03 May, 2006

Worryin' My Pretty Little Head

I was reading the most recent thing written by Aunt B. about feminism and the patriarchy, when I was struck by a theory.

I'll try to make this brief.

I think many men are made uncomfortable by women asking for equality not because of how they feel about women but because of how they feel about men.

An anecdote:

Bunch of us are standing around the coffee pot. I am there not because I drink coffee but because I've realised that all of the really good internal connections at this company are made at this coffee pot between 8:35am and 9:10am. I am one to automatically dislike corporate gamesmanship, preferring to be recognised solely on the merits of my work. But I'm also no longer 18, and realise that such idealism is crap. So here I am at the coffee pot.

Today's discussion is about the latest exploits of the wives of my boss and his boss--who are good friends. It's some nonsense about Children's Jazz Dance Competition or another such activity. Usually I keep my mouth shut. (Okay. What a lie. I never keep my mouth shut.) Today I say something to the effect of "is THAT what they do all day?" Because I'll be honest--I'm a bit jealous. I'm up at 7:00 to put in an at-minimum 9-hour day wearing many hats. I have no idea what it would be like to have a maid, a housekeeper, two nannies, no job and a blank check to spend how I see fit. Sounds like a nice life. Where apparantly the big stressor is hoping that your perfect blond children beat the other lady's perfect blond children at Jazz Dance Competition.

Everyone else chips in a bit of their own snarkery and ultimately it comes out from Someone Who Would Know that the Chief Boss looks down on any man whose wife works, and won't promote him. I think it through and realise that all department heads save one are a)men whose b)wives do not work. Aha!

Further conversation over the course of the next year leaks several tidbits:
a) All the men in my office except the gay or single ones wished their wives didn't have to work.
b) All the men whose wives did work felt guilty about it.
c) Most of the women (NOT ME MOST DAYS) who worked resented it.
d) Most of the women (NOT ME) who worked at this particular office did so because their husbands had some half-witted attempt at a job that didn't make any money, so they felt left to carry a load when they'd rather be home raising their kids.
-------

Now, I know from personal experience and long friendship that there ARE women who are doing something they love, for which they have striven many years. I just spent the evening drinking wine (she drank, I watched...I can't drink wine anymore) with a woman who has a wonderful career that thrills her.

But I do think, from the outside looking in, that many men are threatened not by women but by other men's opinion of them. I think they feel that if their wife has to work, then it speaks volumes about the man's ability to provide for his family. I don't think we women see that communicated in Guy World very often, but given the fact that it was a not-so-secret rule among the men at this company, I'd imagine it's a far more prevalent view than I had ever thought.

I respect men more than it is possible to put into words. I think they have hardships facing them on a daily basis that would terrify me. I know women have great strength in the face of overwhelming odds, but I really believe that most men stare terror in the face a lot more than we credit them with.

Just as girls can be truly hateful to each other in the cattiest and most vile ways, men know exactly how another man can be broken. And questioning a man's ability to do Man things is the quickest way. So for a woman, equality is a no-brainer. It's a "but of course I'm human so treat me like other humans" obviousness. But for many men the central question is not "are women equal?" but "Am I equal to other men?"

They have little ways to test themselves with rulers and cars and golf handicaps. But as men jocky in their lanes to prove their one-upmanship, the spillover keeps clogging the women's road to equality. The problem is fundamental and basic and I doubt it's going to go away soon.

8 Comments:

At 6:09 AM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Lesley said...

I have almost always worked for or with men whose wives do not work (though I believe that those were all cases where there were children to be raised). Frankly, I'm okay with a woman staying home (or a man, for that matter) to raise a family. But what I'm NOT okay with, and have suffered with for years, is the "breadwinner mentality." Despite the fact that I have a good education and good experience, I will always make less money than a man who has a family (or at least a wife) because employers simply don't think I need to make more. That disgusts me.

 
At 8:46 AM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Exador said...

That's not been my experience. Both my wife and I have made more at some time. She took time off from work, and I was happy about it because A)She did a bunch of housework and cooking, which was cool, and B) She needed the time off.
All the men I know would LOVE to be kept men, but maybe that's the dream of it more than the reality, since they haven't actually done it. I don't know.

 
At 10:04 AM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Frankly, I'm okay with a woman staying home (or a man, for that matter) to raise a family.

Both my wife and I have made more at some time. She took time off from work, and I was happy about it because A)She did a bunch of housework and cooking, which was cool, and B) She needed the time off.

I'm fine with people in a couple deciding their own reasons for who works where and when as part of their own private lives. I personally don't get the hyper-male version of life, because I have a hard time respecting people who let some boss make family decisions for them. But I have seen it in action. It creeps me out.

All the men I know would LOVE to be kept men

Most men I know would love to be kept men.

what I'm NOT okay with, and have suffered with for years, is the "breadwinner mentality." Despite the fact that I have a good education and good experience, I will always make less money than a man who has a family (or at least a wife) because employers simply don't think I need to make more. That disgusts me.

Me too, especially since I've been a victim of it for so long that I'm about numb to the concept. I wrote more in the comments over at B's. I think that the Breadwinner Rule has become so institutionalised that they've been able to think up reasons for it that no longer sound sexist. (Women take more time off over the course of their careers, etc.)

 
At 6:35 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Nashville Knucklehead said...

I got laid off, and couldn't find a decent job. My wife made good money, so we decided I would just stay home and take care of the baby until something came along, but not stress about it. That lasted for two years until she got sick of it and left me for a guy who makes a lot of money.

 
At 11:01 PM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous tom said...

It's another keen observation. I give credit to both you and Aunt B on good dissemination of the facts.

There's such an expectation that men should work and women should not, but that's crap in my humble opinion. I think that relationships are compromise. Both parents can work and still have equal roles in the lives of their kids. One benefit at my company is a flex schedule that both the men and women get so that they can take personal time for family or medical appointments. I have my suspicions that the men who are the breadwinners may make more, but generally if the people I work with are married, both work.

 
At 11:53 AM, May 04, 2006, Blogger Ed Buckby said...

A good deal of this is simply finances. If I double my salary tomorrow, and it looks secure, you can BET my wife will quit her job. Honestly, I MIGHT do the same if she got the same cash deal.

One thing this whole discussion misses is that either the man or the woman can quit ONLY IF the other is making plenty of cash, and often times, the ability to make lots of money is a personal decision on career that was made well before the relationship formed.

I don't know if men make more money than women everywhere. My HR and Accounting frieds here at work tell me that's not the case in much of corporate America (one of them is male, the other is female). They say that litigation is MUCH too easy to lose to even give the impression that women or minorities are less paid.

Of course, that's just big business. I'm sure smaller employers run the gambit of pay.

 
At 4:25 PM, May 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kat --

Based (of course) only on my experiences and those of other men I know, I think you hit the mark pretty well.

 
At 10:26 AM, May 05, 2006, Blogger Exador said...

I think it was Tim Allen that had bit about this:

"Women were suddenly liberated. They could work, or they could raise children. They could do BOTH if they wanted.

Men could work"

 

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