By Claire Zillman
May 19, 2017

And now for a counterargument.

In the new issue of 1843 magazine, a man named Nathan cautiously makes what some may consider a give-me-a-break argument: “In the society that I live in, as a professional in New York City, I think it is easier being a woman than being a man.”

Resist that reflexive eye-roll and hear Nathan out.

He argues that men are obliged to pursue work that supports a family and have no leeway to chase more flexible careers that allow for more time at home. He speaks with envy of female friends who left the workforce to be full-time mothers. “They weren’t perceived as failures,” he says, “If anything, they were told ‘That’s so great, you’re choosing to be a mom, that’s the most important thing in the world.’ That is not an option open to men.”

Nathan is not alone. 1843 reports that between 1977 and 2008 the percentage of American fathers in dual-earner couples who suffered from work-family conflicts jumped from 35% to 60%. The percentage of similarly vexed mothers grew only slightly in the same time period, from 41% to 47%.

The article is worth reading in full, but one takeaway is the overwhelming power of prevailing gender norms and the immense need to disrupt them. Society’s stubborn gender standards are prohibiting men from capturing the kind of work-life balance that Nathan covets and are subsequently saddling women with a disproportionate share of unpaid household and childcare labor. According to 1843:

Women who behave like their male colleagues may be disliked for being “pushy” or “bitchy,” but these penalties are offset by the fact that they are also likely to enjoy more power and greater financial rewards. When men adopt the jobs and behaviors associated with women, however, they typically experience a loss of status with fewer perks and more social sanctions, especially from other men.

“It’s seen as an unknowable crisis if men want to step down,” Barbara Risman, head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois in Chicago, told the magazine. “It’s not just being more like women, it’s seen as being less than men. Because women are seen as less than men.”

@clairezillman

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