I want to be a believer, but I’m skeptical. I keep hearing that men secretly crave work/life balance, but I’m not sure that I buy it.
In a new article for The Atlantic, a Princeton University professor and former head of policy planning at the State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writes that men are reluctant to voice their desire for work/life balance. The reason: It’s still regarded as a women’s issue. In “Work-Life Balance as a Men’s Issue, Too,” Slaughter recounts a dinner she had with a group of Princeton undergraduates in which only the women vocalized concerns about juggling work and family:
“When I commented on the suddenly one-sided nature of the conversation, one young man volunteered that he ‘had been raised in a strong feminist household’ and considered himself to be fully supportive of male-female equality, but he was reluctant to say anything for fear he would be misunderstood. A number of the other guys around the table nodded in agreement.”
Slaughter argues that men are trapped by stereotypes just as much as women. A man who asks for flex time or paternity leave, or who passes on a job with too much travel, “is regarded as insufficiently committed to his work or else just ‘not one of the guys.’ ” (Slaughter and Hastings College of the Law professor Joan Williams also wrote about the “flexibility stigma” that attaches to men for the San Francisco Chronicle.) Moreover, Slaughter notes that our language reinforces gender stereotypes by using labels like “working mom” but almost never “working dad.”
I find Slaughter’s latest piece a refreshing departure from her famous “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” article, which, to me, overplayed women’s biological need to nurture children. This time, she focuses on men’s role in the family unit and how our notions of masculinity hinder their participation. And she’s right that it’s essential “to have men join the conversation — publicly, candidly, and loudly” if we want real change.
But what I’m not convinced about is that men are drumming for change. In the world of Big Law and Wall Street, I haven’t seen much evidence of it. I often hear about how promising women decide to get off the partnership track, but promising men seem to stick it out. I know what you’re about to say: Some of those men are sticking it out because that’s what they’re expected to do. Maybe so. But the point is, they don’t seem to feel an urgent need to change.
Toward the end of her article, Slaughter asks male readers: “Do you secretly long for the mythical days when you would come home and have your wife greet you at the door with your slippers and a martini, with a gourmet dinner awaiting and your kids all bathed and in their pajamas, waiting for a roughhouse or a bedtime story before drifting sweetly off to sleep?”
I hate to say it, but for many men on the fast track, that’s more or less their life now. And guess what? They’re not complaining.