If feminism is about having the right to make choices, then it’s also about the obligation to make a choice. You cannot choose to have a spouse who’s a breadwinner and who shares everything 50/50. You cannot choose to have everything in life but only do it half the time. Having something—anything—is about commitment. And you cannot choose to have everything up to your standards but also allow other peoples’ standards to prevail.
Being a real feminist means you cannot have everything. So women who are feminists are self-assured enough to make choices to give stuff up. And men who are feminists are brave enough to say that they, too, will be giving up some things.
Here are things men should give up:
1. Give up the idea of 50/50. It doesn’t work.
Most Gen Y dads think men should be breadwinners. But many don’t think this way until they have kids. It’s so much easier to live in a fantasy world about kids before there are kids.
The genesis for this post is a video from Jonathan Mann about how he and his wife are dealing with their new baby.
Jonathan basically feels bad that his wife is better at working and taking care of the household than he is. He thinks that he should be doing 50% of the household and baby chores because he is bringing in 50% of the income. He thinks that since he has his wife taking care of 50% of the income, then he should not leave her with more than 50% of the childcare or household chores.
Their baby is very young and therefore it’s unlikely that this will work. Because moms don’t share. Unless there is a full-time stay-at-home dad, and a full-time working-out-of-the-home mom, the mom rules determine the parenting style of a family. Because it’s impossible to have 50/50 breakdown of who sets the rules for parenting, and it’s impossible to parent when you are negotiating every decision, one parent’s style will prevail. It’s not fair to ask the non-prevailing parent to contribute 50% of the work when they don’t get 50% of the input.
It’s like cleaning the bathroom. Most men think the bathroom is clean enough, and most women don’t. There is research to back this up. Which means that you can’t hold a man responsible for meeting standards that are not his own. If the woman wants the bathroom cleaned the way she wants it cleaned then she has to clean it. (Or hire someone.) But the guy can’t do it.
Just as men and women are not equal when it comes to cleaning, men and women are not equal when it comes to career. If you take a male and a female math genius, the women is more likely to choose being a housewife. Please do not tell me there is societal pressure for math Ph.D.’s to become homemakers. There is the opposite, in fact. There is pressure to “live up to your potential.” Yet more women math geniuses choose to take care of kids. Because men and women are different, which is why 50/50 doesn’t work. (Another reason: It’s a financial suicide pact.)
2. Give up gender neutrality. Gen Y women are comfortable with gender roles.
Generation Y women have been hearing Gen X women say loud and clear how you can’t have power in the office and power at home, and Gen Y women choose power at home. Gen Y women don’t want to be managers, they want to work from home, and they want to work part-time.
It might seem, for example, that both spouses have equal earning potential, but when kids enter the picture, ambitions change. And most women do not want to advance as far as most men do. But it’s hard to see this proclivity crystalize until the kids have grown out of toddler-hood. And by then it might be too late. So there’s no point in assuming you are the exception to the rule when the stakes are very high and the statistics make it very unlikely.
Additionally, while 1 in 4 women are breadwinners for their homes, this is largely a poor person trend. That is, rich, educated women are driving the trend to stay at home with kids, and poor, uneducated women are driving the trend for women to be breadwinners.
Similarly, the idea of staying home with kids while a spouse earns the money is the new Gen Y girl’s fantasy, probably because it’s only for the lucky few and Gen Y-ers love to be admired. But more than that, 60% of Gen Yers believe one parent should stay home.
3. Give up housework. Choose some other contribution.
Men who do more housework get less sex. There is commentary all over the internet about this research. But the bottom line is that this research goes in tandem with the research that says that no matter how much money women earn, they want to marry a guy who earns more than they do.
Some women will say this is not true. It will be women who do not have school-aged kids. Some women, mostly ENTJs, decide that they have fallen in love with a guy who will not earn as much money as they do, but they love the guy, so it’s fine for them, they decide.
The problem is that it’s only okay until the kids are school-aged and the women realize that they want to be with the kids because kids grow up so fast. Then they don’t know what to do with a guy who does not parent the way they want to parent and does not earn enough money to support the way they want to finance the family.
So the best tactic for men is to focus on doing male tasks, whatever that may be in your family. Marriages where there are male roles and female roles are more likely to remain intact.
It doesn’t work in marriages to treat men like women the same way it doesn’t work in the corporate world to treat women like men. In both cases it holds them back.
And this is why women are penalized at work for having kids and men are rewarded at work for having kids: Because people fall into gender stereotypes whether or not we want to.
4. Give up being a stay-at-home dad.
There aren’t any. You might think there are, but men who are supposedly stay-at-home dads give up on the idea of “not working” and they start saying they do have a job.
Women who stay home but also want a job end up having no job because it’s too hard to get part-time work. But men are not nearly as likely to be willing to do that, for all the reasons we have listed above.
So, for example, a huge number of stay-at-home dads will say they are writers or they are in construction. Because those are jobs you can say you are doing at home and no one needs to give you permission to do them—there’s no need to fake a job hunt.
Also, being a stay-at-home parent is not all about taking care of the kids. I mean, that’s part of it, but that’s the part we imagine stay-at-home dads doing. There are a million other aspects to a stay-at-home parent that we don’t envision men doing:
- Choosing the colors of the bathroom towels.
- Making Thanksgiving dinner.
- Going to PTA meetings.
A big reason we don’t envision men doing these tasks is because research shows us that men having a harder time remembering these tasks. Is that sexist? Yes, but the world is sexist. And the idea of men staying at home is not going to work if the men do not feel good about it. And believe me, it’s hard enough for women to feel good about it so we can forget about it with men.
This is not mean-spirited. I am reporting reality when I tell you that if a dad is a stay-at-home dad with no other job, the world thinks he’s unemployable.
5. Give up trying to something you’re not. Just being you will be a good enough dad.
Women are more uptight about kids. I’m not even going to include links for that. If you can’t accept that as truth you probably stopped reading long before now.
But also, women work harder to follow the rules men do. We know this in school. Girls get way better grades than boys. Men work less when women are present, both as kids and as adults. And when a marriage is under stress, women work harder and men work less.
Study after study shows that men do not force housework and childcare on women. Men just naturally do not do it. Men don’t mind kids in daycare as much as women do. Men don’t mind a dirty house as much as women do.
If you accept that, then you can accept that your role as a man is to be a man. And the role of a woman is to be a woman. That’s why you chose each other. You decide what that role looks like for you, but no marriage was ever 50/50 and it won’t start now.