, her need to be a writer, and to be for others and for herself. Maybe, I thought to myself, her problem is that she really believes she should be voicing her desires in reverse order. Her culture, the world in which she lived, had handed her the script on motherhood and how to be the perfect wife. But where was it written that she was more than these roles? What had become of the page on which she was to write the story of her own life, the script that would describe that excess of herself that was so much more than these roles? At the very heart of her problem was the conflict of how to care for others and care for herself in a way that ensured that everyones needs were fulfilled.
The impetus for her call to me last year - just one more wife taking care of the relationship by initiating therapy in a time of marital distress - was the arrival home of her husband after a days work in his publishing company, looking for her article in the next edition of his journal: Where is that piece for the Souvenir which I promised the editor I would get from you? You only have one day left to finish it and I must have it before tomorrow. Harriet said that she asked him, with a testiness brought on by sleep deprivation, how she could be expected to produce when all she had done was reproduce. Here she was, still nursing one teething baby, minding two toddlers just able to walk, with the washing piling up around her. She said the best response her well-meaning husband could manage was:
Look, the housework will still be there tomorrow and there is no end to the babies teeth as far as I can see ... You have Mina to help you in the house now. And, I dont know what your genius.is for if its not to help you out of a scrape. Why dont you just sit down at the kitchen table with your laptop and you can supervise Mina at the same time. Youll get enough moments here and there to get the article done.
With a wry smile, Harriet tells me she tried. With the baby on her lap and the laptop on the table ...
This isnt a case study in the usual sense, but a modern rendering of the first version, produced in 1838 by the twenty-seven-year-old Harriet Beecher Stowe, which actually continues like this:
In ten minutes she was seated (the baby in her lap); a table with flour, rolling-pin, ginger and lard on one side, a dresser with eggs, pork, and beans, and various cooking utensils on the other, near her an oven heating . .. Mina, you may do what I told you, while I write a few minutes til it is time to mould up the bread. Where is the ink-stand?
Here it is, on top of the tea-kettle. [Interruptions]
Come, come, you see how it is ... We must give up the writing for today.
No, no; you can dictate as easily as you can write. Come, I can set the baby in this clothes-basket and give him some mischief or other to keep him quiet; you shall dictate and I shall write. Now... what shall I write next?
Mina, pour a little milk into this pearlash ... (1).
This was the original Stowe, trying to make light of her attempts to write and simultaneously trying to fulfil her duties as wife and mother. Another child and two years later she had a near breakdown. It was twelve more years before she produced her classic, Uncle Toms Cabin. It was finally published in magazine serial installments, much of it created at the kitchen table as she wrote in bursts between housework and child rearing.
What is really worrying about this story is that for our modern-day Harriet, facing the identical conflict over a century and a half later, the same tension persists. There has been a veritable flood of books written, some tragic and some comic, all asking the same question: How is a woman to balance her home and her work life? How can she care for herself and for others without someone missing out? The answer to why this problem persists over the centuries is found in the family, what we like to call the basic unit of society. It is here that we learn, each generation teaching the next, what it is to be a good wife and husband, a good mother and father, what qualities, virtues and responsibilities are expected of each of us in these roles. Father provides the food and mother cooks it. He mows the lawn and she cleans the carpets. Big boys never cry and little girls always sympathise. It is here, in this institution, that gender, how we learn what constitutes our feminine and masculine identities, is formed and reformed. Most importantly, we are taught that these identities are never to be confused. Each sex is handed a script that informs us that we are radically different from the other. As we follow this script we are
constructed in opposition to the other.
While women are still tormented by the seemingly irreconcilable tensions that caused the near mental breakdown of Harriet Beecher Stowe, there have been changes. The questions have persisted but the environment in which they are asked is now a very different one. The contours of family life have radically shifted since women entered the world of paid work; feminism has been demanding these changes while simultaneously theorising them. Whether feminism is the cause or the effect of a different version of family life, the issues it raises are at the heart of the family. What is beyond question is that it has succeeded in producing a very different set of variables out of which we seek to craft a solution.
The family - a new construction
Where the notion of what we meant by family was once fixed, it is now fluid. We have couples of the same or opposite sex, with or without children, sometimes married and sometimes not. These couples separate and re-form, blending into new family units, where one parent brings his or her children into a new union, often with a partner who already has children. The single-parent family - nearly nine out of ten of them in Ireland headed by a woman - has so increased in numbers as to be no longer an occasional phenomenon but an accepted form of family life.
The reasons why we now form partnerships have also changed, evidenced not least by the use of the word partner. The focus on the part of both men and women has shifted from marriage to relationship. Once we envisioned two radically separated spheres, the public one, reserved for men only, and the private one, to which women were confined within a patriarchal system which understood that a womans place was in the home. The combined forces of our governments, our churches and our employers all supported this ideal. States passed all the necessary legislation that enshrined the ensuing division of labour. Employers expected that every worker would have a wife at home. Where once marriage was too often based on contract, property considerations, social position and legitimate procreation, young people now require that it be rooted in love, companionship and sexual pleasure. Indeed, it may now be said that a loving and mutually satisfying intimacy is considered the rationale and ultimate goal for marriage.
As we exchange spouses for partners, the change in terminology generates new expectations. A partner is to provide us not only with sexual fidelity but also with a very personal commitment to emotional accessibility, to open and honest communication, to time being spent together, and to a sharing of all the tasks of daily life. Men must learn the new skill of being willing and able to talk about their emotions. Women have always been socialised to exchange lifes really important information. They know how to discuss emotional problems with other women (what men have called gossiping), but now, for the first time, it is women who have become the providers of what is considered the foundational and most important aspect of marriage. We also assume equality, to the extent that we no longer deem it necessary to articulate the reasons for it. And we assume it, especially with respect to that of which we do not like to speak in the same breath as love - power. Within the modern partnership, women have gained power and voice because they have gone to work and earned money. With money comes options and room to manoeuvre both physically and psychologically.
It is the number of women entering the workforce that has also radically reshaped the contours of family life. For example, in 1986, 53 per cent of Irish families were of the traditional and idealised type, comprising a father at work and a mother at home caring for the children. Ten years later the number had fallen to 39 per cent, and today the figure is 24 per cent (2). In the United States of America, in 2002, females aged 16 years and older comprised 46.6 per cent of the workforce (3). It is truly extraordinary that some groups in our society can keep trumpeting the phrase family values without adverting to the fact that for just over three-quarters of our families, the notion of family has undergone a radical shift of meaning. Family values are clearly no longer limited to the traditional structure.
If the number of women entering the workforce has put pressure on the idealised category of motherhood, lone parenthood has presented an equally large challenge to traditional notions of the family within the western world. For example, in the US, in the period 1978-1996, the number of babies born to unmarried women doubled. Although this dramatic rate of increase has slowed in recent years, 32 per cent of all US births are still to unmarried women (4). Similarly, births outside of marriage have increased over the ten years leading up to 2003 from 30 per cent to 40 per cent in England and Wales (5). In the Ireland of 1980, 5 per cent of births occurred outside marriage but by 1996 this figure had risen to 25 per cent and today it stands at 31 per cent (6). It is surely noteworthy then that one-third of the families in this state can be comprised of women and children only, with no husband present. Although there may be a male partner in some homes, this statistic is still prior to taking account of separation, divorce and widowhood.
Women now want a real relationship that allows them more time to be with their partners, and because they are working, and because they know they will have primary or sole care of the children after separation, they are also having fewer children. At present we are failing to reproduce ourselves. It is self-evident that womens responsibility for childcare is dramatically reduced by a decline in family size. She now has the means to control her fertility and many choose this option.
If a woman does not enjoy the relationship she had hoped for, she now has the means to leave it, and again many do so. Irrespective of the economic background of the mother or the duration of the marriage, more women are choosing to be lone parents. Ten years ago, the AIM (Action, Information and Motivation) Family Services figures showed that 80 per cent of this Irish agencys clients who sought separation were women who were likely to be middle class, in their forties, in paid employment and with at least one child, although more than half of them had three or more children (7). While three-quarters of these women had been married for more than ten years, nearly half of them had been married for more than twenty years. These women, who were now choosing to separate, had been a very married group. So it seems that women have now reached the point where they are refusing to be tied by their apron strings, not just in Ireland but across Europe, America and all of the western world. The family is not what it was. Women require equality in their relationships; they now work for money too, and if their relationship is not satisfactory they often leave. This all sounds as if women have arrived, that the feminist search for the Golden Age has succeeded, and all is well in the land. But is it? What are the realities for women, both physical and psychological, that lurk behind the statistics?
Looking across the centuries, Harriet believes that she can and should write, but fears that only guilt, even self-loathing, will result if she sees herself, or is seen by others, to neglect her duties as wife, and even more profoundly as mother. As the psychologist, Jean Baker Miller, has pointed out, such perceived selfishness may well lead to the destruction of the relationship she holds most dear (8). Women know that when a relationship is damaged it can more easily be abandoned, yet they will endure a great deal to avoid the guilt of feeling responsible for the break-up of a marriage. In fact, as Carol Gilligan has phrased it, she will forgo relationship for the sake of relationships. That is to say, she will not tell her truth, she will forgo real intimacy if she fears that it will cause trouble or even the dissolution of her marriage or partnership. Women become Janus-like, looking in two directions at once. Not feeling free to articulate their experience produces a deep sense of ambivalence, which frequently leads to depression and sometimes even to mental breakdown.
The partner of a woman like Harriet sits in my office, stunned at the realisation that his marriage has gone to straw. He believes that his wife has great talent; he is truly proud of it and encourages her to develop it. But he still believes that she is primarily responsible for the home and child rearing. He does not want to do half her work, womens work, so that she is freed to live as he does. In persistently refusing to do housework, he is failing to give her what she, somewhat sadly, would have described as emotional support. He also believes that she is better at it than he is, and in that he is righti; she has had a great deal more practice.
There is much talk about the New Man but is he a visible reality or a mirage created by the backlash against feminism? According to a study undertaken for the Irish Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2005, 71 per cent of Irish men do no cooking/food preparation and 81 per cent do no cleaning/laundry on a weekday, and these figures change little on the weekend. In contrast, over two-thirds of women spend time on these activities on weekdays and weekends. On weekdays, women spend almost five times longer on caring activities than men. On the weekends, womens employment time declines but womens unpaid work and caring time remains virtually unchanged. This leads to women having significantly less leisure time than men. Women working part-time (less than thirty hours per week) spend more time on a combination of paid work plus domestic work and caring than either women or men who work full time. Finally, the report concludes: We have also shown that women, carers and those with young children spend a greater proportion of their day doing multiple activities at once. Those with children are also more likely to feel rushed and stressed during the day (9). A conclusion that could have been written by Harriet Beecher Stowe herself. It seems that we need to treat with caution the appearance of some fathers taking their children to the park or pushing a stroller on the street. In public, we see the New Man but within the privacy of the home he quickly disappears.
Men should feel that they are facing the same problems. They allow their fatherhood to be reduced to begetting and providing, missing out on a great deal of joy with their children and continually running the risk of losing the partner they say they love. But men dont seem to mind too much about the home, and, in fact, think it is a good thing for mothers to be the ones in charge of the moral nursery of our society. They complain about being seen as a walking wallet but take little evasive action. Harriets husband provides some paid help in the form of Mina, but he does not send his wife to the study while taking responsibility in an ongoing way for what are assumed to be her duties.
Stowe has described the fundamental tension experienced by many working mothers who find their way into my office. A woman knows that if she stays within the home, she avoids challenging the traditional understanding of marriage and the family and causes less stress for herself in not requesting help from her partner with housework and childcare. Yet, few families today can afford what is now seen as the luxury of having the woman remain a full-time housewife. In the main, in our relatively affluent culture, women in committed relationships are mothers, housekeepers and paid workers. Most of these women choose part-time employment as a way to supplement the family income. Many have chosen to return to this form of work having found the strain of being a supermum with two full-time jobs an intolerable and unmanageable burden. Of course, if she has no children, then it would appear somewhat easier to maintain the professed equality and mutuality that the couple agreed upon before the marriage. Nonetheless, as the 2005 study shows, most women in this country can still state that even before the arrival of children they are expected to be primarily responsible for the cleaning, washing, shopping and cooking for their male partners.
In my experience, the arrival of the first child immediately heralds an almost universally unquestioned return to more traditional, gender stereotypical behaviours by both parents. Women find it difficult, if not impossible, to insist that housework be shared equally - generation after generation. The cycle they inhabit is a pernicious one: unpaid female work in the home continually reinforces womens lesser value within a society where income is the indicator of worth. Being of lesser value makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to insist on an equal division of labour. Far too frequently, men respond with but everything I do is for the family and yet, as they let equality slip away, they continually risk losing what it is they profess to value.
Feminism - equal but different?
Second-wave feminism of the 60s and 70s wanted to change the rigid division of labour between men and women. Women were now educated to the same level as men and they no longer wanted to stay at home and endure the drudgery and mindlessness of housework so well described by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique (1963). At that time, the feminist manifesto was a gloriously uncomplicated one - at least in theory. It sought equality. Women would enter the public world of paid work; they would have the satisfaction of a job well done and the gratification of the status and income that went with it. Simultaneously, as she disengaged from the home, he would participate in this cultural revolution by taking responsibility for his share of domestic life. After all, we could now speak about equality and equality means equal rights and equal duties.
What was sought, unequivocally, was radical social transformation. We know now that this did not happen. If women are mentally depleted when confined to the home, or physically exhausted by adding paid employment to housework, one could ask if the feminist movement has benefited women in Ireland and elsewhere. With minimal creche facilities, inadequate parental leave and, most impacting of all, no increase in the amount of housework undertaken by their partners, it can be surmised that employed women will be engaged in two jobs, one of which is poorly paid relative to mens wages and one that is unpaid, and both of which are therefore accorded lesser status.
The question of status is an important one for our mental health, in the sense that we understand it to mean self-esteem. Each of us enters a relationship in the belief and hope that it will help us to become our best possible selves. Mary is a bank official at management level, earning an excellent salary. She has a husband and two teenage sons. Although she loves her job, she comes home tired after a full day at her desk, emails, phone calls, meetings, and staff with personal problems in and out of the