Where Are All The Men In The ‘Have It All’ Debate?

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In response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic piece, Suzanne Turner asks: Does anyone else find the resounding silence from the guys in our lives deafening?

I’ve been looking and looking for the dad’s voice—even, for goodness sakes, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s husband’s voice—in the epic dust up over the Atlantic Monthly cover story.

It’s no surprise that bloggers and Tweet chats galore have been pouring over every detail of the article. Poking a pointy stick into all of our feminist eyes is successfully selling magazines, driving eyeballs and creating controversy. Who could resist when the packaging of the piece was, as Jessica Valenti so memorably said, “sad white babies with mean white mommies.” Atlantic Monthly advertisers please smile—this cover art has driven more clicks than any other story for the magazine.

So much of the commentary is vitally important—whether Tressie McMillan Cottom’s slaying the unicorn of “trickle down feminism” or Lauren Sandler and Rebecca Traister enumerating the ways that feminism is the false bogeyman of the piece, or younger feminists reminding us that “having it all” sounds quite exhausting, thank you, and isn’t the movement really about something else?

There’s no need to repeat all this good thinking. But I have to ask: Does anyone else find the resounding silence from the guys in our lives deafening? 

No, no, this is not what you think. This is not the tired complaint that men actually can have it all while we can’t. This is a CELEBRATION of today’s men—and how they’ve been PROTECTED by feminist policies. These guys—in my experience—have jumped feet first into childrearing and partnering on the homefront. With the exception of a widower single dad, however, men have been completely missing from the conversation. 

Slaughter’s husband kept the home fires burning during her D.C. tenure, and I know a lot of other men who either stay at home or cut back their careers drastically to support their wives. In fact, one friend—a man I’ll call Pete—really helped re-shape my reality when he made this comment:

“We were the first people in thousands and thousands of years when men and women lived as equals. I’m not ashamed that we got some of it wrong—I’m not ashamed at all.”

Pete’s version of his marital story went this way: He put his wife through medical school, then left a successful career as a mechanical engineer to stay home with their two children when her residency and subsequent practice became too demanding.

Pete’s little secret? He far preferred parenting and connecting with the school, neighborhood, and kid sports team communities to punching a time clock. But the end result was multiple infidelities by a wife who was ensconced in a different workaday world. Ultimately, Pete was left for a work colleague.

Doug’s story was similar. He and his wife had both been young journalists. When the second child arrived, Doug opted to stay home while his wife took a demanding job at a federal agency. One day his wife decided their marriage was over. Within weeks of the final divorce decree, she was engaged to a work colleague.

What surprised me most about these friend’s stories was that—with the exception of having careers to leave—their stories sound eerily like those of my and my childhood friends’ mothers. Once the kids were raised, our Dads uniformly ran off with their secretaries or their golfing buddies or just didn’t come home from a business trip.

And—here’s the punch line—feminism actually helped these men as they helped our own mothers. Laws put into place to protect stay-at-home mothers ensured these guys got their fair share of marital assets and shared custody of their children.

In my case, well-heeled men laugh at my alimony plight—I’ve joined the old boys club in a particularly painful way. And my poor fashion designer sister … well let’s not even get into the way she’s paying her ex.

This is a decidedly non-representative sample. But I argue that feminism has lifted all boats. Slaughter gets the top-shelf career and the choice to return to her family—or not. Men get to be an integral part of family life—and are protected legally if they’re not the main breadwinners.

This, of course, leaves out a giant part of the conversation: the nature of information age serfdom in today’s workforce, those families who are struggling to keep the electricity on while working multiple minimum wage jobs (or facing chronic unemployment).

But, as Pete said, we have been through an incredible social revolution. And if we made a few mistakes, then we’re just helping blaze the way for those people coming up behind us.

Suzanne Turner is the President and Founder of Turner Strategies, a public affairs and communications firm based in Washington, D.C. Before starting her own business, Suzanne spent seven years at Fenton Communications, where she served as Senior Vice President. Suzanne is the co-founder of Fem2.0, an online women’s rights community that is a pro bono project of Turner Strategies. She is also a co-founder of the Internet Advocacy Center and a founding member of Progressive Communicators of D.C. Suzanne studied at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies and the Université de Paris IV-La Sorbonne, and holds a BA from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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