Guest Post By Dr. Ronald Levant, professor of psychology at The University of Akron and the nation’s top expert on the psychology of men.
Many men today are wearing a mask.
It is a mask that conceals emotion—stoic, rugged and thick-browed—worn at home, before wives and children, and at work, where the masked man wins his bread. He is the “Sturdy Oak,” the “Good Provider.”
His mask is “masculinity”—and with each year it grows older and more ill-fitting, for this “masculinity” is based on outdated, traditional notions of what it means to be a man and father.
The “Sturdy Oak,” is one of those notions. It is the notion that men should never reveal weakness, which includes the display of emotion. This is related to another traditional norm, “No Sissy Stuff,” the idea that men should avoid demonstrating stereotypically “feminine” behavior, such as parenting and housework. As a result of these notions, men are reluctant to share parental and domestic responsibilities with their spouses, impairing their relationships with both their children and spouses in the process.
These men cling to the “Good Provider” role, in which the husband is the sole breadwinner. But, of course, this is no longer the case. As a result of the Women’s Movement of the 1960s, there has been a 500 percent rise in the employment of mothers of small children since the 1950s. Coincident with this increased workforce participation is a dramatic increase in education: more women receive bachelor’s degrees than men across all racial/ethnic minority groups, and, in 2006, women earned approximately 51 percent of all doctoral degrees in the U.S.—an increase from 22 percent in 1975.
Thus, women’s roles have changed enormously, as they must now juggle career and family concerns (although this has likely always been the case for racial minority women). In making this shift, they have combined traditional feminine norms such as love, family, and caring for others with newer norms such as independence and career ambition.
The problem is that, in general, men have been reluctant to adjust their roles in turn. Some men adopted the roles of “New Father” and “Good Family Man,” and began to co-parent with their working wives and share domestic responsibilities, such as cooking and chores, but these roles have not yet been universally adopted, according to studies on the division of household labor. The most recent data indicate that the amount of time husbands spend on housework is only about 38 percent of the total. In addition, fathers have approximately 20 percent more free time than mothers.
Why have men not embraced these new roles? Again, their adherence to traditional norms of masculinity. Men are strongly reinforced for following these norms. Those who do not follow them tend to experience psychological distress and censure from peers. They are essentially stuck in the roles of the 1950s.
My challenge to men is for them to embrace these new roles that rest more on our humanity than our so-called masculinity. Let’s remove the mask.
What do YOU think? Are most men still wearing a mask or are things changing now?