A few months ago, Coontz published an op-ed in the New York Times, arguing that "women's progress by itself is not a panacea for America's inequities," and called for men's liberation from "the pressure to prove their masculinity." Citing three new studies in the Journal of Social Issues, her article observes that men who flout traditional gender role expectations by prioritizing family, taking paternity leave, and making childcare and housework central to their lives experience professional discrimination and social stigma.
Liza Mundy, whose book The Richer Sex explores how women are outpacing men in ever-growing numbers in a knowledge-based economy, adds that men who fail to make as much money as their wives also face social contempt: "I found that men in families with breadwinning women are stigmatized by friends and family especially in-laws, who send the message that they're inadequate and lesser."
Similarly, Hanna Rosin shows how the service and information economy privileges traits
cultivated in women (i.e. social intelligence, open communication), enabling them to blow past men in abounding numbers. The new economic structure, she explains, is wiping out jobs that relied on qualities nurtured in men (strength, courage, risk taking), upending men's traditional roles, but then punishing them for not measuring up. Rosin agrees that women are granted a greater level of gender flexibility that allows for their adaptability in our fast-changing world, while stricter notions of masculinity have held men back.
"[Men] lost the old architecture of
manliness, but they have not replaced it with any obvious new ones," she writes in The End of Men. In the concluding chapter of her book, she argues that we need to adopt laws, policies, and cultural sensitivities that support evolving definitions of what it means to be a man.
But society resists challenges to the old-fashioned ideals of manliness, especially when it comes to men co-opting roles traditionally meant for women, like childcare—ground
zero of gender inequality in America.
"Women need to be a little more sympathetic to the mixed messages men receive," Kay
Hymowitz, who recently wrote Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, tells me from her office in Brooklyn. "The way things are structured men are made to feel secondary and not essential to family life."
Not all feminists, of course, are sympathetic to dude (or daddy) drama. The Nation's Katha Pollitt isn't quite buying it. She argues that part of the reason guys who assume traditionally feminine roles experience social disapprobation is because "feminine traits are perceived as a loss of status and MRAs aren't interested in that bit at all." While Pollitt grants that "masculinity is a particularly rigid concept," an observation feminists, she says, have pointed out for decades, she contends that "the price of transgressing feminine norms is very high," maybe even higher. She reminds me of all the blowback women who break from gender conventions receive: "Think of the policing of weight and looks (much more severe for women), the shaming of rape victims versus the comparative impunity for rapists, and the impossible ideals of motherhood (NOT fatherhood!)."