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Men Struggle To Have It All, Too

Men Struggle To Have It All, Too

The very fact that I was not sure where to place this post (which channel?  Women’s Rights certainly doesn’t seem like the right one) shows that we’re not talking very much about the ways that men, as well as women, struggle with the confines of the gender roles imposed by our society.  Although, yes, in the workplace it is women who are disproportionately affected by the wage gap, who are affected by double standards with regard to appearance, for whom the mommy track sometimes leads straight out the door, men still struggle, albeit more silently, to balance career and family.

For the Huffington Post, Tom Matlack writes,

“Many men are in crisis. Most guys I talk to quietly acknowledge that they’re struggling to “do it all.” Sound familiar? That’s what women have faced all along: how to have a career while also being a mom and wife. Well, we want to be more involved as fathers and husbands. But no one has set the workplace bar any lower, so that men have the time they need at home with the family.”

This, Matlack concludes, results in a “male identity crisis” that the media ignores, taking up instead the “old feminist battle cry,” from which men are excluded.  This is where I take issue with Matlack, who seems to think that a “new feminism” is required to deal with men’s struggles – but feminists have always been deeply concerned with gender equality, which does not mean making women’s lives exactly like men’s.  Instead, it seeks to abolish the strictures of a gendered system that makes it impossible for men and women to rebel against the roles that have been set for them without severe social punishments. 

For women, this can mean the censuring of success in the workplace or the decision not to have a family; for men, it can mean social imperatives to leave the domestic sphere to women, and to focus single-mindedly on their careers.  Although feminism has many different strains, the feminism to which I subscribe has never pretended that gender politics is a “zero-sum game.”  But in some ways, the social taboos against discussing the difficulties of being a man are so great that it’s been challenging to know how to tackle them.  For example, it seems most practical to get adequate maternity leave before we try for paternity leave.

But a much-emailed NYT article from this week, about Sweden’s legendary paternity care and other ways in which men are allowed to “have it all,” shows that there may be renewed interest in this question.  Swedes report proudly that it is now “manly” to want to take time off to raise children (although women still take far more time).  This seems to have economic benefits for women – the NYT reports, “A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March showed…that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.”

The Swedes acknowledge that the “daddy leave” was at first controversial.  But this reframing of the traditionally “masculine” career trajectory is intriguing – although it does also include generous maternity leave that the United States still lacks.  One thing seems clear: the deeply embedded notion of climbing the career ladder doesn’t seem to work easily for anyone who wants a family, whether they’re male or female, and the whole system is going to have to change before there is real gender equality.

Matlack is right about one thing, though: men are going to have to speak out about this, if they want a change.  And they’re going to have to acknowledge that this is not a “new” kind of feminism – but rather, that there is a well-organized and receptive movement waiting to help men “learn how to be the same guy at home as we are at work, to integrate the multiple challenges of male life, and to speak to each other candidly about ourselves, rather than suffering silently.”  I’m excited about the prospect – I hope men are too.

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80 comments

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8:17PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

it seems like (in this country at least) people just care more about women than guys.
in elementary school so many boys are put on ADD drugs for not being as attentive as girls are...even though boys just naturally have a lot of energy. when a boy hits a girl it's a big deal, but people laugh when it's the other way around. it's legal to genitally mutilate a baby boy, but illegal to do the same thing to a baby girl. it's ok for girls to play football and be on the wrestling team, but it's not ok for boys to do ballet or play with dolls.
all we ever hear about are women's issues and empowering women.
it seems like the only place where men have the advantage anymore is in a higher salary.
i wish the world would evolve so that both genders could be treated with equal respect, equal opportunities, and equal rights.

8:09PM PDT on Aug 30, 2010

Yeah the workplace is still structured for the 1950s breadwinner father. This definitley needs to change!

2:14AM PDT on Jul 2, 2010

thanks

5:32PM PDT on Jun 29, 2010

Jamie please do wear a skirt!

The reason women have more support systems is because they created them. When women are in crisis they learn to reach out. Men don't or they do in traditional avenues. I know when my brother is frustrated with his life, he goes to play basketball. It is a temporary fix not a long term one. Men definitely need to learn to fix problems instead of a temp band aid.

5:34AM PDT on Jun 22, 2010

Children should be had fairly early in life later in life they are an impediment and childcare is the solution

1:04AM PDT on Jun 19, 2010

Oh, and I forgot to mention... Men who believe in equal rights for both men and women would be considered feminists. Because of the fact that men WANT to be active fathers, I give huge kudos!

To ensure the end of male abuse, and to push for emergency shelter, services and support for our unacknowledged survivors, please sign the Sean's Voice Petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/a-new-perspective-the-unacknowledged-abuse-survivors

This petition is dedicated in memory of Baby Sean, who died at the hands of his mother.

12:59AM PDT on Jun 19, 2010

Great forum post, and my fiance is my stay at home teacher for my 10 year old. Yes, we home-school. He sometimes doesn't value what he does, but when the improvements in my son come through, it's great.

I totally believe in the fact that boys should learn how to cook/bake, wash dishes, do laundry, dust/vacuum, etc... Girls need to learn how to change tires, cut the grass, fix the kitchen sink, etc... It's the only way to ensure that both genders will survive in society w/o mom. Even if mom is Mr. Mom.

11:59AM PDT on Jun 15, 2010

Great article. Thank you Amelia.

9:56AM PDT on Jun 15, 2010

I'm glad to see men becoming more vocal on gender issues as well. The discourse is that much richer because of your input. Thanks for posting this, and thank you to the other men who've spoken up too! :)

5:55AM PDT on Jun 15, 2010

I always took issue with the idea that men had it made as a gender. They have conscripted roles, just as women do. Just look at the 2008 vice presidential debate in the United States: Sarah Palin was all ready to rah-rah about how she's a mom and because of that she knows about kids unlike that man over there on the other podium. Great to throw that lob that kind of comment to a man who had to raise his kids because his wife died. It's like the role of fathers is supposed to mean nothing. This is ridiculous. If there is equality, it is recognizing our common humanity, whether male or female. If we do that, we will see that everyone has struggles and start to have more compassion for one another in our common struggles on this life journey.

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