Good For The Goose And Good For The Gander

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By Cliff Leek. I often catch myself, and others, thinking of gender inequality as a zero-sum game – that women’s progress and successes must be at the expense of men. We spend so much time thinking of gender relations as competitive that, for many of us, it has become difficult to recognize how efforts for gender equality actually benefit us all.

The recent State of Union address by President Obama was a great example of this tension. In his speech last month, President Obama proposed a policy agenda centered on women in the workplace that led Elle to declare it a “feminist State of the Union” and inspired a list of the “Top 5 Feminist Moments in the State of the Union” by Ms. Magazine.
 
Traditional competitive thinking about gender relations would suggest that if this policy agenda is so good for women it must not be that great for men. But, as I reviewed what the President proposed and considered the potential impact of his agenda, I saw a lot of great news for men.
 
Consider the emphasis by President Obama to understand childcare as a “national economic priority,” rather than as a “women’s issue,” and called for policy changes to reflect this shift in perspective. In particular, he has benchmarked $80 billion in increased spending on affordable childcare and a $3,000 per child per year tax cut to increase the ability of families to pay for childcare.
 
Increased support for childcare begins to level the playing field at home by facilitating the increased presence of women in the workforce. When women are more present in the workforce, families are put in the position of needing to negotiate and balance childcare between two jobs rather than simply assuming that childcare will fall on mothers. For some families this might mean that men will stay home to care for the children. Having that as a viable option is good for the whole family.
 
President Obama also encouraged Congress to ensure that workers are guaranteed equal pay for equal work. While this may seem like a simple request, it has been blocked repeatedly in the form of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
 
Ensuring that women get equal pay for equal work would decrease some of the incentive to assume that women should sacrifice their careers for childcare. When women are routinely paid less for their work it sends a message that their time is less valuable than men's, encouraging families to sacrifice women's careers to raise children. Removing that economic incentive will allow families to instead choose what is right for them.
 
Of course, women getting paid fairly for their work is also good for families more broadly. When women who are married and/or have children get paid more it translates into more income for the family. Equal pay makes good economic sense.
 
Finally, President Obama called on Congress to pass legislation allowing all American workers to accrue at least seven paid sick days per year.  These sick days would allow workers to have more flexibility in caring for their children as parents. Because women are most often the primary caretakers of children this would help to minimize one of the many barriers to women’s full participation in the workplace.
 
Even providing paid sick days can play a role in fostering gender equality at home. Paid sick days not only encourage women’s increased participation in the workforce but also allow both parents to take days off of work to care for children. Working fathers often fear that they would be risking their jobs if they took time off to care for sick children. Paid sick days would ensure that both parents can take that time off without fear of repercussions.
 
Together, encouraging women’s participation in the workforce and reducing the workplace barriers to men’s participation in family life are a formula for success in creating more gender equitable homes that benefit both sexes. And, let us not forget, gender equitable homes are something that more and more women and men claim to want.
 

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Cliff Leek is the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) Research Fellow and Community Manager. He is also a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University (SUNY). He has worked as Prevention Specialist for the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force and as a consultant for a variety of gender-focused non-profits. Cliff is currently writing his dissertation on the growth patterns and effectiveness of organizations seeking to engage men and boys in gender justice work around the world.  He is also a founding editor of Masculinities101.com, a blog that connects activist and scholarly work on men and masculinities.

Posted by Cliff Leek on Feb 3, 2015 5:07 PM America/New_York

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Hi Cliff,
LOVED your dissection of President Obama's speech and your dedication to MARC! I'm the CEO of the Red Shoe Movement and we should talk about giving MARC visibility in social media via @RedShoeMovement platform. I'd also like to talk to you about participating in our Fall Signature event. Drop me a note and we'll get on the phone! mariela@redshoemovement.com
  • Posted Sun 01 Mar 2015 02:29 PM EST

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