E.J. Graff at the American Prospect has a great article this week on the so-called Daddy Wars. (And folks, gender equality isn’t achieved with labels; let’s not perpetuate this war language.) It nicely fits into a conversation my friend Walter and I were having earlier this week about men really being all right–i.e. the handwaving about the decline in masculinity or death of men or whatever New York Times style-esque piece of essay has come out now about men is unnecessary. What these pieces chart are how gender roles change. I don’t think our transformation of masculinity means that men are in trouble; just an archaic version of masculinity that men no longer feel the need to perform is going away, slowly, but surely. I think men are more than all right moving away from restrictive gender roles. Indeed, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if more and more men weren’t bound by old fashioned notions of masculinity–i.e. sole breadwinner, distant father, and stoic, among them. One of the things our society fails men on is noting and confronting how restrictive gender performance is for men as well as women. I had a corny, corny dad who loved nothing more than sharing goofball stuff with his kids. He missed that distant father thing by a mile, and I’m glad that he did. I mean he let me argue with him about everything–my father never met a brick wall he couldn’t argue with–and in so doing, he let me figure out my own mind on things. One of my other fathers, Walter’s dad Eddie, showed me what being gracious in all things means. Not exactly traditional masculinity, but I lean on that lesson more and more. My friends Dan, Matt, and Drew are some of the best fathers I’ve seen; they are actively engaged with their kids and utterly supportive of their wives. I know it’s not easy for them, but they make fatherhood look like a joy. Men should not be judged by outdated modes of masculinity anymore than women should be.
What I like about Graff’s argument is that she cuts through the narrative of patriarchal gender roles to get at the real issue: men and women, fathers and mothers, fathers and fathers, and mothers and mothers would like to balance work and home life so that they can spend time with their kids. This isn’t a gender issue; it’s a family issue:
Men, please: don’t think of the work-family conflict as your private problem. Think of it as our shared American problem. All of us need a way to work, be with our families, be human beings, and make a decent living.
These are not women’s issues. These are not feminist issues. These are workforce and public health issues. These are quality of life issues. Once upon a time unions would work on issues like this but, well, good luck with that now.
We all want to see our children, or friends, or families. We all want to have lives beyond the desk or construction site. We all need to have the next generation grow up literate, healthy, happy, and productive.
It’s not a daddy war. It’s not a mommy war. It’s a war of humans trying to stay human instead of being treated like wage-earning robots. Guys, what do you say?
I think the time has come to get rid of the masculinity identity that says that men should be wage-earning automatons in the service of their family. Masculinity can be so much more than that as the men I know daily show.