Feminism and the Working Man

Copyright 2006 By Neil Chethik www.NeilChethik.com

I came of age in the early 1970s, just as the women's movement was taking off. Fear abounded. Politicians warned that the stream of women into the workforce would destroy the well-ordered economy. Women would take the jobs that rightfully belonged to the real breadwinners: men.

Three decades later, nothing has been better for my working life than the changes wrought by feminism. Because of the shift in gender roles, I've had choices. I've worked full-time, part-time, my own time. I've shared a job, started a business, raised a kid, and retired twice. And I just turned 49.

This career path was not available to men just 40 years ago. At that time, we knew our place. Work was both our cause and our curse. It gave us power and stability. It also could be boring, draining, and deadly.

When women started demanding equal access to jobs, men were rightfully concerned. We knew we would have to compete harder, share money and power with women, and address workplace concerns that weren't ours.

What we failed to appreciate at the time, though, was this: As women shed their previous gender roles, we would be free to shed ours. If women didn't have to stay at home, then men didn't have to stay at work.

At least not in the conventional sense. For this and other reasons, the corporate ladder began to teeter. In some places, it fell, and was replaced by something akin to a hopscotch board: We could jump into the working world with one foot or two or could simply step out of the game for awhile.

My first job was a both-feet affair. As a news reporter for a mid-sized North Florida paper, I worked 60 to 70 hours a week chasing stories about drug smugglers, college students and gubernatorial candidates. After five years, I was spent. My hopscotch decision: Step out for a while. Leave the game behind. Retire.

Having saved a few thousand dollars, I moved to tiny apartment in Miami Beach, among the other retirees, caught up on my reading, and caught my breath. It wasn't easy to tell people that I was unemployed. But waking up each day to hours of freedom changed my perspective on the role of work in my life.

Still, I needed money. So after a few months, I headed back into newspaper reporting, this time at a unionized West Coast paper where 37.5 hours a week was the law. My career confusion persisted, however, and two years into this job, I sought a one-foot solution: job-sharing. While my bosses weren't happy about my request, they honored it when a woman colleague wanted to cut her hours to stay home with her newborn daughter. Together, we came to represent one "full-time employee."

Oh glory! This is how work was meant to be. I "toiled" from Wednesday through Friday, 7.5 hours a day, and received pro-rated pay and benefits. I made up some of the difference by working holidays. On my days off, I took college classes, edited a local history book, and pinched pennies.

Two years later, my wife finished graduate school and got her first job, in Lexington, Ky. For her, it was the exciting start of a new career. For me, it meant a second retirement.

For the next year, I was a kept man. I cooked, cleaned, and tried to fix up our fixer-upper. Then I went into business for myself. I became a freelance writer, selling words to newspapers, magazines, on-line services, and eventually a publisher of books.

I've been freelancing for 15 years now, and our family isn't getting rich. But I have more control than ever over what I do, and when I do it. I've fit my work into my life instead of the other way around.

Yes, the working world may be less secure for men than it was in the days before the women's movement. But it's potentially more accommodating too. We can be equally involved in raising our kids. We can be valued for something other than the size of our paychecks. And we can keep asking ourselves: What do I really want to do next?

 

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Neil Chethik is a writer and speaker. He is author of FatherLoss: How sons deal with the deaths of their dads (Hyperion) and VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think of Their Wives (Simon & Schuster). Reach him at neil@neilchethik.com or at www.NeilChethik.com .

 

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