…is equality for men at home. I’ve been reading a lot this week about the various Mens Movements over the past half-decade, and without going into an exhaustive listing of each of them and their attributes, they all have almost the same problems. To wit, none of them really talks about how society ought to value a father’s participation at home.
I wrote a few weeks ago about how dads get crapped on, but my research has led me to realize it’s not dads that get crapped on, per se, but rather husbands. I won’t bore you with statistics about men and paternity leave, but suffice it to say that even when paternity leave is available, most men don’t take it because their employers give them very clear signals that say “You are a man and you are supposed to put breadwinning ahead of childrearing.”
These are the selfsame employers responsible for the womens’ glass ceiling — only for men, it’s a ‘glass wall’ that comes down vertically between their work lives and their home lives. If you choose the home side, you will find that you get ridiculed — but also that your wages and chances for promotion drop to that of a woman’s. And why not? You may be legally (or even by company policy!) granted the opportunity to choose your family over your work, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have ‘not a team player’ on your employee file for the rest of your life.
Being a parent is like being a garbage man…everyone expects you to do it, but no one actually makes any concessions that would allow you to do it or celebrates you doing it well. For a country that’s all about ‘family values’, there is nothing in our culture that celebrates choosing parenthood over a high-powered career and lots of money.
I personally feel the pressure every time I visit my father-in-law’s house for a holiday — he sits down and talks to me about how my job as freelance Internet writer is going. It’s like he’s compelled by some inner drive for ‘success’ to find some piece of advice he can offer about something that I could be doing better at my job. (He’s never offered the slightest bit of advice about being a father.)
Not that I’m unhappy about it; I know he does it because he loves his daughter and wants to see her well taken-care-of. But it speaks to the schizophrenia we have about men. I’ve told him (and everyone else who would listen) over and over again that I love my job precisely because it gives me near total control over my work-family balance. I choose family, almost every time, unless I’ve made a promise to a client and I have to sacrifice some bit of family time to keep it.
Why? Because no one on their deathbed ever grabbed their son’s hand and said, “I wish I had spent more time working.” Our culture’s rabid obsession with ever-greater amounts of income could do well to remember that.
Back to Feminism
But that’s a side point, honestly. The real point here is that feminism is mildly schizophrenic about men as well. There are those who want men to be equal and everyone to be happy, and there are those who want men to suffer under the crushing stiletto heel of the matriarchy…and both of them are misguided.
If you want women to be equal in the workplace, that’s flat-out not going to happen unless, at the same time, we make men equal at home. And not just in the eyes of the employers, but — as mentioned in the first linked article above — in the eyes of everyone. If women want equal pay and equal opportunities, they’re going to have to be comfortable handing the reigns of the home over to the men — even if that means that things aren’t always done like the women in question would do them.
And both genders need to get all up in their respective employer’s faces and demand equality — for women, in wages and promotions; for men, in family-based leave and flextime.
How does all of this affect me personally? Well, other than the aforementioned pressure to ‘succeed’, there’s a lot of pressure at church to be a “provider”. People at church know that we’re not very well-off, and it’s not often that it comes up, but I have been accused of not having my priorities straight.
All I can say to that is this: you try growing up in a home dozens of miles from town and more than a few miles from the nearest bus stop that can take you to town, with parents who are so into their careers that they drive to a city a hundred miles away every single day to work. They were up before I woke up to go to school. They got home with enough time to cook, eat, and shower before they collapsed. I saw my parents about an hour a night excepting weekends for years. The weekends, they mostly spent shopping and doing whatever basic housekeeping they had energy for.
I know what the success-driven lifestyle does to a family. I was the victim of it. I’m not going to let my child suffer the same fate. It may well be that I’ve swung the pendulum too far in the other direction — but I’m there every morning to send my kid off to school and I’m there every evening when the bus drops him off. And most of those days, I’m done working by the time he gets home. That makes me incredibly happy in ways that money can’t.
Am I rich? Lord, no. I’m barely scraping by. But when I’m on my deathbed, I’m going to grab my son by the hand and pull him close and I’m going to say “I am so grateful to have been able to spend my life with you, son.”
And if he gets annoyed at not having the latest of everything, he can grow up and rebel and be a ridiculously capitalist money-grubber. I’d be totally fine with that. 🙂