Major media has done it again. The New York Times Magazine today has a piece entitled: “Lean In, Dad” in which a young-sounding female writer, CATHERINE RAMPELL, bemoans the fact that her last two romantic relationships ended because the men in question wanted her to quit her job (if they got married) to stay home.
From those two questionable relationships, the “greatest” newspaper in the world jumps to the generalization that the problem for all of us isn’t really about women leaning in at all, as argued by Facebook COO sheryl sandberg. It’s about men doing their part at home. If only we had paternal leave and men would change more diapers the world would be a better and safer place for women.
I hope you don’t mind if I take a moment to puke.
So much has been written, and rightly so, about what women should do in the 21st century economy and society. Feminism, it seems, has had resurgence as women strive reach to finally reach the top of the power food chain and also struggle to wrestle work/family balance to the ground for all time.
The question I am often asked is: where does that leave men? From my limited data set, we are pretty much screwed. Not that we aren’t still the leaders of the free world and dominate in the positions of economic power. But in terms of the thought leadership on gender, which is what I have spent the last three years thinking and writing about, we are getting a raw deal.
Recently a blogger on our site was so brazen as to admit that this yoga pants thing for women was kind of problematic for him as a man because it made him horny when he really didn’t want to objectify the women in said pants. The response was swift and lethal: get over yourself. Women wear yoga pants for comfort and if your male sex-crazed brain can’t comprehend that go find some porn to look at already.
The guy was being honest, saying what most every guy I know thinks, and he was made to feel that he is a leper as a result.
A man gets up at the Academy Awards and has the guts to parody the way in which women’s breasts are used by Hollywood to sell their wares. You can’t watch a hit drama without seeing a pair in the first five minutes (House of Cards, the Americans anyone?). For goodness sakes, half the women had fake breasts falling out of their gowns. The point of the parody was that the whole system by which we objectify women’s breasts is crazy. But does anyone talk about that? No, in a nanosecond the New York Times, the New Yorker, and every other major media out is reporting (like it is some kind of obvious fact) that Seth MacFarlane is a Neanderthal.
Over the holidays, I was stupid enough to write a blog for the Room For Debate about women and make-up. In it I said that I thought my wife looks beautiful first thing in the morning. I was quick to point out that every women—every human being in fact since one example I used was a buddy who plays hockey and has ink from head to toe—is the only one who gets to decide whether to wear make-up, whether to have plastic surgery, and what they feel like to doing to themselves in the name of beauty, or not.
Feminist bloggers went nuts. Amanda Marcotte complained on the front page of Slate that I was a sexist pig because by saying that my wife looks beautiful first thing in the morning, I was implying that all women should look naturally beautiful. 1,500 comments followed violently agreeing with Amanda’s takedown. Others followed here and here and here.
Christina Huffington, Arianna’s daughter, read the Slate piece and piled on, never taking the time to read my original 300 words in the NYT. Ultimately Huffington Post decided it would be good theater to have Christina and me on their live program, which I reluctantly agreed to. I asked her what she could possibly be talking about since I made no comment about whether or not she should wear make-up, only that my wife is beautiful to me first thing in the morning. She apologized graciously. But her attack based on Amanda’s attack just goes to show how out of whack things have gotten.
The men I know are struggling. Struggling to figure out what’s important to them in the strange new world of a 21st century economy where women are better educated and increasingly more employable; in a world in which they increasingly want to be stay-at-home dads but are looked down upon for that desire; a world where any attempt to break out of the two-dimensional box of men as knuckle draggers who pursue Bud Light and the NFL above intimacy, emotion, and self-reflection gets blown to bits.
So what do I answer when asked the male equivalent of, “Lean In”?
Tell the Truth, I say. Lay yourself open to what it is like to be a man no matter what the reprisals. The only way we as men are going to get anywhere is by proving that we are not cavemen. We want, in the end, to be good fathers and husbands. And that gender is not a zero sum game. Our advancement as human beings is good for women. Just like women’s liberation is a fundamentally good thing for us as men.
And when you read stuff like Rampell’s stereotyped attack on dads at-large, go in the corner and empty your stomach, and then come back and continue to make breakfast, bring your wife coffee, and clean the house. That’s what I did this morning.
image by author of my buddy Dave with his twins