Twenty-five years ago, when I would ask the students in my classes who planned to have families how they expected to balance work and family life, the women would typically say something like, “We’re gonna love each other. It’ll work out.” And the men would say, “Huh?” The question simply didn’t compute.
These days, when I ask the same question, the women are more likely to say, “Well, first I’m gonna get my career going, and then, when I’m 28, I’ll have my first kid, but I will only take a little time off because I want to keep my career moving. Then, when I have my second kid, that’s when I’m going to take five years off, because I want to be there with them when they are little and my career will be set enough that I will be able to go back to it.” They seem to have it all planned out, down to how old they will be when they have their first child.
And the men? They say, “We’re gonna love each other. It’ll work out.”
Half the story is to say that the men are a quarter-century behind the women. The other half is that, for the first time, the question is actually meaningful to them.
For many years, many men have felt that the feminist conversation wasn’t really about them. We believed we could skirt the conversation by self-immunization–the “I never raped anybody so this discussion about rape is not really about me” parry–or by deflection–the “I’m not like other men” defense. Some men did try to engage, become more responsive, but usually only expressed it in private.
Increasingly, we’re realizing that the feminist transformation of our society actually has something to do with us men.
And that’s what I’m doing here, on the Ms. website. This column, “Dispatches from Guyland,” will be the place to address those issues. It will be a place where men and women can ask questions about how to make sense of what often feel like dizzying changes.
Every two weeks or so, I’ll choose a question or two sent to me by you, our readers. They can range widely – from workplace issues, family lives, sex, love, friendship. I’ll try to be both analytic, providing some context for the issue (I am, after all, a sociologist, so that’s sort of my job), and pragmatic, giving people some concrete suggestions about how to engage more fully with the question.
This column is based on a simple premise: that the changes wrought by feminism over the past half-century have changed men’s lives as well as women’s. This means we have a choice: we can fight some rearguard action trying to stem the tide; we can run off to some purified male-only retreat to bond and lick our wounds; or we can walk, perhaps hesitantly at first, into a more gender-equal future, realizing that gender equality is not a zero-sum game in which men lose if women win, but a win-win.
I believe that feminism offers men an opportunity to live the lives we say we want to live–lives animated by greater integrity, by closer relationships with our families, our partners, our friends. Now all we have to do is something we’ve never been very good at: Ask for directions.
“Dispatches from Guyland” is the place where we will, together, read those maps, check for signposts, and ask each other for directions.