"The next move in the women's movement will be to make it also a men's movement." Anne-Marie Slaughter
One of my great pleasures of the past few years has been meeting and getting to know Anne-Marie Slaughter.
Last week, I saw her at the Personal Democracy Forum Conference and had the chance to catch up for a few minutes. When she asked me if I was still consulting and being the father of two girls (her way of asking if I'm playing an active role in taking care of the kids), I instantly became defensive. Instinctively, without thinking about whom I was talking to and her great leadership in talking about the importance of both parents taking an active role in child care, I answered that I'm mostly focused on my consulting and I've been really busy lately.
Some context: A bit over two years ago, I started my own business as an independent consultant. For the most part, it's been fabulous. I've gotten a range of interesting projects, my business has been growing steadily, and I've had great flexibility to be my own boss and set my own hours.
My wife is a lawyer at a NYC law firm. While her firm is quite understanding of the need for her to balance being a lawyer and a mom, lawyers are measured by how many hours they work, and face time at any firm is always a factor. This means that I've been the parent who goes on more school field trips and is more likely to deal with sick kids and doctor appointments. My independence and flexibility allow me to do this and then stay up late or work weekends to get my work done.
Nonetheless though, I think I'm doing a reasonably good job of building a business, helping around the house, and enabling my wife to work in a demanding career, I feel the instinctive urge to deny my role in child care, as I did with Anne-Marie on Friday. This is due to the gut feeling that our society frowns upon men who don't put child care far down on their list of priorities. Of course, this makes me no different from tens of millions of women (and some men) who are expected to focus 110 percent on their careers despite demands at home.
So my answer to Anne-Marie was true. I have been working long hours on a range of exciting business projects recently. But I didn't say that I also have been playing the lead role in taking one of our daughters to numerous doctors for a recent illness, and spending countless hours awake with her during the past two nearly sleepless months.
Working women have long struggled not only with the demands of home and work, but with the concern that if they pay attention to their children's needs they will be viewed as slacking at work or putting their careers on hold. Fearing perhaps even greater costs in the workplace, men rarely acknowledge their parenting role when we do step up as fathers.
As long as we view balancing family and career as a "woman's issue," though, we will never achieve equality either in the workplace or at home. Anne-Marie is right that a men's movement is essential for women to be able to realize their full potential. One necessary step is to change the culture so men feel comfortable speaking up about our role in child care, and for society to not frown on us for being active fathers while also managing our careers.
We'll only achieve equality when men can step up to the plate at home and feel comfortable talking about it. After all, juggling family and career is a man's issue, too.
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