By Allison Stevens
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Allison Stevens knows all about the guy who puts in long hours at the office. He's her husband. But he's also the same man who recently took paternity leave--and had the best time of his life.
(WOMENSENEWS)--What does it mean to be a real man at the office?
It means being a workaholic, says Joan Williams, and that has devastating consequences for women, men and families.
Men prove their masculinity in the workplace by putting in long hours, Williams said last week at a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. She was discussing her new book "Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter."
I know just what she means.
This man is my father, an attorney who spent most weekends at the office when I was a little girl. He is also my husband, who works 10- or 12-hour days even though he has two young children at home. He's even my sister, a lawyer in a male-dominated firm who always asks me to call her back at work, even if it's 10 p.m. on a Saturday.
These workers sacrifice their waking lives on the altar of modern-day machismo.
According to many studies, professional men's working hours rose in the 1990s, Williams said. "They just went bananas," she said. At the same time, men's household contributions leveled off in the 1990s and haven't risen since.
A third--and likely related--phenomenon also occurred. "When men's household contributions leveled off, guess what? So did women's labor force participation," Williams said.
Those women who continue to work are still responsible for more than their share of child care and household responsibilities. Not surprisingly, we have become the driving force behind the growing movement for better work-life balance.
We want one of the big benefits that our peers enjoy in many other countries: paid leave to care for ourselves or a family member who falls ill or to bond with a new child. We also want more control over our work schedules so we can fit a doctor appointment or a meeting with our child's teacher into our busy workdays.
Yet despite the obvious and desperate need for these kinds of benefits, bills that would provide them to millions of employees around the country are going nowhere.
That's because men aren't involved in the discussion, Williams argued. (Right, of course! They're too busy putting in long hours at the office proving their manhood.)
"We have to open up a national conversation about the gender pressures on men that are making them feel so unable to change," Williams said. "Women will continue to lose in kitchen-table bargaining over child care and housework until we open up successfully that conversation about men and masculinity."
This conversation has taken place in our house and it has had huge payoffs.
Last year while pregnant with our second child, I learned that my husband had accrued six weeks of vacation leave and a stunning eight months of paid sick leave. I suggested (and was prepared to insist) that he use it after the birth of our son and he enthusiastically agreed--and actually made it happen.
I was pleasantly surprised--or should I say downright stunned--since he works in an office comprised mostly of military officers.
He certainly has gotten his fair share of ribbing from his colleagues for taking such an extended leave (some of his colleagues in the military are just happy to be in the same time zone when their children are born). But I must say, he's also gotten some surprising and welcome chest-bumps too from envious colleagues.