Dudes Getting it Together: Men, Housework, and “Having it All”

For a second straight week, my Role/Reboot column looks at the much-discussed “having it all” phenomenon, this time taking on men’s failure to pull their own weight on the domestic front. Excerpt:

In recent years, there’s been a veritable explosion of “daddy blogging” by mostly white and middle-class men, some of whom are “stay-at-home” fathers while others are sole or collaborating breadwinners. Much of that writing has been excellent. But Jill and Jessica aren’t talking about the need for more men to share openly about their skills at nurturing children and cleaning house. Those are important topics to be sure; we need to see more examples of the different ways in which men can step into traditionally female domestic roles. But we also need husbands and fathers in public life to share in detail, both about their own struggle to create balance—and what it is that they’re doing to help the mothers of their children get an equal shot at “having it all.”

For many men, the standard to which they compare their own domestic output is the one set by their fathers. Like most guys of his generation, my daddy didn’t change diapers. I do, like so many of mine. But “helping more than dad did”—with all due respect to papa—sets the bar too low. The question isn’t “how does what I’m doing compare to what my own father did?” The question is, “am I pulling my weight compared to what my partner’s doing?”

Many men complain that asking for these details is just so much unnecessary score-keeping. The fact that we haven’t kept score has been what’s allowed this disheartening disparity to persist so stubbornly. Talking honestly about who does what and how long it takes isn’t about determining winners and losers—it’s about accountability.

There’s no question that some men are pulling their own weight; the small cohort of daddy bloggers not least among them. The “daddy shift” toward a more responsible and present fathering paradigm is real. But as the evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes clear there are too few of us. As Lindsay Beyerstein wrote at In These Times, “if most men aren’t willing to do their fair share of childcare, only a handful of ambitious women will manage to find one of these rare mates. Until cultural mores change on a broad scale, there will never be enough enlightened men to go around.”

Perfection of the Life or the Work — Yeats on “Having it All”

For the past half-decade, The Atlantic has been good for two or three conversation-shifting articles a year. Everyone and their chinchilla is talking about Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s magnum opus on the impossibility of sustaining work/life balance. There have been dozens of great responses around the web, and at the risk of overkill, I added one today at Role/Reboot: No One Can Have It All, But Some Still Get More than Others. Excerpt:

When I think about not being able to have it all, I think about choosing between training for a 50-mile trail race or spending Sunday mornings with my children. I’m choosing between two sources of happiness, as I did when I was a child at the ice cream store, choosing between mint chocolate chip and French vanilla. There’s a difference between choosing between competing goods (maximum fitness or quality time with children) and the kind of hard choices between essentials for survival that the less privileged make all the time (pay the rent or the medical bills; quality time with children or work three jobs to keep those same kids fed).

One danger of these discussions about “having it all” is that we can elide the differences between what are essentially luxury choices (the kind I’m describing here, a kind that affluent people of both sexes get to make) and the hard trade-offs of necessity that far more people are forced to make. At the same time, it’s worth noting that even immensely privileged women still have greater obstacles to work/life balance than do men. I’m closer to 50 than I am to 40, and I have a 3-year-old daughter and a 6-week-old son. I was able to delay having children until I was—finally—fully ready to embrace the responsibilities of parenthood. Women don’t have the same biological flexibility that men enjoy, a reality that—as Slaughter points out—our workplace culture has yet to address.

Those of us who are lucky enough to get to choose between “perfection of the life, or of the work” do well to reflect carefully on the dangers of selecting the latter. No one, no matter how wealthy or talented, can avoid having to make difficult decisions surrounding things like career, romance, and children. Too few of us, however, are even in a position to decide between rival perfections. Before we can talk about the challenge of “having it all,” we need to ensure that far more simply “have enough.”

Virtual Models and the Tired Trope of the War Against Men

Two more pieces up today.

At GMP, I respond to Tom Matlack and to this Meghan Casserly piece in Forbes. See It’s Not the End of Men, and We Still Have Work to Do. Excerpt:

As reported this week, men with children are doing more housework than ever before. We’re up to spending 80% as much time as women do on chores. That’s an undeniable improvement over where we were a few short decades ago. But again, a trend in the right direction doesn’t mean the problem of inequality has been licked. And as that same study found, women are doing much more than those statistics suggest, largely because women spend much more time than men multi-tasking. The fact that we’re doing more than ever before doesn’t change the reality that we’re still not pulling our weight.

There’s a long tradition in men’s writing (see Freud, Sigmund) of complaining that women’s demands are excessive and irrational. The modern iteration of that tactic is to point out how hard men are trying. What more could women possibly want? Don’t women have more opportunities than ever before? Aren’t men doing more domestic chores and showing more affection than their fathers’ generation ever did? Why isn’t that enough? When are these shrews going to give us a break, give us a cookie, and let “good enough” be sufficient?

Individual men are not called to be martyrs. (I don’t know any women who expect them to be.) But we can do better than point endlessly to all the things we’ve done right, as if they constitute a credit balance sufficient to discharge the debts from all the places where we continue to fall short. And make no mistake, we are still falling short. That men are up to doing 80% of the work—and that women are up to earning 80 cents on our dollar—indicates progress. But to use a football analogy, it’s still the third quarter and though we’re catching up, we need another couple of touchdowns to win the game. And some men sound like they’re ready to hit the showers.

At Healthy is the New Skinny, my column looks at the H&M virtual models controversy. See All Women are Real…Unless They’re Digitally Generated. Excerpt:

But models are more than just walking and talking mannequins. For all the real problems in the beauty industry, there’s a growing awareness of the tremendous potential that real (as in human) models across the size spectrum have to inspire us to think differently about our bodies. More and more current and former models – including so many of our HNS ambassadors are speaking out in favor of a healthier approach to fashion. We’re seeing a new generation of models emerge who are genuine role models, willing to share their joys and their struggles and their tools for living happy and complete lives. No computer image can do that.

For the sake of those role models – and more importantly for the sake of the young people who need those role models – it’s worth pushing back against the current H&M campaign. If we’re ever going to return the beauty ideal to something that’s sane, healthy, and attainable, we need real, human women to show it to us.

Resisting the Old Boys

Though it’s not exactly a take on the Penn State scandal, my contribution for the Good Men Project’s business ethics package is up: Resist the Old Boys. Excerpt:

In our culture, we socialize men to crave the approval of other males, particularly those in positions of authority. The pressure to “give in” and join the OBN (Old Boys Network) isn’t just from older men; for many of us, it comes from within ourselves, as it speaks to our intense, socialized desire to have our masculinity validated by powerful father figures. Sometimes, the OBN coerces us to join a club we already long to join.

Perhaps that’s why it isn’t easy to refuse OBN invitations. One key way to make it easier is to seek out mentors of both sexes. Another is to form close working relationships with women as well as men, resisting the temptation to “flee” to all-male spaces. Men and women can be friends outside of work as well as colleagues in the office. As long as we maintain the fiction that that’s too difficult or too at odds with the laws of nature, the OBN will continue to have a much easier time finding new recruits among the ranks of already privileged young men while excluding women of every age. And a new generation in the Old Boys Networks will learn to cover up for the most indefensible and horrific actions of its members.

Men and the underestimated capacity for reinvention

Today is my little brother’s 41st birthday, and I’m sending him lots of love.

On this first full day of Passover, my new column revisiting the old problem of the myth of male inflexibility is up at Good Men Project. Excerpt:

If there’s anything exceptional about America, it’s the legendary capacity of its inhabitants for self-reinvention. We’ve seen it most clearly with the women’s movement of the past five decades. Women are now CEOs and war fighters, having moved almost seamlessly into male-dominated professions for which they were presumably unprepared from an evolutionary standpoint. We’ve let go of the silly notion that all women are hardwired to nurture rather than compete, because we’ve seen so many excellent counter-examples. What some of us are still not seeing is that men are every bit as adaptable.

The much-celebrated “slacker dudes” who populate Judd Apatow movies and their mother’s couches aren’t displaced auto workers, confused by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to China. They’ve famously made it clear that they find traditional masculinity unsatisfying (even if many are hooked on hyper-macho video games like Call of Duty or Black Ops). As their sisters and girlfriends will often attest, these guys are more articulate about their feelings and their passions than men of earlier generations. What they’re missing isn’t the ability to transform—what they’re missing is the inspiration, ambition, and encouragement to go out into the marketplace and match their skills to the changing demands of our transforming economy.

PTA president

Less than two hours ago, I was elected the new president of the PTA of my daughter’s school. Three weeks ago, Heloise began in the pre-K program at the Kabbalah Children’s Academy (KCA). She loves school (which she attends three days a week from 8-12). And her mother and I are thrilled with the institution which we hope will be her academic home for years to come.

So when you’re thrilled with something, why not throw yourself into the midst of it? And hell, why not take a crack at running it?

I have a penchant for getting into leadership quickly (it’s an ENFP thing). The KCA PTA, like many PTAs, was desperate for volunteers; it has the usual history of too much work being done by too few. I’m eager to build an effective team with my fellow boardmembers, and make our association a catalyst for growth in this remarkable little school in this remarkable little community.

We held tonight’s meeting in our house. My election and those of my fellow board members were more or less foregone conclusions; we were the only candidates. Forty parents joined the principal and vice-principal for hummus, tea, and Israeli coffee and a brief meeting in which the new “slate” was approved. We’ve got a busy agenda for the year ahead, and my already pressed schedule is about to be even more crowded. But the old saying is generally true: if you want something done, give it to a busy person…

When the meeting was over, and after I’d shaken dozens of hands and collected business cards and paperwork, I stepped into our front yard. I stood alone under the stars. And I laughed to myself. After all I’ve done in my life, after all I’ve tried and tasted and trashed, I have been reborn in so many ways. But never would I have imagined that my rebirth would lead me to be the first non-Jewish president of the Kabbalah Children’s Academy PTA. (One parent told me tonight he thought I might be the first goy ever to head a PTA of what is essentially a Hebrew Day School with a modified Orthodox curriculum of Torah, Gemarah, and so forth. That can’t possibly be true… or can it?)

I don’t get a lot of sleep. But gosh almighty, I enjoy this business of living. As one of my old using buddies would say, “Dude… what a rush.”

Indeed.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us”: on not blaming wives and kids for male unhappiness

I have a lot of respect for Tom Matlack, founder of the Good Men Project. I honor his tremendous efforts to create dialogue among men about what’s really going on in our hearts and minds; the essays in his self-published book are well worth reading. We need more Tom Matlacks in the world.

At the same time, I want to push back — gently — against something Tom wrote last month in this Huffington Post piece: Rethinking Manhood: The New Feminist Project?

I’m all for introducing a discussion of masculinity into feminist spaces. I was on a panel at last fall’s National Women’s Studies Association meeting in Atlanta on exactly that topic, and I’ll be speaking on another similar panel on men and anti-sexist activism at this year’s NWSA in Denver. Men and feminism is a subject near and dear to me, so I read Tom’s post with more than the usual interest.

But though I agreed with Tom’s basic point that men need to talk to each other more, this paragraph troubled me:

…the media are still consumed with the old feminist battle cry, to the exclusion of the predicament of boys and men. Maybe guys need to complain more publicly about how hard it is to be a good father and husband, and still bring home the bacon. Maybe we should have our own cable network — not for ultimate fighting or pornography, but for guys to talk about trying to do it all while the wife, kids, and boss expect more than ever.

First of all, to the extent that the media focuses at all on feminism, it does so with a mixture of hostility and derision. The idea that the mainstream press carries water for the feminist agenda is risible; indeed, even the so-called “liberal” news outlets tend to spend very little time focusing on feminism except to lampoon it. But perhaps what Tom means is that the media celebrate women’s breakthroughs into traditionally male spaces, while spending very little time discussing the crushing burden of successfully occupying those spaces. That is a worthwhile topic for discussion.

But the real problem, of course, is that both men and women live and work in a system that was designed and is maintained by men. Wealthy men, yes, but men nonetheless. When men complain about being overwhelmed by the demands of wives and bosses and children, they are complaining about a system that men themselves erected. When women complain about the old boy’s network (which still thrives in many public and private institutions today) they do so as outsiders; even affluent white women are still outsiders in a world where women make up 51% of the population and 17% of the US Senate. When men complain about the crushing burden of expectation, they do so as (to use one of my favorite expressions from Twelve Step programs) “architects of their own adversity.”

It’s not little girls who taught little boys that “real men don’t cry.” It’s usually not mothers, either. The dreadful straitjacket of masculinity is put on by other men, by fathers and teachers and coaches and bosses and frat brothers and drill sergeants and peers. While some young women are taught to eroticize the young men who wear that straitjacket with apparent effortlessness, it’s a huge mistake to assume that female desire or expectation is anything more than an ancillary factor in the adoption of the masculine code. As Michael Kimmel and others have pointed out, what drives American men is the craving for “homosocial approval” — the longing for the approbation of, older, more powerful males.

It is absolutely true that wearing the straitjacket of masculinity makes most men miserable in the end; many do lead the lives of “quiet desperation” that Thoreau described more than a century and a half ago. For most of these men, that straitjacket doesn’t feel like a choice, as they learned to wear it when they were little boys. Many of these men blame women for demanding that their husbands wear it, some blame their kids, some blame their bosses. Some blame themselves. But the real culprit isn’t individual men, and it certainly isn’t women or children. The real culprit is the “man code”, a set of rules created and transmitted by men through generations.

Both men and women suffer, but they don’t suffer equally. As Robert Jensen and many others have pointed out, the reason a woman can’t walk safely in a parking lot at night and the reason her boyfriend can’t cry in front of his friends are the same: fear of men. But the cost of not being able to cry is hardly comparable to the cost of rape and the fear of sexual violence. It’s false equivalence to suggest that the fear of being ridiculed as insufficiently manly and the fear of being raped and killed are remotely the same. Those who claim that “the patriarchy hurts men too” need to remember that the potential injuries are rarely as severe.

Yes, men die more often in combat (at least as soldiers) than do women. But men tend to be the ones who started these wars, be they on the global stage or on the mean streets of the inner city. They started these battles not infrequently because of an unwillingness to consider compromise, or because of a hypermasculine, hyperfragile sense of honor. Those who die die at the hands of other men, just as women who are raped and killed in war are raped and killed by men. The homicidal impulse is pretty closely correlated with the masculine code.

Both men and women benefit when men wriggle free from the straitjacket. It’s good and appropriate to bring men and women together to discuss ways to help men extricate themselves, and to strategize to raise a generation of boys who are less confined than their fathers and grandfathers. But we can’t do that while we continue to believe that the expectations of “the wife and the kids” created that straitjacket. Women didn’t force us into this bind anymore than our innocent children did. To suggest that they are somehow to blame for male confusion, insecurity, or inarticulateness is to woefully misunderstand the genesis of the problem.

Rather than saying “hey, what about us guys?”, and demanding that feminism shift its gaze towards soothing male insecurities, men who long to shed the straitjacket would do well to work alongside feminists in common cause to dismantle the institutions that sustain and promote rigid gender rules. Men must remember the famous line from Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic: We have met the enemy, and he is us. Until men accept that responsibility, no authentic progress is possible.

“I’d be more nurturing if I thought it would get me laid”: how the straitjacket of masculinity is reframed as women’s fault

In a comment below last Thursday’s post on the myth of male inflexibility, SamSeaborn wrote:

…mating, at least in the early stages, is dominated by female choice, and women do have a tendency to prefer doers, not feelers as partners. Sure masculinity and feminity are ever-adjusting, but the problem at this point is, it seems to me, that masculinity is squeezed between an expanding concept of feminity (the best man for the job may be the woman) and the reality on the ground that forces most men to compete more intensely for the fewer places in the sun because, put in overly simplified terms, it’s those men most women seem to be interested in. I’m not saying men have no power in sexual negotiations, but those who have tend to be the ones who are in scarce supply, and that’s those who managed to get through the fiercer competition.

Again, I’m all *for* changing that, but I don’t see female CEOs being interested in male kindergarten teachers. This is the crux of the problem, and feminism isn’t really offering any advice.

He got a number of replies, of which La Lubu’s was both typical and cogent:

Where I come from, teaching and nursing do not take a man out of the “wanted pool” it’s the polar opposite. Those are considered decent jobs. Are female CEOs (yeah, there sure are a lot of those) dating those men? No. But are women of the same social class dating and/or marrying them? Hell, yes. People — men and women both — date within their social class. Men of high socioeconomic status might recreationally fuck a woman of lower status, but they sure the hell don’ marry them (or even introduce them to their country-club friends).

Who do you know, in your life, that has rejected a man with a decent paying but below six-figure job because of his earning power? If you don’t have any anecdata, what statistical evidence can you show me that states this? I have never seen that ever. I see the opposite: heterosexual men who hold those jobs that you (as a male) regard as unmasculine, are almost always married. Evidently, women have a different measure of what constitutes masculinity. We don’t really give a hot damn who is King of the Mountain.

The argument that SamSeaborn advances is basically this one: “Men don’t like wearing the straitjacket of masculinity, true. But women want us to. In fact, the only way we get laid is when we engage in stereotypical male behavior. Therefore, it’s women’s fault that we’re suffering from the constraints of manhood, and women have only themselves to blame that they cannot find the male partners they claim to want. If women would only change their sexual decision-making, then men would behave better. But as long as women reward hyper-masculine asshole-dom with sex, then men have no incentive to change.”

I hear this argument frequently from anti-feminists of both sexes.

Stay with me for a second: I’m old enough to have gone to elementary school when they still showed movies in class: proper films, the sort that came on reels. Students fought for the privilege to “thread the projector”, a term that will be meaningless to anyone under thirty. And many of the films I remember best came from Disney’s “True Life Adventures” series. These had been filmed in the 1950s, but they didn’t seem dated in mid-1970s classrooms. I remember film after film exploring the wonder of mating. Everything was G-rated, of course, but the basic idea was obvious: males in the animal kingdom do all that they can to put on impressive displays in order to attract a female. The latter had all the power when it came to sex selection. Reading Sam’s comment, I can’t help but wonder if his sexual worldview owes more to Disney nature films than to 21st century human reality.

I hear from a great many young men the familiar complaint that “girls just want bad boys”. There are lots of reasons why we socialize young women to want disaffected, hostile, and brooding young men. Mostly it has to do with the “my love can change him” notion I wrote about in this post. It’s a phenomenon of the very young, however; relatively few adult women continue to buy into the delusion that they have the capacity to love a violent and unreliable man into compassionate responsibility. The point is, a great many young men oversell the “good girls only want bad boys” trope because they sense the obvious benefit: if they then themselves mistreat women, they are not doing it out of any defect in their natures, but out of a rational strategy for improving their mating odds. It is women themselves who have made these rules, these boys and young men say (often with sincerity); we fellas just have to adapt as best we can. It’s yet another corollary to the myth of male weakness: bad male behavior gets cunningly reframed as an evolutionary adaptation demanded by women, and the blame for everything falls nicely once again on the shoulders and hearts and libidos of the be-uterused.

Sam is talking about the grown-up version of this. In a world which is still in some sense a jungle, he argues, even the most well-educated and successful woman wants a man who can take care of her. This may be more likely to mean “make lots of money” than “beat up creepers who ogle me”, but it’s still the lament that women’s hearts and sex drives don’t really match up with feminist politics. Though all of the evidence suggests that more men don’t seek out nurturing professions because of a combination of socialization and fear of ridicule by other men, many anti-feminists suggest that women’s refusal to take male nurses or kindergarten teachers seriously as potential mates is the primary force driving men away. When real-life women like La Lubu and Mythago and the others in the comment thread suggest that this is just so much pap, their experiences and desires are dismissed as anecdotes that are entirely unrepresentative of the mass of “real women” about whom the likes of SamS apparently know so much.

It is axiomatic that heterosexual men and women regularly misunderstand what the other sex wants. These misunderstandings are reinforced by a media that hypes absurd caricatures of masculinity and femininity, leading young boys to imagine that without an eight-pack on their tummies, they are destined for lonely celibacy — and leading girls to believe that all young men insist on being partnered with those who have bodies like Khloe Kardashian’s. These misperceptions are excusable in adolescents, less so in adults a decade or two (or three, or four) removed from puberty. Too many men and women assume that their acquaintances of the other sex are lying when they say things that deviate from culturally-imposed expectations. So when a man hears a woman say, “No, I really do want a partner who will be an equal rather than a non-communicative workaholic”, he may tell himself, “Bullshit. She’s just saying that. I know what women really want.” This “knowledge” is often rooted in random anecdote, or his own imagination, or some slick purveyor of misogyny masquerading as common sense like Tom Leykis or Laura Schlessinger. (To be fair, many women have a hard time believing that male weakness really is a myth rather than a biological reality. When a man says to his partner, “Honey, I only want you”, she may have been so conditioned to believe in the impossibility of male fidelity that she too thinks her own quiet “bullshit.”)

To the extent that men really are being “left behind” in the new economic and educational paradigm, it is because of the inability of so many men to slip the surly bonds of traditional masculinity. The problem isn’t female teachers who “don’t understand boys”, the problem isn’t “feminism”, and the problem isn’t the imagined disconnect between heterosexual women’s politics and their libidos. The problem is a hopelessly constrained vision of what it means to be a man, a vision largely created and maintained and passed on by men. Fathers and brothers and peers; rappers and ballers and professional pugilists; these are the all-too-faithful perpetuators of the myth that women will only accept “sturdy oaks” who “give ‘em hell” and never, ever, display grief or vulnerability.

Individual men suffer from what is, in the end, a collective masculine crime; we are, to paraphrase an old AA saying, the architects of our own adversity. The relentless attempt to shift the blame to women’s irrationality or inconsistency cannot long obscure that hard and heartbreaking truth.

The myth of male inflexibility

My student Mon-Shane, the same wonderful person who has recorded and uploaded a number of my women’s history lectures, points me to this piece from the ever-reliable Ann Friedman in today’s online Prospect: It’s Not the End of Men. Friedman is responding to this Hanna Rosin piece in the Atlantic, another offering from those who are convinced that feminism, cultural shifts, and economic transformation have led to a terrible crisis for American men. Friedman:

The latest contribution to the masculinity-crisis meme is “The End of Men,” a cover story in this month’s Atlantic by Hanna Rosin. Women are outperforming men in schools, at work, and at home, she argues. The global economy is shifting in such a way that it favors “female” characteristics, and male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, construction and finance are declining. “As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as keys to economic success,” she writes, “those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest.” What if, she asks, “the economics of the new era are better suited to women?”

It’s disappointing that, despite a history of sharp observations about gender and 5,000 words to work with, Rosin makes the same oversight as all of the other hand-wringing articles about the state of the American male. She thinks the problem is men; really, it’s traditional gender stereotypes. The narrow, toxic definition of masculinity perpetuated by Rosin and others — that men are brawn not brains, doers not feelers, earners not nurturers — is actually to blame for the crisis.

The goal of feminism was, first and foremost, to win rights and freedoms for women. While changing men was never the primary focus of any wave of the movement, feminists of both sexes have long understood that egalitarianism is not a zero-sum game. Feminism offers men something of tremendous value: the opportunity to escape at last the suffocating straitjacket of traditional masculinity. As feminists have long pointed out, and as serious science and comparative anthropology have made clear, that straitjacket is a cultural construct, not an immutable biological reality. As I said in 2007,

I’m a feminist because I want to create a world where men and women alike can realize their potential; I’m a feminist because I believe that our potential is not directed or confined by our chromosomes or our secondary sex organs. My penis and my Y chromosome do not destine me to be unreliable, predatory, and emotionally inarticulate. My wife’s uterus and her estrogen do not limit the horizons of her professional or athletic ambition. Feminism is, as we’ve all heard, the radical notion that women are people. But it’s also the radical notion that men are people too, complete human beings, with the same range of emotions and the same capacity for empathy and self-control as any woman.

We’re all in agreement that modernity poses a challenge to traditional gender roles. To the historian, of course, the point is that it has never not been so: the sense that we are only now entering a prolonged period of masculine uncertainty is rooted in a false nostalgia for a time that never really was. As Michael Kimmel and others have shown, masculinity has always been “in crisis”. Generations of American men have complained of feeling “emasculated” by assertive women (read Rip Van Winkle sometime); a century ago, social conservatives fretted that co-education would make men irrelevant. The one constant from generation to generation is the keen anxiety that masculinity is fragile, perpetually at risk, always in need of protection from the encroaching and emasculating effects of luxury, intellectualism, and feminism.

None of us deny that the new economy has left many men — particularly working-class men — feeling bewildered and disheartened. The shift from a manufacturing model to a service and information model has brought instability and high levels of unemployment, particularly among men who don’t have a college education. But the same anxieties to which Rosin points were found nearly two centuries ago, as industrialization meant an end to a way of life for millions who defined themselves as artisans and farmers during the agrarian age. The discombobulation and uncertainty that defines contemporary men is an old story, not a new phenomenon. In the 1800s, farmers and blacksmiths had to become office clerks and factory workers; they were forced indoors (into a traditionally female space). And they coped, mostly by adapting themselves to new economic and social realities. (For example, men who had once built muscles naturally through manual labor now built them in gyms and through sports. The games that had once been considered childish — like running around with a bat and ball – became all important signifiers of adult manhood. The point is, masculinity is highly adaptable, and to its critics, remarkably difficult to kill.)

Friedman shares that same well-founded optimism for men’s capacity to adapt:

Perhaps the answer lies in the success of high-achieving women. In previous generations, women busted all sorts of gender stereotypes in order to get their piece of the economic pie. While there were various schools of thought among feminists about how to best make the case for hiring women, all involved reshaping popular notions about women’s abilities. Women could be firefighters and floor traders, CEOs and carpenters. The best man for the job just might be a woman, or so the 1970s slogan went.

It’s long past time we also acknowledge that the best woman for the job might just be a man.

Indeed. Shaped by a shifting culture and driven by economic necessity, the next generation of male workers at every class level will show the willingness and the enthusiasm to move into what were traditionally female professions. I see it in the increasingly egalitarian attitudes of my working-class community college students, where the number of young men interested in professions like education or nursing has begun (slowly, it must be admitted) to rise. Feminists have long suspected what reason and experience and science all show, that testosterone is not an impediment to empathy and that the the possession of a Y chromosome needn’t hinder the development of emotional and verbal intelligence.

Men are not weak. I make that case over and over again. But there’s a corollary to the myth of male weakness: the myth of male inflexibility. It suggests that unlike women, men are too rigid to adapt to a changing culture. It suggests that extricating oneself from the straitjacket of traditional masculinity is more difficult than escaping the corset of traditional femininity. And whether this incapacity is consciously feigned or sincerely believed, it’s rooted in a myth rather than a reality. If feminism alone can’t get men to develop their own emotional and vocational dexterity, then we can be certain that the inexorable realities of global economic patterns will accomplish the task. It has always been that way in the past, and will surely be so again.

Men and the Work/Life balance: an upcoming radio program and campaign

I’m delighted to announce that I will be participating in Feminism 2.0′s first 2010 “Wake-Up” campaign, which kicks off next Monday. The summary:

Fem2.0 is kicking off the New Year with Wake Up, This Is the Reality!, a campaign to help change the way Americans talk and think about work and to begin shifting the national narrative away from privileged “balance” and corporate perspectives to one that reflects the reality on the ground for millions of Americans and American families.

On January 25, we will launch a two-week blog radio series on how work policies impact specific communities. That will be followed by a week-long blog carnival (Feb. 6-13) that will flood the public space with articles, opinions and personal stories about what it’s like to work in America today.

One week from today, on the 26th, I’ll be participating in the Work/Life and Men: Superman Versus Family Man radio show. Click on the hyperlink for more details on how to listen; there will be a podcast made available for subsequent download.

Details:

Tuesday, January 26, 1:00 PM EST

Host: Marc Chimes

Scott Coltrane, Dean, University of Oregon; Author, Gender and Families
Hugo Schwyzer, Blogger, hugoschwyzer.net
Joan Williams, Director, Center for WorkLife Law at University of California – Hastings

What does it take for a caring, responsible father to be both a breadwinner and a family man? If there is a work/family balance, it appears to depend on where you stand in the social order. Come investigate with our panel the daunting barriers working fathers face in sharing responsibilities in the household. Join with America’s leading experts as they discuss the problems, possibilities and policies surrounding fathers in the workplace.