Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Finding the balance

Just further to my previous post (see Who’s doing the dishes? 3 December 2009), I thought I’d write a bit more on the topic of division of labour in same-sex parented households. In the Work, Love, Play study we asked people to describe how they divide their paid work and household/childcare responsibilities in the way that they do and why they do it this way.

We asked these questions for a number of reasons, but one thing we were interested in was whether or not the ‘biological’ parent (particularly the biological mother in lesbian partnerships) was more likely to be the full time carer of the house and children than her partner.

This question is of interest partly because it is just interesting, but also because our data is set up in a way that allows us to look at the findings with reference to other large studies of heterosexual couples, where the mother usually (although certainly not always these days) takes primary responsibility for the kids and the vacuuming. Asking people to give us some details about why their family organises household and work responsibilities in the way that they do provides insight into the reasons why there are differences between opposite-sex and same-sex couples (if indeed there are differences, which it seems that there are but I will talk more about that another day).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

One for the kids...

Not all of us have children old enough or young enough to appreciate story books. But for those of you who do have story-book-aged children and those of you who love a good yarn with pictures yourself, I thought I would post the occasional review of books for kids, with a particular focus on those written for kids of GLBT parents.

ABC A Family Alphabet Book by Bobbie Combs covers the ABC of everyday family events from playing baseball (it is American) to eating ice-cream, playing at the park and going to sleep. With colourful and humorous illustrations by Desiree Keane and Brian Rappa (great surname), the book features families with two mums and two dads of all different sizes, shapes and colours. My son is not quite old enough to do much more than stare at the pictures and suck the edge of the pages, but by all accounts the book tastes good as well. Published by Two Lives Publishing (2001) the book is easily available for purchase online and at a number of queer bookshops across Australia.

Incidentally, if you are interested in books for children a great place to start is a site I came across called BookDads. BookDads is run by two dads who started the site to help other fathers find books which portray positive images of fathers. The ‘about us’ section of the site says: “We all know it’s a mom’s world out there. Our son has two dads, so when he first joined our family we were concerned that he wouldn’t have enough women in his life. Instead, we found ourselves surrounded by women … Suddenly, we were dads in a mom’s world … [More] often than not, we found ourselves reading books to our son that always talked about moms but rarely mentioned dads. BookDads grew out of our search for books to share with our son that emphasized fathers and the importance of fatherhood in children’s lives."

If anyone has books or reviews they would like to share, feel free to drop me a line.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fostering the Queer Politics of Cupcakes...

I have a friend who makes seriously good cupcakes. At our last playgroup gathering I was seriously distracted by a three-tiered platter delicately adorned with baby-blue iced cupcakes. So I began this post equally distracted by the problem of how to weave mention of said cupcakes into a discussion about queer parenting. My first thought was to ponder the question of whether or not one can call themself a feminist whilst making pink cup cakes? (The answer of course being a resounding yes!) But really, a better topic is GLBT foster parents. Because, along with her fabulous baking skills, this friend and her partner are wonderful mothers to three foster children.

Most foster-care agencies in Australia actively target members of lesbian and gay communities to become carers. There is a major shortage of foster carers in Australia and agencies have clued into the fact that a lot of gay men and lesbians would love the opportunity to bring children into their lives. It is not uncommon these days to see advertisements from foster care agencies in the gay and lesbian street press seeking both couples and singles to become carers.

Adoption, however, is a different issue. Although ‘the law’ accepts that same-sex couples can provide permanent foster care for some of the most damaged and needy children, they are not legally allowed to adopt. While it is possible that one parent in a same-sex couple could adopt as a single parent, this would deny the other parent any legal guardianship. Read more about this here and here.

There are also some foster agencies obstinately clinging to their *right* to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality. Just last month, Wesley Dalmar Child and Family Care (part of the Wesley Mission) won a case against a gay couple who had appealed to the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal after being rejected as foster carers. The Sydney Star Observer notes that “Wesley Dalmar admitted discriminating against the couple but believed they had done so lawfully.” (whatever that means?!?)

In his usual logical fashion, Archbishop George Pell felt compelled to comment on the case stating, “It is important to protect people from unjust discrimination, but it is ridiculous to claim discrimination every time we show a preference for some people over others.”

Fortunately, any Australian with a brain stopped listening to George Pell in the ‘80s and most foster care agencies accept that same-sex couples make good parents – even those sponsored by religious charities. See for example Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services in Victoria.

For more reading on the topic:

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby is currently running a campaign to support the right for lesbians and gay men to adopt children.

Damien Riggs has written an interesting article on heterosexism in the foster care system. He argues that rather than being seen as ‘just like’ heterosexual parents, the unique contributions that GLBT parents offer children should be recognised.

In Melbourne, there is a group specifically set up to support lesbian and gay foster carers. The Lesbian and Gay Carer Support Group operates autonomously with assistance provided by the Foster Care Association of Victoria (FCAV) in partnership with Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service.

Cupcake Gal's blog about the best cupcake recipes ever.


Monday, December 7, 2009

A new twist on old family ties

At the risk of sullying the integrity of this blog with salacious gossip, I thought I would keep everyone abreast of the latest famous person to officially ‘come-out’. This one is really for the 30-somethings who grew up swooning over Michael J Fox (aka Alex Keaton) in American sitcom Family Ties, with a very special note of recognition for those women who were secretly – or perhaps not so secretly – swooning over Alex’s ‘Mom’.

Meredith Baxter, who played Elyse Keaton (aka Alex’s Mom) on the program, has told journalist Matt Lauer on the NBC (US) Today Show that, “It’s no secret that I’m gay, but it has been to the greater world. The reason I’m here [on the show] is because I’m saying, yes, I’m a lesbian”. Read more on samesame.com.au

Family Ties screened for seven years between 1982 and 1989. The show represented the epitome of heterosexual family bliss – slightly-hippy parents dealing with an array of everyday problems generated by their conservative but loveable teenagers. Personally, I can still sing the theme song word-for-word (I bet we’ve been together for a million years …). So it is a nice twist that an actress firmly associated with American family values and all things nice now feels comfortable to reveal publicity that her less-heterosexual family life in the real world is just as happy.

Baxter has five children from her pervious marriages, all of whom are reported to be very supportive of their mother and her partner, Nancy Locke.

In another nice twist, when I googled "Family Ties", the website for The Family Ties Project came up. This is a UK based, P-Flag like project for parents who have GLBT children.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Who’s doing the dishes?

In a recent article in New York Times Magazine, columnist Lisa Belkin, delved into the topic of the gender-based expectations and stereotypes we impart to our kids. Referring to the work of Abbie Goldberg, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Clark University, she suggests that the way in which lesbian parents tend to divide household tasks – equitably, and not on the basis of gender – might be a good influence on their children. For instance, recent research has shown that girls raised by lesbians may be more likely to aspire to traditional male-dominated professions (although this could in part be the influence of feminist parents irrespective of their sexuality). Belkin writes:

Heterosexual couples might want to pay attention to these results. While the gay-marriage debate is playing out on the public stage, a more private debate is taking place in kitchens and bedrooms over who does what in a heterosexual marriage (takes out the trash, spends more time with the kids, feels free to head out with their friends for a beer). The philosophical underpinnings of both conversations — gay marriage and equality in parenting — are similar, in that both focus on equality for adults (in the case of heterosexuals, mostly wives). But even if parents who seek parity do so for their own sanity and in pursuit of their own ideals, might it not also be better for their children? Yes, if less conventional, more tolerant children are your goal. Because if the children of gays and lesbians are different, it is presumably related to the way they were raised — by parents with a view of domestic roles that differs from most of their heterosexual peers.

It’s an interesting point and more and more research is suggesting that lesbian and gay couples do tend to divide household tasks more equitably than their heterosexual counterparts. In some instances this means taking it in turns to pay the housecleaner. But in general it means that same-sex couples don’t fall into the traditional gender trap of one parent (dare I suggest the mother) taking on most of the household labour, while the other feels hard done by taking out the rubbish once a week. Ok, that’s a bit of a stereotype (!) But it is no secret that in heterosexual marriages, the bulk of domestic responsibility still falls to the woman, even when she and her husband are both working full time(for money). If you need more evidence to this fact, take a browse through of any number of blogs written by women about motherhood or marriage. The topic of ‘how do I get my husband/partner/boyfriend to help me more?’ is not an infrequent guest on their pages.

But I don’t think this amounts to a simplistic, ‘blokes should just learn to pull their weight in the kitchen’ argument. Even men who would describe themselves as very much pro-feminist and who aspire to spend more time with their children and create an equitable division of labour within their households don’t always manage this. There are undoubtedly some structural issues here; workplaces can tend to be unsupportive of men who seek to work less in order to spend time with their kids or do more dishes. But at the end of the day it is like gender socialisation just pulls us back into line, no matter how enlightened or critical we are of that line.

So it makes sense on an intuitive level that two women or two men living together in a relationship would do things differently. In lesbian relationships (and I am talking about lesbians more than gay men simply because there is more research out there on lesbian parents) there are two women doing what women in today’s society are expected to do; taking responsibility for both domestic chores and household income. Who does what job has to be negotiated. This includes who has the babies.

It seems to me that the experiences of same-sex couples gives us some clues about how gender operates in the world more generally. Gender socialisation is not some amorphous, abstract idea that no-one cares about expect first-year university students (although they may care more than most). It is really the fundamental expectations and assumptions that structure our everyday life (all the little things we do or don’t do without even thinking) and certainly a huge part of how our relationships play out at the day-to-day level. Of course our kids pick up on this.

Food for thought anyway … once someone has made the dinner.