Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Men Benefit from Feminism

     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.


DJan said...

The breakdown in family roles has changed drastically during my lifetime. I remember a day when all I did during the day is wash, clean, and prepare food. What we had for dinner was the highlight of my day. No longer: now I am married to a man who does all the grocery shopping and cooking, and I happily accept this change. It works for us. :-)

Douglas said...

There were some good and bad that came out of the Feminist Movement. My first wife asserted she was a Women's Liberationist... so, I liberated(divorced)her. But, seriously, there was a lot of good that came of it. On the other hand, take a look at this chart:

Anonymous said...

I'm laughing at the divorce statistics. My mother and her three siblings were born in the years from 1914 to 1930. By 1940, two of the four had divorced. The youngest divorced in 1947.

In my own generation, I was the only one of three to divorce - after a 19-year marriage. Cause? I was not only holding down a full-time job, but doing everything around the house - and I do mean everything. My husband, a first-generation American, had been raised that the women waited on the men hand-and-foot. After 11 years of divorce, we re-married. This time around, I insisted upon an even split of the household chores (of course, by then, the children were out on their own, so there is dramatically less work for either of us to do.)

Just three years after we resumed living together, my husband retired at age 56. Had I not been making a decent salary by then, he could not have afforded to retire. I worked another 11 years, retiring at 66.

"Perks" that men and women now share that have not been mentioned: 1) each person now has access to their own credit cards. As late as 1976, when I applied for a card, it arrived bearing my husband's name - not mine. 2) in the 1950s I was asked to work extra hours each day - off the clock - because it was illegal for a woman to work more than eight hours/day in this state (no, there was no reward - in fact, less qualified males doing the same job were paid for all of the hours at a rate 1.4 times the rate I was paid.)

I'm just another (uppity) woman.

Anonymous said...

As we now have yardmen come here to do the yard work, David now pushes a vacuum cleaner instead of a lawn mower.

Hauola said...

I am the firstborn daughter of six, only one sister 16 months younger than myself, and a 12 year spread from oldest to youngest. Being born smack dab in the middle of the 20th century, I had few problems figuring out early it was expected of me to help with inside (pink) tasks and outside (blue) tasks in my family. My first official job in the work world was a summer gov't hire after my junior year of high school. It was a desk job, it was 1967 and my recollection of my hourly wage was $1.40. When I retired nearly three years ago from, well yes of course, a lengthy gov't career, the wages and promotion opportunities had come a long, long way. Without ever having supper table family discussions about the women's movement, feminism, or disparity in wages I know I was prepared for the workplace changes with my early assignments of inside and outside tasks in the home. I think feminism has opened up the avenues of it being acceptable to erase distinct divisions of labor and achievement for female and male alike. It does require constant tuning and adjustment with each generation.

Anonymous said...

Our only is single for a reason she makes more than most men. She works in film and does what a man usually does so makes a good deal more than most women, but she always did..She thinks it is important for a man to be kind, loving and adoring, screw the amount of money they make, she likes corny and sweet and absolutely clean living, not the living she sees of many in the film industry and film business..So she is single and happy, she saved for her retirement since a child, she goes on vacations with us, she stays in a different area of the ship or freighter but she spoils us..we feel mighty damn lucky to have her as a child but never figure she will marry and or settle for someone, she makes enough to adopt a baby no one wants and really be a mom, but she prefers her cat and travel and being by herself, she is happy that way..She is not lonely and hard up at all..She knows how to cook and clean and sew and do mundane things she must know how to live, but never wants to arrive home to have anyone say to her Whats for dinner & now!!!!!!!!!!! No not indeed, feminism is for her all the way..Most men she meets can cook, clean and be a great nurturer but most don't want marriage so she stays friends and is happy! Not all the ladies want to be married and not all the gents want to be married either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Divorce stats are a bit misleading, not yours necessarily..the press interpretation. For one thing you can't predict the future from these stats. Divorce went up because women like me discovered they had choices and did not need to stay in a ad marriage. Women today like my granddaughters don't feel they must get married. At this point I would predict 3 of my 4 granddaughters will never have children, and a couple of them may never marry. One of them just began earning commissions for her work and is having great fun!

Anonymous said...

"...inside (pink) tasks and outside (blue) tasks...."

Fortunately, in my family, there was no such thing as division of labor. We boys and girls did whatever needed to be done - just as Mom and Dad did. After we kids left home, Mom was the one likely doing the outside work, while Dad cooked, washed the dishes (he said that it got the grim of his being an electrician out of his hands), etc.

Puzzle me this: In today's day and age, if sexism is so much less, why are babies accorded blue or pink hats, by sex, at the hospitals? Balderdash!
Cop Car

Anonymous said...

Well, Dad's hands may have been "grim" but it was the "grime" that washing of dishes removed from his hands.
; )

Hauola said...

One difference from yesteryears is babies are seldom displayed in hospital nurseries these days. Enter the colorful array of patterned and solid pastel unisex infant hats and less of a demand, leading to supply, of the blue or pink hats.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

You're so right about men being liberated, largely, from the sole breadwinner expectations. It is interesting, isn't it, to have grown up in one era and have come of age in quite another. I remember when want ads for employment were separated into male and female jobs -- with the female jobs being mostly "Gal Friday" and "Fun and Easy!" while the interesting and better paying jobs were for men only.

I also remember talking with HR when applying for my first job being asked what form of birth control I used because the company didn't want to hire a young woman with plans -- or the risk -- of having a baby within a year or so. I remember being so embarrassed, I blurted out "But I'm a virgin! I don't even have a boyfriend!" Such a scenario would be unthinkable now. And I do remember when women couldn't get credit alone. When I was buying my first car, just out of college, my father co-signed my loan. Thank goodness for times changing.

There are some throwbacks though. I have a close friend who stayed in a horribly unhappy marriage for many years until the children were grown and out of the house. His wife refused to have sex with him ever again after their last child was born. She had been a very talented teacher early in their marriage but chose to stay at home after the kids were born, even after they were in school. He finally left the marriage two years ago, but because they were married so long and she gave up her career -- albeit voluntarily -- he is paying through the nose. She gets the house, the savings and he is still paying all her expenses. He is nearing 70 and still working because he has to and will probably be working until he drops because he'll never be able to afford retirement.

At our active adult community, I also see the dark side of traditional roles: guys lounging in front of the t.v. complaining they don't know what to do with themselves while their wives do all the cooking and cleaning and ragefully wonder to each other when they will get to retire. The couples who shared breadwinning and house maintenance more equally seem to age together more peacefully.

Tom Sightings said...

. . . if only my post was half as eloquent as your comment!

Anonymous said...

Waiting for the date that feminism bring any real advantage for men. Because women expect expect the men for pay all bills and bring house the milk.

More fatherhood? Only until he's married with mom. After the divorce, the childrens is hers and he become just an ATM for his sons and daughters.

Sexual revolution? Just for alphas. Housework? It's your obligation now, not just the dishes.

And about other men's problem? Let's see...
- Life expectancy? Is less than 7 years than woman's, depending on your country. And rising.
- Domestic violence against men? They're against address it. They say that only women are victims and only men are perpetrators.
- Suicide rates? Unattended also and growing. And it'll never, depending on feminism.
- Education? There are more and more programs for women to get engineering, science, IT and other "men oriented courses". For men? Nothing. And there are a 'boy crysis', and no one is caring about that.
- Healthcare? No advances at all. Little to no investment on men's health are being done. Blue november encounter some resistance from feminist NGOs.
- Security? Men are more often killed than woman. And no one seems to care.
- Work security? Mens dies more than woman when working. And no one cares.

Feminism might brought some benefits for men. But the prejudices are too great to ignore.