Does the changing attitude of men to family life make any difference to women?

Reading a recent article in GQ[1] a number of things jumped out at me. Firstly the way that the man defines himself and secondly the changing role of women in in the household. The fact that surprized me the most was that 89% of men polled in August 2013 said that they would be comfortable with their partner earning more than them. This is a sharp contrast to the commonly held belief that men feel the need to be the main breadwinner. Looking deeper however we find from the same poll that 78% of men polled were in fact the main breadwinner so are attitudes really changing or are men only comfortable with the idea of women earning more than them, but not the reality?

Obviously we cannot take GQ as an academic source but the yougov poll the article is written around certainly showed a change in attitude from the beliefs that were held in this country only a decade or two ago. It would be fair to say that the demographic GQ is aimed at is middle class, but it is often here that you find a silent resilience to change which is why some results are so surprising. 92% of men are indifferent or have no issue working for a female and here’s the clincher, 59% of men would consider being a stay at home dad in the future. This is clear progress in terms of male attitudes towards women. So we can see that attitudes are starting to change, but what else can be done to change these social constructs that seem to define a man and women’s role in a family?

One school of thought is that the way to ensuring this parity is through education as this will change the socially constructed views we hold.[2] Current society still holds that the man is the main breadwinner (despite the fact men seem happy not to be the main breadwinner, currently they are) and the women will be the main child carer and if she does work, it is likely that the work will be part time in a family (single parents obviously exempt). Having more women in education, especially at a higher level will enable these views to be further challenged. Whilst there is not a large gender gap at undergraduate levels in the UK, the higher you go, the larger the gap becomes but perhaps with the changing attitudes this will change.

Dr Peggy Drexler[3] tells us that the main obstacle to gender equality in the family is the issue of women going back to work after a long period of absence and that whatever the changing views of men about their family life, this will not change because, “While you’re away, someone else is doing your work, making your sales, taking care of your customers. That can’t help you at work. It can only hurt you.” Because of this, men are not taking paternity leave and this puts the women at a disadvantage as invariably they will take their entire maternity leave and in many cases will take longer breaks from work. Until a solution can be found to guard against this, women will continue to have to make the choice between family and their career.

However, there is another side to the argument. There are many women who actively choose to be the main child carer and would argue strongly that at the start of their child’s life they wouldn’t actually want anyone else looking after their child. This may stem from the biological differences in that the woman has actually carried the baby for 9 months but the crux of point is that there are a significant amount of women who are happy in the child caring role. They make a “real and genuine choice”[4] to care for their children. So for these women, the changing attitudes of men are irrelevant, they will still make the same choice.

For others, though, the statistics in this article will be a welcome, probably even surprising, change to what was previously believed. The idea that most men are happy not to be the main breadwinner and are happy to consider being stay at home fathers is progress, but as 78% of men continue to be the breadwinner we clearly are seeing a lack of real terms progress (the fact as well that even this magazine which seems to show a genuine change has a pop star almost naked on the cover calls the claim of a genuine change into question for example). The main issue still seems to be women returning to work after a prolonged absence due to childbirth and whilst this remains an issue, the changing attitudes of men at home will not bring about a change of this nature in the workplace.


[1] The New New Man  GQ UK, December 2013 pages 227-239

[2] Elaine Unterhalter Global inequality, capabilities, social justice: The millennium development goal for gender equality in education International Journal of Educational Development Volume 25, Issue 2, March 2005, Pages 111–122

[3]  Peggy Drexler Stay at home dads will never be the norm Time, August 21st 2013, available at http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/21/viewpoint-stay-at-home-dads-will-never-become-the-norm/

[4]  Jane Lewis and Mary Campbell UK Work/Family Balance Policies and Gender Equality, 1997–2005   Social Politics  Volume 14 Issue 1  Pp. 4-30.

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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