Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Thankfully, 'Esquire' is here to remind us that life is tough for men, too

Hey, The Ladies, if modern feminist voices have you leaning in and trying to have it all, then you should definitely head on over to Esquire, where Richard Dorment gives men the mighty, impassioned defense history hasn't.

Hey, The Ladies, if modern feminist voices have you leaning in and trying to have it all, then you should definitely head on over to Esquire, where Richard Dorment will introduce you to a whole new take on feminism.

In a feature published in the June/July 2013 issue of Esquire, Dorment presents statistics to paint a picture of the modern workplace gender chasm and offers insight as to how he feels the changes in that dynamic are and should be affecting professional men and women, specifically those balancing a career with a family at home.

Dorment's feature plays off of Anne-Marie Slaughter's "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" piece published in The Atlantic last summer, but also focuses heavily on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In manifesto, which urges women to go out into the workforce and grab success for themselves.

It's worth noting that the statistical revelations presented in Dorment's piece are enlightening if not compelling. He lays out his argument systematically, painting the picture of a rapidly disappearing opportunity gap between the sexes and immediately acknowledging the nagging presence of an achievement gap.

Why don't women hold more than 15 percent of Fortune 500 executive-officer positions in America? Why are they stalled below 20 percent of Congress? Why does the average woman earn only seventy-seven pennies for every dollar made by the average man? Childbirth plays a role, knocking ambitious women off their professional stride for months (if not years) at a time while their male peers go chug-chug-chugging along, but then why do some women still make it to the top while others fall by the wayside? Institutional sexism and pay discrimination are still ugly realities, but with the millions in annual penalties levied on offending businesses (and the attendant PR shitstorms), they have become increasingly, and thankfully, uncommon. College majors count (women still dominate education, men engineering), as do career choices, yet none of these on their own explains why the opportunity gap between the sexes has all but closed yet a stark achievement gap persists.

The problem is that he doesn't stop there.

He uses a tired personal anecdote about his wife re-folding their laundry to emphasize the difference between men and women. His reference to Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" to explain the paradox of fatherhood feels obligatory and the quote on workforce dynamics from Don Draper, a fictional, upper class, white, male advertising executive who lives in the '60s, is gratuitous.

Dorment goes on to remind everyone that life is, like, really hard for men too, you guys.

Allow me to paint another picture. One in which women are asked to make the same personal sacrifices as men past and present — too much time away from home, too many weekends at the computer, too much inconvenient travel — but then claim some special privilege in their hardship. One in which universal preschool and after-school programs would be a boon to all parents (and not, as Collins suggests, simply to women). In which men spend more time with their children, and are more involved with their home lives, than ever before. In which men work just as hard at their jobs, if not harder, than ever before

He writes about how confusing feelings can be.

The validation of one's feelings is the language of therapy, which is to say that it is how we all talk now. This is not to denigrate the language or the feelings; it is only to say that to use one's feelings as evidence of an injury is no way to advance a serious cause. And to imply that one has been made to feel any way at all — well, no grown man has ever won that argument before.

He continues to explain the significance of Slaughter's piece and echoes Sandberg's Lean In notion, but takes it a step further by using one of Slaughter's examples—about Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg ensuring that secured access to confidential material could be granted remotely so that he could work from home—as proof that men have been leaning in and that women might not want to.

Slaughter makes an important point here, though probably not the one she intended to make. Steinberg did what he had to do to make a difficult situation work better for him; Slaughter's contention that a woman wouldn't feel as comfortable making the same request may or may not be true, but it doesn't matter. The option was apparently on the table. Fight for it, don't fight for it — it's entirely up to the individual. But don't complain that you never had a choice.

Fight for it, don't fight for it — it's entirely up to the individual. But don't complain that you never had a choice.

In the end, isn't this what feminism was supposed to be about? Not equality for equality's sake — half of all homes run by men, half of all corporations run by women — but to give each of us, men and women, access to the same array of choices and then the ability to choose for ourselves? And who's to say, whether for reasons biological or sociological, men and women would even want that? When the Pew Research Center asked working mothers and fathers to picture their ideal working situation, 37 percent of women would opt for full time; 50 percent part time; and 11 percent wouldn't have a job at all. (Compare this with men's answers: 75 percent say full time, 15 percent say part time, and 10 percent wouldn't work at all.) Assuming that women had all the flexibility in the world, one of every two working mothers would choose to work part time. Perhaps with guaranteed paid maternity leave, universal daycare, and generous after-school programs, more women would be freed from the constraints of child care and would want to work full time. Or, possibly, they're just happy working part time, one foot in the workplace and one foot in the home. Hard to say.

Dorment's heart might be in the right place: he talks about how evenly his household is split and recognizes that a 50-50 division of everything, in and out of the house, doesn't work for every family. More than that, he seems to grasp the relevance of Slaughter's piece and the significance of Sandberg's movement.

What he seems to have missed, though, is the idea that a lecture on proper feminism from a male editor at a national lifestyle magazine marketed directly to young, affluent men (whom he knows take issue with women who make more money than them) probably won't resonate as well as he'd hoped. [Esquire]