It's time to change the conversation about gender equality. While at first blush, men seem to benefit from many privileges at work, the truth is, they pay a heavy price. As we barrage women with questions about whether or not they "have it all," we silently assert that men do. And they don't.
Wage-inequality is real, and it hurts everyone.
Even when accounting for age, race, hours worked, undergraduate institution, and location, women still make less than men for doing the same job. Women are less likely to get raises, promotions, tenure, or even musical callbacks than men who demonstrate the same performance. This isn't just a "women's issue." Women are the primary or sole breadwinners for a whopping 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 (up from 11 percent in 1960). That's a significant percentage of families coping with a disadvantaged primary earner.
But what goes unspoken is the penalty that men carry for their privilege in the workplace. As gender norms persist, men are frozen in time as perennial "earners" whose identities rest on the success of their careers. While women are encouraged to pursue expanded opportunities, men continue to be demoted from equal parenting responsibilities, uninvited from work-life balance explorations, and boxed into caricatures of maleness. In many respects they remain stuck, staring down from atop the glass ceiling, privilege in-hand.
Women can't find balance and men have no options
It's no secret that United States maternity leave policies trail behind the offerings of industrialized nations around the world. The real snake in the garden, however, is paternity leave. Most companies offer nothing at all, and the most progressive companies usually give a week or two at most. That leads to men not being around to help in the critical moments after their children are born. Instead of gaining confidence holding, feeding, and changing their own children, they become second fiddle to their female co-parent.
New mothers are often asked whether they plan to return to work. Men are rarely asked that question. While women are invited to grapple with impossible options, men are offered no options at all. A recent Pew Study showed 51 percent of survey respondents believed children are better off if their mother is home without a job. Only 8 percent said the same thing about fathers. Our lopsided expectations of "good parenting" abound, as women never think they're doing enough, and men are congratulated for every small act of parental participation.
When men engage in acts of parenting, they are often lauded for the sheer adorableness of their efforts. Men pushing strollers, wearing baby carriers, or soothing crying babies are greeted with delight, while women engaging in the same activities wouldn't garner a reaction. The double-standard doesn't do men any favors. It diminishes the value and capacity of fathers, and reinforces the stereotypes that keep women carrying the burden of disproportionate family and household responsibilities.
Wooing Women and Discouraging Men.
If traditional gender roles dictate that women stay at home and men go to work, then women are crossing the gender divide faster than men. By and large, I'd like to believe that men today are supportive of women succeeding in the workplace, even if they aren't always sensitive to the many barriers women continue to face. On the other hand, men are not yet encouraged to cross traditional gender lines in the same fashion. While programs are created to woo women into STEM fields, men are mocked for taking on traditionally female jobs. Goldie Blox and Rocket Scientist Barbie encourage girls to venture into male-dominated spaces, but there is nary a public male role model who spends his days raising children.
Women are learning to recognize and address instances of sexism in the workplace. They are becoming savvy to moments where they are demoted to note-takers or meal orderers during team meetings. They are more likely to interrupt if men speak over them or steal their ideas. They are less likely to shrink in their seats or sit in the periphery as men spread their legs and shoulders. As women continue to demonstrate competency in a variety of job-sharing, part-time, and flexible-location work roles, they continue to create more and more options for themselves.
Many men in leadership roles are taking explicit actions to promote women into previously male-dominated spaces, from politics to boardrooms. Men are not just cheering women along as they smash the glass ceiling, they are often wielding a hammer themselves and breaking the boundary. Women now benefit from being able to code-switch. They are desirable at work, they are desirable at home, and whatever path they choose welcomes them with relatively open arms.
We must afford the same generosity to men. Men's desirability is still distinctly tied to their success at work, and their ability to earn. Until we allow men the same personal and professional open-mindedness, we will be bullying an entire gender to maintain traditional boundaries.
The progress is underway
As more people take an interest in gender equity and work life balance, we are starting to see a notable shift in behavior from both corporations and individuals. Resources are growing for stay-at-home dads, and many work places are considering job-shares, flexible location jobs, and other options to enable workers of all genders to consider alternatives to the 9 to 5 grind. While paternity leave was all but unheard of until recently, some companies are beginning to create innovative policies. (Bank of America offers 12 weeks of paternity leave, and even Walmart now offers two weeks.) The next battle will be to remove the stigma associated with men actually taking advantage of those options.
It's time to begin unpacking the complexity of male privilege, and to fight the gender norms that actually serve to hold men back from exploring their full options. We must call out instances of sexism toward men as readily as we would toward women. The glass ceiling will be smashed when people on both sides of it demand a new schema. Men, we want you to have it all, too. Perhaps together we can create a new paradigm.