I wrote a Remember Her? about Betty Friedan the other day, harking back to the days of the feminist movement and a time in history when the relationship between the sexes was changing dramatically. Many of us Baby Boomers grew up in one world, and now live in another.
Many people have commented over the years about the advances of women -- and the encroachments on male entitlements that came with them. Top universities that were all male went coed. Women broke into the old boys network in hiring and promotions. Women were encouraged to enter previously male-dominated professions from business to law to medicine. When my daughter went to vet school a few years ago, 80% of her class was female. Back in the 1960s, the class was over 90% male. Meanwhile, men have been told to do more housework, and encouraged to spend more time with their children.
The benefits for women have been pretty clear -- although I daresay there's been some downside as well. I remember when I was getting divorced. I had a friend at work who was getting divorced at the same time. We commiserated with each other -- my nonworking wife was getting half of our marital assets. And her nonworking, no-good bum of a husband was getting half of their marital assets as well. So goes equality.
I readily admit that in the past, especially early in my career, I benefited from a preference for males in the workplace -- the presumption that males were more serious about their careers, more committed, would work longer hours -- whether it was true or not.
But I also remember one point in my career -- it was 1988 -- when I went into my boss's office, sat down and reviewed my career prospects. I was in line for a promotion and was competing for a particularly coveted job at the company.
The boss acknowledged that I had proven my skills, excelled at my job, shown my corporate loyalty, deserved to move ahead. Then he looked at me with a pained expression and told me straight out: "But listen, I have to give this job to a woman. I can't get around that."
And sure enough, the job went to a woman ... one who was about five or eight years younger than I was, with five or eight years less experience, and who I guarantee you, was no better at the job.
But enough about me. Reviewing the life of Betty Friedan made me wonder -- we know how women have progressed because of feminism, but how have men benefited from the women's movement? I was struck by Friedan's quote regarding women stuck at home as housewives with their "disease with no name" and their "sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered and struggled with alone . . . afraid to ask even of
herself the silent question — 'Is this all?'"
You don't have to be a housewife to feel this "disease with no name." Many people in the workplace have felt the same sense of despair and futility as they realize that whatever work they do feels somehow hollow -- but they are trapped because they need the paycheck to pay the bills for themselves, their family, their children.
To me, the biggest advantage of feminism to males is the freedom from expectation -- the expectation that they would bear the full responsibility for providing for their family -- for how many men over the years have been trapped in a job they hate, but could not take the risk of trying something different because they had to pay the mortgage, the credit card and the grocery bill at the end of every month.
I know a number of Baby Boomer men today who have in a sense been set free by the women's movement, who have taken early retirement, or lost their jobs, and are now being supported largely by their wives.
So can you tell me what else feminism has done for men? The sexual revolution? Oh, I don't know anything about that. But I do know I was able to spend a lot more time with my children than my father ever did with his. Part of the reason is because I didn't have as long a commute; but part of it was because people now expect men to help take care of their children, whereas before they didn't. And I for one loved being a part of my children's lives when they were growing up.
Then there's the housework. Aside from everything else, in my house I'm the one who washes the dishes. Every night. All year long. But then, so did my dad, 50 years ago.