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Empowering Women By Engaging Men — Michael Kimmel

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Michael Kimmel Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he is also the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.  Kimmel is a leading authority on masculinity and gender, and author of numerous books on manhood including his most recent, Angry White Men. They explored the connection between gender and work.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: We’re talking today about the state of masculinity in America    and how this informs our understanding of the connection between gender, work and family. Most of us are familiar with the women’s rights movements and with feminism.  Michael, please tell us briefly what is the men’s rights movements and how did it come about?

Michael Kimmel: Michael KimmelThe men’s rights movement began in the 1970’s. At that time it was very much in favor of feminism and women’s rights. It basically made the argument, just as feminists had, that women were imprisoned by archaic roles and so too were men.  Men wanted to be “liberated” from those stereotypical roles just as women wanted to be. However, the men’s rights movement has since morphed into a very angry and volatile anti-feminist movement of which I have no part. In fact I’m probably the person they like least because I am a big believer in gender equality.

In fact, in my book, Angry White Men, I included a chapter about the men’s rights movement. I was on a TV show opposite these “men’s rights guys,” angry white men, who believed that they were the victims of reverse discrimination in the workplace. The TV show we were on was titled after a quote by one of these men who said “A black woman stole my job.” These guys all believed that they were victims. When it was my turn to speak I simply asked one question.

I said “I want to ask you about the word “My” where did you get the idea it was your job? Why isn’t the title “A black woman got the job?” Or “A black woman got a job.” Without confronting men’s sense of entitlement we won’t see why so many men resist gender equality. The men’s rights movement believes that gender equality is a zero sum game and if women win, then men are going to lose. Stew, you and I both know that the data on gender equality is overwhelmingly persuasive; the more gender equal our relationships the happier men are.

SF: And yet that there is perception among some men that it is zero sum game. Two questions: where does that entitlement come from and what can we do about it?

MK: There is a large number of people in America who have been dealt a bad hand. If you look at the data on family income in constant dollars, family income for a family of 4 in 1973 was about $38,000. If you keep it in constant dollars the average family income for a family of 4 today is about $38,000.

So, you have to ask yourself what’s different about a family of 4 in 1973 and a family of 4 today? And that is mom’s working. So the reality is that if the wage gap has closed at all over the past 40 years, it’s not because women’s wages have risen so much but because men’s wages have declined. Men are getting a bad deal. There are many men whose jobs are being outsourced or downsized.

You work for a company as a friend of mine did he worked for a company for 40 years. You invest in the company and its pension program and then one day as you are approaching retirement the CEO writes a letter saying “I’m really sorry but we can’t fund your retirement anymore” and it’s gone. So guys are getting a bad deal. They have the right to be angry but the question is “who are they angry at?” Do you think its feminist women who issue predatory loans. Do you think immigrants are responsible for climate change? Do you think LGBT people outsource your job?

Not in the least. So I think these guys are right to be angry but they are delivering their mail to the wrong address. Their analysis of the source of their problem is mistaken. The data on gender equality is very persuasive. The more gender equal our relationships, the happier that women are, the happier that children are, and the happier the men are.

SF: How do we break through to get the real story of the data that you’re describing to the American workers?

MK: You’ll probably accuse me of being Pollyanna-ish about this but I’m actually quite sanguine. I think that the hysteria that you get on Fox news is an indication that the reality of people’s lives is daily disconfirming what they hear on Fox news.

SF: What do you mean by that?

MK: Well, the reality is we are in fact happier the more gender equal our relations are. There are more cross sex friendships between women and men these days. Men are spending far more time as fathers and they are happier for it. So everyday I’m happier if I’m doing these sorts of things and if I watch Fox news I know that’s not me. So I think we are living in an everyday the refutation of what Fox News is telling us. And we are daily refuting the idea that men are from Mars and women are from Venus — which is probably the silliest book ever written.

SF: Why do you say that?

MK: What do we know about the work place? What do we know about the university? What’s the most successful educational reform of the entire 20th century? It’s co-education. Co-education means that you can sit in the same class, in the same lecture, read the same book, take the same test, be graded by the same criterion and nobody ever goes to the Dean of students and says “I’m a Martian and my professor is a Venusian” so shall we get a translator for extra credit. Nobody ever says that.  The reason nobody ever says that is because in every measurable attitude trait and behavior, women and men are far most similar than we are different.  That’s what we know from the social behavioral sciences.  So we’re not from Venus. We’re not from Mars. We’re from planet Earth and nowhere is this more clear than in the American college classroom and in the contemporary workplace.

SF: And yet there’s a simmering anger or not too simmering.

MK: Once upon a time every single corporate board was made up of all white men and now we have to share. Meritocracy sucks.

SF: Because you’re giving something up, or so it seems.

MK: Yes, you’re giving up the fact that you and only you get to occupy those positions. If you actually get to earn it, then you could lose it.

SF: How do we delve into that sense of entitlement so that the anger either dissipates or is directed to where it should go?

MK: In our daily lives, in our relationships with our children, our  partners, our friends we’re finding that that is sustaining and is fulfilling and therefore the words that we’re hearing [on Fox News], the rhetoric, the ideology that we’re hearing, increasingly rings hollow. We organized the world so that white men in America basically got all the benefits.  And now I would turn to white men and say “Wo how does that work out for you? Feeling great about your life?” No.

All of the power in the world doesn’t trickle down to individual men feeling really great about their lives whether you are in the top 1% or not. Let’s say the guy down the block has 2 Lamborghinis and I only have one! I think this is terrible and I want to get more. Or, if you are part of the rest of the world and you say “I’m making less money now.  It has to go further.  And I my wife is working.  We are trying to balance things. I know that I feel fulfilled when I spend time with my kids.  You’re thinking, “How could I put pressure on this government to provide the kinds of policies that I need to make my life work?”

SF: And we need changes in the workplace to create the kind of flexibility and support for men and women to fulfill the roles that are meaningful to them beyond the workplace.  What we know from our research as organizational psychologies is that when you do that when you give people flexibility and you value who they are outside of work, they bring more to work.  So, what about the workplace?

MK: I talk to CEO’s all the time and when I tell them that gender equality is a good thing they start to roll their eyes and say “Oh God.  This is going to be really expensive.  Gender equality is really expensive. How much is this going to cost me?” And I say “You have it completely backwards.” Gender inequality is really really expensive.

SF: How do you make that case to a CEO’s?

MK: It’s very easy. First of all, think of the labor cost of gender inequality:  higher turnover, lower productivity, lower levels of job satisfaction, higher rates of absenteeism, higher retraining costs. The costs are enormous.  But there’s good news. When a company announces a women’s ascent to the corporate board, stock prices tend to go up. Companies that are more gender equal tend to have higher valuation. They do better. They have higher levels of profitability. There’s phenomenal data on this by Catalyst and other organizations. So, to the CEO’s you don’t make a personal lifestyle case, you make a business case.

SF: So, this sense of entitlement you spoke of, it has gotten stronger perhaps more virulent in its expression.  What else can we be doing in our educational system or through the media to cut into that?

MK: We have to be sensitive to the fact that these changes in our workplace and in our lives have come really, really quickly. My father’s workplace looked very much like Don Drapers’ [in Mad Men.]  I grew up thinking my workplace would look like Don Draper’s.  But, of course, it looks nothing like that. And my son, who’s 16, looks at that world and thinks, “That’s insane! What’s going on there?”

SF: What’s so shocking to your son about the Draper world of Mad Men in the 60’s? What is it that shocks him?

MK: First of all, the men – the entirely white men — are the ones who have all the corner offices with the windows.  And the secretaries are in the middle and the men have their pick of them. The relations of between women and men, the wrestling over the past 6 years of the characters to allow women to enter this world and to achieve in this world, he finds it completely anachronistic.

When we were young there was this riddle that we spent hours trying to figure out.  Everyone knows this the riddle: A man and his son are driving along the freeway and they are in a terrible accident and the father is killed. The son is brought to the emergency room of the hospital where the emergency room doctor takes one look at the son and said I can’t treat him that’s my son. How is this possible? People of my age. I’m a baby boomer were flummoxed by it.

We couldn’t figure out. My son who’s 16 has a bunch of his friends over watching a soccer match.     I used the riddle to them. And they all looked at me like, “that’s his mom, of course!”  Except for my son, who said, “Or dad it could be he has two dads.”  It doesn’t perplex them at all anymore. Think about the sea change.

SF: It’s true.. Just last week I led a conversation among Wharton men and women about the film “The Mask You Live In” – in which you appeared as one of the experts. This was a group brought together by the Wharton women in business — MBA students – and a new group of Wharton men called “the 22’s.”  They called themselves “the 22’s” to represent how much less women are paid than men in our society. Their goal is to close that gap. Most of these guys are in the rugby club.   So these are some seriously macho guys. The room was overflowing with people who wanted to be a part of this discussion.  There’s clearly a lot that needs to be worked through.  As you do your work, not only in the classroom but in organizations, how do you go about helping to raise consciousness about the kinds of things that you’re talking about here and moving us into a world that has less animosity and more support for egalitarian or a 50-50 world that we really all ultimately want to live in? What do you do?

MK: Great question. I think that part of this is to recognize that that since these changes have come about so fast you can’t simply dismiss people’s anxiety or dismiss people’s perceptions.

SF: Right. It has to be accepted.

MK: Absolutely. Every therapist, every psychologist tells you that you can’t tell someone their feelings are wrong. The reality is their feelings are real and you have to attend to them.  You can’t just say “your feelings are wrong, get over it.” That’s not going to produce the kind of changes that you’re looking for.

SF: It will likely create more resistance.

MK: Exactly. So, we need to acknowledge the fear as a result of these changes. At the same time we have to begin to move off the idea that it was women who did this.  That’s part of challenging those notions of entitlement at the same time as we’re trying to work through them.

SF: You have a book, if I have this right, about “Bro” culture, Guyland.

MK:  Guyland is really a book about what kinds of pressures young men are under to prove their masculinity and especially to prove their masculinity to other guys. It’s really a book about college age men. There is something happening that’s new in our culture, a new stage of development between adulthood and adolescent.  It’s now taking us a full decade longer to accomplish the markers of adulthood than it once did.  The average age of marriage in 1950 was about 20.4 and today is about 28.3 so it’s really taking us almost the full decade longer to do all of those things.

SF: So Guyland maps that change, the extended adolescence, and its impact on current society in the workplace.

MK: Right. It’s about what guys are being asked to do on college campuses in order to prove their masculinity to other guys. We want parents and young people to be aware of these issues so we can figure out ways to help young men navigate this world more effectively.  Every day there’s another article about sexual assault on college campuses.  These are the things that men are being asked to do in the name of proving their masculinity.

SF: What have you found to be the most effective means for changing that culture?

MK: The way I try to engage with those guys is not by trying to tell them that they have to be different but rather that what we really need them to do is to live up to their own ideal of masculinity.  The idea is to foster a conversation about what it means to be a man.

I think we have an idea about what it means to be a real man which is stoic and never crying, never showing your feelings and winning at all costs. But I think if you ask most men what does it mean to be a good man — at you funeral you want it to be said of you ‘he was a good man’ —  they have very different models.  They would say things like being a good provider, being responsible, having integrity, doing the right things, standing up for the little guys.

SF: Serving others.

MK: I basically want to foster a conversation between the two ideas of masculinity that we have in our heads that currently vie for dominance.  I want young guys, guys like my son, to know that some times in the name of the brotherhood they’re going to be asked to be a real man and betray their sense of what it is to be a good man.  I want us to foster that conversation so that it costs them. So they can’t look at themselves in the mirror and say “you’re a good man” if they haven’t done the right thing.

SF: So it really begins with a self-definition of what does it mean for me to be the man that I want to be.

MK: That’s right. So, if we are to guide young men my feeling is that if we propose to them that this model of masculinity that they’ve embraced is toxic and therefore they have to change, then it you’ll get nowhere.  What we can do is say “it’s not my idea of masculinity it’s yours.” I believe that you need to live up to your own ideas. When I am asked to work with a fraternity on a campus that has been singled out by the administration as particularly problematic, prone to sexual assault, then I say to these guys: “I don’t want you to fold up. I don’t want you to go out of business.” What I want you to do is I want you to bring your charter. I want you to show me what you say you are.  If you look at the charter of any fraternity it says ‘We’re men of honor. We are gentlemen. We believe in service.’ So, I’m saying I want you to live up to your own codes.

SF: Michael, I want to make sure the listeners get your thoughts about paternity leave in America. What do you see as the important challenges to make paternity leave less stigmatized and more available to men who want to take advantage of it.

MK: This is a really big question because the United States is one of the only four countries in the world that offers no paid parental leave to anyone, male or female.  The other three are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea. We really have an enormous gap here.  Paternity leave needs to be part of a much larger conversation about changing workplace policies. Men want this. Men want to be involved with their children and when they are given the opportunity to have paid parental leave, they take it. You don’t have to look much further than the Scandinavian countries.  In Iceland, for example, over around 96% of men take paid parental leave.

So obviously, men want this because we do want to be around our kids. Parental leave for both women and men is a vital workplace reform that we all desperately need.  Men need to step up and say that we want this because we think of parental leave in this country as a woman issue and it’s not a woman’s issue. It’s a parent’s issue. Men are identifying as parents.  We all know that women don’t get parental leave unless men support it. There has never been a reform that women wanted that didn’t need men’s support. So, this is the complete win-win.

SF: What’s the one thing you want our listeners to do to advance the cause of men and women as equals in our society?

MK: The model of our center, The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinity, and the work that I do in general, can be summed up in one sentence: We cannot fully empower women and girls without also engaging men and boys and when we do we find out that gender equality is a good thing for men as well as for women.

To learn more Michael Kimmel visit his web site www.michaelkimmel.com.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.




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