Why Men Should Support Gender Equality

Gender Equality is a Win-Win7a8d0552d8e78e4adfad6ae42d445439-origina
Photo courtesy of TED Conference.

By Michael Kimmel. In my last column, I looked at some of the obstacles to men’s embracing gender equality in their public and private lives. These obstacles, both in our attitudes and in our institutions, are significant. 
This month, though, I promised I’d discuss the motivational side, the question of why men should support gender equality. It’s here, I think, that the myth of the battle of the sexes, the interplanetary conflict between Martians and Venusians is most readily exposed. Contrary to what many people argue, gender equality is not a zero-sum game in which women win only at the expense of men losing. Gender equality is a win-win. When women win, so too will men.
Nowhere is this clearer than in our personal lives. For those of us who are married and have children, the evidence is pretty convincing that the greater men’s share of housework and childcare the happier is the marriage.
The evidence for this aspect of gender equality is actually quite overwhelming. Research by sociologists Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams looked at national survey data and found that when men increase their share of housework and child care, their children are happier, healthier and do better in school. They are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, less likely to be put on prescription medication, and less likely to see a child psychologist for behavioral problems. They have lower rates of absenteeism and higher school achievement scores. 
“When men perform domestic service for others, it teaches children cooperation and democratic family values,” said Coltrane. “It used to be that men assumed that their wives would do all the housework and parenting, but now that women are nearly equal participants in the labor force, men are assuming more of the tasks that it takes to run a home and raise children.”
Perhaps the most telling correlation is that when school-aged children do housework with their fathers, they get along better with their peers and have more friends. And they show more positive behaviors than if they did the same work with their mothers. “Because fewer men do housework than women,” said Adams, “when they share the work, it has more impact on children.” Fathers model “cooperative family partnerships.”
When men share housework and child care, it turns out, their wives are happier. (Duh.) Historically, working mothers reported higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression than full-time housewives. Yet they also reported lower levels of marital satisfaction than do their husbands -- who are happier than the husbands of traditional housewives. (This was because under such arrangements, women’s workload increased at home, while the men benefited by having almost the same amount of work done for them at home and having their standard of living buttressed by an additional income.)
But wives of egalitarian husbands, regardless of class, report the highest levels of marital satisfaction and lowest rates of depression, and are less likely to see therapists or take prescription medication. They are also more likely to stay fit, since they probably have more time on their hands.
The benefits for the men? Men who share housework and child care are healthier – physically and psychologically. They smoke less, drink less, and take recreational drugs less often. They are more likely to stay in shape and more likely to go to doctors for routine screenings, but less likely to use emergency rooms or miss work due to illness. They’re also psychologically healthy: they are less likely to see therapists, be diagnosed with depression, and take prescription medication than men who do not share housework. They also report higher levels of marital satisfaction.  
They also live longer, causing the normally staid British financial magazine The Economist to quip “Change a nappy, by God, and put years on your life.”  “When males take full responsibility for child care,” sociologist Barbara Risman points out, “they develop intimate and affectionate relationships with their children.” Nurturing their children is good for men’s health.
Perhaps the happiness and health of our children, the happiness and health of our wives, and even our own happiness and health are insufficient to motivate men. Perhaps this last finding from the empirical research might tip the scales: When men share housework and childcare, they have more sex.
That’s right. Research by psychologist John Gottman at the University of Washington also found higher rates of marital sex among couples where men did more housework and childcare.
Of these four fascinating areas, which one do you think Men’s Health magazine made the lead of its coverage?  “Housework Makes Her Horny” (although I suspect that is not true when she does it). It is also probably worthwhile pointing out that there is no one-to-one correspondence; I would advise male readers of this essay against immediately rushing home to load the washing machine. Instead it points to wives’ lower levels of stress in balancing work and family, coupled with a dramatic reduction in resentment that they alone are doing the second shift. 
What’s clear though is the gender equality is not a zero-sum game. We’re neither Martians nor Venusians; here on Planet Earth, both in our workplaces and in our homes, gender equality is a win-win.  The war between the sexes is a myth; and peaceful coexistence will be happier, healthier – and sexier – for everyone. 
Posted by Michael Kimmel on Jun 6, 2012 12:49 PM America/New_York

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Thank you Michael for laying out lots of findings in a clear way. This fits my own experience during my married life, but your facts take it much farther into success for all involved including the children. This spring I so enjoyed reading a book with my daughter for school which had study questions every week. We got hooked on the book together. Neither one of us liked it at the start.
  • Posted Wed 13 Jun 2012 10:56 PM EDT
Really enjoyed reading this article. My wife has a full time career and over the recent years this has encouraged me to participate fully in sharing the full parental and domestic responsibilities. My wife and son recognize this and it has become a real partnership.
  • Posted Thu 24 Mar 2016 05:29 AM EDT
Your article is good but only for the present times. Also women have to be willing to share the housework and to not complain if not done to their standards.
I would like to add to your thoughts by suggesting that the future work also needs to be addressed. I do not hear much in the media about these issues so I made a list of some of the major ones:
1) men’s fear of other men, we probably will feel vulnerable as we let down our guard with other men,
2) it is part of patriarchcal and evolutionary tradition to protect and take care of women and ignore ourselves,
3) facing each other, man to man has no clear ending or solution, (fight or flight is the instinctive response),
4) evolution has not prepared us for this reconciliation,
5) we will have to face our own competitiveness for women, power and wealth,
6) we might have to face uncomfortable homoerotic emotions, in ourselves or other men,
7) if we do this, civilization might change, and to what?
8) What would be affected? Criminal law, property rights, the redefinition and redistribution of wealth, addressing the question: what is the purpose of money?, humanizing the power elite, and a reassessment of the constant need to be right,
9) Recognition that the self-made man is an illusion; this is based upon my denial that the hundreds of people who believed in me actually are responsible for my success,
10) That much of the wealth that I have created is largely based upon the inheritance of knowledge, connections and privilege denied to others,
11) Facing the three consequences of being a male today: Fear of isolation, fear of being under-valued, and the fear of scarcity- all important men’s issues topics that need to be discussed in any substantial effort to provide a direction for men to grow.
12) The tragic and unnecessary denial of the transcendent beauty of being male.

Regarding these 12 topics, I believe that if men address the issues suggested they would be free to be more honestly productive, based upon their own unique reasons for doing things and working in a more cooperative manner. I believe they, their spouses and their families would be happier.
  • Posted Fri 04 Nov 2016 08:46 PM EDT
There are many reasons why men should personally embrace gender equality, each of us should choose the one that motivates us the most. For me it is the example I set for my children... okay while they are still my "children," they are no longer children at 21 and 24... but I'd like to think that the example I set as they grew up, and the example I still set are positive impacts for them. When it comes to sharing household responsibilities it goes both ways too, we men should be just as comfortable embracing what people think of as traditional women's roles like cooking, cleaning, changing diapers as we should about letting go of traditional men's roles like cutting the lawn, changing the oil in the car, managing the finances if our spouses want to shake things up even more.
I remember when I was young, a couple that lived near me and were friends with my parents had complete role reversals and had a great marriage. He did all the cooking and cleaning, while she did the house repairs and maintained the yard. People “talked” about them in the neighborhood, but he was a cool guy beyond embracing non-traditional household roles… he treated me as an equal even though I was 30 years his junior and I considered him my friend. Little did I know back then that John was an early feminist, and it had such an impact on me as his friend that I think about how he and Barb embraced non-traditional roles even to this day.
  • Posted Sat 12 Nov 2016 09:39 AM EST


What gender equality topic do you most want to learn more about in 2019? Anything we left out? Let us know.

Business case
Mentoring and sponsorship
Paternity leave and fatherhood
Masculinity and gender
Actions to take