In Search of Male Role Models

During the Christmas and New Years season, I end up reflecting more than normal about some of the choices I make in my life.  In celebrating with family and reflecting on the birth of Christ, I’m reminded of many of the relational blessings in my life.  Although I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, in starting a new year (and new semester), I’m often challenged to be more intentional in the choices I make.  It’s also a good time for me to reflect together with my husband about where we want our life to be headed, and what directions we feel will help us live most in line with God’s passions and vision.

With the end of the semester also comes the grading of tests and papers, where I ask students to reflect on how their gender (and other’s gendered assumptions) has impacted their own trajectories.  I am immersed in the literature on challenges faced by evangelical women (as women), so many of the responses from my female students are often not surprising.  As a woman myself, I also relate personally to many of their experiences. I am reminded that there are few models of strong women providing leadership in evangelical institutions.  The project I’m currently working on alongside Janel Curry at Gordon College and the Center for Social Research at Calvin College is focused on understanding some of the structural, cultural, and theological factors at play.

In her book Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles (NYU Press, 2003), Julie Ingersoll finds that for the married women who do succeed in being in positions of power in the evangelical world, having the support of their husbands is incredibly important. For myself, I’m incredibly thankful to work together as part of a team with my husband, as we jointly think about what it means to live faithfully.  (I do not think all people need to be married, and agree with the arguments made by Christine Colon and Bonnie Field in Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church (Brazos Press, 2010)) that the church needs to find more ways to support and encourage single people.)

As I’m mentioned in previous posts (Why We Should Support Men and Egalitarian Men and Working Fathers), the problem of women’s underrepresentation in leadership and decision-making roles is not just about women.  Men who are committed to more egalitarian relationships face many of the same work/life challenges; they also face challenges and pay-gaps in the job market. As I read some of the reflections from my male students, I’m struck by the fact that they also lack a plethora of strong role models to follow.  That is, for those men committed to living in egalitarian relationships in their pursuit of Christ, it can also be hard to find good examples to emulate. We need more examples and role models of strong men, working alongside strong women.

I want to highlight three of those models – strong men, working together alongside strong women – that have been influential in my own life.  They are models that my husband and I look to together of the type of people we want to be like.  Catherine and Andy Crouch, Ruth and James Padilla DeBorst, and Sandra and Paul Joireman.  Each of these couples has also traveled extensively as part of their vocation, be it spending time abroad or traveling regularly for speaking engagements.  For each of these six individuals, his or her career accomplishments alone make him or her a person I would seek guidance from. Yet it is through watching them do the dishes, answer their child’s question, lead worship, teach a Bible study, provide mentoring, and live in community, that they challenge me in my own journey.

I first met the Crouches as an undergraduate at Harvard, where I was part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Andy was working as a staff worked with IV (and serving as the editor of re:generation quarterly). Catherine was a post-doctoral student in the physics department at Harvard.  Today, Andy is a senior editor at Christianity Today, and a popular author/speaker. (Andy has written a great piece on the need for churches to better deal with scientists, which to me exemplifies some of the ways the two of them live in mission together). Catherine is a tenured professor at Swarthmore. They invested deeply in the lives of the students at Harvard; they’ve prioritized their children in their decisions. I was able to witness the way they co-parented young children at a critical juncture in their careers. They’ve been committed to specific religious bodies, and the lives of their children, and institutional structures within the church.

A few years later, while I was in El Salvador with World Relief, I had the privilege to meet Ruth and Jim Padilla DeBorst. They were working with the Christian Reformed World Missions. They began the Seeds of New Creation network in EL Salvador. Ruth has served as the general secretary of the FTL (Latin American Theological Fraternity), spoke at the last Lausanne Congress and currently works for World Vision. Jim provides leadership to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies (CETI), has worked in development for over 20 years, and teaches and researches on international development. Jim and Ruth have six kids in their family, and currently live in Casa Adobe in Costa Rica, where they are invested deeply in the local community of Heredia. They are leaders in the global and local church, committed to ideas of integral mission. They frequently are asked to speak at conferences around the world. Yet in their quest, they have supported each other and their children. They are one of the best examples of a couple who provide global leadership through their local commitments.

Most recently, we’ve been able to be part of Lombard Mennonite Church as we live in Wheaton, where we’ve been inspired by the example of Paul and Sandra Joireman.  Sandra was a political science professor at Wheaton College, but is currently the Weinstein Chair of International Studies at the University of Richmond. She is also the current chair of the Board of Directors of Bread for the World.  Paul works as an Advanced Developer at VG Bioinformatics.  He previously worked at Fermilab, and has been a chemistry professor at various universities.  They are deeply invested in the community of our small church, from children’s ministries to adult education. They have two children, who they have parented together (sometimes from different countries).  We’ve seen them deal with some of the same questions we ask regarding dual career households, and their advice and example has been especially important to us in this life stage.

As a woman, I’m really thankful for the different models that Catherine, Ruth, and Sandra have been, usually in ways they do not even know.  It’s the ordinary way that they live their lives. As a woman, I also really appreciate Andy, Jim, and Paul. None of them are leaders in the feminist movement (to my knowledge). But they support strong women, and encourage them to succeed. They are committed to their families, sometimes at personal cost to their career.  They invest in building community with their spouses.

Given the gendered norms and inequalities that still exist in the evangelical world, we should recognize that it’s not just women struggling to find strong role models, but also men as well.  I realize that some reading this post may not want egalitarian role models, but for men and women who do, they have to be intentional about those to whom they look to for wisdom. I want to especially encourage young men committed to greater gender equality and shared partnership with women to look for strong male models such as those mentioned; to look for mentors who not only pursue Christ in their vocations, but alongside commitments to church community, and who encourage their partners to exercise their full potential.

 

Egalitarian Men and Working Fathers

In my last post, I suggested that as a society, we should be more encouraging of men who are trying to combine work and family. The problem that women confront in the workplace is about both about gender and a principle of devotion to work.  Many of the challenges that women face in balancing family and work are those also faced by men.

I am especially concerned with the working fathers who are serving as equal co-parents in their children’s lives, and fathers who are involved in relatively equivalent amounts (or more) of domestic work as their partners.   I’m not talking about fathers who make sure to make it home for dinner—I’m talking about fathers who are often making dinner. I recognize that there are a number of men without children who still struggle to balance work/family demands, but will focus this post more on working fathers. I also refer to these men as egalitarian men; this is not meant to be a theological statement regarding their beliefs about women in the church, but rather, a statement about their family practices and beliefs that reveal relatively equal roles in their families with their partners.  A blog by Dr. Scott Behson on Fathers, Work, and Family, provides an example of this population I’m considering (and also raises many of the same concerns addressed here – I suggest checking it out).

This population of working fathers is significant. Just last month, Pew Research Center released a report on the roles of moms and dads, with attention to how they spend their time and think about issues of work and family. While 56% of working mothers note it is very or somewhat difficult to balance work/family, 50% of men report the same thing.  Fathers are also more likely than mothers to feel that they spend too little time with their children (46% to 23%).  But perhaps most important for the topic of this post, I was interested in this chart reflecting who does more at home.

About 5% of women and men argue that men do more childcare; while close to half report that men and women are equally involved in childcare.  Further, when it comes to household chores, a majority of men (and almost half of women) say that fathers do as much or more than mothers.  While fathers and mothers both tend to see themselves as working more than their partners might, a large percentage of men are doing a lot at home.  Yes, there is a gender gap.  But when we concentrate on the median and mean, we can fail to recognize than in many families, this gender gap may not exist, while in others, it’s actually larger than the macro-level data reveals.

Challenges for Men

(1) In the last blog, I highlighted that these men are often paid less than men with traditional attitudes.  Compared to more traditional men, egalitarian men with significant commitments to family can both face significant obstacles in being hired and promoted.  Gillian Ranson, a sociologist at the University of Calgary, profiles a number of these working fathers in his article, “Men, Paid Employment, and Family Responsibilities: Conceptualizing the ‘Working Father.’”  These men often need to leave the office early, or desire not to work every day. They are not always on call, and rarely have a partner at home who manages domestic responsibilities.  The study from Cornell University (by Judge and Livingston) also suggested than egalitarian men may also be less aggressive in wage negotiations than more traditional men, and so suffer further economic penalties.

Such men may also be restricted (compared with traditional men) in the jobs that they are able to take. Families cannot easily move to support men in their careers.  Egalitarian men are more likely than other men to prioritize their spouse’s career; this may sometimes entail moving for their partner, which could accompany a downward career move.  They are often being compared with men who have a spouse who is dedicated primarily to the family; this is rarely something noted on their CV. While I have not seen longitudinal data, I would hypothesize that these men have less successful career trajectories than men with similar demographics and more traditional gender role attitudes.

(2) For fathers who are trying to be invested in their families, we often find that there are fewer supports for them than women. This is both an institutional and a cultural problem.  In some places, women are offered more flexibility than men when it comes to balancing work and family.   Second, even when paternity leave may technically be available for men, it may be discouraged. Ranson finds, for example, that mothers are still much more likely to take advantage of family-friendly initiatives.

(3) These men are also often lumped together as being ‘men’ who do not deal with the same challenges as women.  Increasingly in sociology we talk about intersectionality: the idea that gender cannot be understood outside its dynamics with class and race.  A recent article in the Journal of Marriage and Family by sociologists Rebecca Glauber and Kristi Gozjolko looks precisely at how issues of intersectionality can shed light on how men deal with work-family tensions.

 We found that fatherhood was associated with an increase in married White men’s time spent in paid work. The increase was more than twice as strong for traditional White men than for egalitarian White men. In contrast, both egalitarian and traditional African American men did not work more when they became fathers.  These findings suggest that African American men may express gender traditionalism but adopt more egalitarian work-family arrangements (“Do Traditional Fathers Always Work More? Gender, Ideology, Race, and Parenthood,” p.1133)

What I find interesting about their study is two-fold.  One, the story of working fathers cannot be separated from race, as the ‘traditional’ model often heralded is one predominantly adopted by whites.  Although not tested, this would lead me to suspect that some part of the wage gap between white and black men is in part due to their different family dynamics and work-family balance.  Second, it suggests that just as race is important in understanding the wages men receive, so are the attitudes that men have towards gender roles and family.

At the end of the day, I found more scholars investigating these issues than I had previously known about; however, I also found a real lack of empirical data regarding the challenges and costs that these fathers face.   And in our pursuits to decrease gender inequality and break down gendered stereotypes, it’s vital that such working fathers are supported.

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.

bookshot

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.

The Problem with Being Thankful

I enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. I’m thankful for the lives of my three daughters, for my husband; I’m thankful for my parents, my siblings, and my extended family through marriage.  This season, I was especially thankful that my husband and I are able to provide for our family, to meet our children’s needs, and be able to see them thrive. Yet even as I am grateful for these things, I feel a sense of unease in thanking God for these things as good gifts.

Part of this stems from the fact that I hurt alongside with the poor when I celebrate Thanksgiving.  Bryant Myers, in his book, Walking with the Poor (1999), writes:

Poverty is a result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not     harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.

missing photo

Social scientists often distinguish between absolute and relative poverty, because poverty is not just about material need.  One of the curses of poverty is the broken relationships that it entails.

Since becoming a mother, I often think more about what poverty means for parents, and the pain of not being able to provide for one’s children.  Sometimes when eating dinner with my pasta-loving children, I imagine what it would be like to have to tell them that I do not have food to feed them.  I watch them play, and celebrate the fact that they can live a life of childhood free from real scarcity or worry.  I rejoice in the fact that I have a job that gives me the time (and energy) to spend time just being and loving my children in person.  But I do not take these realities for granted.

While prosperity gospel is not the prevalent paradigm within Christian churches in the United States, many of us (Christians) still see our material resources as a gift from God.  And this is the belief I wrestled with this Thanksgiving.  While I fully believe in the sovereignty of God to give to some and not to others, that’s not my dominant explanation of why I have and others do not. Many of the blessings I celebrate are linked to my social location. Recently, The Economist ran an article on inequality in the United States, noting that inequality is on the rise.  But what they highlight as one of the central problems is that social mobility is declining, declaring that “Although the United States is seen as a world of opportunity, the reality may be different.”  This argument ran under the subtitle,

A long ladder is fine, but it must have rungs

Unfortunately, there are many people who want to climb the ladder; those who want to support their families. While I will continue to be thankful for the ability to give to my children, I believe simply being thankful is not only not enough.  It’s not the full story. It fails to see the way that our gifts are often not things that are ‘given by God,’ but rather are the result of a broken and unequal system. For me, that means needing to acknowledge that I benefit from a global economic system in a way that many do not, and to ask God what it means to be faithful with those resources that I have. As I think about what that means for my own life, I keep coming back to three things:

  • To make a conscious choice not to exploit others, either indirectly or directly.  This requires me to more actively ask questions and investigate how I am able to achieve the lifestyle (and the “blessings” I have). For some, this entails questions about ethical and sustainable consumerism.
  • To be committed to helping families thrive, and to help parents be able to support their own children.  I recognize that most parents want the best for the children, and being a good parent is largely (although not solely) about having certain resources.
  • To remember why I became a sociologist. One of my central research interests deals with the way relationships are structured by changes in the international political economy.  While I often investigate macro-level concerns, it is because of the pupusa vendor in El Salvador trying to feed her children that I became a sociologist.

I am thankful to God, the giver of life.  I am thankful that He loves all His children. And I am thankful for the opportunity to try and be a part of pursuing His heart for the world.  Of course, I will not deny that I am still thankful for my family and our resources, but even more thankful that God desires for all families to thrive.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X