In a meeting last week, another editor and I got to discussing the state of the food section of our paper. (Perhaps we were hungry.) He immediately went on a tangent (okay, we were hungry), talking about how he had recently become interested in the history of food criticism; how the food pages, once the provence of women and full of "lightweight" stuff like entertaining tips and easy recipes, were revolutionized when Criag Claiborne took over as food editor at the New York Times.
"So once a man took it on it became legitimate?" I asked in a teasing voice.
"Well...?" he offered.
"So once a man took it on it became legitimate." I said.
Now, granted: (prior to the whole $4,000 meal debacle) Claiborne did, in many ways, revolutionize what it was to be a food writer -- hell, it was no longer food writing, with Claiborne, it became criticism. Whether the food pages' newfound legitimacy had more to do with the fact that a man was now in the driver's seat -- or the chef's hat, as it were -- or that this particular man was in the driver's seat is a question I can't answer.
But I do think it's worth asking. And I got to thinking about a similar question yesterday, when I saw a piece in the New York Times about men taking jobs in traditionally female-dominated fields. It features male dental assistants, nurses (paging Gaylord Focker!) and teachers. Which is cool. But this part is not:
But these men can expect success. Men earn more than women even in female-dominated jobs. And white men in particular who enter those fields easily move up to supervisory positions, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator- - as opposed to the glass ceiling that women encounter in male-dominated professions, said Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociologist at Georgia State University.
Must be nice. (Hell, I'd settle for stairs.)
Interestingly, many of the men featured in the article did not take their jobs because of a recessionary lack of better options, but actually swapped higher-paying, faster-track careers for the "pink collar" jobs for reasons that would fall under the headings of "career satisfaction" or better "work-life balance." There's a story of an ex-IT guy who left his $150,000 salary for a nursing job where he'll make a third of that, and who got choked up talking about a little girl giving him a hug. There's an ex-lawyer turned teacher who wanted more time with his family, even an Army vet turned nurse. From the New York Times:
Several men cited the same reasons for seeking out pink-collar work that have drawn women to such careers: less stress and more time at home.
Which speaks to something a tad more positive. More like progress, glass elevator notwithstanding. The piece goes on to cite Betsey Stevenson, a labor economist at the Wharton School who we also happened to interview for our book. Here's her take:
[Stevenson] said she was not surprised that changing gender roles at home, where studies show men are shouldering more of the domestic burden and spending more time parenting, are now showing up in career choices.
'We tend to study these patterns of what's going on in the family and what's going on in the workplace as separate, but they're very much intertwined,' she said. 'So as attitudes in the family change, attitudes toward the workplace have changed.'
Intertwined. Ain't that the truth? And hey, maybe now that men are tangled up in the juggle too, maybe ideals like "work-life balance" will take on the flavor of legitimacy.
Just a little food for thought.