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Desire for Marriage and Children: A Comparison of Feminist and Non-

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Gender Issues

ISSN 1098-092X
Volume 31
Number 2

Gend. Issues (2014) 31:102-122
DOI 10.1007/s12147-014-9120-3

Desire for Marriage and Children: A
Comparison of Feminist and Non-feminist
Women

Lauren P. Hartwell, Mindy J. Erchull &
Miriam Liss

1 23

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O R I G I N A L A R T I C L E

Desire for Marriage and Children: A Comparison
of Feminist and Non-feminist Women

Lauren P. Hartwell • Mindy J. Erchull • Miriam Liss

Published online: 5 March 2014

� Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Abstract Research indicates that liberal gender ideologies and feminist beliefs are
related to a lower desire for marriage and children, but the importance of feminist

self-identification has not been assessed. In Study 1, self-identified feminist and

non-feminist women were asked to rate their own and the typical woman’s desire

for marriage and children. Non-feminists desired marriage and children more than

did feminists. Both groups believed that the typical woman desired these more than

they did. In Study 2, feminist and non-feminist women provided information about

feminist beliefs as well as their own and the typical feminist’s desire for marriage

and children. Consistent with the results from Study 1, non-feminists desired

marriage and children more than did feminists. Feminist identity was also found to

predict decreased desire for marriage above and beyond feminist beliefs. Our results

indicated that stereotypes of feminists, in this context, are somewhat accurate.

Keywords Feminism � Drive for marriage � Drive to have children �
Stereotypes � Social norms � Feminist identity

Introduction

In the two studies presented below, we aimed to address whether feminist identified

women differed from non-feminist women in their desire to become wives and

mothers. We also aimed to determine whether feminist and non-feminist women

differed in their perception of the extent to which the typical woman (Study 1) and

the typical feminist (Study 2) desired marriage and children. A final set of goals,

addressed in Study 2, was to determine which specific feminist beliefs predicted

L. P. Hartwell � M. J. Erchull (&) � M. Liss
Department of Psychology, University of Mary Washington, 1301 College Avenue, Fredericksburg,

VA 22401-5300, USA

e-mail: [email protected]

123

Gend. Issues (2014) 31:102–122

DOI 10.1007/s12147-014-9120-3

Author’s personal copy

desire for marriage and children as well as whether feminist self-identification

predicted desire for marriage and children above and beyond feminist beliefs. In

Study 1, we surveyed female feminist and non-feminist identified college students in

the United States. In Study 2, we surveyed non-married women without children

recruited online through message boards and blogs.

Many stereotypes about feminists exist, and many have recently been found to be

untrue in samples from the United States (e.g., [2, 17, 25]). The present research

sheds light on the veracity of stereotypes about feminists’ desire for marriage and

motherhood. In Study 1, we also gain a better understanding of the stereotypes about

women and whether feminist and non-feminist women see themselves as typical

women in regard to their desire for marriage and motherhood. Furthermore, Study 2

informs about the extent to which feminist and non-feminist women hold

stereotypes about feminists in these domains, as well as the extent to which

feminist women see themselves as typical feminists.

There is a misconception that the feminist movement has had a purely negative

effect on family life by encouraging women to eschew traditional gender roles and

reminding them that motherhood is a choice rather than a fact of life [8, 10, 26].

Although some second wave feminists have reported that they felt they had to

defend their decision to become wives and mothers to other proponents of the

feminist cause, the movement has since grown to embrace motherhood as a unique

and positive aspect of women’s experiences [6, 24, 26]. Nevertheless, some feminist

theorists continue to argue that modern, heteronormative families remain a source of

women’s continued oppression, while others claim that women’s family roles can be

a source of wisdom and power [5]. Yet despite the conflicting and diverse views

surrounding feminism and the family, there has been very little quantitative research

that seeks to directly link feminism to the decision to become, or not become, a wife

and mother.

The quantitative data that does connect feminism to mothering has largely

focused on the desire of feminists to become mothers. This research showed that

feminist beliefs were negatively related to the extent to which young, undergraduate

women in the United States wanted to be mothers [11, 12]. However, there is no

recent data specifically connecting feminist beliefs with the desire to have a child.

Thus, it is worth investigating whether young, feminist women today have a lower

desire for children than do non-feminists. It would also be worth investigating

whether young, feminist women have a weaker desire to be married than do non-

feminists. Research has suggested that desire for romantic relationships is related to

passive acceptance of dominant gender ideologies, a belief system characterized by

the ignorance about or rejection of feminist beliefs [20]. Other research has

suggested that liberal gender attitudes are negatively related to a desire to be

married [4].

However, none of the existing research has actually assessed feminist self-

identification in connection with desire for marriage and children. Research has

shown that feminist self-identification matters above and beyond holding feminist

beliefs as far as activism is concerned [29], and it is important to assess whether

self-identification as a feminist can influence other choices women make. Women

with stronger feminist identities have been found to have higher expectations for

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egalitarian partnerships [28], but it is unclear whether such expectations necessarily

lead to a lower desire for marriage and children. Therefore, research is needed to

determine if feminist identified women actually differ from non-feminist identified

women in their desire for marriage and motherhood.

Some research has provided evidence that stereotypes about feminists in the

domains of romantic relationships and parenting may be inaccurate. Research has

demonstrated that, contrary to media portrayals of feminists as radical man-haters

who are not interested in romantic relationships, feminists were actually less hostile

to men than were non-feminists [2, 25]. Furthermore, men with feminist partners

reported higher relationship stability and sexual satisfaction than did those with non-

feminist partners [25]. This research suggests that identifying as a feminist is not a

hindrance to a healthy heterosexual relationship; however, valuing and engaging in

healthy, heterosexual relationships is not the same thing as valuing marriage.

Additional research showed that, contrary to stereotypes about feminists, feminist

mothers were more interested than were non-feminist mothers in intensive, hands-

on parenting techniques such as extended breastfeeding, carrying one’s child often,

and co-sleeping, behaviors considered to be part of attachment parenting [17]. In

other words, while data on whether or not feminist women desire children less so

than do non-feminist women has not been reported for approximately 30 years,

recent data has shown that feminist women who do become mothers are more

interested in certain engaged parenting practices than non-feminist mothers [17].

Finally, it is important to recognize that feminism is complex. There are myriad

different feminist beliefs and feminist orientations that may influence how women

feel about marriage and children. For example, cultural feminists view women as

different from men and place particular value on the unique roles women can hold,

such as that of mother [5]. Liberal feminists have often focused on women’s

equality to men and deemphasized motherhood. However, liberal feminists have

also focused on issues related to employment and shared division of labor in the

home, which can be understood as related to marriage and parenting [5]. Radical

feminists have focused on the oppressive aspects of patriarchy and have been more

explicitly anti-motherhood and anti-family [5]. The assumption that feminism is

anti-motherhood and is destroying the modern family seems to be largely the result

of a stereotype of feminism that ignores liberal and cultural feminism and

emphasizes radical feminist beliefs [8, 10, 19].

In order to investigate whether self-identified feminists and non-feminists

differed in their desire to marry and have children, we undertook two separate

studies. In the first study, we analyzed differences between feminist and non-

feminist women’s self-ratings for their desire for marriage and children. We also

looked for differences in how feminist and non-feminist women rated the typical

woman’s desire for marriage and children. Research investigating differences in

men and women’s desire for marriage and children found that women perceived the

typical woman’s desire for marriage and children to be higher than their own [9].

However, feminist self-identification was not used as a variable in the 2010 study.

Nevertheless, it stands to reason that self-identified feminists would be more likely

than non-feminists to see typical women as having a greater desire for marriage and

children than themselves.

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Understanding participants’ perceptions of the beliefs (i.e., stereotypes) about the

typical woman may help to provide insight into the social norms surrounding

motherhood and marital relationships [9]. Research has suggested that social norms

are often misperceived [3]. For example, studies have shown that both men and

women overestimate the prevalence of stereotypically masculine and feminine

characteristics in the other gender [1, 21]. Social norms research typically utilizes

descriptive stereotypes, which are generalized understandings about a specific

group’s beliefs and behaviors [7]. In order to fully understand the stereotypes

surrounding marriage and motherhood among both feminists and non-feminists, it

was necessary to tap into the social norms surrounding these issues.

In the second study, we attempted to replicate any differences in feminist and

non-feminist women’s self-ratings for desire for marriage and children. We then

asked feminist and non-feminist women to rate the typical feminist woman’s desire

for marriage and motherhood. Asking feminist and non-feminist women to rate the

typical feminist woman allowed us to assess the descriptive stereotypes character-

izing this particular group’s beliefs and behaviors as they pertained to marriage and

children. Given that previous research has shown that both feminist and non-

feminist women hold misperceptions about the typical feminist in a domain related

to motherhood [17], we sought to determine if similar misperceptions would also be

found for the desire for marriage and children.

We also wanted to explore whether the various feminist beliefs included in the

Feminist Perspective Scale (FPS; [13]) would differentially predict drive to marry

and drive to have children. Henley et al. (13) described five different feminist

perspectives: (a) liberal feminism, which focuses on gender equality; (b) radical

feminism, which emphasizes the oppression of women by men; (c) socialist

feminism, which considers all forms of oppression to be equally damaging;

(d) cultural feminism, which places value on traditionally feminine traits; and

(e) women of color feminism, which concentrates on the intersection of racial and

gender oppression. Additionally, we sought to determine whether feminist identity

would predict drive to marry and drive to have children above and beyond the

feminist attitudes included in the FPS.

Study 1

The purpose of this study was to determine if a sample of self-identified feminist

women actually desired marriage and children significantly less than did a sample of

non-feminist women. We also aimed to assess whether self-identified feminist and

non-feminist women differed in their perceptions of the typical woman’s desire for

marriage and children as well as the extent to which feminist and non-feminist

identified women saw themselves as distinct from the typical woman in terms of

desire for marriage and children.

We hypothesized that, consistent with previous research [11, 12], self-identified

feminists would report a significantly lower desire for marriage (1a) and children (1b)

than would the non-feminist women. We also hypothesized that feminist women

would see themselves as distinct from the typical woman, perceiving the typical

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woman’s desire for marriage (2a) and children (2b) to be significantly greater than

their own. Similarly, we believed that non-feminist women would also report a lower

desire for marriage (3a) and children (3b) than they believed was true of the typical

woman. Research has suggested that people generally see themselves as holding

somewhat different views than the typical member of the social groups with which

they identify. Research has specifically found that women see the typical woman as

desiring marriage and children more than they themselves do [9]. Finally, we

hypothesized that there would be significant interactions such that feminist-identified

women would see themselves as more dissimilar from the typical woman regarding

desire for marriage (4a) and children (4b) than would non-feminist women.

Method

Participants

Participants in this study included 352 women. Women were eligible for inclusion

in this study if they were 18 or older, unmarried, had no children, and self-identified

as heterosexual. Of those women, 107 self-identified as being feminist and 245 did

not. In order to better compare the feminist and non-feminist samples, we randomly

selected 107 non-feminist participants for inclusion in the analyses for the present

study. Demographic characteristics of the feminist and non-feminist samples are

provided in Table 1. Feminist-identified women were significantly older and more

likely to be of a higher class year than non-feminist women. The groups did not

differ on self-reported socioeconomic status.

Procedure

A number of participants were recruited through a general psychology subject pool

at a liberal arts college in Virginia to participate in a study about students’ plans for

marriage and children. Due to limited participant availability in the subject pool,

additional participants were recruited from other colleges and universities in

Virginia. Psychology clubs at other institutions were contacted via email and asked

to pass a link to the study along to members. The study was described in the same

way as it was for the subject pool recruitment. All participants responded to the

same secure online survey and were not asked to provide their home institution, so

we are unable to report the proportions of our sample recruited using each method.

Those participants recruited through general psychology courses received partial

credit toward a course requirement. Participants completed the online survey using

computers in a small classroom setting; dividers were in place to ensure the privacy of

the participants. Those recruited through other college clubs were entered into a raffle

to win one of a number of $25 gift cards to a national retail chain. Those recruited from

other college clubs completed the survey in a location of their own choosing.

After consenting, participants anonymously completed demographic questions

and measures of feminist identification, desire for marriage, and desire for children.

Participants’ perceptions of the typical woman’s desire for marriage and children

106 Gend. Issues (2014) 31:102–122

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were also assessed. After all questions were answered, participants were shown a

debriefing statement before exiting the survey.

Measures

Demographics Demographic questions included gender, age, ethnicity, sexual

orientation, year in school, and self-reported socioeconomic status. Participants

were also asked to report whether they were married and whether they had any

children. Participants whose responses indicated that they did not meet the inclusion

criteria for this study were removed from the sample. Finally, participants were

asked ‘‘Do you consider yourself to be a feminist’’ in a yes–no format. No definition

of feminism was given so that participant could decide for themselves what

feminism meant for them. Those who answered yes were classified as feminists, and

Table 1 Demographic characteristics by feminist identity group for Study 1

Self-identified feminists

N = 107

Non-feminists

N = 107

Age M = 20.09
a
; SD = 1.40 M = 19.71

b
; SD = 1.33

Range 18–25 18–24

Year in school M = 2.67
a
; SD = 1.26 M = 2.24

b
; SD = 1.14

N; % N; %

1 = First year 27; 25.2 % 40; 37.4 %

2 = Second year 21; 19.6 % 19; 17.8 %

3 = Third year 24; 22.4 % 31; 29.0 %

4 = Fourth year 30; 28.0 % 16; 15.0 %

5 = Fifth year 5; 4.7 % 1; .9 %

Socio-economic status M = 3.31
a
; SD = .78 M = 3.19

a
; SD = .73

N; % N; %

1 = poverty 1; .9 % 1; .9 %

2 = working class 14; 13.1 % 14; 13.1 %

3 = middle class 47; 43.9 % 58; 54.2 %

4 = upper-middle class 41; 38.3 % 30; 28.0 %

5 = wealthy 4; 3.7 % 3; 2.8 %

Not disclosed – 1; .9 %

Race/ethnicity N; % N; %

White/Caucasian 91; 85.0 % 95; 88.8 %

Black/African American 3; 2.8 % 3; 2.8 %

Asian/Pacific Islander 5; 4.7 % 3; 2.8 %

Latino/Latina 2; 1.9 % 2; 1.9 %

American Indian 2; 1.9 % –

Multiracial 3; 2.8 % 2; 1.9 %

Other 1; .9 % 2; 1.9 %

Groups with different superscripts were significantly different at p .05

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this variable was coded such that higher scores were indicative of feminist self-

identification.

Drive to Marry Scale Participants’ desire for marriage was measured with the

Drive to Marry Scale [4]. Responses to statements such as ‘‘Being married will

make me feel proud’’ were provided on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (disagree

strongly) to 5 (agree strongly). Responses were averaged to form a mean score.

Cronbach’s alpha was .88 in both the original and the current investigations.

All participants also completed this measure a second time. The only change was

that women were asked to respond as they thought the typical woman would rather

than as they themselves would, and a second mean score was formed. Cronbach’s

alpha for this version of the scale was .73.

Drive to Have Children Scale Participants’ desire to have children was measured

with the Drive to Have Children Scale [9]. Response options for statements such as

‘‘Becoming a parent will make me complete’’ ranged from 1 (disagree strongly) to 5

(agree strongly). Cronbach’s alpha in the original investigation was .92; it was .94

in the current study. As with the Drive to Marry Scale, participants also completed

this measure a second time, responding as they believed the typical woman would.

Cronbach’s alpha for this version was .89. Mean scores were calculated for both the

self and typical woman versions of this measure.

Results

In order to test hypotheses 1a–4a, we conducted a 2 (within subjects: self, typical

woman) 9 2 (between subjects: feminist, non-feminist) mixed ANCOVA with age

and class year entered as covariates to account for the significant differences

between the feminist and non-feminist participants on these demographic variables.

These covariates did not have significant effects in the analyses, so for the sake of

simplicity, we report the results from the 2 9 2 ANOVA comparing self-identified

feminist and non-feminist participants’ desire for marriage and their perceptions of

the typical woman’s desire for marriage.

A significant main effect was found for both the within subjects factor (self vs.

typical woman), F(1, 211) = 61.04, p .001, gpartial
2

= .22, and for the between

subjects factor (feminist vs. non-feminist), F(1, 211) = 10.41, p = .001, gpartial
2

=

.05. Significant main effects were qualified by a significant interaction (self vs. typical

woman by feminist identification), F(1, 211) = 4.03, p = .046, gpartial
2

= .02; this

supported hypothesis 4a. Means and standard deviations can be seen in Table 2.

The significant interaction was probed using a series of independent and paired

samples t tests in order to test our hypotheses. An independent samples t test for

self-ratings indicated that self-identified feminist women desired marriage signif-

icantly less than did non-feminist women, t(212) = -3.10, p = .002, supporting

hypothesis 1a. We did not have a specific hypothesis about whether feminist and

non-feminist women would have similar perceptions of the typical woman, but an

independent samples t test indicated that participants agreed on the extent to which

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the typical woman desired marriage, t(211) = -1.52, p = .13. Paired samples

t tests were used to test hypotheses 2a and 3a, that both feminist and non-feminist

participants would report their own drive to marry to be significantly less than the

typical woman’s drive to marry. Results supported both hypotheses indicting that

both feminists, t(106) = -6.21, p .001, and non-feminists, t(105) = -4.76,
p .001, felt that they desired marriage significantly less than was true for the
typical woman. It is important to note, however, that the difference in the means was

greater for the self-identified feminist participants, which accounted for the

significant overall interaction (supporting hypothesis 4a).

In order to test hypotheses 1b–4b, another 2 (within subjects: self, typical

woman) 9 2 (between subjects: feminist, non-feminist) mixed ANOVA was used to

compare self-identified feminist and non-feminist participants’ desire to have

children and their perceptions of the typical woman’s desire to have children (again,

the covariates of age and class year had no significant effects, so we report the

simplified analysis). A significant main effect was found for the within subjects factor

(self vs. typical woman), F(1, 188) = 32.23, p .001, gpartial
2

= .15, but not for the

between subjects factor (feminist vs. non-feminist), F(1, 188) = 2.74, p = .10,

gpartial
2

= .01. There was, however, a significant interaction (self vs. typical woman by

feminist identification), F(1, 188) = 5.98, p = .02, gpartial
2

= .03, supporting hypoth-

esis 4b.

To understand this significant interaction and to test our specific hypotheses, a

series of independent and paired samples t tests were used. An independent samples

t test for self-ratings indicated that self-identified feminist and non-feminist women

differed in their desire to have children, t(199) = -2.34, p = .02, supporting

hypothesis 1b. Although we had no specific hypothesis about whether the groups

would differ on their perceptions of the typical woman’s desire for children, an

independent samples t test indicated that they did not differ, t(199) = .65, p = .52.

In order to test hypotheses 2b and 3b, paired samples t tests were used to compare

feminist and non-feminist participants’ ratings of their own desire for children with

Table 2 Study 1 ratings for self and the typical woman by feminist and non-feminist women

Variable Feminist

N = 107

Non-feminist

N = 240

M SD M SD

Drive to marry—self 3.45 1.04 3.80 .84

Drive to marry—typical woman 4.15 .62 4.24 .60

Feminist

N = 96

Non-feminist

N = 202

M SD M SD

Drive to have children—self 3.45 1.11 3.73 .90

Drive to have children—typical woman 4.14 .61 4.05 .59

Possible range = 1–5; higher scores represent greater endorsement of the measured idea

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their ratings of the typical woman’s desire for children. In support of our

hypotheses, results showed that both feminists, t(95) = -5.09, p .001, and non-
feminists, t(93) = -2.70, p = .008, believed that they desired children significantly

less than was true of the typical woman. Again, the difference in the means was

greater for self-identified feminist participants, which accounted for the significant

overall interaction and supported hypothesis 4b.

Discussion

Our hypotheses that self-identified feminists would report a significantly lower

desire for marriage and children than would non-feminists were supported. These

findings were consistent with those of Gerson [11, 12] who found that endorsement

of feminist ideologies was related to decreased desire for children. Given that her

findings are 30 years old, it is noteworthy that the same pattern was found in the

present study.

Our hypotheses that both feminist and non-feminist women would perceive the

typical woman’s desire for marriage and children to be significantly greater than

their own were supported. These results were consistent with those of Erchull et al.

[9] who found that women perceived the typical woman’s desire for marriage and

children to be higher than their own. However, our findings expand on this research

by showing that both feminist and non-feminist women see themselves as distinct

from the typical woman in terms of desire for marriage and children.

Finally, our hypotheses that there would be significant interactions were

confirmed for both desire for marriage and children. While both feminist and

non-feminist women saw themselves as different from the typical woman, the mean

difference was greater for the feminist women. Our data suggest that feminists are

more likely to see themselves as atypical women than are non-feminists in regard to

their desire to be married and have children. Feminists may see themselves as

atypical women because embracing a feminist identity and labeling oneself as a

feminist often involves the rejection of traditional gender roles [28]. In other words,

identifying as a feminist is inherently non-traditional and, thus, atypical, while

aligning oneself with the typical woman may imply traditionalism.

One limit of this study is that participants were recruited through two methods and

we do not have data allowing us to differentiate which participants were recruited

through which method. However, all participants were undergraduate students who

chose to complete the survey after reading a brief description. All students also

received small amounts of compensation for their participation in the form of either

partial class credit or an entry into a raffle for a gift card. Finally, while the subject

pool sample completed the survey in campus computer labs as opposed to locations of

their own choosing, they were not closely monitored. Given this, we do not think the

two recruitment methods resulted in significantly different experiences.

Study 2

In this study, we used a different sample of self-identified feminist and non-feminist

women to assess potential differences in desire for marriage and children. We also

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asked both the feminist and non-feminist women in our sample to rate their

perceptions of the typical feminist’s desire for marriage and children.

Again, we hypothesized that, consistent with the results from Study 1, self-

identified feminists would report a significantly lower desire for marriage (1a) and

children (1b) than would the non-feminist identified women. This study also aimed to

examine stereotypes about the typical feminist. We hypothesized that feminists would

see themselves as not significantly different from the typical feminist on desire for

marriage (2a) and children (2b). Previous research with feminist non-mothers found

that they viewed themselves as similar to the typical feminist on many dimensions

associated with parenting [17]. Furthermore, social identity theory would suggest that

when individuals take on a specific social identity, as is the case with viewing oneself

as a feminist, they are likely to see themselves as similar to other members of their

social group [27]. In contrast, we hypothesized that non-feminists would perceive

their desire for marriage (3a) and children (3b) to be greater than that of the typical

feminist. This is consistent with the stereotype of feminists as being uninterested in

heterosexual romantic relationships [25] and parenting [17]. Therefore, we expected a

significant interaction for both desire for marriage (4a) and children (4b).

Finally, we wanted to investigate the extent to which conservative gender attitudes

as well as the different feminist beliefs identified by Henley et al. (13; i.e., liberal,

radical, socialist, cultural, woman of color) differentially predicted drive to marry and

drive to have children scores. We also wanted to determine whether feminist identity

would predict drive to marry and drive to have children scores above and beyond

feminist beliefs. Given that self-identified feminist women have been found to be

different than non-feminist women even after controlling for feminist beliefs [29], we

hypothesized that feminist identity would predict drive for marriage (5a) and children

(5b) above and beyond the effects of feminist beliefs. We did not, however, have

specific hypotheses about which feminist belief variables would best predict drive for

marriage and children. However, given that desire for marriage and children are

components of traditional gender roles for women [20], we hypothesized that these

variables would be related to greater conservative beliefs (hypotheses 6a and 6b).

Method

Participants

The sample for the second study consisted of 133 women. Women were eligible for

inclusion in this study if they were 18 or older, unmarried, had no children, and self-

identified as either heterosexual or bisexual. Of those women, 74 self-identified as

being feminist and 59 did not. Demographic characteristics for the feminist and non-

feminist samples can be seen in Table 3. There were no significant differences by

group on the continuous demographic variables.

Procedure

Participants were recruited online through a variety of methods. Authors of several

feminist blogs and general interest blogs targeted toward women were contacted and

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asked to post a request for participants. Participants were also recruited via

standardized Facebook posts. An additional request was made to pass the survey

link on to other women who might be interested. Finally, a standardized message

was posted as a volunteer opportunity on Craigslist for a number of metropolitan

areas throughout the United States. All recruitment messages contained a brief

summary of the research topic, described as being about feminism and mothering,

and a link to a secure online survey.

Table 3 Demographic characteristics by feminist identity group for Study 2

Self-identified feminists

N = 74

Non-feminists

N = 59

Age M = 25.58; SD = 6.41 M = 25.14; SD = 4.55

Range 18–46 19–41

Education M = 5.09; SD = 1.31 M = 5.07; SD = 1.22

N; % N; %

1 = high school graduate 4; 5.4 % 2; 3.4 %

2 = some college/associate’s degree 28; 37.8 % 23; 39.0 %

3 = college graduate 16; 21.6 % 14; 23.7 %

4 = some graduate school 28; 14.9 % 10; 16.9 %

5 = masters level degree 11; 17.6 % 9; 15.3 %

6 = doctoral level degree 13; 2.7 % 1; 1.7 %

Not disclosed – –

Socio-economic status M = 2.81; SD = .81 M = 2.93; SD = .74

N; % N; %

1 = poverty 4; 5.4 % 1; 1.7 %

2 = working class 19; 25.7 % 15; 25.4 %

3 = middle class 38; 51.4 % 30; 50.8 %

4 = upper-middle class 11; 14.9 % 13; 22.0 %

5 = wealthy 1; 1.4 % –

Not disclosed 1; 1.4 % –

Race/ethnicity N; % N; %

White/Caucasian 68; 91.9 % 51; 86.4 %

Black/African American 1; 1.4 % 2; 3.4 %

Asian/Pacific Islander – –

Latina 2; 2.7 % 1; 1.7 %

American Indian – –

Multiracial 2; 2.7 % 3; 5.1 %

Other – 1; 1.7 %

Not disclosed 1; 1.4 % 1; 1.7 %

Sexual orientation N; % N; %

Heterosexual/straight 55; 74.3 % 54; 91.5 %

Bisexual 19; 25.7 % 5; 8.5 %

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Measures

Demographics Demographic questions included gender, age, ethnicity, sexual

orientation, education level, and self-reported socioeconomic status. Participants

were also asked to report whether they were married, single, or in a committed

relationship, as well as whether they had any children. Participants who did not meet

our inclusion criteria were removed from the sample. Finally, as in Study 1,

participants were asked ‘‘Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?’’, and again, no

specific definition of feminism was provided. Those who answered yes were

classified as feminists, and again, this variable was coded such that higher scores

were indicative of feminist self-identification.

Feminist Perspective Scale (FPS) The FPS-Short Version [14] was used to assess

participants’ feminist attitudes. The measure has six subscales: conservative (e.g.,

‘‘Women should not be assertive like men because men are the natural leaders of

earth’’), liberal feminist (e.g., ‘‘I use ‘she’ rather than ‘he’ generically, that is, to

refer to an unknown person’’), radical feminist (e.g., ‘‘Men’s control over women

forces them to be the primary caretakers of children’’), socialist feminist (e.g., ‘‘It is

the capitalism system which forces women to be responsible for child care’’),

cultural feminist (e.g., ‘‘Beauty is feeling one’s womanhood through peace, caring,

and non-violence’’), and woman of color feminist/womanist (e.g., ‘‘Racism and

sexism make double the oppression for women of color in the work environment’’).

Participants indicated their agreement with each statement using a response scale

ranging from 1 (disagree strongly) to 7 (agree strongly), and mean scores were

calculated for each subscale. The Cronbach’s alpha for each of the subscales in the

original investigation was .71, .53, .73, .59, .57, and .73 respectively. However, the

authors who developed this measure actually cautioned against using the liberal

feminist subscale due to the consistently poor reliability of the items [13]. We

therefore chose to assess liberal feminist attitudes using a different measure.

Cronbach’s alpha for the five subscales we did use were as follows: conservative

(.67), radical feminist (.84), socialist feminist (.82), cultural feminist (.64), and

woman of color feminist/womanist (.85).

Liberal Feminist Attitude and Ideology Scale (LFAIS) Participants’ liberal

feminist views were assessed using the short form of the LFAIS [22]. Responses

to statements such as ‘‘A woman should have the same job opportunities as a man’’

were provided on a scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree),

and a mean score was calculated. Cronbach’s alpha was .81 in the original

investigation, and it was .90 in the current investigation.

Drive to Marry Scale Participants’ desire for marriage was again measured with a

mean score on the Drive to Marry Scale [4]. In this study, they also completed it a

second time, responding as they believed the typical feminist would, and a second

mean score was calculated. Cronbach’s alpha was .86 for self responses and .59 for

the typical feminist responses. If the item ‘‘Getting married is not one of my top

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priorities’’ was removed from the typical feminist version of the scale, the reliability

improved to .80, but none of the results of the analyses including this measure

changed. Given this, the Drive to Marry—typical feminist scale was calculated

using all five items so that the results could be more directly comparable to the

Drive to Marry—self scale.

Drive to Have Children Scale Participants’ own desire to have children was

measured with the Drive to Have Children Scale [9]. This measure was completed a

second time after being instructed to respond as they believed the typical feminist

would. Mean scores were calculated for both versions. Cronbach’s alpha was .92 for

the self version of this scale and .87 for the typical feminist version.

Results

Assessing Differences Between Feminists And Non-feminists

In order to test hypotheses 1a–4a, we conducted a 2 (within subjects: self, typical

feminist) 9 2 (between subjects: feminist, non-feminist) mixed ANOVA to

compare self-identified feminist and non-feminist participants’ desire for marriage

and their perceptions of the typical feminist’s desire for marriage. A significant

main effect was found for both the within subjects factor (self vs. typical feminist),

F(1, 126) = 48.80, p .001, gpartial
2

= .28, and for the between subjects factor

(feminist vs. non-feminist), F(1, 126) = 27.26, p .001, gpartial
2

= .24. The

interaction (self vs. typical feminist by feminist self-identification) was also

significant, F(1, 126) = 38.70, p .001, gpartial
2

= .24, supporting hypothesis 4a.

Descriptive statistics are shown in Table 4.

The significant interaction was followed up with a series of independent and

paired samples t tests which allowed for testing of hypotheses 1a–3a. An

independent samples t test for self-ratings indicated that self-identified feminist

Table 4 Study 2 ratings for self and the typical feminist by feminist and non-feminist women

Variable Feminist

N = 71

Non-feminist

N = 57

M SD M SD

Drive to marry—self 2.16 .86 3.26 .97

Drive to marry—typical feminist 2.08 .52 2.02 .67

Feminist

N = 71

Non-feminist

N = 58

M SD M SD

Drive to have children—self 2.66 1.20 3.28 1.16

Drive to have children—typical feminist 2.71 .54 2.58 .76

Possible range = 1–5; higher scores represent greater endorsement of the measured idea

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participants in this study desired marriage significantly less than did non-feminist

participants, t(130) = -7.03, p .001, supporting hypothesis 1a. Although we had
no specific hypothesis, a second independent samples t test for perceptions of the

typical feminist’s desire for marriage revealed that self-identified feminist and non-

feminist participants agreed on the extent to which the typical feminist desired

marriage, t(111) = -.003, p = .99. In order to test hypotheses 2a and 3a, paired

samples t tests were used to compare feminist and non-feminist participants’ ratings

of their own desire for marriage with their rating of the typical feminist’s desire for

marriage. Results showed that feminist participants did not consider their desire for

marriage to be different than that of the typical feminist, t(70) = 1.79, p = .08,

supporting hypothesis 2a. Non-feminists participants, on the other hand, felt their

own desire for marriage was significantly greater than that of the typical feminist,

t(56) = 7.69, p .001, supporting hypothesis 3a.
In order to test hypotheses 1b–4b, another 2 (within subjects: self, typical

feminist) 9 2 (between subjects: feminist, non-feminist) mixed ANOVA was used

to compare self-identified feminist and non-feminist participants’ self-reported

desire to have children and their perceptions of the typical feminist’s desire for

children. A significant main effect was found for the within subjects factor (self vs.

typical feminist), F(1, 127) = 8.22, p = .005, gpartial
2

= .06, but not for the between

subjects factor (feminist vs. non-feminist), F(1, 127) = 3.66, p = .06, gpartial
2

= .03,

although this main effect nearly met traditional standards for statistical significance.

There was, however, a significant interaction (self vs. typical feminist by feminist

identification) which qualifies the interpretation of the main effects, F(1,

127) = 11.50, p = .001, gpartial
2

= .08, and supported hypothesis 4b.

To test hypotheses 1b–3b and explore the significant interaction, we utilized a

series of independent and paired samples t tests. An independent samples t test for

self-ratings indicated that self-identified feminist participants reported a signifi-

cantly lower desire for children than did non-feminist participants, t(131) = -3.17,

p = .002, supporting hypothesis 1b. Although we had no specific hypothesis about

whether participants would agree on their perception of the desire for children of the

typical feminist, a second independent samples t test indicated they agreed,

t(101) = 1.11, p = .27. In order to test hypotheses 2b and 3b, paired samples t tests

were used to compare feminist and non-feminist ratings of their own desire for

children with their ratings of the typical feminist’s desire for children. Much like the

findings for desire for marriage, feminist participants did not consider their desire

for children to be different than that of the typical feminist, t(70) = -.42, p = .68,

supporting hypothesis 2b. However, non-feminists participants did see their own

desire to have children as significantly greater than that of the typical feminist,

t(57) = 3.91, p .001, supporting hypothesis 3b.

Predicting Desire for Marriage and Children

Bivariate correlations were calculated among the desire for marriage and desire for

children, self-reported feminist identification, and the six attitude measures. The

bivariate correlations can be seen in Table 5. Drive to marry and drive to have

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children scores were significantly correlated with all of the variables except for the

cultural feminist subscale of the FPS.

In order to test hypotheses 5 and 6, we ran two hierarchical regression analyses,

one to predict self-ratings of desire for marriage and one to predict self-ratings of

desire for children. We entered the same predictor variables for both regressions. In

the first step, we entered five subscales of the Feminist Perspective Scale and the

LFAIS in order to determine the role various feminist attitudes played in desire for

marriage and children. Higher scores on the FPS subscales and the LFAIS indicated

greater agreement with the belief being presented. In the second step, we added

feminist identity because we wanted to see if self-identifying as a feminist

predicted, above and beyond feminist beliefs, a lower desire for marriage and

children.

When predicting self-ratings of desire for marriage, the first step accounted for

39 % of the variance, F(6, 120) = 12.78, p .001. In this step, only the radical and
cultural feminist subscales significantly predicted desire for marriage scores (see

Table 6 for all regression coefficients) such that having lower radical feminist and

higher cultural feminist beliefs predicted greater drive for marriage. The second step

contributed an additional 2 % of the variance, a statistically significant increase,

FD(1, 119) = 4.00, p = .048. In this step, feminist identity significantly improved

prediction of drive to marry scores such that self-identification as a feminist

predicted having a lower desire to marry supporting hypothesis 5a. Both the radical

and cultural feminist subscales of the FPS remained significant predictors. In

contrast to hypothesis 6a, conservative beliefs were not a significant predictor of

desire for marriage. The final model accounted for 41 % of the variance in drive to

marry scores, F(7, 119) = 11.80, p .001.
When predicting self-ratings of desire for children, the first step accounted for

26 % of the variance, F(6, 121) = 7.13, p .001. The radical and cultural feminist
subscales were again the only significant predictors in this first step, such that

having lower radical feminist beliefs and higher cultural feminist beliefs predicted

greater drive to have children (see Table 6 for regression coefficients). The second

step did not significantly improve the model, FD(1, 120) = .42, p = .52, in contrast

to hypothesis 5b. The final model accounted for 26 % of the variance in drive to

have children scores, F(7, 120) = 6.14, p .001, and radical and cultural feminist
beliefs remained significant predictors. Again, this was in contrast to hypothesis 6b

as conservative beliefs were not a significant predictor of desire for children.

Discussion

In the second study, our hypothesis that self-identified feminists would report a

significantly lower desire for marriage and children than would non-feminists was

fully supported. Using a separate sample of women, we were able to replicate our

Study 1 findings that self-identified feminists reported a significantly lower desire

for marriage and children than did non-feminists. Consistent with our hypothesis,

we found that self-identified feminist women perceived their desire for marriage and

children to be the same as that of the typical feminist. As expected, non-feminist

116 Gend. Issues (2014) 31:102–122

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Gend. Issues (2014) 31:102–122 117

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women perceived the typical feminist to desire marriage and children significantly

less than they themselves did.

Finally, the results of our regression analyses indicated that, consistent with our

hypothesis, feminist identity predicted having less of a desire for marriage above

and beyond feminist beliefs. This hypothesis was not, however, supported for desire

to have children. Furthermore, although we had hypothesized that conservative

beliefs would be a unique predictor of both desire for marriage and children, we did

not find this to be the case. Instead, having lower levels of radical feminist beliefs

and higher levels of cultural feminist beliefs predicted greater desire for both

marriage and children.

Although we had no specific hypotheses about radical and cultural feminist

beliefs, our findings do make sense within the context of these different types of

feminisms. Radical feminism takes a strong stance against patriarchal systems [5],

and women who endorse radical feminist beliefs may see marriage and parenting as

systems that maintain patriarchy. Research does indicate that the introduction of

children into relationships is associated with the adoption of more traditional gender

roles [16]. Additionally, longitudinal research in Australia found that women often

lowered their professional ambitions after marriage, perhaps in anticipation of

having children [15]. Cultural feminism, on the other hand, values women’s unique

roles and sees them as a source of strength [5]. A central role for women valued

through the cultural feminist lens is that of a mother or caregiver. Research has

suggested that feminist mothers were more likely to endorse cultural feminist beliefs

Table 6 Hierarchical regression analyses with standardized regression coefficients

Drive to marry ratings Drive to have children ratings

b p b p

Step 1

LFAIS .02 .92 .07 .67

FPS conservative .21 .07 .20 .12

FPS radical -.48 .002 -.55 .001

FPS socialist .12 .40 .04 .80

FPS cultural .21 .01 .27 .003

FPS woman of color -.21 .09 .07 .62

Step 2

LFAIS .06 .68 .05 .75

FPS conservative .21 .08 .20 .12

FPS radical -.37 .02 -.59 .001

FPS socialist .10 .48 .05 .77

FPS cultural .20 .01 .27 .003

FPS woman of color -.16 .18 .05 .71

Feminist identification -.21 .048 .08 .52

LFAIS Liberal Feminist Attitude and Ideology Scale, FPS = Feminist Perspective Scale; Feminist

Identification was coded 0 = non-feminist and 1 = feminist

118 Gend. Issues (2014) 31:102–122

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than were non-mothers who desired children [18] indicating that cultural feminism

may encourage the desire to have children. The present study extends this finding by

showing that cultural feminist beliefs were associated with a greater desire to have

children, regardless of feminist self-identification.

It should be noted that participants were recruited online and were likely

intrinsically motivated to participate in this study since no compensation was

provided. This may limit the generalizability of our results. It should also be noted

that while recruitment took place in the United States, the internet is accessed

worldwide, and participants may have come from other countries. We did not assess

country of origin in this study.

General Discussion

Previous research has suggested that identifying as a feminist should not necessarily

hinder development of healthy heterosexual relationships because feminists were

actually less hostile to men than were non-feminists, and men with feminist partners

reported higher relationship stability and sexual satisfaction than did those with non-

feminist partners [2, 25]. However, our findings indicated that, across both studies,

feminist women indeed desired marriage less than did non-feminists. Furthermore,

feminist self-identification predicted a lack of desire for marriage above and beyond

feminist beliefs. This suggests that there may be something specific about the

institution of marriage that is less appealing to unmarried feminist women. For

example, longitudinal research has shown that the transition to marriage is related to

decreased employment aspirations for a sample of Australian women [15]. Thus, it

is possible that non-married feminists may be afraid of the shifts, choices, and

sacrifices they may have to make when getting married in our patriarchal society

(e.g., changing one’s name, child bearing and rearing responsibility, having less

independence in one’s career).

Our results regarding desire to have children were similar to those for desire for

marriage; feminists desired children less so than did non-feminists in both studies.

Nevertheless, feminist identity did not predict desire for children above and beyond

feminist beliefs. Older research [11, 12] found that young women with feminist

beliefs desired children less so than did those who held more traditional beliefs, but

this work did not assess feminist self-identification. Our data support the link

between certain feminist beliefs and a lower desire to have children as radical

feminist beliefs negatively predicted this. Our data also suggest that other types of

feminist beliefs, specifically cultural feminist beliefs, are related to a greater desire

to have children, and it should be noted that feminists more strongly endorsed

cultural feminist attitudes than did non-feminists. Thus, while self-identified

feminists desired children less so than did non-feminists, our regression data point to

the complexities of different feminist beliefs in regard to this issue.

Our research investigated the desire for children among women who did not yet

have children. Our findings should be considered in light of other research

demonstrating that feminists who were mothers were actually more interested in

very involved and engaged parenting than both non-feminists and feminists who

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were not yet mothers [17]. In other words, while feminists may desire to become

mothers at a lower rate than do non-feminist women, feminist mothers may be

deeply involved with their children. Young feminists who have not yet had children

appear more hesitant to become mothers, likely stemming from the difficulties

young feminist women may anticipate in balancing choices related to work and

family while still maintaining their feminist identity. This hesitancy may be justified

as one study found that married feminist mothers tended to behave in more

traditional ways (e.g., engaging in more than 60 % of the childcare and giving

children the father’s last name) than feminists who were not yet mothers anticipated

[18].

Our data also indicated that both feminist and non-feminist women perceived the

typical woman’s desire for marriage and children to be higher than their own,

although feminist women seemed to feel even more distinct from the typical woman

in this regard. This suggests that both feminist and non-feminist women want to

distance themselves from gender stereotypes and social norms surrounding marriage

and children (e.g., women should stay at home, women should raise children,

women should do housework).

We also found that self-identified feminist women perceived their desire for

marriage and children to be the same as that of the typical feminist, which is

consistent with the feminist non-mothers in the Liss and Erchull [17] study who also

saw themselves as similar to the typical feminist on their endorsement of attachment

parenting behaviors. However, the same study found that feminist mothers saw

themselves as significantly different than the typical feminist. Interestingly, this

would suggest that stereotypes about feminists having a lesser desire for children are

accurate, but stereotypes about how feminists who do have children mother are less

accurate.

The generalizability of this research is limited by the homogenous nature of our

samples. Our samples were largely White, well-educated, and heterosexual. Future

research should be undertaken with more socio-demographically diverse samples as

attitudes surrounding marriage and motherhood may be different in different

demographic groups. For example, this study could be expanded to incorporate

identity scholarship by women of color, since self-identified feminists of color may

perceive themselves to be even more distinct from typical (i.e., White) feminists and

non-feminists.

Ultimately, the feminists and non-feminists we studied consistently responded in

ways that reinforced the stereotype that feminist women desire marriage and

children less than do non-feminist women. However, in light of other research

suggesting that identifying as a feminist can be beneficial in a healthy heterosexual

relationship [25], we believe that feminists’ hesitation to marry may be due to issues

surrounding the institution of marriage and not a lack of committed, loving

relationships with men. Adrienne Rich [23] distinguished between the institution of

motherhood, which can be oppressing, and the actual lived experience of being a

mother, which can be uniquely rewarding. In addition to making this distinction, the

feminist women in our samples may, similarly, make the distinction between the

institution of marriage, which is associated with oppressive, traditional gender roles,

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and the lived experience of being in a committed and monogamous heterosexual

relationship.

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  • Desire for Marriage and Children: A Comparison of Feminist and Non-feminist Women
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Study 1
      • Method
        • Participants
        • Procedure
        • Measures
          • Demographics
          • Drive to Marry Scale
          • Drive to Have Children Scale
      • Results
      • Discussion
    • Study 2
      • Method
        • Participants
        • Procedure
        • Measures
          • Demographics
          • Feminist Perspective Scale (FPS)
          • Liberal Feminist Attitude and Ideology Scale (LFAIS)
          • Drive to Marry Scale
          • Drive to Have Children Scale
      • Results
        • Predicting Desire for Marriage and Children
      • Discussion
    • General Discussion
    • References

The Desire for Marriage and Children in Feminists and Non-feminists

Summary

Feminism is defined as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”

according to bell hooks in her book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. It is often

associated with the misconception that women are against traditional gender roles. These

traditional gender roles coincide with stereotypes, or “perceptions of the beliefs of the typical

woman,” that women need to get married, be a good housewife, and have children (Hartwell

2014). To test whether this misconception was true or not, a study was conducted to investigate

whether being a feminist affected a woman’s desire to get married or have children. The study

consisted of two parts that involved first looking at how feminist and nonfeminist women rated

their own desire for marriage and children and then seeing how they defined their own feministic

belief and how that correlates to the typical feminist’s desire. According to societal norms, the

typical woman wants to become a wife and a mother, while on the other hand, a feminist is

viewed as not wanting to have kids or get married. There is a substantial amount of controversy

surrounding this idea because some feminists view familial roles as empowering while others

view it as oppressive. Ultimately, the research study resulted in a finding that showed feminist

women having less of a desire for marriage and children, and that feminist and non-feminist

women saw themselves as having lower desires for marriage and children than typical women.

Critical Analysis The first part of the study revealed that non-feminists wanted marriage and

children more than feminists did, and feminists and non-feminists both perceived that the typical

woman wanted marriage and children more. The second part of the study dove into the different

types of The Desire for Marriage and Children in Feminists and Non-feminists 3 feministic

The Desire for Marriage and Children in Feminists and Non-feminists

perspectives, which includes five groups: liberal feminism (focuses on gender equality), radical

feminism (emphasizes how men oppress women), socialist feminism (sees all oppression as

equally detrimental), cultural feminism (highlights feminine traits), and women of color

feminism (incorporates racial and gender oppression) (Hartwell 2014). The participants of the

study were informed about the different types of feminism and were asked to reassess their

desires in comparison to what a typical feminist’s desires would be. The results showed that

self-identified feminists perceived their desire to be the same as a typical feminist, whereas, a

nonfeminist saw their desire to be higher than that of a typical feminist. Additionally, a woman

who had lower levels of radical feminism and higher levels of cultural feminism resulted in a

greater desire in marriage and children (Hartwell 2014).

A possible explanation as to why self-identified feminists might have less of a desire for

marriage and children could be because when she identifies as a feminist, she is embracing the

“rejection of traditional gender roles” (Hartwell 2014). When women choose to free themselves

from societal expectations and domestic labor tied to the role of a traditional woman, they can do

the things that they want to do such as continue their education or work high-paying jobs. In

another study, women did more domestic work than men did, regardless of their relative income

(Fetterolf 2014). Due to this fact, feminist women might not want to get married or have kids

because of the unfair distribution of domestic work. Additionally, if feminist women did have

children but still wanted to pursue an ambitious job, they would feel guilty for “not keeping up

their part of the bargain”, which could be another contributing factor to their lessened desire

(Moras 2016).

Discussion

The Desire for Marriage and Children in Feminists and Non-feminists.

In both parts of the study, feminist and non-feminist women rated themselves as having less

of a desire for marriage and children than typical women, but what defines a “typical woman”

and where did this image of a typical woman come from? Both groups of women must have

pictured a typical woman to have a strong desire to pursue traditional roles of settling down with

a husband, taking care of domestic duties, and raising children. These societal norms have been

instilled in society ever since “man the hunter” would go search for food to feed the family while

the “woman gatherer” would engage in more “feminine activities” (Owen 2005). Mass

depictions of women being happily married and engaging in traditional roles like the popular TV

show, “I Love Lucy”, only perpetuates the expectation that women should be married and have

children. These women who are happily married housewives and caretakers do exist, but for

many cases, women must take on this domestic role because of the less amount of domestic work

men put in and societal norms. On the other hand, people often view a feminist as a figure like

Medusa who hated men with a passion. In reality, most women are not Lucy nor Medusa, they

fall somewhere in between that spectrum as shown by the study. Whether a woman is a feminist

or not, she has the capability and the choice of getting married and having children. Being a

feminist does not mean that these women do not want to have children of their own or be in a

healthy marriage; it just means that they choose to do it because they want to do it, not because

society told them to. The Desire for Marriage and Children in Feminists and Non-feminists.

References

Fetterolf, J. C., & Rudman, L. A. (2014). Gender Inequality in the Home: The Role of Relative

Income, Support for Traditional Gender Roles, and Perceived Entitlement. Gender Issues,

31(3-4), 219–237. doi: 10.1007/s12147-014-9126-x

Tomášková, S. (2005). Linda R. Owen, Distorting the Past: Gender and the Division of Labor in

the European Upper Paleolithic. (Tübingen: Kerns Verlag, 2005, 235 pp., ISBN 3–

935751–02–8). European Journal of Archaeology, 8(3), 312–315. doi:

10.1017/s1461957100070042

Moras, A. (2016). “This Should be My Responsibility”: Gender, Guilt, Privilege and Paid

Domestic Work. Gender Issues, 34(1), 44–66. doi: 10.1007/s12147-016-9165-6

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