Daily Archives: September 27, 2005

What about the men? (2)

Amidst all these discussions of Future Desperate Housewives of the Ivy League, there’s another story that’s finally getting some notice: while some women are mommy-tracking themselves while still in college, many men aren’t in college, period.

USA Today reports:

Currently, 135 women receive bachelor’s degrees for every 100 men. That gender imbalance will widen in the coming years, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education.

Glenn Reynolds discusses the issue here. (See also an interesting thread at Ann Althouse.)

This is not really a new story: Women were already graduating from college in higher numbers than men in 1992, when the American Association of Unviersity Women (AAUW) raised a false alarm about girls being “shortchanged” by gender bias. But in recent years the imbalance has been getting worse. For more on this ongoing debate and the data, see my 2001 article in Reason, Where the Boys Are. See also University of Alaska psychologist Judith Kleinfeld’s excellent paper, The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls: Social Science in the Service of Deception.

Why is this hapenning? And is it a problem? One common explanation is that men are off doing lucrative things that don’t require a college diploma — launching Internet start-ups, for instance, or getting jobs in the blue-collar trades. (But how many of these men really do well? Plumbers and welders may make good money, but a lot of men in the trades face chronic job insecurity and low income. As USA Today points out, “The unemployment rate for young men ages 20-24 is 10.1%, twice the national rate”.) There are also more men in the armed services. Clearly a college diploma is not the only path to a good life. But there is a lot of evidence that many of the “missing men” are in trouble. By the way, if you look at the statistics, it’s clear that the college gender gap is most pronounced among African-Americans (for some years now, black females in college have outnumbered black men about 2:1) and low-income people.

In addition to gender differences in enrollment, men seem to fare worse once they do get to college. According to federal statistics, of the men who entered college in 1996, only 28% graduated in 4 years or less, compared to 38% of the women; the six-year graduation rate was over 58% for women but only 52% for the men.

That brings us back to the “why.” Some observers, such as Kleinfeld, say that a big part of the problem is that young men today tend to be less motivated and less focused than their female peers. (Father absence may be one factor in this.) Others see gender bias in the education system. Says Reynolds:

There seems little doubt that universities have become less male-friendly in recent decades, to the point of being downright unfriendly in many cases. The kind of statements that are routinely made about males and masculinity in classrooms and hallways would get professors fired if they were made about blacks, gays, or many other groups. Sexual-harassment policies start with the presumption that men are guilty, and inherently depraved. And colleges now come at the tail-end of an educational system that is (compared to previous decades) anti-male from kindergarten on, meaning many males probably just want to get out as soon as they can.

Some of the people I interviewed for my Reason article expressed the same view. Bret Burkholder, a counselor at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington, who also works with younger boys as a baseball coach, told me, “If you listen to 10- or 11-year-old boys, you will hear that school is not a very happy place for them. It’s a place where they’re consistently made to feel stupid, where girls can walk around in T-shirts that say ‘Girls rule, boys drool,’ but if a boy makes a negative comment about girls he’ll have the book thrown at him.”

There is some evidence to back this up. Here are some data from a 1990 survey of high school students conducted for the AAUW, and spun as evidence of girls’ precariously low self-esteem. When asked, “Who do teachers think are smarter, boys or girls?”, 69% of boys and 81% of girls said “girls.” 81% of boys and 89% of girls thought teachers complimented girls more often, while about 90% of both boys and girls said that teachers punished boys more often. On the question, “Who do teachers like to be around?,” 73% of boys and 80% of girls said, “Girls.” (See Kleinfeld’s study, Table 16, for these data.) On the other hand, it is also worth nothing that when the children are asked about their own experiences, boys are only slightly less likely than girls to say that teachers listen to them, that they often get called on and encouraged, and that discipline and grading at their school are fair. I think it’s quite an exaggeration to claim, as some do, that males have become “the second sex” in the educational system as a whole. I find male victimism to be as off-putting as the female variety.

One more point to ponder: While conservatives commonly point to political correctness and “feminization” as factors that discourage male involvement in the educational system, few pay attention to the effects of the traditionally masculine jock culture that holds learning in contempt as a “girlie” thing.

The bottom line? This is an issue that needs to be looked into. For years, academic organizations (not just feminist ones but mainstream ones such as the Association of American Colleges) have been trumpeting reports about an alleged “chilly climate” for women on campus. Maybe it’s time to pay a little attention to the guys? Glenn Reynolds suggests congressional hearings. I have my doubts about the efficacy of such ventures, but if no one else gets moving, it could be, at least, a start.


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What about the men? (1)

As a follow-up to its controversial front-page story on Ivy Leaguers opting for the “mommy track,” the New York Times ran this editorial notebook item by Nicholas Kulish, a young man who is worried that the women of his generation may be taking a “U-Turn” toward more traditional roles, forcing men into a more narrow breadwinner role as well. He mentions a friend who “left the nonprofit sector for a big corporation so his wife could stop working when she had their first baby.” Kulish ends his essay with a not entirely humorous appeal to young women: “On behalf of American men, young and open-minded, I beg you to reconsider. I thought we had a deal.”

I’m surprised that, as far as I can tell, no conservative blogs have picked up on this items for an “I told you so”: It’s a favorite theme of neo-traditionalists like Danielle Crittenden (What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us) and Maggie Gallagher that the feminist revolution has actually liberated men to be selfish pigs who shun their masculine duty to provide for their wives and kids, and that women who want to embrace a traditional feminine lifestyle often find that the men in their lives are unsupportive of their choice and reluctant to take on the sole burden of breadwinning. Instead, it falls to a left-wing blogger, Lakshmi Chaudry of AlterNet, to take him to task:

[H]is position ends up sounding patronizing and selfish: “Just because you want to stay home and play Mommy, I ain’t supporting you and the brats.”

As I said before, raising kids is hard work — work that gets little recognition from society or it seems young “open-minded” men like Kulish. Men of his generation may have been “brought up to accept and even embrace equality between the sexes,” but thus far there is little proof that it extends to housework. Yes, men do more than two decades ago, but women still carry the greater part of the domestic burden, whether or not they stay at home. … Guess no one told Nicholas about the “second shift.”

The same theme is echoed by two Times letter-writers:

We did have a deal – you guys broke it!

These young Yale women grew up watching their mothers do both jobs, since most of us working women still do most of the work at home.


One very logical reason some women shrink from combining work and motherhood is that men do not share the work equally at home, leading to an exhausting and unfair double shift for their wives.

Time-use studies have shown that while men have made a little progress in doing more child care, women still do just about all the housework.

It’s time for men to acknowledge that they are a big part of the work-life balance problem for women.

Is there a partial truth here? Sure. Just as there are women who want to have it both ways (equal opportunity in the workplace and the unequal privilege of being able to leave the workforce), there are men who want to have it both ways: that is, they want a wife who will relieve them of the sole burden of breadwinning, and do most of the housework.

But it’s a very, very partial truth.

First, none of the women in the Times article mentioned the “second shift” as a factor. Those would-be mommy-trackers who mentioned their mothers spoke of respect for their mothers’ roles as full-time homemakers, and of their conviction, based on personal experience, that traditional arrangements worked best. Others emphasized that they wanted to be the primary influence in their children’s lives. The same was true of the women interviewed by Peggy Orenstein for Flux, the book I mentioned in my post yesterday. Some of the women she profiled had given up their careers despite having husbands who were fully engaged on the home front, and were in fact willing to be the stay-at-home parent. Male lack of participation in “the second shift” did not seem to be nearly as important a factor in their decisions as their own beliefs about female identity, work/family options as a female choice, and family as their turf.

Second, men are doing a lot more than they’re given credit for. See, for instance, this interesting report:

A new study proves for the first time that men actually do a bigger share of household chores than their wives admit. Shedding new light on the decades-old
battle between men and women over housework, the study of 265 married couples with children, published this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family, shows that wives estimate, when asked, that their husbands do 33% of the housework. But when researchers tracked men’s actual housework time, they found husbands were shouldering 39% of the chore load.

No, that’s not equal, but that’s a far cry from “women are doing all the work.”

While the “second shift” is a real problem, I think it was always somewhat overblown. In the book that gave this problem a name, The Second Shift (1989), sociologist Arlie Hochschild claimed on the basis of her survey of 120 couples that when paid work and housework are combined, women in two-earner households put in an extra 15 hours a week compared to men. A number of time-use studies from the same time period found the difference to be closer to 1 hour. (I could not find these data online but they are summarized in the 1997 book, Time for Life, by sociologists John Robinson and Jeffrey Godbey. Godbey and Robinson report that in 1995, on average, women spent 15.9 hours a week on housework and men, 9.5 hours; but that includes women who do not work outside the home. Incidentally, those figures are a very dramatic change from 1965, when the respective hours for women and men were 26.9 and 4.7.)

I believe there is a strong tendency among feminists to (1) downplay male contributions at home and (2) with a few exceptions, to disregard the tendency of many women — even professional women — to regard housekeeping and particularly children as their turf. Here’s something I wrote in 2000 about a symposium called “Changing Nature of Work and Family Life: A Focus on Men,” sponsored by the Cornell University Institute for Women and Work:

[A]s family issues consultant Dana Friedman conceded on the panel, many women inhibit male involvement by protecting their turf, sending the signal that men can’t do anything right at home and setting themselves up as “gatekeepers” of the father-child relationship.

In fact, a degree of such “female chauvinism” was in evidence at the event itself. When Friedman mentioned a poll in which 60 percent of fathers said they shared equally in child-rearing, laughter rippled through the room — turning to gleeful guffaws when she added that only 19 percent of mothers agree.

Maybe men exaggerate, but isn’t it possible that women aren’t totally objective judges, either? Then, moderator Francine Moccio said she wanted to speak up in favor of “maternal gatekeeping.” Twenty years ago, her husband was supposed to pick up the kids from a party — and simply forgot. “So,” she summed up, “they do need to be trained.” Again, there was roaring laughter.

I wondered if the women were expressing their frustration over men’s failure to share equally in the domestic realm or taking pleasure in their presumed superiority in that realm. Can one imagine men today gloating similarly over a woman’s incompetence in some traditionally male sphere? Maybe the panel illuminated some of the barriers to men’s involvement in family life in ways the organizers never intended.

Five years later, here we go again, still blaming it all on men.


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Ivy League mommy wars

My Boston Globe column today deals with those female Ivy League students who, the New York Times tells us, are already planning at the tender age of 20 to someday ditch their careers and become full-time moms.

The flaws in the article and the study on which it was based have been detailed by Slate.com’s Jack Shafer here and here. Meanwhile, a bit of conservative gloating can be found on the blog of the Independent Women’s Forum, the Inkwell, and there are interesting discussions at Crooked Timber and Ann Althouse.

One thing that strikes me is how nasty and personal these debates consistently get, with charges flying back and forth of putting down either working mothers or stay-at-home mothers. To some extent, I suspect that this is inevitable, because of the way the debate is framed. If a mother who stays home to raise her children is performing an important service, the implication is that a mother who works outside the home — especially if she could afford not to — is a selfish failing her children and probably society as well. (And yes, this expectation still falls on mothers, not fathers.) If a two-earner family can do a fine a job of raising children, the implication is that a stay-at-home mom is a slacker with an expensive hobby.

These assumptions are evident in some of the discussions of the Times story. At Crooked Timber, sociologist Kieran Healy’s suggestion that these women are “free-riders” who “plan to take the upside of the revolution in women’s participation in elite education, but … are tacitly aware that they don’t have to expose themselves to any of the risk if they don’t want to” sparked cries of misogyny and disrespect for mothering. Meanwhile, at the IWF’s Inkwell, Charlotte Hays reposts a reader email that I found infuriating. M.K. writes:

“What I found most outrageous [about the New York Times piece] was this quote: ’It really does raise this question for all of us and for the country: when we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?’ said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard …

“In response I wrote the following on my blog: ’What is it with these numskulls? [sic] How about a generation of happy, well-adjusted children who know their mothers chose them over a career? For goodness sake, college isn’t just about getting a job, it’s about expanding your horizons. … The disdain these people have for stay-at-home moms is palpable.’ I find it horrifying that they actually think they can dictate what a worthy career choice may be. … And doesn’t her statement also suggest that because Harvard ‘made space’ for women that women really aren’t as good as men? Or are the women who want to be men the only ones that count?

I agree, of course, that it’s up to each woman or man what to do with their Harvard or Yale education, though I don’t see where McGrath Lewis’s comment suggests that women aren’t as good at men. (Harvard and Yale had to “make space” for them because they were once barred from these schools by sexist discrimination, M.K., not because women aren’t good enough.) But while M.K., echoed by Hays, complains of disdain for stay-at-home mothers, her own disdain and intolerance toward working mothers is equally palpable and noxious. Obviously, children whose mothers pursue careers can’t, in her view, be happy or well-adjusted. And then there’s that gem at the end: women who plan to pursue careers are “women who want to be men.” Great. I thought we’d gotten past this kind of mindset some 40 years ago, but obviously not.

I don’t disdain “stay-at-home moms” (though I do wish we could talk like adults and call them “mothers”). I do think, however, that many of the feminist critiques of full-time motherhood and homemaking as an occupation were (gasp!) valid. I don’t think long-term economic dependency on one’s spouse is a good thing, and not just because the marriage could end in divorce. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have no serious pursuits outside the family — a job, study, or a substantial commitment to volunteer work — for an extended period of time, and to have an identity based solely on personal relations with people you love (spouse and children). I believe, along with Freud, that love and work are two basic human needs; and while in many ways child-rearing is certainly “work,” it is still primarily love. I think it’s important to maintain a core of self separate from intimate relationships, to remain engaged in “doing” and not just “being” (many proponents of stay-at-home motherhood say outright that the most important aspect of a mother’s “job” is simply “being there” for the children). And this isn’t necessarily about “fulfilling jobs” in the conventional sense of the word. While researching my book, Ceasefire, I found studies showing that even working-class women in low-paying clerical jobs often found a sense of pride and competence in their work.

(I will add that I don’t understand why a woman who wants to work for a few years and then stay home with her children would go to law school or business school, as some of the women profiled in the Times article apparently plan to do. If expanding your horizon is what you’re after, what’s wrong with a liberal arts degree?)

Mind you, I think that parents who put their careers ahead of their children’s well-being deserve criticism. But as long as this stigma falls almost exclusively on women, many women will continue to bristle at all this family-values talk as a cover for sexism.

Where I part company with the majority of feminists is their failure to recognize the sexism toward men that is also inherent in these debates — sexism on the part of not only the culture, but women themselves. The general assumption is that it’s women who have the options (not just the ability to drop their careers completely, but also the choice to work part-time or to take a few years off). Many women, at least in the affluent segments of society, hold the belief that they are entitled to be supported by a man if they choose to withdraw from the labor force (sometimes not even to raise children). This female sense of entitlement is every bit as sexist, and every bit as unjust, as the traditional male’s belief that he is entitled to be king of the castle because he works hard to provide for the family, or that it’s beneath him to do “women’s work” at home.

For many men, working for their families is a sacrifice. There are men who give up the fulfilling but low-paying work they love so that their wives can stay home or cut down on work. Yet much of the feminist critique of traditional sex roles remains mired in a simplistic view of women as victims and men as oppressors. This was evident, by the way, on the Crooked Timber discussion thread. For instance, mythago, a feminist blogger, writes in the comments section:

[I]t’s interesting that none of these young women consider choosing a man who will share the work of rearing children, or perhaps even a stay-at-home dad. I wonder how much of that is cultural (“Gosh, I never thought of that!”) and how much is some kind of deep belief that if you start demanding fairness and participation by a potential husband, you’ll never find one.

Of course, it couldn’t possibly be because many of these young women see family as their turf, or limited workforce participation as their entitlement. Never mind the Times story; consider the 2001 book Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World, by bona fide feminist Peggy Orenstein. From my review in Reason:

“Men may have to do more, but women also have to let them,” writes Orenstein, who interviewed over 200 women while writing Flux. Most women, she concludes, hold on to maternal control, both out of fear of being labeled a bad mother and out of reluctance to relinquish power. Even career-oriented young women who talk the good talk about shared parenting often quickly reveal that they don’t expect and don’t really want men to be equal partners in child rearing.

“I say I’m pissed off that the men aren’t thinking about [balancing work and family], but the truth is, I don’t imagine my husband…thinking about working part-time,” admits a medical student. “I think of it as being my choice.”

These semi-traditional expectations shape women’s decisions long before they start shopping for maternity clothes. Many choose careers with lower pay (and often less prestige) but more flexibility. They also seek mates who are “husband material” in the most unreconstructed sense. One young woman interviewed by Orenstein rejects her devoted boyfriend in part, she sheepishly admits, because of his “limited earning potential” as an art director. Abbey, a sales rep for a comic book publisher, is strongly attached to her identity as a professional woman, yet deep down she wants the option of not working when she has kids — an option she is nearly certain she won’t exercise.

I have my disagreements with Orenstein, but she’s a feminist who “gets it,” and voices like hers are largely absent from the discussion today. Instead, we have feminists like mythago, who has this observation to make on the fact that upper-middle-class men now generally seek to marry women with elite degrees: “There’s far more status to having shut down a wife who had other options.” Is that really the feminist view of marriage in 2005? Men marry women in the hope of “shutting them down”?

By the way, I don’t think the Times article and the study it featured is that much of a cause for feminist alarm. The flaws in the study aside, what did it really find? Some 30% of women said they planned to work part-time while their children were young, and another 30% said they were going to stop working for a period of time. (That means the single largest group, 40% , were women who planned to continue working full-time after having children.) Most of them said that a quality education was important because it would enable them to maintain part-time employment or to return to the workforce after taking time off. That doesn’t sound to me like a bunch of women who are flocking back to domesticity. I believe that modern motherhood is more complicated than either conservatives or feminists think.

That said — there are real issues and real conflicts here. I will quote, once again, from my 2001 review of Peggy Orenstein’s book:

Orenstein makes a strong case that the crazy quilt of old and new norms often leaves women painfully conflicted and guilt-ridden, and contributes to marital tensions. While she wants businesses to make it easier for both sexes to lead balanced lives, she stresses that “there are decisions we [women] can make more consciously … consequences we can understand more fully as we assemble the pieces of our professional and personal dreams.”

Amen to that.


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