Men’s Attitudes Toward Gender Role Issues
Helen M. Hacker Originally published 1976
In 1957 my article “The New Burdens of Masculinity” deplored the lack of attention paid to strains and conflicts in contemporary masculine roles. The main thesis of that article may be summarized as follows: Without necessarily postulating a “just” balance of rights and duties in traditional gender roles, pressures on men to assume more of the duties previously assigned to women without a correlative diminution—in fact, possibly an accentuation—of their own duties are accumulating from both changes in the occupational structure and the continued momentum of women’s struggle for equal rights.
It would seem that in the intervening years this process has accelerated, and, perhaps in response to this development, men qua men have increasingly become the target of social scientists and commentators. Judging from this burgeoning literature men appear to have reacted in one of three ways: First, there is the anticipated male backlash to women’s liberation. The dysfunctional consequences of attempts to de-differentiate gender roles are elaborated in such books as The New People by Charles Winick, Sexual Suicide and The Naked Nomads by George Gilder, and The Inevitability of Patriarchy by Steven Goldberg. These male upholders of male dominance are joined by such female supporters as Midge Decter in The New Chastity and Ester Vilar in The Manipulated Male. One might be tempted to include The Feminized Male by Patricia Cayo Sexton were it not for the fact that her book contains a seemingly feminist non sequitur.
A second theme has urged the replacement of male by female dominance under the assumption that traditionally feminine virtues are better adapted to solve the problems posed by war, poverty, crime, old age, racism, despoliation of the environment, and a host of lesser ills, but can survive transplantation from the home and the “helping” professions to high level decision-making positions. Exemplary of men who echo feminist women, such as Elizabeth Gould Davis, in the call for a “matriarchal counter-revolution” is Konrad Kellen in The Coming Age of Woman Power.
Third are reports from the men’s liberation front which consider feminization too important to be monopolized by women. Men’s consciousness-raising groups are reversing the valences of rights and duties. Thus, men are now claiming the privileges of participating in childrearing and homemaking, and seeking escape from the obligation of being the sole upholder of family status in the community. For such representative as Warren Farrell (The Liberated Man) and Marc Feigen Fasteau (The Male Machine) the “inexpressive male” is already an anachronism when only female politicians may not cry in public. Myron Benton in The American Male calls for a new concept of masculinity, and is far from idealizing women, but in the end the reader is not sure what differentiation, if any, he would like to make in the social roles of men and women. A similar comment could be made about psychoanalyst Robert Seidenberg’s Marriage Between Equals. Lastly there are Micheal Korda’s Male Chauvinism—How It Works and Joseph Pleck’s collection Men and Masculinity.
Back in 1957 I also suggested that men’s distress stemmed not only from their feelings of inadequacy in fulfilling the stepped-up demands of the masculine role and from adjustment to the new freedoms and responsibilities of women, but also, since these forces did not exert a uniform pressure, from conflicts in the expectations of a man’s role-partners in such status positions as husband, father, son, lover, worker, and so on. (Masculine problems also varied according to social class and ethnic group.) Recent research evidence is supporting the proposition that the contradictory expectations which have long confronted women are beginning to be experienced by men. Mirra Komarovsky, for example, has documented the strain felt by some college males arising from their exposure to norms calling for male intellectual superiority on the one hand and an ideal of intellectual companionship with women as equals, on the other.
It has become a cliché that “women’s liberation is also men’s liberation.” If such were completely the case, one could invoke only such notions as false consciousness, cultural lag, attachment to ingrained habit pattern, persistence of early socialization, etc. to explain male resistance, if such there be, to throwing off the shackles of gender roles. An alternative view is that while shifting perspectives may convert some duties into privileges and rights into obligations, it will require an unlikely trans-valuation of pure dominant values to convince the masses of men that they have nothing to lose from sex equality and to view as unmitigated burdens their monopoly of scarce resources, exemption from domestic responsibilities, dominance in dyadic relations, sexual privileges, one-sided services, deference from women, partial protection from female competition, and maintenance of feelings of superiority to women. Can their perception of possible gains be sufficient to offset these losses?
All but the most separatist women feminists would agree that women need the help of the “49% majority” to effect any fundamental change in gender role definitions. Some men, whether restive under the burdens of their dominant group status or from a sense of fair play, have espoused this cause. The question is how many and to what degree? The books mentioned early in this statement (by no means a complete bibliography!) may represent only the articulate few or they may reflect a growing consciousness of many men. Unfortunately, they are mainly impressionistic and journalistic, and contain no survey data on contemporary male attitudes. What men think, as modulated by such background characteristics as social class, ethnicity, education, income and so forth, and correlated with other attitudes and traits, is a problem of both scientific and social interest. Traditionally, men have expressed more liberal views on many subjects, including gender role issues, than women.1 Is this still the case?
1 Whereas the Fortune poll of 1946 showed a substantially higher proportion of men than of women favoring a woman president, this difference was reversed by 1972—17% of women in comparison to 7% of men said they would be more likely to vote for a woman running against an equally qualified man. Perhaps in 1946 a woman president of the United States was safe in the realm of fantasy for men.
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