The Shriver Report – Let’s Remove the Mask of Masculinity

Special Edition

Let’s Remove the Mask of Masculinity

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Men and women are really out of sync today.

The Women’s Movement that began in the late 1960s produced enormous changes in women’s roles, particularly with regard to women’s participation in the workplace and higher education, but men’s roles generally have not changed much in turn.

Rather than share domestic and parental responsibilities with their wives, many men cling to traditional, stereotypically masculine roles such as that of the “Sole Provider” and unemotional “Sturdy Oak,” often at the expense of emotional intimacy and family involvement. Thus, today’s men need to break out of these outdated “masculine” roles and adopt new roles to better complement their wives and serve their families.

To grasp the magnitude of the changes wrought by the Woman’s Movement, consider that there has been a 500 percent rise in the employment of mothers of small children since the 1950s.  Coincident with this change in workforce participation is women’s dramatically increased participation in higher education.

More women receive bachelor’s degrees than men across all racial/ethnic minority groups, and there are also big changes at the doctoral level.  In 2006, women earned approximately 51 percent of all doctoral degrees in the U.S., an increase from 22 percent in 1975.

Thus, women have been living with major changes in their gender roles for almost 50 years. They have moved from having a sole emphasis on the family to juggling career and family concerns (including spouse, child and elder care, in many cases), although juggling work and family has likely always been the case for racial minority women. In making this shift, they have combined traditional feminine norms such as love, family, and caring for others with newer norms such as independence, career, and defining themselves through their own accomplishments.

It was in this context that men’s roles began to change, but not very much. Some men felt the compelling need to co-parent with their working wives and willingly chose to do so by taking either the “morning shift” (getting the children dressed, fed, and off to daycare or school) or the “evening shift” (picking up the kids, starting dinner, and settling the children into their evening routines). But this “New Father” role has not yet been universally adopted.

Although there has been an increase in men’s openness to relationships and much greater participation in the emotional and domestic arenas, many men cling to the older norms that emphasize work and individual accomplishment over emotional intimacy and family involvement.

It is puzzling that many men have resisted change in their role in light of the loss of the “Good Provider” role. Many men are in fact no longer the good providers for their families that fathers have traditionally been and that many men expect themselves to be. With the majority of adult women in the work force, very few men are sole providers and most are co-providers.  Furthermore, there has been an erosion of wages for men over the last 30 years that has challenged the ability of men to be the sole provider.

The obvious candidate role to replace the “Good Provider” is the “Good Family Man,” the husband who shares childcare and housework, as well as provision, with his wife, which would include the “New Father” role. However, men have not flocked to this new role, nor have there been major changes in corporate and government family policies supportive of men’s full involvement in family life.  One major barrier is that men themselves have not fully embraced this new “Good Family Man” role, judging from studies on the division of household labor.

In the middle and late l960s, large-scale time budget studies indicated that husbands’ participation in family work (both childcare and housework) was quite low (1.1 to 1.6 hours/day) compared to that of their wives (7.6 to 8.1 hours/day for housewives and 4.0 to 4.8 hours/day for employed wives); and husbands tended to increase their participation only slightly (0.1 hour/day) in response to their wives’ employment.  The most recent data indicated that the amount of time husbands spend in family work is only about 38 percent of the total, and access to free time is a major area of inequality, in which fathers have approximately 20 percent more free time than mothers. The failure of men to share family work equally with their wives continues the “second shift” identified by Hochschild.

Why don’t men do more? In a word, masculinity. Adherence to the traditional norms of masculinity interferes with men doing an equal share of parenting or housework.  One norm is “No Sissy Stuff,” or the idea that men should avoid demonstrating stereotypically feminine behavior. This norm may prevent men from doing an equal amount of parenting or housework because those roles have traditionally been associated with femininity. Another norm is “The Sturdy Oak,” which says that men should never reveal weakness, which includes the display of emotion. This norm may interfere with men being equally engaged in parenting, because adept parenting involves being emotionally connected with a child.

Men are strongly reinforced for following these rules. Those who do not follow them tend to experience psychological distress brought on by failing to live up to the masculine norms. This reinforcement is so strong that many men are stuck in the old roles of the 1950s. My challenge to men is to break out of this stuck pattern and create new roles that rest more on our humanity than our so-called “masculinity,” as it has not served us or our families well.

Ronald F. Levant, Ed.D., ABPP is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Ronald F. Levant, Ed.D., ABPP, is currently Professor of Psychology, The University of Akron, where he served as Dean of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences from 2005-2009.
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