Men and women should celebrate where we are, Hugo Schwyzer writes, but we still need to keep moving forward.
Good Men Project founder Tom Matlack says he’s depressed after reading this Meghan Casserly column at Forbes.com: Why We Need to Stop Bemoaning the End of Men. While Tom is pleased that Meghan pushes back against the popular media trope of a dire masculinity crisis, he’s upset that she talks about the enduring power of “paternalistic authority” of men over women. Tom calls it “piling on.”
I appreciated Meghan’s column enormously, particularly the way she takes apart the arguments of anti-feminists like Kay Hymowitz, who have famously suggested that men are alienated by women’s success (and that that alienation is largely women’s fault.) And unlike Tom, I think Meghan is right on the money when she suggests that paternalism continues.
It’s easy to confuse increased opportunity for women with the arrival of genuine parity. There are more women CEOs and more women doctors than there were 25 years ago, just as there are (probably) more men doing dishes and being affectionate fathers. There’s much to celebrate in that trend. But though more heterosexual men than ever before may want to be genuine partners to their girlfriends and wives, that desire to be more helpful and more emotionally present doesn’t mean that men can claim that patriarchy and sexism are dead.
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.
There is no “end of men”; there is no “gender war.” Things are getting better, and we should celebrate it. But the work isn’t done yet, either in the home or in the boardroom. Men still do less than their full fair share—and receive more than their share of the rewards of power. Making that point, as Meghan does, is not “piling on.” It’s a clarion call to keep pushing forward.
—Photo Toms Bauģis/Flickr