New Media, Old Battle
March 13, 2012
It was one of those statistics I found hard to believe.
In 2008, researchers at the Pew Internet and American Life Project asked married, heterosexual, American couples how they shared the job of staying in touch with friends and family. Two-thirds of them said they divided the task equally. Only 28% of the women were the primary family communicator.
Hmmm. How did a task that was once Women’s Work shift so dramatically?
For my Capstone project (the thesis-like finish to Penn’s MLA program) I interviewed 16 American couples and wrote a couple of trees’ worth of research.
It was a tiny sample and the results, as they say, suggest further study. Rising to the top:
1. Labor-intensive media are still Women’s Work.
Greeting cards, Christmas cards, party invitations, the rare printed photo album, and even phone calls were mostly handled by the women in my study. If one of his relatives was sick, she’d likely call them before he did, but the favor was rarely returned.
2. Facebook is changing the balance of power.
Women still rule the (voice) call. In fact, they’re still doing the old Female Phone Pass, where she calls his family, chats briefly, and then hands him the phone, pushing him to say something.
But on Facebook, he’s on his own. Nudge-free. Where the phone requires a degree of intimacy, FB lets him communicate broadly but not too deeply.
3. Men and women don’t see the same reality. What a shocker!
Talk about fuzzy math. I’d ask the man who does the staying-in-touch and he’d say “We split it 50/50!” His wife, interviewed separately, would sigh and say, “I do most of it.” Guys may be thinking quantitatively, not qualitatively: “Sure, she spent 15 minutes on the phone with my dying aunt, but I texted our pal Dave for a drink, so we’re even.”
4. Both men and women will juggle media for their families’ sake.
Even the 20-somethings who use texting to communicate with friends will switch for their families. They call Grandma, e-mail Dad, Facebook the cousins, and send the rare greeting card to family only. Who got the most–and sometimes the only–phone calls? Mom.
5. He’s still taking out the trash.
In 15 of 16 couples, even those who swore they shared Every Task Equally, the guy still hauled the cans to the curb. I’m sure this means something, but what?
More later. We’re curious.