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April 15 2013

Work-Life Balance

Diana McKibben

The latest flare-up of feminist and traditionalist commentary about women’s choices shows continued concern about the role of women in our society. Cheryl Sandberg stirred controversy by urging women to lean into their careers; Princeton alumna Susan Patton offered unusual advice today that Princeton ladies should find a husband in college; Xerox CEO Ursula Burns recently quipped that marrying an older man may be at least part of a woman’s key to success. The debate has diverged to the subject of marriage specifically - about whether it’s a good idea to get married at a young age on the pages of the Atlantic and at Slate, here and here. On the one hand, I welcome a traditional response to the extreme feminist view that female success is linked to her paycheck, pursued to compete with and detach from men. On the other hand, it would be great to hear what men think too.

In the extreme feminist definition of success, concepts of domesticity and relationships can be a hindrance to self-fulfillment, because self-fulfillment is believed to be found exclusively in one’s career. By contrast, the traditional perspective extols the benefits of commitment and marriage, and rightly challenges the view that professional autonomy is the answer to a woman’s happiness. For a recent example, see a lengthy piece in New York Magazine featuring Kelly Makino, labeled a “neo-traditionalist” for her view that “that the best way for some mothers (and their loved ones) to have a happy life is to make home their highest achievement.” Author Lisa Miller writes that the neo-traditionalist perspective is "a more active awakening to the virtues of the way things used to be.” Notwithstanding the reality that many women today may have to work to help sustain a family, the fresh perspective that more women today may revel in “neo-traditional” goals of marriage and children is welcome. After all, building a family and a home carries plenty of responsibility, and it can be a hugely gratifying goal.

It seems that women constantly discuss work-life balance, don’t they? Since women have babies, this dialogue around the challenges they face in pursuing professional and family goals makes sense. I can’t help but think, what about men? Men don’t seem to delve into this subject as fully, if at all. In her Forbes piece last year titled “Real Men Don’t need Work-Life Balance,” Dr. Tanvi Gautam framed it this way:

Who will rescue the men? Not the women, as they are still covering their own ground. Not men, for real men don’t discuss such touchy-feely issues. One of my clients noted that “trying to talk work-life issues with other males was like showing up in the soccer try outs wearing a tutu! You just don’t do that. Work-life discussion is for women.” Men’s networks often don’t allow space for exploring anything beyond the “professional” persona that they have to adopt as their primary identity.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center confirms that most men today prefer having a full time job, and most prefer higher pay as opposed to flexibility at work. (Only 23 percent of married mothers desire full-time work, by contrast, and their opinions haven’t changed since 2007). As it turns out, men also feel just as strained by the challenge of balancing work with home life, but they certainly don’t flood the blogosphere with their thoughts about it.

I’m curious to know what men really think about the concept of work-life balance. Assuming these things are financially possible, do men prefer it when their wives chose to stay at home? Instead, would they prefer part time work or being a stay-at-home-dad? How strongly does a successful career, being a good husband or father factor into a man's sense of identity? What does a “home” mean to men today?

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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