Here are some interesting numbers:
- Men are even more likely than women to say they deal with work/life conflict.
- In most areas of the US, women are more likely to have bachelor’s degrees than men.
- More women than men are graduating from medical and law schools.
- More women are the primary breadwinners in their families than ever before.
- The recent recession was much harder on men’s employment than women’s employment.
Today I want to talk about men (and this article got me thinking). Let’s face it, it’s harder to be a man than it used to be. In the past, a man’s role was much more scripted than it is today. In the fifties, a man found a job, worked there for forty or fifty years, and retired with a gold watch. Today, it’s not so simple.
More women work than ever before. Families that have a mother who stays at home full-time, a father who works full-time, and children are becoming more and more rare (I’m not condemning this trend—in many cases it’s unavoidable, but it is reality). It’s also becoming increasingly rare for a person to stay with one job or company for a lifetime, and increasingly common for workers to be expected to work long hours.
This, of course, affects men. The workplace has changed, but just as for women, societal expectations have been slow to catch up. For instance, if their wives are working, men need to do more housework and child care just to keep the household running smoothly. But how are they supposed to fit in extra domestic duties if C-suite ambitions mean they’re expected to constantly travel and to be the last one to leave the office at night?
And if they work fewer hours in order to spend time with family, they still can’t escape the pressure of being expected to provide. This unwritten rule means that other male relatives or friends might think the man is shirking his duties if his family buys secondhand furniture or takes a long time to pay off its debts. This pressure intensifies if a man is disabled or unemployed (more than one study shows a link between unemployment and depression).
In many ways, we’ve been lucky. My husband has only switched jobs once. He’s never been unemployed, our debts are minimal, and his job is more flexible than many (knock on laptop). But I know many men who aren’t as fortunate. Their jobs don’t make enough to pay the mortgage, or they’ve been unemployed for extended lengths of time, or they’re launching business that get started slowly, or they have a medical condition which makes full-time employment impossible, or a child has a condition that racks up huge medical bills. These kinds of problems are so typical that I’m starting to think that steady, reliable, full-time incomes are actually pretty rare.
So now that I’ve raised the issue of some problems in the workplace, here are some solutions I’d like to suggest:
- Improve education. I’m not out to get teachers here, and I don’t have much experience with how schools prepare older students for their careers since my own children are still little, but I think that as parents, we can do much to prepare children for their future. They need to learn real-life skills such as negotiation, effective job-hunting techniques, relationship building, marketing themselves, and more if they’re going to be prepared for the kind of trends that are already starting.
- Change workplace standards. Family-friendliness isn’t just for mothers of newborn children anymore. We can do much to change this unrealistic idea. More men can request unconventional schedules, leaves, and flexibility. Workplaces can allow more family-friendly policies, ask managers to take advantage of flexibility themselves, and increase accountability for implementation and support of these policies. Workplaces can also have policies in place that refuse to marginalize workers who take advantage of flexibility so that spending time with family becomes an attractive (or even financially feasible) option for men as well as women.
- Change our attitudes. This one takes a little longer, of course. But I think we can do much within our cultures, our circle of friends, and our families, to stop measuring and comparing men according to financial benchmarks. Yes, money is essential to a family’s well-being, but we can stop nagging men about when they’re going to start pulling in the big bucks or how that liberal arts degree is going to provide for their family or when they’ll get better so they can get back to work. I’m not saying that men shouldn’t be concerned about money, ever. But I do think that husbands and wives need to share the responsibilities of caring for their children, physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc. The danger of being super rigid about gender roles and judging other people by how well they fill them is that circumstances are often invisible. I think we need to be just as careful in how we talk about men’s gender roles as we are in how we talk about women’s gender roles, and even more so in the policies we create in the law and at work, because one size often doesn’t fit all, especially considering today’s changing workplaces.