Is gender equality achievable in the Russian family?

July 10, 2020

Distribution of rights and obligations in the family, opportunities and responsibilities in performing the main family functions is one of the most controversial, but at the same time one of the most important issues in the modern context.

Scientists from the Department of General Sociology and Social Work of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Lobachevsky University have been engaged in research on parenthood and the distribution of parental functions for many years.

According to Nadezhda Egorova, Associate Professor at the Department of General Sociology and Social Work of the UNN Faculty of Social Sciences, the so-called traditional or patriarchal family role structure is increasingly subject to criticism and revision in the views of various social groups.

"The formula proposed by the famous American sociologist of the 20th century, Tolcott Parsons, that was very popular until the end of the century, according to which "the role of women is primarily in the performance of their family functions as wives, mothers and housewives, while the role of men is carried out in the professional world, at work..." is increasingly less acceptable in modern conditions that require women's active involvement in the field of labor relations," comments Nadezhda Egorova.

An egalitarian model based on equality and partnership in marriage and parenthood is becoming a more popular alternative to this distribution of roles and power in the family. At the same time, the movement towards equality is not an easy process. It requires finding the answers to the main questions of the study: what do women and men want to do and what are they ready to change? Is gender equality achievable in Russian realities?

UNN scientists' conclusions are based on their research: a questionnaire survey of third and fourth year students of Nizhny Novgorod universities ("Students' ideas regarding a father's role", N=472) and in-depth interviews with men aged 24 to 57 years old who have children ("Social practices of fatherhood in a modern Russian family", N=46) conducted by the authors in 2017-2019.

Research results show that most students are of the same opinion: parenting is the responsibility of both partners. Both young men (78%) and girls (89%) generally support this idea.

"However, the democratization of family relations is taking place at different rates; the need to share parental responsibility is more pronounced in the views of girls than in those of young men. The latter are more oriented towards traditional values, for example, they more often believe that the father does not have to be involved in the daily care of the child, he should bring up the child by his own example (the degree of agreement with this judgment is 40% for young men and 23% for girls). In the girls' opinion, on the contrary, men should share the responsibility for taking care of their children with women (86% vs. 74%)," comments Elena Ryabinskaya, sociologist at the Department of General Sociology and Social Work.

In the family practices of the fathers who have been interviewed, most follow the traditional model of distribution of parental and family responsibilities in general. At the same time, modern men have to adapt to women's active role in the labour market and have to be more frequently involved in family processes, including the upbringing of children.

Studies conducted by Lobachevsky University researchers show that the role of the father involves a wide range of responsibilities that imply men's full participation in the life of their children at various stages of their growing up.

"Fulfilled fathers are aware of the importance and value of paternal involvement in raising their children. In addition to the traditional patriarchal roles of a breadwinner, a disciplinarian, an 'image maker' and a family defender in public settings, today's fathers focus on parental responsibility, direct contribution to looking after their children, hygienic care, playing games, sharing their life experience, and the practice of active involvement of men in parenting becomes quite significant," says Alina Yanak, Assistant at the Department of General Sociology and Social Work.

Lobachevsky University scientists have proved that all young people are willing to be involved in the process of raising and caring for children, but there are certain differences in their approach to this matter.

"Activities related to the organization of children's leisure time throughout the whole stage of their growing up are more attractive for young men than the routine, daily work of providing constant care for young and growing children. This work should probably remain the woman's responsibility. Here, young people's views on parenthood are affected by the continuity of their families' traditions," Elena Ryabinskaya comments on the study's findings.

Thus, the area of competence of the surveyed students' mothers comprised only everyday responsibilities for the care and upbringing of the child, and the area of competence of their fathers mainly included responsibilities related to the organization of the child's leisure time.

Studies have shown that girls are more demanding with respect to men's parenting role, often believing that all these actions should be an integral part of the father's role set.

In their research, scientists from Lobachevsky University have also demonstrated another important aspect of the upbringing process: building relationships with children of different sexes. Most students believe that the amount of attention given to a child should not depend on whether it is a boy or a girl. However, when it comes to specific actions, views on the extent to which a man is involved in raising a daughter and a son can differ. In the actual practices of fathers, this difference becomes both more significant and more understandable.

In general, it is easier for men to adapt to the parenting role in interaction with boys, they can better understand how to structure their behavior with them. Men believe that they will be able to self-realize and self-identify in the role of the father, primarily in the process of raising their son, because they want to be self-projected on their child, want to be an example to him, to develop "male" skills and interests, to communicate 'on equal terms'. "It's easier with a son... A boy is a boy. There are a lot of common interests: some technical stuff, sports, and other things. Can Daddy do that? Yes, he can. Can Daddy teach? He will," one of the fathers says.

Fathers speak of their daughters with some trepidation, they believe that there are more complex nuances in dealing with girls, they need a more attentive, flexible and gentle approach. A father of four had this to say: "I'm very strict... And... it was very difficult for me, when we had a daughter, to change my ways after raising three boys... With boys, it's like in the army: "Attention!", "At ease!" "Dismissed!" But with a girl, it's different. So, at the beginning my wife even offered me to read psychological articles on how I should love my daughter and how I should talk to her...".

"They consciously put themselves on secondary positions with regard to girls, imposing the duty of caring for them on mothers," continues Alina Yanak. Nizhny Novgorod scientists have shown that the movement towards egalitarianism in the sphere of parenthood is becoming more and more visible both at the level of perceptions and in real family practices. But the process is controversial and nonuniform.

"We are witnessing a gradual inclusion of men in parenting rather than a conscious readiness for equality in this sphere," Nadezhda Yegorova says in conclusion.

The difference in goals and in the process of socialization of boys and girls proved by the studies of Nizhny Novgorod scientists is likely to contribute to the reproduction of the traditional/patriarchal model of family and parenthood.

Lobachevsky University

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