Suburban Breadwinner

22 02 2011

A couple interesting articles online lately about breadwinning wives and slacker men. I’ll point mainly to Hanna Rosin’s article in Slate, but this isn’t really about that. I think Rosin is making a good career move writing crap that approaches something that is essentially misandry. I’m comfortable with the word because I think she probably knows and digs the niche of man-hate she’s been working on and, well, it sells magazines and gets clicks.

Mostly, though, I had started this post several weeks ago, because I was struck by the following quote:

“If the suburban breadwinner father didn’t exactly know who he was, he could at least figure out who he wasn’t. In the 1950’s American men strained against two negative poles – the overconformist, a faceless, self-less nonentity, and the unpredictable, unreliable nonconformist. American middle-class men faced what I think of as the ‘Goldilocks dilemma,’ from that fairy-tale heroine’s search for commodities (chairs, beds, porridge) that were not too something yet not too much the other side. Men had to achieve identities that weren’t too conforming to the march of the empty gray flannel suits lest they lose their souls; but they couldn’t be too nonconforming lest they leave family and workplace responsibilities behind in a frantic restless search for some elusive moment of ecstasy.” (Kimmel, Manhood in America, p. 236)

Take note: We all, men and women, walk a pretty narrow path and it’s not easy. The room for error is really, really small and the very idea of gender muddies the water. Traditional roles are very messy things. The upside is, as the quote shows, it’s been that way a lot longer than any of us remember (and it’s been going on longer than that, too). It’s not fun for anyone. Can’t we get away from that? Can’t we define ourselves with just a slightly bigger brush? Because this kind of thing was and is a straitjacket and it sucks.

My pro-feminist take is that these conversations such as those presented by Rosin are coming about because of a good thing, even if certain voices are misguided or just annoying. We say that as we achieve equality in a society – and we’re still a ways off – that this is going to ultimately mean emancipation for everyone. For men, that women can move into the breadwinner role is supposed to be liberating, since it means that we no longer have to. We still can, they still can, and hello!, welcome to freedom to choose. And, in case you didn’t get the memo, basing the success of one’s gender performance on something as fickle as the economy is a very, very bad idea.

On the other article, I really have very little to say. Again, it’s an unambiguous assault on single men, so it doesn’t apply to me. If they’re not the marrying sort, there’s a lot of dialogue to be had about there between single men and women, I guess. I’ll say only that if money and being a provider and breadwinning and careers and materialism and traditions are the only (or even main) points of discussion between prospective mates, I’d suggest that they’re doing it wrong. Given the success rate of marriages in this country, I think I’m probably right when I say most of them are doing it wrong.

Tony Porter’s Call to Men

9 02 2011

I’m linking to this TED presentation by Tony Porter titled, “A Call to Men” because it really resonated with me on a couple levels.

It resonates with me because I have a daughter who is the light of my life, just like Porter’s daughter is for him. If and when she ends up in a relationship with a dude (hopefully a very, very long time from now), I want him to be a dude that sees her for the great person that she is and will be and treats her with respect and equality.

It resonates with me because I realize all the time the pitfalls there are in raising an enlightened son and making him into a good man. I’ve screwed it up so many times already, I know this, but I think on the grand scale I do okay.

The thing missing from Porter’s speech is how we, as men, do this in our homes and with our children. There are lots of things, of course, and I don’t mean to oversimplify, but I believe we do this by being the example. We show them in how we act with their mother. That’s the dominant example and they’ll learn most of what they need to know from that.

I highly recommend viewing the video on the TED website and reading down in the comments. There are a lot of men who are threatened and react pretty strongly against any pro-feminist masculinity. I think, however, it’s important not to demonize the misguided. If you watch the video, you see some of the vulnerability for men and the whole point is about some of the damage caused by the gross socialization of men in our society. It’s kind of hard to blame them and it’s ultimately better not to be an attacker, but an educator. Misogyny is curable.