Why We Should Support Men

Why We Should Support Men March 26, 2013

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.

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  • Y

    I agree with you. I do a regular blog where I often address the issue that you are exploring. Access to conception control, ceasing the military draft, and the feminist movement have opened up many new possibilities for how we define family and gender roles. At its best, parenting is partnership, as are all domestic and community co-responsibility roles. Shared custody after divorce seems, too often, to be the new way of creating caring community support.

    Older women who have attained their wisdom through many years of matriarchy are now using those skills and contacts to become powerful leaders as second careers. I observe, with great openness and interest as my children and grandchildren work out their family care and career issues, and I often write about them.

    • Amy Reynolds

      Thanks for the response. I would agree that having people who have lived through a number of life phases are often not as prominent in these discussions as they should be, given the wisdom and perspective they often have. More intergenerational conversation is needed. Glad to hear about your work in this area.

  • jdens

    Yes. When I’m dreaming, I envision a society in which both my husband and I could work, say, 4 days a week at meaningful (to us) jobs that pay a decent wage. Am I being unreasonable? Shouldn’t both partners be able to pursue outside achievements without sacrificing a healthy home life?

    • Amy Reynolds

      I really appreciate this perspective. Some great thoughts about challenging the ways we think about work. It should be reasonable, even as it’s not a realistic option for many. Other ways might be to think about whether kids always have to be fully separated from work (which varies depending on jobs, of course).

  • Great commentary. I of course agree.

    Re: “There has been very little discussion of the challenges that men face as they encounter some of the same struggles that women today face.”

    This is part of the blind sexism against men. Here’s a good example of this sexism: “Wives Belong at Home with the Kids”

    • Amy Reynolds

      Interesting perspective. I agree with you that both men and women suffer from these ideologies. However, I disagree with the idea that there is blind sexism against men. Men still have more power in our society than women, even as both are hurt by this separate spheres mentality (as you point out). And the reality is that women suffer disproportionately in receiving lower pay and having “their” work (or what people want to identify as women’s work) devalued in comparison to men’s work.