The good news? More and more women are succeeding in high-power careers while still having families! The bad news? Their husbands have to do, like, so much laundry.
In a fascinating New York Times article, “Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers,” Jodi Kantor and Jessica Silver-Greenberg discuss the changing sphere of American gender roles, and how women’s evolving status in the workplace is creating a greater need for stay-at-home dads and husbands. Awesome, right? Maybe.
It’s great that men now have the option to take on roles traditionally occupied by women (and, obviously, vice versa), provided that people are choosing these roles and not finding themselves stuck inside them. But can we really consider it progress if the “disgruntled and resentful housewife” trope is still alive and well, but just being passed on to men? According to Kantor and Silver-Greenberg, the Feminine Mystique is still a problem, even though it’s becoming more of a gender-neutral one:
The men echo generations of housewives, voicing concern over a loss of earning power and car pool-induced torpor but also pride in their nurturing roles. … Some wonder what has come of their education, confess that they do not know how to make their way back to work after what they had hoped would be a temporary break, or admit that they do not quite understand their wives’ work.
While I’m sure Betty Draper would be thrilled to hear that the patriarchy is getting a taste of its own medicine, it would be totally hypocritical for feminism to ignore the emotional concerns of househusbands. The American Dream lifestyle of the 1950s created an epidemic of anxiety and depression among upper class women, because apparently it’s not a great idea to strip educated people of their individuality and ask them to be content making pot roasts all day. Why do we think we can recreate that structure, change the variables, and have it work this time?
Of course, there’s a big difference between a woman being funneled into homemakerhood against her will, and a man choosing to stay at home and realizing that that decision comes with baggage. But we haven’t found the solution to Housewife Syndrome if all we’re doing is handing the same problems over to men.
Instead of just reversing the roles, we need to find ways to even them out. Maybe true equality is impossible in this economy; I don’t know. But I refuse to believe that it’s a pipe dream that one day people will be able to feel fulfilled in their careers and in their family lives. So how do we get there?
Via NYT / Photos: Mad Men (2007-present)