August 9, 2013

"Feminism, in short, doesn't just empower women. It empowers me."

"It allows me to take on roles that have traditionally been associated with women. It gives me more flexibility in my career. As a man, feminism has had a huge positive effect on my life. It seems like the least I can do in return is own it."

Writes Noah Berlatsky under the heading "All the Selfish Reasons to Be a Male Feminist," posted at Slate's XXfactor. He's certainly not telling us all the selfish reasons, since I can think of at least one additional reason: You can get your free-lance writing published at Slate's XXfactor.

Berlatsky talks about having a wife with a full-time job and health insurance benefits and his own role as primary caregiver for their child while he does his writing, and that catches my eye, because it's the family life I had from 1981 to 1987. He says:
There was a time not so long ago where doing any of those things would have made me the object of ridicule, and quite possibly self-loathing as well. Today, though, it's no big deal — and the reason for that is feminism.
Well, there was feminism back then too, but it didn't save men from the inner turmoil of switching traditional gender roles. We thought we were really sophisticated, advanced, hip, and evolved in the early 1980s. Does that come as a surprise to you, Noah? You say, "it's no big deal," but you're writing at XXfactor, where it's in your interest — you have a selfish reason — to say that. But these things work until they don't work, so don't be smug, and good luck. Have you really thought deeply about your masculine self-esteem? Because, to my ear, your thanks feminism sounds shallow.

32 comments:

TerriW said...

I thought the primary benefit of male feminism is that it empowers you to sleep with female feminists.

SGT Ted said...

"Feminism" didn't do anything for him that he couldn't have done on his own.

A lot of feminism is magical thinking that posits men have it good 24/7 and disregards the trade-offs that men have always made in regards to career vs. family.

Far too many feminist women think that they should not be inconvenienced the same way men are with the choices and trade offs of career over family.

I am a man who is for equal rights and responsibilities, and not the female supremacy, deference and privilege that feminism assumes for women over men.

Ace of Spades has a spot on post about this subject this morning.

Lyssa said...

I agree that it sounds shallow. I also think that it sounds simplistic; he basically presents "feminism" as being what practically everyone believes, that women ought to have the same basic rights as men and be able to work and earn. Hardly a radical concept for the past several decades.

Professor, this confused me though:

Today, though, it's no big deal — and the reason for that is feminism. Well, there was feminism back then too, but it didn't save men from the inner turmoil of switching traditional gender roles. We thought we were really sophisticated, advanced, hip, and evolved in the early 1980s. Does that come as a surprise to you, Noah? You say, "it's no big deal," but you're writing at XXfactor, where it's in your interest — you have a selfish reason — to say that. But these things work until they don't work, so don't be smug, and good luck. Have you really thought deeply about your masculine self-esteem? Because, to my ear, your thanks feminism sounds shallow.

I'm not sure what you're saying here. That it can't or isn't likely to work, due to his masculine self-esteem? That he thinks it's no big deal but it is, or that it's been not a big deal for longer than he gives it credit for? I'd like to see you discuss this further.

This is my life, now, too (though my husband would never, never call himself a "feminist"), and it seems like no big deal to us. Of course, his leaving work and the lifestyle changes are a big deal, but it's not weird that it's him rather than me. Neither of our very conservative and traditional families have expressed any concerns, and his friends have mostly expressed envy, not loathing.

Darleen said...

Since full-time female homemakers are consider gender-traitors and inauthentic women (especially if they hold non-Left-feminist views), I fail to see how Left-feminism has enabled this guy ...

He gets his kudos not from staying home but for mouthing Left-feminist dogma. Let him be a SAHD and hold conservative views and see how long he lasts without being ridiculed.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm not sure what you're saying here. That it can't or isn't likely to work, due to his masculine self-esteem? That he thinks it's no big deal but it is, or that it's been not a big deal for longer than he gives it credit for? I'd like to see you discuss this further."

I don't think he's thought deeply enough about his feelings, and as life goes on, and childrearing is wearisome, or his writing doesn't get him as much success as he may want, and he feels isolated at home or disrespected compared to his wife, his internal pep talk — feminists say this is fine — may not be enough. Life is more complicated than a capsulized ideology that says this is supposed to be good. All marriages have internal dynamics that operate in their own way, which, speaking of trying to be a writer, is the topic of many novels, e.g., "Anna Karenina." That's where the depth is. I think you could begin an interesting novel with the man at home, telling himself the pat story Berlatsky is telling himself. Then see what happens. Oh, yeah, my ex-husband wrote that novel back in the 1980s. The couple in the novel broke up. Later, our marriage broke up. Isn't that funny?!

"This is my life, now, too (though my husband would never, never call himself a 'feminist'), and it seems like no big deal to us."

Happy families are all alike....

"Of course, his leaving work and the lifestyle changes are a big deal, but it's not weird that it's him rather than me. Neither of our very conservative and traditional families have expressed any concerns, and his friends have mostly expressed envy, not loathing."

Think of that as an outline for Chapter 1 of the fictionalizing of your life. Think of how all those pat statement in Chapter 1 would, if this were a novel, be foreshadowing for the comeuppance your were going to get.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Lyssa- I think most conservatives just think SOMEONE should be home with the kids. Most of the time, that ends up being mom, because she's got the cheap milk supply.....

BUT there are a lot of couples where dad makes more sense. (Freelance writer married to Engineer? Writer stays home.)

Honestly, I think social cons are actually MORE flexible on this than a lot of liberals, who seem obsessed with the idea that both parents must work full time and put the kids in daycare. It's not about 'liberation' or 'economic freedom.' It's about putting families in situations where they're forced to turn their kids over to the state at an early age.

TosaGuy said...

Doesn't have to slave away at a grind of a job to support the family? He is a liberated man.

Beware of liberated men, they devolve into sloth.

Ann Althouse said...

your were going to get = you were going to get.

Michael K said...

My mother-in-law had a full-time job from 1940, including the war when her husband was gone from 1942 to 46, until she retired at about 70. She was in the movie business (not "talent" as she referred to actors) and her husband was a public and customer relations chief at Hughes Aircraft. Both had great carers and traveled the world. They were both great people. She pretty much laughed at feminism.

Ann Althouse said...

"Honestly, I think social cons are actually MORE flexible on this than a lot of liberals, who seem obsessed with the idea that both parents must work full time and put the kids in daycare."

Yeah, look at that big Judith Warner piece in the NYT that we were just talking about. It's a big mistake for the wife to fall for the stay-at-home gig. That's the message of feminism to women, so why does Berlatsky think he will do well staying at home?

It's possible that he'll do well precisely because he's a man, and he's doing something that seems new rather than falling back to the old, which might cause women anxiety. But the Warner piece and other things like that say you can't trust your spouse to stay with you and keep supporting your lifestyle, and you won't be about to get your career back on track. (That's all about the assessment of risk, and there are issues about sexual fidelity that vary depending on whether it's the man or the woman who go out in the world. Yet with the internet, anyone, anywhere, might form an attachment and can arrange trysts.)

There are also questions of what kinds of careers these 2 people have. In Warner's article, there were, for example, women quitting jobs at law firms to stay at home. That's different from someone who's always wanted to be an independent writer, like my ex-husband or maybe Berlatsky, choosing to be the home-based partner. The home base was always his first choice.

There are also people who are independent contractors who can arrange their work in some way that lets them be the home-based one. And a woman might pair up with a man who's toward the end of a career, who takes early or semi-retirement of some kind to be the home-based childcare-giver (or just wife-care giver!).

But Berlatsky is young and at the beginning of his career. Presumably he has expectations. What if they don't pan out. What if he is a low-expectations person, and he's hanging around getting almost nothing done after the kids are old enough to be at school all day. Will that create tensions in the marriage to a leaning-in type wife?

AaronS said...

Every time I read about a man staying home and taking care of kids and household duties and how it is revolutionary and they are concerned about being ridiculed I can't help but think of "My Three Sons". As a kid I never imagined what a revolutionary show that was with its upending of gender norms. Imagine, a man dispensing wisdom with a dishrag over his shoulder and drying dishes. Of course, one could argue that with the mid-series switheroo of grandpa the show was suggesting that it takes two men to do the job of one woman.

Lyssa said...

That's definitely how we've seen it, Deidra. For our parents, it made more sense one way, but for our circumstances, it made more sense the other.
********************************

Professor, I have no idea why your first marriage broke up and would consider it none of my business. If you're advising us to learn from your mistakes, I'd read and consider it, but I would need to know more (which, again, is none of my business and I don't expect you to share). I've always gotten the impression that, while he was at home, he was also a (struggling?) writer, which my husband is definitely not, but which would certainly make a difference in self-esteem.

However, even if it was strictly because of his staying home, it is still two very different people in a very different time, place, and circumstances. Obviously, there are no guarantees and marriages split for all sorts of reasons.

Think of that as an outline for Chapter 1 of the fictionalizing of your life. Think of how all those pat statement in Chapter 1 would, if this were a novel, be foreshadowing for the comeuppance your were going to get.

Perhaps, but that, again, could be said of many, many circumstances. Heck, now I'm envisioning a chilling horror story that starts with an independent divorcee who is suddenly swept off her feet by the seemingly nice and charming (perhaps a little too nice and charming) man who frequently commented on her blog . . .

(No offense, Meade)

AaronS said...

"Will that create tensions in the marriage to a leaning-in type wife?"

Obviously, no. If one situation is not providing fulfillment then the opposite situation definitely will.

Lyssa said...

AA said That's the message of feminism to women, so why does Berlatsky think he will do well staying at home?

That goes back to my calling his take on "feminism" simplistic. What is "feminism", anyway? Does Judith Warner speak for it; can a woman be a SAHM and still be a feminist?

Feminism basically means nothing at this point - it either means that woman should just have equal rights and pretty much everyone agrees (and the SAHM and SAHD are as acceptable as the dual income day care parents, as long as everyone got a choice), or it means something else. That's why the writer here had a simplistic take, he didn't define feminism, or why it is in any way different from what is now just normal.

Cog said...

Although everyone has a masculine/feminine nature that needs expressing to be healthy, it’s our gender or gender identity that determines which side dominates our psyches as we live life. Feminists might wish this kind of piece were the last word on the subject but it only tells part of the story.

traditionalguy said...

Freedom is usually a good thing if a lonely thing. Feminists freed women, and then some of the freed women married a man to be less lonely.

It all comes back around. Did you see Domestic Partners benefits for the free to be gay couples now being proposed to be limited only to married gays.

Ann Althouse said...

"Professor, I have no idea why your first marriage broke up and would consider it none of my business. If you're advising us to learn from your mistakes, I'd read and consider it, but I would need to know more (which, again, is none of my business and I don't expect you to share)."

I'm not an advice-giver. I'm only saying life is complicated, and some people say things that are so simple that I suspect them of not thinking deeply. When your family is happy, it seems simple, but it's happy until it's not. I recommended "Anna Karenina," not my own version of telling my personal story, which don't you think I would have done by now if I had that sort of writerly skill (and the accompanying willingness to invade my own privacy and the privacy of several other persons)?

"Perhaps, but that, again, could be said of many, many circumstances. Heck, now I'm envisioning a chilling horror story that starts with an independent divorcee who is suddenly swept off her feet by the seemingly nice and charming (perhaps a little too nice and charming) man who frequently commented on her blog . . . (No offense, Meade)."

My husband left me in 1987. I met Meade for the first time in 2009. That's a 22-year time gap. Your imagined fairy tale doesn't account for that extensive period of time, which lasted from when I was 36 to when I was 58, basically the whole center of my life.

William said...

I've always admired Charley Sheen's domestic arrangements. Perhaps he could write an article for Slate detailing the pros and cons of such an arrangement. It seems to me that many people, especially women, are not giving him a fair hearing.

Deirdre Mundy said...

When I was in college, most of my female professors were divorced or on their way there.

There's something about Academia that doesn't lend itself to marriage and young kids for a woman, I think.

In fact, my professors actually flat out told me that I could be happily married with a family, OR be an academic, but that I couldn't have both.

(Mind you,this was at a large research University. I've since met people who do balance work and family at smaller regional campuses, BUT my professors (and I, at the time) would have considered this "Teacher" not "Academic", if that makes any sense.

But it all comes back to the same thing, for men or women. You can have a prestigious, highly paid career, or you can have a happy marriage and a stable family, but you can't have both.

And as for Althouse, I think the intervening years probably make a HUGE difference. Meade appears to be retired already. Althouse is getting closer, and she's at the point in her career where she has time for other things besides getting tenure and getting ahead. (For instance, this blog. Which has probably turned INTO a career booster, but which didn't start out that way.)

And actually... if she'd been married when she STARTED the blog, she probably wouldn't have had the spare time to build it up into what it's become.

The problem is, of course, that if high-powered career types wait until they have enough prestige to be able to spend time on marriage and kids, it will be too late to have kids....

Which is also why high-powered careers pay so much better than say, public school teacher, or librarian, or even plumber. Because you're giving UP those stable family relationships in order to devote yourself to your work.

The problem the have-it-all folks have is that they don't realize that there's a direct relationship between what a job pays and the sacrifices you're expected to make while working.

There's a reason 'poet' pays poorly, but 'oil rig worker' pays well.

There's a reason that CEOs get more money than teachers.

There's a reason why no one will pay me a salary to watch my own kids.

But, somehow, several generations have missed out on the idea of choices and trade-offs.

Feminism has given men and women more choices, but NOTHING can make a choice consequence free.
(Except the federal government. Come sit on Uncle Sam's lap and tell him what's wrong and he'll give you a nice, new entitlement program!)

Ann Althouse said...

"And actually... if she'd been married when she STARTED the blog, she probably wouldn't have had the spare time to build it up into what it's become."

Look back to my old Bloggingheads with Bella DePaulo and you'll see that I thought just being married would have prevented me from working on this blog the way I did and making it what it has become. I believed I would have been stopped if I was being observed. It would have seemed crazy. Now, I don't think that is what Meade would have done, and he helps me. If this is crazy, he's an enabler, but I think most men would have held me back. But then, since I was alone, I had reason to tell myself that what I had was good. That was a way to make it good. So was blogging.

And I actually think my first husband would also have supported me in my writing. I did a lot of writing when we were married. I worked on fiction and I read his fiction and we brainstormed about it all in a way that was extremely rewarding and productive.

But none of this is really a matter of spare time. Even when we had young children in the house and I was working toward getting tenure in my lawprof job, I worked on painting and writing fiction, and I got a tremendous amount done.

I don't see how marriage absorbs all your time. It should give you more time, what with 2 people sharing the errands and the administrative work and with the companionship at home saving you the trouble of going out looking for trouble.

Ann Althouse said...

"There's a reason why no one will pay me a salary to watch my own kids."

Yeah, but if you have to pay someone else to do it, they have to pay taxes on their income, and you have to pay them with after-tax income. It's not efficient, economically.

The stay-at-home parent is producing wealth by conserving that money. It's also more relaxing for everyone and better for the children.

Broomhandle said...

"his friends have mostly expressed envy, not loathing."

This is the rub. They may say that out loud,but in an unspoken yet significant way, he's lost a lot of their respect.

cubanbob said...

After drilling through the article's blather the bedrock is " follow the money". If you are a freelancer a wife with a steady income is a good thing.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

"Happy families are all alike [...]"

Well, this is one of the many things Tolstoy got wrong. There are innumerable routes to happiness in a family, just as there are innumerable routes to misery. What he meant, of course, is that what makes a happy family happy is a hell of a lot more difficult to write about than what makes an unhappy family unhappy. There aren't many examples in fiction (adult fiction, at least) of the former. The example that occurs to me is Orson Scott Card's Speaker For the Dead, which for all its placement on an alien world with two intelligent alien species on it is fundamentally about the healing of a broken human family.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Ann, and for your nice words about me!

Crunchy Frog said...

I did the Mr.om thing for a year and a half after the birth of our firstborn. (The missus had the better job and the gold plated health bennies.) The guys in our social circle had no problems with it.

The women wanted nothing to do with me. I guess I lost all my alpha cred with them or something.

My conclusion was that feminism is bullshit that ugly women tell each other to feel good about themselves, and that they want a hunky guy to bring home the bacon just like every other woman does.

Ann Althouse said...

Hi, Richard. Thanks for appearing here.

Marty Keller said...

There's useful and hard-earned insight, and there's narcissism. Part of the vapidity of screeds like Mr. Berlatsky's is their blatantly unself-aware self absorption. That has been the fatal flaw of most of the post-civil rights "liberation movements." It's as if they adopted the Pauline Kael school of clueless projection. What say you, Maureen Dowd?

Inga said...

There most certainly isn't anything simple about coming to a decision as to who stays home, who works and if both spouses work and children are placed in day care or in the care of a grandparent/ family member. My daughter and son in law are going to continue to work full time. With a new home and student loans to pay back, they don't have the option to have one of them stay home with their future children. I realize the tax implications and the cost of daycare is expensive, but their joint income will cover it and still have funds left over to make it worth while financially.

Myself and my daughter are concerned about the hit she will take to her career as an attorney, should she stay out of the workplace for several years or more. Warner's piece about this very issue influenced her decision to continue working, even of part time (hope that will be a possibility).

Her husband can't stay out of the line of work he does, it would bring his career to an end. It's not an easy decision and much thought and discussion has gone into it. Women have the biological imperative to stay at home with the children, keep their professional status. It demands more flexibility and creativity to make it work.

Inga said...

In the case of my oldest daughter, who is career military, she is now trying to get pregnant at age 40. Not only does she face the biological hurdles, she will have to leave her child in daycare, (unless her husband stays home with the child). His career can take the hit and he can do some work at home) also daycare is free for military. She will have to leave the child with him when she deploys again one day. She was married before and chose not to have children with her first husband. I wouldn't describe her as a feminist, but she did delay having children until she felt the time was right, career wise and relationship wise.

Carl said...

Of course he feels feminism empowers him. Writing a navel-gazing screed about your quest to know whether your personal choices are consistent with the Zeitgeist, with a subtext of seeking a virtual support group for your sexual identity nuance? Berlatsky fully qualifies as an honorary female. He probably tries on his wife's lacy black bra when she's at work.

which don't you think I would have done by now if I had that sort of writerly skill (and the accompanying willingness to invade my own privacy and the privacy of several other persons)?

Just proves that some women have more testosterone than male writers in Slate. Not that there's anything wrong (or unusual) with that.

The thing that I speculate annoys the cross-dressed sex about the cross-dresser is the sense of perversion, of enjoying something that is not so much fun to the rest of us.

Women are typically more driven than men to seek approval from their peers, to worry about it, to be sensitive to being out of step. But for the enlightened, intelligent woman, this is a pain in the ass. She sometimes resents that tendency, and struggles with it. It's no different than the fact that men are typically more likely to be arrogant, unreasonably aggressive, and make blind and hasty decisions. For the enlightened intelligent man, this is a pain in the ass. We sometimes resent it, and struggle with it.

Both men and women experience in their conscious lives a certain amount of discouraging struggle with the primate instincts. When someone appears to revel in them instead, it grates.

As if "Data" from Star Trek TNG got an updated mechanical viscera and proceeded to tell us humans how much he enjoyed his new capacity to take a dump -- the interesting feeling of straining, the novel rich smell, the fascinating feeling of vulnerability when you're in a strange place and trying to get it over with and your pants back up in a hurry...

The natural reaction is ew. That's my reaction to Berlatsky. Ew. Isn't there some way he can indulge this habit in the privacy of his own home?

Truckee Man said...

When a man hooks up with a feminist he is lucky to only lose one nut.