masculinity, feminism and the new york times magazine in daddyland

I know that I am biased and on the lookout for this – hoping for this – but I sense a momentum to this whole Daddyland thing, specifically the need for both men and women to redefine masculinity to, at the very least, include child raising as a core value.

Now, I know the topic is not new.  It goes back to the roots of feminism for sure, at least in academia.  And there have been a bunch of books and documentaries and daddy blogs devoted to the changing father.   But I’m talking about a certain mass media uptake, a certain capturing of the American zeitgeist.

The New York Times story in June.  The Newsweek cover.  The acceptance of my Slate essay.  A Chicago Tribune column (more on that another day).  Now the New York Times Magazine.

Lisa Belkin writes the Motherlode parenting blog at the Times and certainly has focused her fair share on dads.  But here is she in a more concentrated magazine essay – one that includes a book from 2008 that I will have to check out:

In her new book, “Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter,” Joan C. Williams describes how men find themselves caught between meeting cultural expectations and a growing dissatisfaction with the constricted roles shaped by those expectations. “You have to ask why, if women are asking men to change, and if men say they want change, it hasn’t happened,” she says. “Either they are all lazy, or they are under tremendous gender pressures of their own.”

The life-work dilemma for women has long been that “the workplace has changed in their favor, but home hasn’t,” she says. Men, however, “have the opposite problem. More is expected of them at home, but expectations have not shifted at work.” Which explains why the percentage of fathers in dual-income households who say they suffer work-family conflict has risen to 59 percent from 35 percent since 1977.

Younger couples say they want and expect parity in their relationships. But many women still carry a chip on their shoulders, chiseled in part by years of keeping all those to-do lists in their heads. And if men can find no relief from the pressures of work, they are not going to be able to fit into the revamped economy of home.

There is a lot in there that I’ve tried to articulate in this blog – that men are not lazy, that men need to fight for change, and that women need to let them in.

And because Sweden and Daddyland are so forward on this, here is Belkin’s almost obligatory Sweden paragraph:

By steering men toward a particular path, Sweden redefined the nature of choice. Parental leave was transformed from a way to escape the world of work into a way to maximize the benefits available to families; from an emotional decision to a financial one; from something mothers do to something every parent does. Would that same kind of redefinition — of the relationship between work and home, of the roles of men and women — work on this side of the Atlantic?

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One thought on “masculinity, feminism and the new york times magazine in daddyland

  1. Nathan,

    I agree that there is a shift, albeit very slow and slight, to redefine masculinity and the father’s role and responsibility in child rearing.
    As an architect in NYC, I’m accustomed to working long hours in a male dominated profession. I work for a mid-size firm where none of the partners have children and few of the senior staff do. Three years ago when my son was born I took a month leave to care for him when my wife was required to return to work. It was amazing how short a month felt when it was time to go back to work. I now have 3 month old daughter. Today marks the first day of my 3 month paternity leave. My wife was required to return to work and I requested a leave, which my company was obligated by law to grant, even though they did so grudgingly. And it was extremely difficult to ask for due to the pressures and expectations surrounding my job. But even this limited leave is a luxury. My wife and I saved as much money as we could so that we could afford to live off of one paycheck for a number of months. We could afford to stay home longer, but only at the risk of losing our jobs. Until the country mandates employers to grant a longer leave or initiates a benefit program to encourage longer maternity leave or paternity leave, a life/work situation with real “family values” will be out of reach for most Americans.

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