In the first installment I suggested that there was evidence that men who are not the primary bread winners are feeling less masculine because being a provider has been associated with manliness. One comment in response suggested that a non-primary breadwinner male husband/partner can take responsibility for certain household tasks – car maintenance, landscaping, home improvements, etc., – that might be more suited to traditional male roles and that can compensate, to some degree, for his lowered status as the primary financial provider. Interesting idea and probably helpful for some families where roles can be negotiated with respect for each person’s abilities and interests. The suggestion reminded me of the scene from the 80’s movie, “Mr. Mom”, when Michael Keaton’s unemployed character tries to assert his manhood to his wife’s boss by picking up a chain saw pretending to remodel the house. He had no clue what he was doing but thought the symbolism of a chain saw would preserve his manhood when his wife was the sole breadwinner. Why does wielding a chain saw clearly convey masculinity?
The careers chosen by men and women does reinforce the notion that men gravitate towards tools and physically challenging work far more than women. The data is startling. According to 2014 US Dept. of Labor data women make up 97% of pre-school and kindergarten teachers, 90% of registered nurses, 94% of secretaries and administrative assistants, 90% of bookkeeping and accounting clerks and 81% of elementary and middle school teachers. On the other extreme men make up almost 100% of what can be labeled as the following blue collar occupations – cement masons, crane and tower operators, bus and truck mechanics, brick masons, roofers, HVAC mechanics, tool and die makers, automotive technicians and mechanics, highway maintenance workers. Does this data merely reflect an artifact of culturally defined stereotypical roles or is there something inherently different about how the male brain operates which leads to career preferences? Certainly the few women who do enter these male dominated professions would mention the sexism and harassment that they have encountered and this probably accounts to some degree why women do not choose these occupations. However, given the progress of the feminist movement and laws against gender discrimination genetic differences between men and women have to account for a large measure of occupational choices. One might conclude that blue collar men are more willing to identify themselves as completely masculine and at the same time feel increasingly threatened by the increase in gender equality. White collar men, who are for the most part sharing their work environment with women, are probably less threatened by gender equality but at the same time find it difficult to identify as completely masculine. If a man can’t validate his masculinity through his career choices how can he express his Y chromosome in our increasingly gender equal society? The inherent attributes of the Y chromosome will not simply disappear because of cultural changes in gender role expectations. The challenge remains, how can a man be comfortable as a man while accepting the reality of a gender equal world?
The conversation will continue in the next installment.