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Life, Paternity Leave and Being a “Man”

Real-Men-Love-QuotesAt Salon, our friend and OTer Elizabeth Stoker writes about the pathetic “controversy” of Daniel Murphy taking three days of paternity leave. Elizabeth does a marvelous job of taking apart the criticisms of Murphy, demonstrating how these paleolithic views of fatherhood are damaging to fathers, families and men. Elizabeth is spot-on when she accuses Murphy’s detractors as fostering a view of “fatherhood as trivial and emasculating compared to the station of work”.

To an outsider, the U.S. approach to parental leave is shocking. Minimal time is granted and, according to the cited research, there is no paid time off. You’d be hard pressed to develop a system that could be more anti-family. As Elizabeth notes, this is “anti-life culture”.

Move a bit north and you’ll find a nation that, far from leading the world, at least offers more protections. In Canada*, 17 paid weeks of pregnancy leave (available to, ya know, the pregnant person**) are offered and 35 weeks of paid parental leave are available to parents–which can be taken by one parent, or split between two, though it can’t be taken at the same time.

In all, we have 52 weeks of paid leave available***. If I recall, you are paid 55% of your regular salary/income, up to a certain amount.

On top of that, both parents are legally allowed to take time off together (again, I think, a year), though only one can receive EI payments during that time. So it can be quite a hit, financially, to do so.

So far, this system works pretty well. It doesn’t totally destroy career development (though there exist sleazeball employers who will break the law and punish those who take leave, because humans suck, apparently), nor is it some huge economic burden (did I mention that Canada is poised to run a budget surplus in the next year, even while we pay for all this socialized health care?). Not everyone will take time off, nor should they, necessarily, but the option is afforded to all, not simply those who can (or choose to) afford it.

There was another part of Elizabeth’s piece that caught my eye. Talking about the reaction to the reaction to the meager three days of maternity leave, Elizabeth highlights a rather interesting response by Chris Hayes:

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called in to his own show – from which he is currently taking leave to be with his wife and newborn son – to condemn Francesca’s “Neanderthalish” comments on paternity leave, noting that taking time off to be with one’s wife and child following a birth is “part of being a man.” Hayes wasn’t alone in identifying old-fashioned notions of gender as key in the paternity leave debate; at the Nation, Dave Zirin chalked up the suspicion and excoriation of leave for dads to a culture of toxic masculinity.

Without reading too much into Hayes’s use of the phrase, “being a man”, those words make me think of the (often lengthy) discussions of what it means to be a “real man”. In the past, Real Men liked to work on cars, watch sports, grunt and eat meat. The Real Man wouldn’t concern himself with such things as rom coms, wedding plans or – ugh- feelings.

In more recent years, there has been much pushback against the “traditional” concept of masculinity. In some regards, the pendulum has swung far to the other end. Now, being a real man can mean such things as showing respect for your lady or reading a foreign newspaper.

The next generation of the Real Man is a tremendous improvement over the old school Real Man (not there’s anything wrong with cars, grunting or meat). Much of the inspiration of this new imagining of manhood is to create a more inclusive model that allows men to pursue endeavours that may have been considered “feminine” or “wussy”, in the past. Further, there is a drive, as demonstrated in the links above, to ensure that all traces of misogyny be fully scrubbed from our notion of manhood. This is a tremendous improvement over chauvinist ideas of manhood that plagued our society in the past.

Of course, it’s just the next iteration of the same problem.

Just as chivalry is rooted in sexism, so, too, do these views of what it takes to be a Real Man reinforce the notion there is a true, essential meaning to what it means to be a man. Although the parameters have been expanded (for the most part; they’ve also been reduced to get rid of a lot of bad stuff), we are still making determinations as to what is the ideal form a man should take, and, often, the ideal way in which they should interact with women.

People who clutch dearly to the notion of chivalry (opening doors for women, bringing flowers on dates, etc.) will eschew any notions that such a viewpoint is steeped in chauvinism, claiming:

The new era of chivalry is not rooted in the chauvinistic mindset of the past. We have evolved past performing these acts for women because “they can’t do it themselves.”

The new gentleman performs these acts for the right reasons – love, caring, and respect.

Men shouldn’t treat women with respect because that’s what Real Men do. We–men and women–should treat others–men and women–with respect because that is what common basic decency demands.

But this veneer of sexism quickly becomes transparent when you notice that never once is there a claim that men should do these things for other men. It’s a heteronormative view of society that relies upon treating people certain ways based on little more than their genitals.

Writing in the New Republic, Claire Carusillo rejects these pushes for gender conformity. Noting that, intentions aside, these ideas–being a Real Man means respecting women and treating them good–can be problematic:

Obama’s address echoed what Vice President Joe Biden said on the subject recently: “Men have to take more responsibility; men have to intervene…the measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.”

Obama and Biden mean well. Aware that many American men think being “a real man” means conquering women and otherwise acting aggressively, they want to reframe masculinity in terms of protecting women and otherwise acting responsibly.

Circling back to Elizabeth’s piece, her argument in favour an inclusive view of family and life presents an opportunity to refresh our ideas of the roles of men and women. Basically, even a more progressive view of such roles misses the point. We should not be looking to expand the boundaries for these roles. By doing so, we will just further entrench the notion that there is such a thing as Being A Man and Being A Woman. We must move past this mindset and just, simply think of each other as people.

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*Most of Canada. Things are slightly different in Quebec. Don’t ask.

**Things change if we’re dealing with adoption.

***In reality, you get 50 weeks. The program is run through Employment Insurance****–emphasis on Insurance–and the first two weeks are considered the deductible and are unpaid.

****Except in Quebec. Again, don’t ask.

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105 thoughts on “Life, Paternity Leave and Being a “Man”

  1. There is at least some evidence to suggest that our unforgiving leave policies have a benign effect on the gender pay gap. So there’s that.

    There are a lot of cultural issues at play. One of the things I would like to write a post about are how many “Mom’s clubs” are female-exclusive and how this has been rather inconvenient for me. Not that there aren’t reasons for the policy, but it’s one of the relatively small (and relatively benign) ways that gender norms are reinforced.

    There is a lot of cultural lifting required to get men to take more time off. Biology gets in the way some, too. And tons and tons and tons of cultural conditioning of both men and women.

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      • The informal SAHP groups were mom-dominated, certainly, but we welcomed the few SAHDs who found us. But I do agree, Will, that when one starts investigating SAHP-group/meet-up options they are all marketed to SAHMs. In my experience they’ve fallen into two camps: groups for the uber-maternal crowd, the gleefully perpetual SAHM, and groups for the very career-oriented SAHM who is looking to avoid falling into the gender-based wage gap/career stall that befalls so many women who have children and endeavours to use her maternity leave for networking and career development. In either case, it’s pretty female-specific in focus, which is not to defend it but simply to establish that this seems to be the trend.

        You are absolutely right that we all need to make space and occasion for SAHDs to embrace the breadth of their experience – the good and the…let’s use the word challenging rather than “bad” – and co-exist with other like-experienced individuals. SAHParenting is hard, maintaining one’s identity as an individual and not just Mommy or Daddy is a challenge and on bad days (ahem, weeks) it can be a soul-sucking prospect, regardless of one’s gender.

        (I have a lot of thoughts on this: Jon can tell you how he gave me a glass of wine a month ago and there proceeded a full half-hour of ranting about it on my part. It’s a thing ’round these parts.)

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  2. Standing O.

    Nice piece, and I’m delighted to read it. Because real men are real people, and can aspire to all the things people do, including the things once considered ‘feminine,’ like fix dinner, the laundry, knitting, and caring for children. I’m so tired of the social constraints we put on men to behave ‘manly’ instead of to behave like people.

    The gender pay gap is much in vogue these days; unrecognized in it is that it exists in part because we limit men to the sphere of work; often with policy, even more with social expectation. There’s some bending the curve toward balance to be achieved with men having more flexible work hours, paternity leave, and a right to fully engage in family life.

    Thank you, Jonathan, for writing this and for the linky goodness.

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  3. Real is one of those words thats supposed to sound good but actually isn’t. When we refer to somebody as a real anything what we are really doing is limiting them to a few select behaviors and allowing no deviation. The idea that there is such a thing as a real men or real woman is repellant or at least should be. Some of the stereotypes associated with genders have a slight basis in biology but we really don’t have to pay that much attention to it as a society. Let people do as they please without comment for the most part.

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  4. The reason why American parental leave policy sucks is the same reason that our welfare state in general is lacking compared to the rest of the world. Its a combination of our political system having lots of veto points and certain beliefs in American society. One of the earliest shows of political strength of the Evangelicals was getting Nixon to veto a universal pre-K bill because they thought that it would encourage women to work outside the home and break up traditional families. The latter happened anyway and we don’t have universal pre-K.

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  5. In addition to a whole lot of problematic essentializing that goes into the “real man” construction – as though there are a bunch of unreal men out there and if only they’d perform gender in this particular way they become real men – there is the skewed towards work attitude that prevails in the US work-life balance. Just as a matter of public policy, we don’t have the legal guarantees afforded to workers in every other developed country like paid time off and (with varying degrees of generosity) parental leave.

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  6. Let’s deconstruct this. Half the fun of being an engaged parent is the pleasures that are watching the mom wars. Now that the boys are doing it I feel that there’s some encouraging signs of gender parity. Welcome to the club.

    One of the nice things that feminism encouraged is that not all women are actually natural mums. Some suck. They are much better off staying in there professional career rather than bringing their self doubts into the Co-op preschool board meeting.

    I imagine that some guys are just guys and everyone would probably better off they continued making widgets. I feel so extremely lucky to be a stay-at-home developing a relationship with my child that very few men in most of history have had the opportunity to achieve. But hey, I can see that it’s really not for everyone.
    I found that most Mum’s clubs liked having a token Dad about for the heavy lifting. Ultimately, I didn’t find that these clubs met my needs. I’d suggest thinking of the coolest thing you and your little one can do together and going that way. It’s easier to form a friendship around a common pursuit or activity. Basic Aristotle. Don’t look for a mom’s club. Seek an art, writing, outdoor activity that you like. There are other parents already there.

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  7. It would be great if people could completely abandon the essentialism of “real” men or women or whatever. However people being what we are the “real” argument is natural and easy and often powerful so its headed in the right direction even if there is a seriously compromising flaw at the heart of “real” anything. As long as we are expanding the notion of “real” we are moving forward.

    I think we pretty quickly see a different between Family Friendly vs. Maintain Conservative Preferred Social Order when we look at something like mandating additional family leave. Giving parents more leave and more options about who can take it directly and pretty clearly helps families make their own choices and find their own path. Being against mandating more leave and leave for fathers gives them less choices and keep parenting focused on mothers and replicating and old fashioned view of parenting. (there can be other arguments against mandating more family leave which i’m not discussing) But more leave is family friendly but lots of people who say they are family friendly seem to be more focused on preserving a certain vision of the family.

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  8. Great piece.

    I sometimes talk about “stepping up and being a man”. However, I think about it in terms of being an adult… transitioning from boyhood to manhood. In this sense, one can also “step up and be a woman”. I equate “being a man” with being responsible, being accountable, demonstrating maturity, etc. It is gendered only insofar as it is a more specific phrase than saying, “Be an adult.”

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    • Someone I know had his hand in a cast a few years ago. He couldn’t easily button his shirt, zip a zipper, tie his shoes, or even open a drawer with two pulls on it. It was a really frustrating time for him and he was overcome with a sense of helplessness. I’d tried to problem-solve some ways to make these tasks doable, but he just sort of gave up. This was really unlike him.

      I finally told him that he needed to “man up”. Anyone who knows me would be surprised by my use of that phrase, and I actually thought about it quite a while before I did. I thought it would hit exactly the right note, and it did. He took the message well, and things got much better. He’d try things and accept assistance too. (My overall message was couched in more caring language beyond just “man up” and that’s what made it palatable, I think.)

      But I still felt kind of icky for using it. I’d like to think I’d want to accomplish the same thing regardless of the gender of the person I’m talking to, but sometimes we use the tools we have on hand.

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  9. Great piece. Some thoughts:

    1. I think Leeesq and Greginak are basically right about why a lack of paternal leave and not that great maternal leave exists in the United States. Some places do have paternal leave and they work very hard to enforce it. A professor of mine in law school used to work at another law school connected to another private university. He was on paternity leave and came into the office, his colleagues told him he had to go home because they were very serious about actual paternity leave.
    Another issue is that maternity and paternity leave policies seem to be unintentionally crafted to largely benefit educated professionals. This is because laws like FMLA tend to be written by professionals.

    2. I have no idea about how to solve the Real Man (TM) problem. It slowly seems to be changing but only for the most radical deviations and only largely for small children. I have several friends who posted memes and articles about how young boys should be able to dress as little princesses in dresses or like My Little Pony without being ridiculed or mocked or bullied. This is true but I suspect that they are looking at these variants of alleged gender non-conformity and non-masculinity as being default signs of future sexual orientation. My desire to wear skirts and dresses and heals is something approximating zero but I am rather non-traditional as guys go. I don’t really care about sports and would rather spend the time reading, going to theatre, dance, museums, galleries, etc. The most boring sports for me are the things like wrestling, boxing, and MMA. But I am a guy and enjoy being one.Somehow I think that minor subversions of gender are more problematic for society. I can’t put my finger on why exactly. My women friends who post about how boys should be allowed to wear dresses make an equal number of posts about how much they enjoy their Big Boy boyfriends. By Big Boy, I basically mean that the guys are basically very big 7th graders/bro dudes who can drive, drink, vote, and pay taxes.

    I think men and women both enforce more limited gender deviation for men than they do for women. Encouraging a daughter into STEM is probably much more acceptable (for a variety of reasons) than encouraging a son to be a dancer, artist, musician, actor, designer, etc for all but the most progressive and artsy of parents. I suspect that among more conservative minded people that they would rather have a West Point or MIT daughter than a Julliard son. Allowing gender deviations for men would essentially involve allowing more financially risky or unsure careers. There is still a strong idea that men are supposed to be the providers in society.

    3. Slate ran an article a few weeks ago about how high-earning men feel zero to little guilty about working long and crazy hours while their children were young. Women who were high-earning felt lots of guilt to do so. The men almost always had a spouse who stayed home and was a care-giver to the children. The women almost always had a husband who was a high-earning person as well and needed to rely on hired help like nannies and babysitters and day care. Maybe grandparents if the grandparents lived close by.

    4. From what I know, stay at home dads are still looked down upon and viewed with suspicion. Allegedly event their spouses begin to view them as less than masculine.

    5. There are enough old timers who are still in control of workplaces to dislike the idea of paternity leave for Real Man (TM) reasons. These people are going to be around for a few more decades.

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    • 2. People are weird and you should not in anyway expect consistency. There a few women that refer to themselves as feminist but only like to date men who are much taller than they are because they like to feel feminine, weak, and protected, etc. Thats about the least feminist approach to a heterosexual romantic relationship possible but lots of short men have encountered at least one woman that said something like this at one point.

      Your friends that post things on how its fine for young boys to dress like princesses but still say that they like their big boy boyfriends, what they are saying is that they do not care if their son turns out to be homosexual but that heterosexual should behave in a certain way. Like I said people are weird.

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      • “Feminist” has two meanings. There’s classical equal-rights feminism, and then there’s the modern kind, where they rail about the evils of the “gender system.” Liking sexual dimorphism is compatible with the first.

        It’s totally unfair to short men, but I don’t see a good solution.

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      • , I’d argue that your characterizations are too simple. “Classical equal-rights feminism” is as modern as “the modern kind”, in that there are many young people who consider themselves feminists who would identify with the first and that “the modern kind” isn’t all that new either.

        There are also lots of divisions within the latter camp. Some who describe themselves as radical feminists may not like sexual dimorphism, but they believe it is true, real, and explains why men are oppressive.

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      • This seems to be drifting pretty close to the Nice Guys-versus-Bad Boys conversation, about which, ugh.

        We like the men we like for the reasons we like them. And yes, certain types of masculinity can be attractive, as can certain kinds of femininity. And regarding the critique of these choices, and all the gender wars, there is plenty of blame to go around.

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      • They were too simple to be used as a primer on feminism, but I think they were simple enough to establish the point I was actually making, which is that preferring men who conform to traditional gender roles isn’t inherently unfeminist.

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    • 3 and 4 are a pretty good example of what I was talking about in my initial reply. For various reasons, stay at home dads still lack wide spread social acceptance but its a situation that is slowly changing for the better. One reason why acceptance for stay at home dads isn’t advancing faster is the contradiction between 3 and 4. Women that are high earners could benefit from a stay at home husband but tend to end up with high earners and might feel somewhat hateful towards a house husband. This isn’t true in every case but its true often enough. You can’t get everything you want out of life.

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      • I have a social-measure metric for #4, (sadly, being female, verifying it presents some problems) — rest-room facilities that are appropriate for fathers with young children; particularly daughters.

        When this is the norm, we’ll have made some progress.

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      • Right on, Zic. I’ve gotten strange looks taking Mayo into the family bathroom in some places nearby. They usually only exist in major chains (e.g., Target) and are probably a corporate policy. But in my more conservative part of the state, I draw looks. I can only imagine what would happen if/when I’m going in with a female toddler or lil’un.

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      • How do you define “appropriate”? I was quite happy to notice how many men’s restrooms are equipped with changing tables. I don’t know how frequent this is compared to women’s restrooms since I never go in them, but it sure seems to me that there has been progress in that arena.

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      • appropriate would mean that it serves you and your daughter well until she’s of an age that you’re comfortable waiting outside the entrance. So changing tables (which are cheap,) are the beginning of the arc of respecting a man’s needs as a parent to children in public places.

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    • I have to say, I think all Real Men conversations wildly miss the point. The law needs to allow for both parents to be able to take leave, but after that everyone needs to chill the fish out.

      You know, I really respect Chris Hayes for his decision to take time off these first few months of fatherhood. Bully for him. But it’s not “part of being a man.” After our first son was born, we weren’t in a place where I could take time off financially. After our second was born, my wife only took a month off because she had some career goals she felt needed to be achieved for the good of the family long-term. The former didn’t make me less a “real man;” the latter didn’t make her less a “real woman.”

      I swear, so much of our family-related culture wars these days are people deciding what works best for them and their families, and then declaring that everyone else has to do it that way too.

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      • See my description above of what “being a man” is. Being a man is about taking responsibility. That could mean being home. It could mean staying at work. It depends on what needs doing. A man — or woman — does that. A child — a boy or a girl — does not.

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  10. We have four couples we are close friends with that have one stay-at-home parent. Two are women, two are men. My anecdotal observation is that the men do not get the same kind of props for staying home with the kids, often getting asked why they don’t have a part-time income on the side. The men themselves also have to deal with a lot of ego issues. They feel like their career is slipping away, they want more pats on the back for making sure their spouses come home to a clean house, etc. Even the stay-at-home moms don’t seem particularly impressed with what the guys are doing and are constantly giving them unsolicited advice as though the guys are clearly not going to get it right as often as the gals. It’s a tough dynamic.There’s a lot of progress to be made on this front.

    As for maternity/paternity leave I’m kind of blah about it. Unless the mother works almost right up to the point where the baby is born it seems like they always lose some time on the back end. I often see the guys take a couple of weeks of vacation somewhere in there to assist and do some bonding but if both parents work it sometimes feels like you should start figuring out the work/life balance a little earlier.

    And I have to say, while Canada’s policy sounds nice on paper, it’s got to be hell for employers trying to deal with people taking that much leave.

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    • The men themselves also have to deal with a lot of ego issues. They feel like their career is slipping away, they want more pats on the back for making sure their spouses come home to a clean house, etc. Even the stay-at-home moms don’t seem particularly impressed with what the guys are doing and are constantly giving them unsolicited advice as though the guys are clearly not going to get it right as often as the gals. It’s a tough dynamic.There’s a lot of progress to be made on this front.

      First, I think women have the same ego issues here, too. I stayed home after our first-born because of severe colic (which lasted for many months), the pediatrician said it was severe enough that a day care might cause failure to thrive. It was really difficult to give up my career (I was a data-base admin. and technical-support advisor to development projects in state gov., well-paid, respected, and with a lot of responsibility.) I’ve spoken with a lot of women who simply had jobs instead of careers, and they felt the same, too. If we value a parent at home, recognizing that no matter the gender, this is something they will deal with is important.

      As to the dissing by women, that’s pretty awful. But I also got similar treatment as a code monkey, and let’s talk about the abuse a woman machinist or mechanic experiences; there’s some turf wars in the gendering of jobs that needs serious examination.

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    • I don’t think the long parental leaves are that big of a problem. If someone declares months in advance their plan to take a full year’s mat + parental leave, the employer can post a full-year job opportunity and have time to screen candidates. A year is a long enough contract that well-qualified people are actually interested in taking it. Filling an opening of only a few months seems like it might be harder.

      It can be a really good way for people to get into a longer term career – I know many people who got their foot in the door with an employer by filling a mat leave. It works as a promotion opportunity too – if you fill a management position for a year, there’s plenty of time to demonstrate you can be a good manager thereafter.

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  11. Here is another example of societal engrained gender differences that are not about parenting per se but still show how guys especially heterosexual guys are held to a different standard but by everyone.

    I currently am in a long-distance relationship. Very long-distance because of this we are both a new couple and not so new couple (we started dating in November-December). We are currently working on who bears the risk of moving for the sake of the relationship to survive. This includes the possibility of moving without a job lined up.

    As I understand it from men and women, it is perfectly acceptable for my girlfriend to expect me to move into my own place because our relationship and feeling safe/secure. However, if she were to move to my city, I would be fully expected to let her stay at my place until she found a job/place on her own or she might stay permanently. I know a couple or two or more where this happened.

    This makes moving a much more financially risky and burdensome process for me because I either have to save a lot of money, hope I get lucky with employment, or take on a lot of work outside of my profession/career trajectory in order to pay rent, bills, buy groceries, go on dates, etc.

    As far as I can tell, I am likely the one to move if anyone for irrelevant reasons but I dislike that I have to seemingly move with much less support in all ways.

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    • Nothing MRA about. The double post though….ohhh, that is sort of a Beta male type of thing. ( insert smiley face here)

      One thing feminist have pointed out well is that there are unfair/wrong headed pressures and expectations put on men and women. There are times when MRA’s have good points about unfair pressures put on men, they just typically drench their good points in all sorts of bile and whooey.

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    • As I understand it from men and women, it is perfectly acceptable for my girlfriend to expect me to move into my own place because our relationship and feeling safe/secure. However, if she were to move to my city, I would be fully expected to let her stay at my place until she found a job/place on her own or she might stay permanently. I know a couple or two or more where this happened.

      Hmmm, well in my world, both would be expected to find one’s own place. But I live in an antiquated world. When I moved across the country, I was expected to find my own place (however temporarily, till the marriage), but that would have been the expectation the other way in between us. My friend moved across the country and straight in with his girlfriend, though, and it didn’t really occur to me to have an opinion on that (other than the antiquated world thing).

      My secular, non-antiquated self would see it more as an issue of economics. If the person is moving across the country for you, can’t afford their own place, there are no objections to premarital cohabitation, and you feel like you’re ready to make that step, then you let them move in. If not, then not. Regardless of gender.

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    • Zazzy and I did distance for two years. I had to move to her because she couldn’t move (stationed by the military). I insisted on moving in with her, arguing that I was only moving to that city to be with her and it made no sense to do so and then live apart. She had no objection. I don’t remember getting any pressure from anyone one way or another or feeling there was any broader expectation. The extent to which move-in-together-or-don’t seemed to be part of a larger conversation was about things like pre-marital cohabitation — which was not an issue for us — and not about gender norms/roles.

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    • Wait, what? Maybe it’s because I’m old school and don’t think one should move in with someone until you’re well on the path of where a ring* isn’t out of the question**, but this strikes me as craziness. I know all sorts of women who have had no issues moving to a new city and staying on their own or finding roomies or whatever.

      * Or other level of relationship semi-permanence if you’re not into the getting married thing
      ** More for practical, rather than moral, reasons. I think it’s good, for both members of the relationship, to separate the living situation from the relationship situation because then the status of the relationship isn’t tied up to other ancillary issues like, “I have to find a new apartment” or “I can’t afford to break up with X because Jimmy McMillan is right.”

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      • I am not saying that women have a problem with it or don’t do it. I am just saying that I think there is a gendered expectation for guys to offer space to their long-distance girlfriends but not the other way around.

        Perhaps I am in the minority for this but my general observations tell me that this is an expectation.

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      • Saul, I often feel like your friend group is in some sort of different world than the people I know are.

        Which is to say, in my experience, either both could expect living quarters, or neither could, depending on the relationship – but I can’t imagine whether or not cohabitation (temporary or permanent) took place depending on who moved where. There’s no gender differential to this one in my experience.

        OTOH I’m not, you know, straight, nor entirely cisgendered, so maybe I self-select for people who don’t have all these weird complicated gender role rules.

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      • I’m with . I know a number of people who did distance. Whenever the discussion came up of who was moving where, I never heard it take place in a gendered way and can’t point to any gendered trends that might have existed but gone unmentioned. Each couple decided what worked for them and the extent to which people weighed in, it was sharing their own experiences.

        If any trend existed, it tended to be the opposite, but largely because the women tended to have nicer places. Guys lived in squalor with their friends, dropping a mattress on the ground and calling it their room. The gals all had nice places and more often lived alone.

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  12. “As Elizabeth notes, this is “anti-life culture”.”

    i’m on board with everything but this particular bonghit. it’s nonsense when the anti-gagortion folk do it, and it’s puff puff give son on this.

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    • Well I find it kind of interesting about how the left and the right talk about what it means to be pro-family and/or pro-life.

      When I think of what pro-life means to me, it means creating programs and social structures and nets that allow for a robust middle class and provide decent standards of living and stability to the greatest number of people possible. This includes a welfare state and what not.

      As for pro-family, that means enacting policies that allow families to stay close (geographically) if that is their desire. I think families provide people with valuable support structures: financially, physically, emotionally, and socially. One of the solutions to unemployment that I see is relocation assistance (usually proposed by libertarians and people on the right). I think that is going to rip a lot of families apart or people away from their support structures and this is not good.

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    • Okay, help me out here. I was scratching my head a TNC quote in another post, so I have to ask: what’s the meaning of “son” (as well as “sonning”, “sonned”, etc.) in this context?

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      • not to that extent, no. and “anti what i’d consider a good and fulfilling life, enriched by social and familial connections, with sliding scale or minimal costs to the receipients” doesn’t exactly flow the same way.

        it’s a very bizarre rah rah, frankly; my lack of official paternity leave (iirc it was three official days off; their maternity leave was far better in comparison) was definitely something to be worked around, but to describe it as actively hostile to living for not catering to all of my needs and desires take a level of bridge-to-far-ness i am unable to muster.

        i get why it’s a handy trick, but it’s a bit morally twisted. weirdly. i am probably alone in this, and you’re canadian.*

        * this is a great album title, btw. i will work on making that that.

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  13. I agree with you up until the last paragraph. I think there’s actual differences between men and women and would guess that, in a society with no sexism whatsoever, the distribution of men and women in any given career wouldn’t always been 50-50 (give or take a few percent).

    Not in the sense of “all women are like this” or “all men are like that”, but in the sense that some personality traits and preferences are more common in one gender than another.

    I do, however, believe that an important and needed social change is making careers traditionally classed as “feminine” – like stay-at-home parenting, nursing, or teaching elementary school – more socially acceptable for men.

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    • I tend to agree. I think there are basically four interrelated levels to the disparity:

      1. Out-and-out sexism. Society explicitly telling women that their role is to do this and men that their role is to do that.
      2. Social conditioning. Related to one, but less coercive. Unstated norms picked up by men and women.
      3. Logistics. It often makes more sense for women to take time off than men. There are things women can do that men simply can’t. It’s more frequently going to make more sense for women to take time off than men.
      4. Biology. As you say, it’s far from absolute. But I think there are some nature involved in what drives us.

      The tricky part with #4 (and #3, to a lesser extent) is that it becomes ridiculously easy to reduce it to that and ignore #1 and #2, which may be playing a much bigger role than #3 and #4. It’s impossible to know for sure, adding to the trickiness.

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  14. Random thoughts prompted by this discussion.

    I have seen fathers bring little girls into the changing room at my local swimming pool. This is an open style room not one with cubicles and to be honest I felt a bit awkward/embarrassed but that’s my problem not theirs.

    I have *never* understood why people regard getting the door for someone as a gender specific thing, if I’m going through the door first or the other person has their hands full of course I hold it. What else would I do deliberately slam it in their face?

    There is something more than gender assumptions wrong in the assumption that the best way to take care of your family is to spend more time earning money to spend on them, which is mentioned in the second linked article as the view of one person on the ‘other side’ of the controversy.

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    • Yes, you’re right that we’ve fallen into this trap about defining what it means to “be a man”. And, unfortunately, for people who are stuck in the mindset that your gender places specific demands on how you behave, sometimes the only way to help them move out of neanderthal-hood is to talk to them in the archaic fashion they’re used to. That makes it a useful tool (as I noted in the OP), but not an optimal end-game.

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  15. , I was a little confused by part of the OP.

    In your second to last quoted section, you quote three paragraphs from “8 Acts of Chivalry” by James Michael Sama, but that last paragraph wasn’t actually in that piece, which actually ends on “The new gentleman performs these acts for the right reasons – love, caring, and respect.” I was confused because I thought your next sentence was contradicted by the quoted text, but I think there was an editing error.

    I suspect you wrote this part and it accidentally ended up grouped with the quoted part: “Men shouldn’t treat women with respect because that’s what Real Men do. We–men and women–should treat others–men and women–with respect because that is what common basic decency demands.”

    (BTW, I agree with those two sentences entirely!)

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  16. I can imagine there being some criticism because he took only three days – like, is he really so vital to the nation that he couldn’t be spared for a few weeks? But criticism that he didn’t take fewer days off? That’s just mindboggling.

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  17. Reading that “8 Acts of Chivalry” piece by James Michael Sama, I was really struck by how shaped by heterosexuality it was. I don’t really mean that as a criticism. But it’s structured around the idea that “chivalrous men” will be kind to women and those who are somehow “less able” than themselves. Women are in fact kind of “less able” than men by default in this worldview.

    Being a good man in his sense means giving up your seat on the bus for women and anyone older or disabled. Being a good man means being the one to pull out the woman’s chair for her to sit. Being a good man means walking on the street side of the sidewalk when walking with a woman.

    That just seems a little strange to me. I know part of it has to do with the fact that I’m gay–I just don’t think about straight dating behavior and expectations in that sense. The people I dated were guys, so all those rules meant nothing. Everything was negotiated or ignored. Who paid for dinner? Typically dutch. Who walked on the outside of the sidewalk? We didn’t even pay attention to that.

    Part of it also has to do with growing up in a western family with strong women who didn’t typically think of themselves as being dependent upon men. My grandmother is tough and would be insulted at the notion that she should stay on the inside of the sidewalk.

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    • Most of these things fall under “being nice to someone” or “being thoughtful” by putting yourself in a less advantageous position than the other person. As long as those things are done out of a desire to respect or accommodate someone, why does it matter if someone’s definition of being a “good ” includes those things?

      If someone wants to open a door, pull out a chair, or offer me a seat, I’ll gladly accept or thank them for the offer. There are a lot of times when I’ll offer my seat to someone who is late to a meeting, too. Why? Because it’s a considerate thing to do, regardless of gender.

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  18. ” LEBOWSKI:
    Funny–I can look back on a life of achievement, on challenges met, competitors bested, obstacles overcome. I’ve accomplished more than most men, and without the use of my legs… What, what makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?

    DUDE:
    Dude.

    LEBOWSKI:
    Huh?

    DUDE:
    Uh, I, I don’t know, sir.

    LEBOWSKI:
    Is it being prepared to do the right thing? Whatever the cost? Isn’t that that makes a man?

    DUDE:
    Ummm..sure. That and a pair of testicles.

    LEBOWSKI
    You’re joking. But perhaps you’re right.”

    The real question is what makes a good person. Who gives two farts about conforming to some societal notion of how someone male (by whatever criteria of maleness you prefer) should be? The real question is how you should be, regardless of what society thinks.

    And the answer is that you should be an awesome robot.

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  19. I’m all for the re-intreperation of what a manly man does. That means I don’t have to hold the door for anyone, pay on the first date, lift her heavy baggage into the overhead bin, or carry boxes of printer paper to the printer when it’s run out. You’re a today kinda gall and don’t need a man. Go girl.

    Surprisingly, all these same types of women, who claim to be “modern feminists”, still expect me to do these things I get a bit put off. But I get even more put off by the their behavior on the first date where my date asks if she can contribute, using that as a test. If I accept, she won’t see me again on principle.

    Pot / kettle.

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    • Damon,
      I expect people to hold doors for me if I’m in high heels. Then again, I don’t wear high heels often, so I’m at about the level of walking proficiency of your average 80-year-old.

      Other than that, I tend to get the damn door myself, and if you hold it for me, i’ll try and return the favor the next time (rather than cussing you out for being paternalistic or some jazz). It’s basic politeness.

      If it’s something I can’t carry, well, I’ll ask for help (hope you’d do the same, honestly). But I do walk 50lbs of groceries home from the store, so it isn’t my legs that are weak!

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      • Zane,
        Yeah. I’m at risk of falling whenever I take a step in high heels (that’s why I don’t wear them often). I’d actually expect a date to offer an arm (of course, I’d probably ask before wearing them. politeness, after all) throughout the night.

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      • Well in all honesty Kim, if someone, regardless of sex, is near the door when I go through, I’ll hold the door. That’s how Moms raised me.

        However, if the person I’m holding the door for bitches to me about the “patriarchy”, I’ll pull it shut in their fact. You know, so they can feel empowered. :)

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    • , “But I get even more put off by the their behavior on the first date where my date asks if she can contribute, using that as a test. If I accept, she won’t see me again on principle.”

      I’m asking because as a gay guy it’s outside my experience. Does this happen much? And how would someone “tested” this way know why she didn’t go out with him again?

      I am surprised that the expectation of the guy always paying still exists. It probably comes from both sides, too. Some men feel letting the woman pay undermines their masculinity, some women feel if the guys don’t pay that they are… what? Freeloaders? Unmanly? Potentially poor providers (proven per penurious pecuniary patterns)?

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    • “But I get even more put off by the their behavior on the first date where my date asks if she can contribute, using that as a test. If I accept, she won’t see me again on principle.”

      On my first dates, I consider this to be the point where /she/ fails the test…

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