"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Men Don’t Need to ‘Lean In’

Rebecca Rosen has written a article in The Atlantic (3.15.13) encouraging men to ‘lean in’ as well as women, referring to Sheryl Sandberg’s rally cry for women to not only want it all but to have it all.

Perhaps in the past there were fewer men who were willing partners in this project, but it's time to recognize that many men don't like inequality any better than women do. Maybe men don't feel like there is anything they can do. Sandberg quotes Alice Walker who said, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." Though Sandberg means it to apply to women, it's just as true for men. Men need to recognize the power they have, and use it. Both in the workplace as colleagues and bosses and at home as husbands (for heterosexual couples), men can do more to complement all the leaning in that the women around them are doing.

Well, I for one won’t be doing any leaning. Women are quite competent to do all the pushing, shoving, and grasping for a toehold on their way to the top that men have all these years.  It’s clearly their turn, and I’m all for turning them loose.  It will be much harder for them than for us, combining work and family, childrearing and corporate warfare. We never had those options, conflicts, or dilemmas; for let’s face it, we have had a free and east ride.  We were always the head of the family, the breadwinner, the decision-maker, and the reigning king, gladiator, and hero.  We went out to hunt and kill, bring home the meat and for that our women were expected to roll over and shut up.  We could ‘work late at the office’ and what woman would complain? Where would she go if she demanded truth and reconciliation? So we had our three-martini lunches, our happy cinq à sept liaisons, golf with the boys on Saturday, poker at the 19th hole until, sloshed, we drove home to eat pot roast and mashed potatoes around the family dinner table.  Man, oh man, we had it good.

Of course women need a good book like Lean In. I wrote a post yesterday about cognitive dissonance and its allied phenomenon of ‘splitting”.  Psychologically we have a hard time dealing with inner conflict, such as a woman has when she is completely torn between the desire claw her way to the top and be a warm, cuddling, suckling mother:

On the emotional front, splitting comes into play when we feel hostile toward the people we love. Holding onto feelings of love in the presence of anger and even hatred is a difficult thing for most of us to do. Sometimes hatred proves so powerful that it overwhelms and eclipses love, bringing the relationship to an end. More often we repress awareness of our hostile feelings; or we might split them off and direct them elsewhere, away from the people we care about.

In other words, splitting as a psychological defense mechanism resolves emotional ambivalence -- love and hatred toward the same person -- by splitting off one half of those feelings and directing them elsewhere, away from the loved one (From The Atlantic, Joseph Burgo 3.14.13)

In other words, watch out for A Women In Conflict.  The fury of A Woman Scorned will seem child’s play compared with irreconcilable conflict between competing demands. Any man married to one of these supercharged women better watch out. 

Recently New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum coined a new term for driven, obsessive, conflicted women – ‘hummingbirds’:

She writes that hummingbirds are "idealistic feminine dreamers whose personalities are irritants. They are not merely spunky but downright obsessive."

"These are characters who are very tightly wound, highly ambitious [and] anxiety-provoking for the people around them and also for the audience watching the television show. But at the same time, they're highly idealistic; they're very, very driven.

Hilary Clinton comes to Nussbaum’s mind when conjuring up the image of a hummingbird:

[Not necessarily] Hillary Clinton herself as an individual, but the iconic figure of the ambitious woman who is highly idealistic, tightly wound and possibly agitating or irritating.

This hellish combination of Helicopter Mom vs. Hummingbird Executive is what has husbands a bit nervous.  What on earth did we unleash, they ask?

Rosen asks men to be supportive of women facing this crisis, to put our arms around them when they want a good cry, or doing more than our share of washing up.  We are OK with this, especially if it forestalls ‘splitting’ and the tongue-lashing that comes from it.  Most of us, however, would rather just duck and cover, wait until the worst is over, then go down to the corner bar and get drunk with our buddies.

Actually women have a right to be pissed, asserts Rosen:

In the last thirty years, women have made more progress in the workforce than in the home. According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more child care and about 30 percent more housework than the father. A 2009 survey found that only 9 percent of people in dual-earner marriages said that they shared housework, child care, and breadwinning evenly.

Women put in a full day ransacking the corporate office, then rush home to breastfeed the baby and yell at the maid, and they have to wash the fucking dishes?

Well, it comes with the territory, honey.  Nobody asked you to try to have it all; and you should feel guilty about leaving the kid with a nanny who may teach him Spanish but all kinds of bad Hispanic habits as well.  Sure, we men should feel a little guilty too, but in the famous words of the feminist Bible of the Seventies ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’, pregnancy ties women just a bit more closely to their children than men.

Now, many women successfully balance two careers – home and office – but usually do it by working at a less demanding job, such as at a non-profit agency with a social mission that carries over to their employees.  How can an NGO work for the well-being of women in Chad if they disregard the more immediate needs of women in their offices?

For the hummingbirds, however, I have little patience, and am not about to go to the hustings for them like some of my ‘progressive’ male friends.  Let them lean in or force their way in.  That is their business.  Just leave me out of it.

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