June 26, 2010
Book event 6/26: How today's men juggle work and family
With Father's Day fresh in mind, the Elliott Bay Book Company hosts a 2 p.m. book reading today at its new Capitol Hill location with Donald Unger, author of Men Can: The Changing Image and Reality of Fatherhood in America.
As the bookstore notes on its website, Unger examines America's shifting attitudes toward parenting by recounting "the stories of half a dozen families of varied ethnicity, location, and philosophy (including that of Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith), in which fathers are either primary caregivers or share parenting equally."
Unger, an MIT lecturer, was kind enough to answer a few questions over e-mail about his book and today's blurring of traditional gender roles. Here's what he had to say.
Q. What prompted you to write this book?
A. This started as my doctoral dissertation at UMass Amherst (finished in 2001). It was then titled, "The Evolution of Gender-Neutral Language: Can Fathers *Mother*?"
I was struck by the ways in which we misname family issues as "women's issues." (For reasonable statistical and historical reasons, of course). This writes men out of family issues, but more importantly, it both traps women as the only acknowledged caregivers and deprives women of male allies who could double the number of advocates for more humane and intelligent work/family policies.
Some men are content to misname family issues as women's issues because it's work they either don't want to do or are embarrassed to be associated with. Some women don't want to see this label changed because they feel it deprives them of authority. Whatever our motivations, when we do this, we deprive ourselves of allies and make the work of family both harder and more lonely.
Q. What can men and women do to fix this misperception?
A. One way to look at this is by analogy to the gay rights movement. One of the first things that activists began encouraging people to do was to come out -- to be open and honest about who they were and how they lived their lives. Parents in general, and fathers in particular, need to do something similar -- tactfully but consistently.
In the context of schools and other kid-centric spheres, we need to openly question and correct language that excludes men. In more masculine contexts, we need to be open about how we see ourselves and how we act, as fathers and as men.
In both of those situations, we risk coming off as sermonizing and self-righteous, so the more low-key we can be, the better.
Q. Have we seen the last generation in which employers fail to get that men can be equal or primary caregivers?
A. I would love to just give a quick and definitive "Yes!" But, as with so many issues, it's complicated.
Tweaking the question and answer just a little: More and more managers are recognizing that it's to their own benefit and the benefit of their companies to work with (rather than against) their employees to facilitate parents taking care of their kids (and grown kids taking care of their parents).
I would characterize this as an issue of good and effective management (versus bad and adversarial management). One hopes that the better model has an advantage in the marketplace. We'll see how this plays out.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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