Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men.
The curtailment of such male entitlements and the expansion of women’s legal and economic rights have transformed American life, but they have hardly produced a matriarchy. Indeed, in many arenas the progress of women has actually stalled over the past 15 years.
The 1970s and 1980s brought an impressive reduction in job segregation by gender, especially in middle-class occupations. But the sociologists David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman report that progress slowed in the 1990s and has all but stopped since 2000.
What we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance.
Between 2010 and 2011, men and women working full time year-round both experienced a 2.5 percent decline in income. Men suffered roughly 80 percent of the job losses at the beginning of the 2007 recession. But the ripple effect of the recession then led to cutbacks in government jobs that hit women disproportionately. As of June 2012, men had regained 46.2 percent of the jobs they lost in the recession, while women had regained 38.7 percent of their lost jobs.
One thing standing in the way of further progress for many men is the same obstacle that held women back for so long: overinvestment in their gender identity instead of their individual personhood. Men are now experiencing a set of limits — externally enforced as well as self-imposed.
Just as the feminine mystique discouraged women in the 1950s and 1960s from improving their education or job prospects, on the assumption that a man would always provide for them, the masculine mystique encourages men to neglect their own self-improvement on the assumption that sooner or later their “manliness” will be rewarded.
The masculine mystique is institutionalized in work structures, according to three new studies forthcoming in the Journal of Social Issues. Just as women who display “masculine” ambitions or behaviors on the job are often penalized, so are men who engage in traditionally female behaviors, like prioritizing family involvement. Men who take an active role in child care and housework at home are more likely than other men to be harassed at work.
Men who request family leave are often viewed as weak or uncompetitive and face a greater risk of being demoted or downsized. And men who have ever quit work for family reasons end up earning significantly less than other male employees, even when controlling for the effects of age, race, education, occupation, seniority and work hours. Now men need to liberate themselves from the pressure to prove their masculinity. Contrary to the fears of some pundits, the ascent of women does not portend the end of men. It offers a new beginning for both.
But women’s progress by itself is not a panacea for America’s inequities. The closer we get to achieving equality of opportunity between the sexes, the more clearly we can see that the next major obstacle to improving the well-being of most men and women is the growing socioeconomic inequality within each sex.
Source: The New York Times, September 30, 2012