How Men Feel About the Second Shift
But something else is new as well—a new double-bind for men. On one hand, over the last quarter century, men have been urged to become the “new American man”—a lovingly involved father, a considerate husband who shares chores with his working wife, and a major family breadwinner as well. And many men have come forward to take a more active role in the home and join the ranks of men such as those I describe in Chapter 12.
At the same time, through no ones intention, certain other trends threaten to inhibit mens embrace of an active role at home. For one thing, as I mentioned, blue-collar men have suffered a huge loss of well-paid unionized jobs—a decline in the manufacturing sector accompanied by a rise in lower-paid so-called “female” jobs in the service sector, jobs such as day-care workers, elder-care attendants, or nurses aides. So average men have suffered an economic decline relative to women.
At the same time, average men have also suffered an unexpected challenge from other men—at the top of the class ladder. Indeed, the gap between the top and bottom of the class ladder has widened into an enormous chasm, so that fewer and fewer men—or women—are in the middle. In his essay, “The End of Middle-Class America (and the Triumph of the Plutocrats),” Paul Krugman argues that in this period, the “average” American family—and with it the average man—has disappeared. Today, the 13,000 richest
families in America have almost as much income as the 20 million poorest.
This new plutocracy, as Krugman calls it, is now touting its own lifestyle to anyone below it. As part of that lifestyle, the rich can outsource virtually all domestic tasks to a raft: of service- providers—nannies, maids, personal assistants, chauffeurs, catering services, and the like. With the influx of legal and undocumented immigrants from Third World countries eager to take up such jobs, outsourcing is becoming available to many less well-off families as well. While most of us cant afford to outsource basic family tasks, this 4 over-class” is spreading a new ideal, and posing a new moral question to men of ordinary means. What does it mean to me as a man to care for a child? To take out the garbage? To do the laundry?
We can learn a great deal from the male experience at parks. Fifteen years ago, a thirty-two-year-old male computer technician recounted an experience of taking his two-year-old daughter to the tot lot in a nearby public park. First he sat down on a bench by a sandbox, then climbed into it with his daughter, to help her fill her plastic bucket with sand. But looking around he became acutely embarrassed to notice himself being watched by a half dozen stay-at-home mothers sitting on a bench in the park. “They must think Гт a loser to be out here at 2:00 p. m. in the afternoon,” he thought. He didn’t feel like the new man. He felt like a failed man. More recently I interviewed a man who took his small son out to the tot lot of a public park too, and there discovered himself to be sitting not among stay-at-home moms but among paid nannies from Nicaragua, Mexico, and the Philippines. He too felt embarrassed, but also confused. On one hand he felt, “I’m being the active father I want to be.” On the other hand, he also had a sinking feeling: “I’m a man doing work even middle – and upper-class women are getting out of.”
More than ever, the cultural meanings of the second shift for men are up for grabs. And that may be showing up in a 2001 study by Thomas Juster and his co-researchers at the University of Michigan. This nationwide study focuses on housework, not on child care, and, unlike this book, it includes in it women who don’t do paid work along with those who do. Still, comparing men and women interviewed in 1969 with those interviewed in 1999, Juster and his. co-workers found that men were doing some more housework (262 hours a year more) and women were doing much less (783 hours a year less). As a result, the housework gap between men and women has narrowed by 1045 hours a year. Even so, a gender gap remained in hours put in at home of 675 hours annually or 12.9 hours a week.
But the researchers discovered that, starting in 1994, men had started to do less housework again. In 1994, men averaged 8.2 hours a week, and in 1999, 7.1.5 Is the pendulum swinging back? If men are doing less housework, will they become less active with their children as well? Are some women hiring other women to do the work at home instead of sharing it with men? These questions raise a more basic question too. Are the smallest acts of care— sewing a Halloween costume, reading a story to a child, visiting an elderly relative, taking out the garbage, even thinking up a practical joke instead of placing a three minute order of flowers over the Internet—what we get out of the way in order to really live life? Or are these acts part of what life is all about? That’s really what this book is about.
^According to the University of Michigan study, mens hours of paid work rose from 39.7 hours a week in 1990 to 44.5 hours in 1995. For women (and this is working and well as non-working women, so average hours are lower than they would be for just working women) hours of paid work rose from 24 in 1990 to 27 in 1995. (See Time Use: Diary and Direct Reports, by F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono, and Frank P. Stafford (Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, unpublished report. Tables 9 and 10, pp. 39-49).