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  • Can Men Have It All?

  • And what the "daddy track" means for women
  • Suzanne Braun Levine
  • It’s not just moms who are struggling with the work-family juggle; more dads are suffering from the stress of unreachable expectations and incompatible commitments. Now, in this second phase of the women’s movement, one of the founding editors of Ms. magazine says men can be allies, not enemies, if they use their power (earned or not) to protect their families.

EXCERPT

            Mike and Diane were both deeply committed to their careers when they got married five years ago. For the most of that time the security, support, and sheer fun of being married seemed to compound the enthusiasm they brought to their work. Their game plan had always included having children—both of them had grown up in large, warm families—and Diane got pregnant right on schedule. She worked through her pregnancy at an architectural firm in their hometown of Houston, up to the first labor pains, having arranged everything she would need when the baby arrived. The firm had a well-established maternity-leave policy, and she signed up for four months off. When Delia was born, Mike and Diane, both in their late 20s, expected to immerse themselves in caretaking. They both adored her. But Diane was there. Mike was not.

            Soon most of the tending to Delia’s needs fell to Diane, as did most of the bonding, playtime, and walks with Delia nestled in her stroller. An increasingly fine-tuned connection with the baby became second nature to Diane. The same experiences became special occasions for Mike, whose work as an attorney was as demanding as ever in terms of both time and attention.

            At this point in the story, one might expect to hear about Diane’s resentment of Mike’s unbroken career track, his freedom to come and go in child care, his lack of understanding of what her day was like. But that is not the story. In fact, Diane was very happy to return from maternity leave to a three-day week at the architectural firm. She had made peace with what she saw as necessary trade-offs between the drive toward an all-systems-go career trajectory and the pleasures and demands of parenthood.

            It was Mike who was resentful and conflicted. He had looked forward to the egalitarian family life; he expected to be there for the serendipitous and mundane moments of parenting. He hated being a guest in his baby’s world.

            He was also beginning to feel anxious about his job. Was he concentrating as intensely as before? Was he shortchanging the team-spirit time with his bosses in order to get home sooner? Was he losing his edge—and the guarantee of financial success? And why was it that Diane seemed to have all the luck, including the intimacy with the baby that he missed, the job satisfaction, and the domesticity he felt too wired to enjoy? To his horror, Mike realized that he was angry at Diane because she seemed to be having it all and he couldn’t.

 

            “Having it all” has vexed women ever since we broke through the barriers to the kind of work that promised satisfaction, prestige, and power. Since the early days of the women’s movement, those in power have benefited from the idea that it’s impossible to be fulfilled both personally and professionally. What they were really questioning is whether women should have equal access to it all. But the phrase has taken on a life of its own as a synonym for family-work balance. While articles like Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 bombshell “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” set the controversy off for a new generation, the discussion doesn’t provide definitive answers, but it does highlight the inherent problem that doesn’t go away: the underlying system is rigged against finding that balance.

             As Slaughter herself concludes, “Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand ‘supporting their families’ to mean more than earning money.”

            Indeed, those young men are entering family life with expectations similar to those of their wives and are already feeling the stress of the work-family balancing act. The irony here is that in the past, one of the reasons women had such a hard time balancing work and family was that the fathers of their children didn’t. But now the sons of those men are chasing the “having it all” promise themselves and finding it wanting, just as women have and still do.

            For men, “all” might include what one working father called “the Triple Crown.” “It’s really hard,” he told me, “to find that equilibrium between home and social life and work. It just depends on what you’re willing to sacrifice for what.” Like the women before them, men are finding that the balancing act required to achieve even two out of three is difficult to maintain. Even with both parents committed to sharing the responsibilities of being a family, domestic management is still an acrobatic challenge, with virtually no safety net.

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READING GUIDE

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suzanne Braun Levine

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor, and authority on women, families, media, and changing gender roles. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine and the first female editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the changes in women’s lives in her books; on her website, television, and radio; and as a blogger for AARP, Huff/Post 50, Next Avenue, Feminist.com, and others.  She is on the board of Encore.org and the Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication, is on the Advisory Board for the Women’s Media Center and the Transition Network, and is a contributing editor at More magazine.

Most recently she wrote the e-book You Gotta Have Girlfriends: A Post-50 Posse Is Good for Your Health. It is a continuation of her ongoing conversation with women in second adulthood, the new stage of life she celebrated in her popular books Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Fifty Is the New Fifty, and How We Love Now.

Her pioneering book on how men are changing the role of fatherhood, Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First, was published in 2000. In 2007, she coauthored (with Mary Thom) a widely acclaimed oral history of New York congresswoman Bella Abzug. While at Ms. she developed, conceived, and produced the Peabody Award–winning HBO special She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women in the 20th Century and edited the book based on the documentary. She was editor-in-chief of the 30th-anniversary issue of Ms. and was honored as a “Ms. Woman of the Year” in 2004. She graduated with honors from Harvard University and has taught journalism at several universities. Braun Levine lives in New York with her husband Robert F. Levine, an attorney. They have two adult children.

 

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AUTHOR EXTRAS

Suzanne Braun Levine was the first editor of Ms. magazine in 1972; here’s her incredible story.

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WHY OUR EDITORS
LOVE THIS BOOK

“I love this book because it’s brilliantly timely and because Suzanne, one of the founding editors of Ms. magazine, has been thinking about these issues for years and years—much longer than most women, I wager. I find her insights into how men are handling the work-family dilemma to be fresh and balanced and eminently helpful, since they demonstrate that this area in the male-female experience is not a zero-sum game; men and women can make gains together.”

Jeannie Ralston

WHY OUR READERS
LOVE THIS BOOK

"Suzanne Levine's book is a smart, humane, nuanced look at the lives of men and women who are proving that men can do what women can do. It's the other half of the revolution. I think readers will welcome its inspiration with open arms."

—Gloria Steinem, feminist and political activist

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