Cameron Phillips argues that taking gender out of the equation reinforces the work/life problem facing fathers and mothers
I have an unhealthy devotion to baseball. I’ve had it since I was a child. I’ve been blessed in my media career to have interviewed some of the game’s greats: Hank Aaron, Harmon Killibrew, Reggie Jackson and many others. Given the literally hundreds of baseball players with whom I’ve spoken in my lifetime, it is ironic that my favourite baseball players to interview are women: the women from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
You’ve likely seen the movie, “A League of their Own.” The movie was based on the wartime baseball league of women founded by chewing gum magnate Charles Wrigley. The women who played in that league are national treasures. Not only were the great ball players, they were pioneers. They didn’t know they were blazing a trail; they just loved to play the game. And play they did. Young women athletes attending college on athletic scholarships, or playing hockey for their country at the Winter Olympics, whether they know it or not, are hugely indebted to these women.
I’ve interviewed these women so many times that I know all the questions that the live audience will pose. “Were you ever called names? Did you really play in skirts? How accurate was the movie? Which one of you was Madonna’s character based on? (a question to which all the alumni players rapidly raise their hands in unison.) But there is a moment I love, and it happens at every interview. The question usually comes from a very earnest looking man or an angry looking woman, but it always comes.
“Do you foresee a time when men and women play alongside each other in the major leagues?”
After a pause, the frank and unexpected answer breaks the silence.
“Hell, no! Why would we want to do that? We just want a league of our own!”
I guess I love that moment so because it mirrors my own beliefs that men and women are at once equal but different. We share the same universal desires for safety, health and freedom, and we all desire to be loved, respected and appreciated. We share an equal potential for competence and incompetence. And if you will excuse the slightly misplaced context of Shylock’s famous words, If you prick us, do we not bleed?” However, we are also very different: our bodies are different, our brains are different, and our body chemistry is different. Our historical paths, though side by side, have been vastly different. And I’m hoping, at least in the short term, we will recognize that our future challenges are different.
Let me explain.
Since my mother’s generation lead the charge for women into the workplace, most of the feminist movement has been framed around gender. We’ve looked at the gender specific oppression of women, the gender based pressures that have kept women in their traditional roles, and we’ve even tried to highlight and label certain traits as inherently female as a means to accentuate and advance their leadership potential. I think this has all been necessary to a point. To truly understand and overcome the obstacles which can impede a woman’s path to success in the workplace, or to creating a manageable work-life balance, we have needed to fully deconstruct the problems along the way. In the attempt to right many wrongs, we’ve first had to understand them.
Ironically, during 40 years of gender-specific deconstruction and the creating workplace polices created to alleviate those gender-specific problems for women, men have simply been told to “get on board.” Men are either with the cause, or we are dinosaurs. We support women or we are misogynists.
Current work-family balance lightening rod, Anne-Marie Slaughter said recently, that as we seek to fix work life balance problems, “we need to take gender out of the equation.” I couldn’t disagree more. While I share Ms. Slaughter’s desire to realize that work-life balance is a man’s issue, too, taking gender out of the equation not only misses the mark, it actually reinforces the problem. It is just an extension of the “get on board” mentality, because it assumes a woman’s challenge on the road to creating a fulfilling career and a meaningful home life is the same as a man’s. Ms. Slaughter’s sentiment, though well intentioned, fails to recognize the workplace and sometimes cultural stigma men face when they appear to place family before career. In the eyes of many men, “gender neutral” policy at work isn’t gender neutral at all. It was designed by and for women suffering from “mommy overload.” To take advantage, in the eyes of many men, is to take too great a career risk, and by extension, too great a financial risk for the family.
If we’ve spent the past four decades looking at the gender specific challenges that women have faced on their quest for equality in the workplace, why have we completely glossed over the gender specific challenges men are facing to be the more involved husbands, partners and fathers they long to be?
Instead of saying “men need to be on board” we need to be asking about and searching for the root causes of why they haven’t been.
We need broad based discussions around the stigma men face when they appear to be sacrificing family for career.
We need to understand that we still undervalue men as fathers, and see fatherhood as a whole as inferior to motherhood.
We need to put an end to the gender based stereotyping of men and fathers in pop culture as loving-yet-spectacularly-inept parents.
We need to recognize that we still groom young men to believe their greatest value to the family will be measured by the girth of their wallets.
And we need to acknowledge that men have been striving for power, control and success in the workplace because that is precisely how society has told them they are being good fathers.
Different but equal. Equal but different. Surely, if we can agree that this is an apt, albeit, incredibly simplified description of men and women, we must realize the stark reality that, in our quest to smash the glass ceiling, we’ve only examined half the problem. If we are different but equal, doesn’t it stand to reason that our problems and challenges are different but equal, too?
What we need to realize is that the glass ceiling is double paned. In our attempts to smash the glass ceiling, we’ve been missing something vital: the daddy hammer. It’s not any stronger than the one being wielded by women for the past 40 years, but it is the only one that can get through that other pane that has been too invisible for us to see.
—photo by kodomut/Flickr