Dudes, Get It Together

When will more men step up to claim more responsibility at home? When the men who have already done so lead the way, says Hugo Schwyzer.

After several weeks of discussion of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, the focus has—belatedly—shifted to men. As Jessica Valenti wrote in The Nation, the “not having it all” phenomenon may be universal, but it’s particularly acute for women. And one key reason why even highly educated and exceptionally privileged women are struggling to achieve that ever-elusive balance is that men aren’t pulling their own weight. As Valenti writes, “the problem isn’t that women are trying to do too much, it’s that men aren’t doing nearly enough.”

Valenti points out that the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women are still doing substantially more housework and childcare than are men, even when both partners in a heterosexual relationship work outside the home:

On an average day, 48 percent of women and 19 percent of men did housework. Married women with children who work full time spend 51 minutes a day on housework while married men with children spend just 14 minutes a day.

The breakdown of childcare responsibilities was not much different—55 percent of working men said they cared for their kids on an average day, whereas 72 percent of working women did. Women also reported spending more time during the day caring for their children than men.

Commenting at Feministe on these statistics and Valenti’s article, Jill Filipovic admits that “she has a secret fantasy of gathering a team of men to go to every male-dominated discussion (on specific issues in the law or a certain genre of film or investigative journalism or whatever) and when it’s Q&A time, earnestly ask the male panelists how they balance work and family.”

In recent years, there’s been a veritable explosion of “daddy blogging” by mostly white and middle-class men, some of whom are “stay-at-home” fathers while others are sole or collaborating breadwinners. Much of that writing has been excellent. But Jill and Jessica aren’t talking about the need for more men to share openly about their skills at nurturing children and cleaning house. Those are important topics to be sure; we need to see more examples of the different ways in which men can step into traditionally female domestic roles. But we also need husbands and fathers in public life to share in detail, both about their own struggle to create balance—and what it is that they’re doing to help the mothers of their children get an equal shot at “having it all.”

For many men, the standard to which they compare their own domestic output is the one set by their fathers. Like most guys of his generation, my daddy didn’t change diapers. I do, like so many of mine. But “helping more than dad did”—with all due respect to papa—sets the bar too low. The question isn’t “how does what I’m doing compare to what my own father did?” The question is, “am I pulling my weight compared to what my partner’s doing?”

Many men complain that asking for these details is just so much unnecessary score-keeping. The fact that we haven’t kept score has been what’s allowed this disheartening disparity to persist so stubbornly. Talking honestly about who does what and how long it takes isn’t about determining winners and losers—it’s about accountability. 

There’s no question that some men are pulling their own weight; the small cohort of daddy bloggers not least among them. The “daddy shift” toward a more responsible and present fathering paradigm is real. But as the evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes clear there are too few of us. As Lindsay Beyerstein wrote at In These Times, “if most men aren’t willing to do their fair share of childcare, only a handful of ambitious women will manage to find one of these rare mates. Until cultural mores change on a broad scale, there will never be enough enlightened men to go around.” 

For “enlightened men,” this isn’t cause for rejoicing at being among the egalitarian few. What it should be is a call to challenge other men. This will require the broad scale cultural shift that Lindsay describes, but that evolution will be accelerated when men call each other to account. We can’t set an example from the seclusion of our own kitchens and laundry rooms, as exemplary as our behavior may be in those private spaces.  

Those of us who live public lives especially need to answer the question about how we balance work and family without waiting to be asked directly. It’s not enough to say we change diapers when our own papas didn’t. It’s not about merely “helping out around the house.” The real standard is whether the work we’re doing gives the mothers of our children an equal shot at a successful and fulfilling public life. If we are really one of those “rare mates,” we need to show other dudes how—to borrow Jill Filipovic’s phrase—they can “get it together” to be fully engaged egalitarian partners to women.

So where can we start? One place is by reaching out to younger men in their teens and 20s, the ones for whom marriage and children and career are distant abstractions. It’s easy to play the traditional masculine role of warning the younger man about the dangers of committing too soon. (“All your ‘want-tos’ turn into ‘have-tos ‘and “honey-do’s and ‘shoulds,’ a glum older cousin with three kids told me when I announced my first engagement.) Instead, we need to talk about the tremendous emotional rewards that come from egalitarian romantic partnership. That doesn’t mean pretending that our marriages are conflict-free. It does mean enumerating not the amount of work we do but the specific emotional rewards we get from growing up and showing up.

“Having it all” may be fantasy, but the elusive balance between work and family is achievable—as Valenti, Beyerstein, Filipovic, and even Slaughter argue—if more men will do their share. The statistics make it clear that most aren’t. The leadership to change those figures will, at least in part, need to come from those who are.

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college’s first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. A writer and speaker as well as a professor, Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and son in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his eponymous website and co-authored the recent autobiography of supermodel Carré Otis, Beauty, Disrupted. You can find him on Twitter at @hugoschwyzer.

Related Links: