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.
Recently President Obama in an essay for Glamour Magazine shared his perspective on women’s rights and how a man can and should be a feminist. He wrote. “It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too. And as spouses and partners and boyfriends we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
I take no issue with the notion that men should fight sexism but question the idea that creating truly equal relationships is the appropriate or possible pathway. My objection is equating equal relationship with equal opportunity. The question is whether or not men can feel comfortable in their masculinity and women comfortable in their femininity without dominance or discrimination on the part of either gender? The quick answer is, Why not? However, the details of what masculinity and femininity would actually look like in a world of equal opportunity is worthy of discussion.
In my blog I have attempted to begin the conversation about expressing gender roles that preserves both masculine and feminine identities while abandoning stereotypical attitudes that fostered patriarchy and marginalization of women. The subtleties of gender role make this task difficult and at times confusing. There are no firm distinctions, other than the obvious anatomical ones, between biology and culture to explain how gender is expressed. Therefore trying to forge a new paradigm for masculinity becomes a difficult proposition. As gender equality for women in the workplace and in sports has progressed it has clearly allowed women to abandon the stereotypes of femininity that placed limits on their choices and expectations. A modern women can go to work as an attorney in business attire, go home and change for a benefit gala putting on a designer dress, high heels and do a full make up job and wake up the next morning to run a 10K competitive race. In this scenario a women assumes the roles of professional, fashionesta and jock all while still embracing her female identity.
However, the masculine identity seems so much more confining. Since many “typical” masculine roles are imbued with some degree of subjugation of women how can men move beyond dominance of women and still feel comfortable defining themselves as men? For example, few things are considered more manly than providing for and protecting your family. So it’s no wonder that so many men in our country are in crisis, with technology cited as the reason for rising populism and discontent. The way in which society defines masculinity is often tied to work and technology is changing the nature of work as we know it. Smart machines and robots can do tasks that once only humans could do. And in the sectors where this is happening fastest—like manufacturing—many of the job casualties are the kinds of jobs traditionally held by men. As a result, In a growing number of households, wives are out earning their husbands and more and more fathers are becoming stay at home Dads with their wives being the primary breadwinners. One unfortunate consequence is that men who have lost their jobs or have had their income sharply reduced are more likely to commit domestic violence.
How does Mr. Male feminist reconcile his new status as secondary provider with manliness? Some would suggest that the concept of manliness is simply inconsistent with gender equality. They would advise men to just stop thinking of themselves as men, abandon the stereotypes of masculinity and shift to being a person even dropping gender defining pronouns from our vocabulary.
Is this the only path forward for those of us with a Y chromosome? I hope not. What do you think?