Why We Should Support Men

Part I of II

The issue of women having work/life balance has occupied a lot of media attention as of late. Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece in the Atlantic this summer on the challenges of women having it all attracted a lot of attention (and Margarita Mooney blogged in response to it on this site).  Marissa Mayer of Yahoo’s decision to end some work-from-home options received a lot of outrage from people suggesting she was making things harder for women.  Most recently, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg has captured media attention for her new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  Some have claimed her message of encouraging women to speak up more overlooks some of the institutional challenges to women in leadership (and particularly challenges facing those outside the upper-middle class).

Even as the perspectives raised by the aforementioned public figures may differ in their focus on personal or structural ways forward, they are united in their focus on the unique challenges women face today in balancing work and family.  As someone who teaches on gender and the family, I understand the importance to highlight the role gender plays in our society, and it’s been encouraging to see more public attention on these issues. Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership, and still face discrimination in our workplace.  And as I’ve blogged about before, gendered stereotypes are argued to be one of the main hindrances towards greater equality today.

Cover: Competing Devotions in PAPERBACK

But where are the men in these discussions?  It seems that the public attention often focuses on the challenges of women in their work-life balance—when we could have a discussion on the challenges of work-life balance (that especially, but not exclusively, impact women). Mary Blair-Loy, in her book, Competing Devotions: Career and Family Among Women Executives (Harvard University Press, 2005), makes use of two important concepts: devotion to work and devotion to home.  Adding to our understanding of a separate spheres mentality that may often separate work (male) and home (female), she argues that this devotion to work mentality – and a corresponding devotion to home mentality –inhibits women from succeeding (or in recent rhetoric, from having it all).  In her study of professional women, the central problem is that home and work are greedy and demanding institutions.  And for the women she studies, even when they are in successful careers, they often feel the social pressure to be devoted in ways to home.

Her analysis has been helpful for me in shifting the conversation away from “How do women have it all?” towards “How do we challenge the concepts of devotion to work OR devotion to family?”  This is essential for what I propose in an area in need of much more attention – how to bring men more fully into the picture.

There has been very little discussion of the challenges that men face as they encounter some of the same struggles that women today face.  Without ignoring the persistence of gender inequality in our world, I want to note that the challenge of being devoted to work and family is one increasingly faced by men, and one where they, along with women, lack institutional support.


Kathleen Gerson, in her book The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in A New Era of Gender, Work, and Family (Oxford University Press, 2009) argues that today, many young men and women seek to have egalitarian relationships, yet find such arrangements often unviable.  She finds men who seek to balance managing their home live with their partner; those who plan to support a partner’s career and not just their own.

I would love to see more public discussion about how we support these men – either alongside women, or in the unique challenges that they face as well.  It is not just women who are balancing a second shift that are competing against men who are mostly devoted to work—it is also men balancing a second shift that are finding it hard to succeed at the same level in the workplace.

Evidence of the challenges that egalitarian men face is found in analysis of the pay gap.  A study released three years ago by Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (ILR School) finds that gender role attitudes are a big part of the gender wage gap.

The wage gap between men with traditional views and men with egalitarian views is greater than the wage gap between men and women (1)

As someone who has the privilege of being married to a man who has supported my career and invested equivalent energy in our children, the research does not surprise me; I know that many of the same challenges I face in balancing a commitment to work and family are ones that we share. We both have to think about our family when scheduling to be out of town for research and work; we both have made job decisions that would look different in one spouse was trailing the other. For him and other egalitarian-minded men, those challenges are often unacknowledged.  Yes, I fully support efforts to increase the presence of women in leadership, and to make institutional and societal challenges that foster an environment where that happens.  But I’d also like to see men who are balancing those family and work divides meet success in their efforts, and doing so also requires supporting them.

To be honest, the lack of attention to the challenges of men in balancing family-work is not just a problem in the media; academic research on the topic is also scant.  In my next post, I’ll delve into some of the challenges that such men face in the workplace.

Contesting the Good News

This summer, I have the opportunity to travel to Brazil with Calvin College’s Nagel Institute, for a seminar focused on understanding how Pentecostals are interacting with and shaping globalization forces.  This question of how religious actors around the world understand and conceive of economic life—and in particular, aspects of increasing economic liberalization—is a central focus of my research.

I’ve recently finished Jill DeTemple’s 2012 book, Cement, Earthworms, and Cheese Factories: Religion and Community Development in Rural Ecuador (University of Notre Dame Press).  It’s one of the most recent books to look at a question that is growing in importance to a number of development scholars: How religion and development are intertwined and interconnected.

In discussing  historical trajectory of development, she makes a convincing argument that many of the colonizing impulses behind ‘economic development’ and Christian proselytization in the West are similar.

 Progress in its broadest sense—spiritual, cultural, technological—became the optimal way to achieve salvation’s ends (28).

Spreading the Gospel–the Good News–is a term some might use to talk about the message of God’s salvation in Christ, or the message of growth and progress for the world.  For some, mantras of growth and economic development are the true message that must be shared for the world to succeed today.

I’ve written on this question of the aims of development before. DeTemple’s work focuses more on the ways that religious and development goals get intertwined in specific places and contexts, and the lack of distinct boundaries between the two. But in telling the stories of communities, she shows that many times the goals and assumptions of development workers and ‘those being developed’ are not the same. The ends of development are re imagined.

One of the foundational aspects of development for many in the industry is economic growth (which I recently addressed).  So how are religious actors engaging with this largely uncontested belief?  In my book manuscript, I focus on how religious actors discuss and frame free trade and economic globalization.  What’s fascinating to me is the way that across a number of Christian traditions, religious voices continue to raise questions about the real goals of development and growth, almost universally critiquing our emphasis on economic individualism and a lack of concern about responsibility and relationship with neighbor.  And just as fascinating to me is that even as there seems to be much agreement among religious leaders, these voices are largely muted in public economic debates.

In understanding how Pentecostals in Brazil are engaging with globalization, I look forward to seeing the ways that actors on the ground—those engaging with poverty reduction and interacting with development programs—are part of a larger religious conversation about the value of growth and development.  As I continue to engage further in dialogues on religion and development, I’d love to hear other examples you may have of how religious actors are challenging global values and structures of current globalization paradigms in their micro-level efforts.

Being Honest about Inequality

Last week, my daughter brought home a class worksheet where she had noted that Barack Obama was colorblind.  “What does that mean?” I asked her, only to be informed that it meant he thought people were equal, regardless of the color of their skin.  I told her that’s not exactly what being colorblind meant: that seeing people as equal does not mean ignoring race.  The topic then shifted to soccer and birthday parties.

Yesterday morning we had another interesting exchange before school, continuing on with this idea of people being treated equally, regardless of gender or race. She was making a statement regarding the past when people were not treated equally.

“People are still not treated equally.  Many people still treat boys better than girls, and white people better than black people.” I decided to limit some of the specifics, such as differential conviction rates, job call-backs, media portrayals, or pay inequality.

“But in North America, we treat one another equally?”

I shook my head no.

“In Illinois?” No.
In Wheaton?” No.
“On our street?” Sad laugh.

I suspect this moment was similar to those that many sociologists (and others) have had with their children, where they feel a responsibility to discuss things as they really are, despite a sort of innocence that seems to be destroyed. But we have to admit and teach our children that in the United States, people are not treated equally. Not simply in spite of the fact that such a reality is awful, but precisely because it is awful.  Pretending that we are viewing and treating each other equally only makes the situation worse.

As a Christian, I yearn to see the Church standing out for our opposition to the sexism and racism in our society.  However, given the fact I study issues of gender and religion, I’m almost reminded daily that my hopes don’t match reality.

Let me just note two recent statistics on gendered realities in the Christian community, recognizing that it’s not a monolithic community.

  • Within colleges that are members of the CCCU (Christian Coalition of Colleges and Universities), 6 out of 111 college presidents are female.  The data for this chart comes from recent efforts & research of the CCCU examining these gender discrepancies.







  • A blog post yesterday on Patheos listed the top 50 influential pastors on twitter.  While I won’t argue it should be the key measure of who holds influence in the Christian community, it’s still an interesting list.  (Impossible) Challenge: Find one female on the list.  (The author, Adrian Warnock, followed up the list with the top 20 female Christian bloggers, but none of these were senior pastors).

If we aren’t honest with our children, we do more harm than good. When my daughter (or someone’s son) sees the chart above, or hears her friends talking about those influential blogging pastors, it communicates something.  She sees that those with the most power, those leading and making decisions, and those heralded for their wisdom are predominantly male and white.  If she and other children believe in a meritocracy, such information suggests that men must be smarter or better at these things that women, or that white people are more competent and qualified than non-whites. That’s not true.

Some days it’s hard to move from one disappointing fact to another.  This morning, I followed the discussion with my daughter to one where we talked about abuse in families during my morning class, and the failure of churches to engage in structural justice efforts in my afternoon class.  Students probably left both of those feeling a bit deflated, much like my daughter appeared as she ate her cheerios.  I agree with Margarita Mooney’s blog post noting that sociologists can often concentrate on the negative, and that “describing social problems is not the equivalent of describing the conditions that promote human flourishing or foster the common good.”  Clearly, most of my day was not engaged in such a project.

But to move towards change, we have to be aware of what’s wrong.  And it’s never too early to help kids to see it. I believe that many in the world, and within the evangelical community, can often undervalue women for the ways that they might be involved in God’s radical mission for the world. But this is not the end of the story. As my daughter looked at me sadly when I explained the prevalence of inequality today, I did engage in some positive perspective.  I reminded her that God doesn’t view us that way.  Thanks to a class I took as an undergraduate with Dr. Robert Kiely on early Christian literature, I was also able to tell her that some of the earliest Christians drew the attention of others as they broke gendered norms in worship, following messages of gender equality that Christ preached.  As I saw her eyes twinkle, I smiled. I witnessed her hope for a broken world, a hope much more valuable than a childish innocence of sin.

When Growth is Bad

The Hastert Center for Economics, Government, And Public Policy  at Wheaton College hosted an event last Thursday on the morality of economic growth, co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute.  The central speaker, Dr. Smith of Gordon College, argued that economic growth should be a moral imperative for Christians, especially if we are concerned about poverty.

As a person engaged in economic sociology (and a respondent at the event), I appreciated the fact this conversation was taking place. We need more dialogue on the moral character of market life. What does it mean to live ethical economic lives—as individuals, communities, and societies?

However, in a world where it seems that governments and policy-makers often just assume that growth is good, I’d like to suggest that growth in itself is not good. I recognize the great strides we have made in lowering infant mortality (and the rise in other development indicators) in the last two centuries. However, I think we should ask, “When is growth good?” or “How do we promote ethical economic growth?”

Some reasons why I think growth is sometimes not good:

1.Poverty and inequality are related.  Many people will focus on absolute poverty as the central issue.  Clearly, issues of absolute poverty are important.  As Christians, we should be invested in anti-poverty efforts that ensure people have enough to eat and a place to live.  But relative poverty is also important—a concept that considers one’s wealth and resources in relationship to others in society.  Relative poverty can negatively impact one’s social networks, employment, educational opportunities, and political involvement. Growing inequality is often linked with increased social isolation (that is, the poor living with the poor, and the wealthy with the wealthy).   In a world where the wealthy have more than enough, ethical growth must be measured in terms of how the poor fare—not only in absolute terms, but also relative to the wealthy.

2. Value creation matters.  While the ends of growth are important, the means by which growth is received and earned is also important.  How is economic growth achieved?  Is it through individuals having more creative power to exercise?  Is it through business being able to get more out of workers and manage the process more effectively?  In an economic marketplace where businesses have more power than individuals, and the poor are at the bottom of commodity chain processes, ethical growth demands attention to increasing the capacity of the poor to be involved in more active and significant ways in the economy. It should increase the potential of those at the bottom to be involved in value-creation activities.

3. Relationships are central.  The rise of a free-market system is connected in some ways to a more depersonalized market.  Most of us do not know the people that we are involved with in economic transactions.  But this does not mean those relationships do not exist.  Many assessing economic growth center on the individual as the basic unit of analysis, and maximizing individual (or the sum of individual) well-being as the end goal.  But as Christians, why should we assume the individual is the central variable of analysis?  In my study of religious communities engaging in debates over international trade, I find that they all prioritize right relationships and community as a central goal of economic life.  What would it mean to demand ethical and life-affirming relationships as a basis for market transactions?

Although economic issues are often considered distinct from moral issues, many voices (religious and otherwise) are challenging this assumption.  As a sociologist, I recognize that markets are social constructions, and values are embedded within them.  As a Christian, I want to live in right relationships (with others, with God, with the earth).  For me, this means asking how engage in more ethical relationships within a depersonalized market, and how to promote policies that prioritize (more) healthy relationships within the marketplace.