Friday, March 19, 2004


I was thinking about feminism last night, since it's so closely tied to the new theories about identity, and because the supplementary essay in my Chinese textbook this week is something along the lines of "Is the return of women to the kitchen progress or regression?"; and also because I read one Ann Arbor blogger's post on incorporating feminist ideas into her daily life.

The aim of the feminist movement of the mid 20th century was to give women a choice between the household and the workplace, with the popularly held (but I'm guessing not necessarily theoretically intended) notion that there would be a mass and almost complete movement of women into the world of the workplace. The growing reliance of families on two incomes to maintain their former standard of living aside, there is more talk in the last decade of a movement of women "back to the kitchen," which could probably be related to the new feminism which describes the role of the gender rather than prescribing it. That's just headed in the right direction, as far as I'm concerned. So let's think about the progress made in repositioning men within the "traditional" power structures.


That's right, there hasn't been much done on this. Besides Susan Faludi's "Stiffed", which is more of an examination of the backlack against men by the women's empowerment movement, I can't think of any books that directly discuss the role of men in healthy societies and households. So I tried to walk down this road of inquiry for a few minutes, and this is what I came up with, at least in regards to men in the family.

Popular sentiment, which may find its root in the women's lib era, regarding the male role in the household is that the man should do his fair share of housework. In fact, this is now one of the items on the list of qualities possesed by the desirable male. But the movement of women back into traditional roles suggests that the home domain is not ideally a 50-50 project, but that women have a more dominant role (point of discussion: to what degree is this culture-dependent?) to play. If this is the case, then men are expected to help out only as a sign of sympathy and support, but not as managers within the home. The "classical" (pardon my view of the mid 20th century as the classic era) role of men has thus been to make a salary and bring it home to support home-making activities. I see several conflicts here that necessitate a re(de)fining of the man's role in the home. First, should the acting of a husband of a primary breadwinner be different from the more typical wife in the same situation? In other words, should a stay-at-home dad be exactly the same as a stay-at-home mom? Second, if the classical male role implies a husband who is distant from the home and his family members, and this role is unhealthy for the development of the family--which I would posit as being true--then how should a greater role for the husband in the family be constructed? Can we look back to history beyond the "classical" period for models? Has there been a time when the man played a bigger role in raising children, home upkeep, etc, and was this conducive to stronger families?

I forgot to include the three possible conclusions:

  1. Men's primarily role is outside the home.
  2. Men need to return to the home, and take back some household duties.
  3. Men need to return to the home, and rediscover their own unique duties.

I'm sure there are other possibilities.

These are questions that either everybody knows the answer to and hasn't clued me in yet, or need serious consideration because they are fundamental to building solid families. Granted, as I've asked them here they only apply to heterosexual unions, but I think that's a whole 'nother issue.

Hmm, why don't I think of asking these questions when I go out to dinner with John Yim? Wouldn't that be a good person to ask? Impact is getting big; maybe, as John suggested, a men's group is the way to go.


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