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What Esquire Magazine Gets Wrong In New Life/Work Debate Article

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Esquire Magazine is acting as though they just discovered the life/work dilemma. Recognizing that there is a problem -- that's a good thing. Not as good is that writer Richard Dorment chose to spend much of his 7000-word epiphany accusing women of whining -- which is not only ironic (pots and kettles and all that) and so last decade, but mostly the very approach that will prevent whatever progress he is trying to achieve.

You can read the entire piece here; it starts with Dorment’s excellent argument that the colliding demands of home and office are only a problem for women, and then spirals downward, when he starts taking this oddly personally. To the latter point he writes:

...among those who traffic in gender studies, it is something of a truth universally acknowledged: Men are to blame for pretty much everything. And I freely admit, we do make for a compelling target.

I find much to quibble with in Dorment’s piece -- his dismissal of well documented institutional barriers and discrimination against women in the workplace; his belief that somehow researchers, journalists and women in general have completely ignored the toll the work/life struggle takes on men -- but for the moment I want to focus on his central wrong turn: the idea that gains by women are somehow losses by men and demands by one are attacks on the other.

He reports, accurately, that men actually feel more torn and stressed at the moment than mothers. “Working mothers in dual-earning couples are more likely to say they're very or pretty happy with life right now than their male partners are (93 percent to 87 percent)” he writes. “If anything, it's men who are twice as likely to say they're unhappy.”

Then he paints it as a take-from-one-give-to-the-other equation. Quoting Ellen Galinksy, founder of the esteemed Families and Work Institute, he writes:

"In 1977," she says, "there was a Department of Labor study that asked people, 'How much interference do you feel between your work and your family life?' and men's work-family conflict was a lot lower than women's." She saw the numbers begin to shift in the late 1990s, and "by 2008, 60 percent of fathers in dual-earning couples were experiencing some or a lot of conflict compared to about 47 percent of women.”

The dots he fails to connect are the ones where women have achieved this relative balance by demanding it. Whining, he calls that, and admonishes:

There's no crying in baseball! If you don't want a high-pressure, high-power, high-paying job that forces you to make unacceptable sacrifices in the rest of your life, don't take the job. Or get another job that doesn't require those sacrifices. And if you can't get another job, take comfort knowing that the guy who sits across from you, the one with kids the same age as yours and a partner who's busting his or her ass to make it work, is probably in the very same boat. We are all equals here.

No, we are not. For a variety of historical, biological and cultural reasons, women began to push back against the assumption that you had to trade your soul for success and that the only valuable employee was one willing to make that exchange. Every bit of life/work progress in recent decades has come because women -- mothers, really -- have demanded it. Flexible schedules, telecommuting, longer parental leaves, the very fact of the presence of these words in the conversation -- all that is because we have whined.

But contrary to what Dorment describes, they were not blaming men, they were blaming work. The pushed back against a system that assumed all workers had another half, a wife, taking care of the domestic sphere freeing the breadwinner to focus on the winning of the bread.

Sure, at the start there was bashing of men. It was inappropriate and misdirected, confusing the results of a cultural norm for the cause. But the movement, such as it is, made up of all those researchers and journalists who, apparently unnoticed by Dorment, have been quantifying and chronicling the path toward change, have long preached that men were also victims of an out-moded idea of work. And what Dorment sees as piling on -- all this focus on how men still do less housework and childcare than women, instead of on the fact that men do more of both than their fathers ever did -- is really a declaration that it is time men start preaching for change just as loudly as women have been.

While women have started this conversation, this potential revolution, it will stall halfway if men don’t join in. That means seizing the victories -- taking paternity leave, being home for dinner, turning off the cellphone during family time -- rather than dismissing them with the old “if you can’t take the pressure get out of the office” approach. And it means understanding that this fight is not being waged against men, but for them.

Dorment feels like a punching bag? He should take the advice he gives women who say they feel the remaining inequality is unfair;

...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.

So Dorment should stop making it.

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