The spoils are choices. Women have more choices than ever before in their work, home and lifestyles. And yes, men are becoming more like women, and so men are starting to face the same multitude of choices that women tackle.
Today, with many companies offering paternal leave, men now have the choice to stay at home after the birth of their newborn—which, as any dad will tell you, is a wondrous gift. But they also have the choice to take advantage of this leave and stay at home wondering whether this absence will hurt their careers.
Men have the choice to stay at home even longer and assume the chief caregiver role—this happens in 40 percent of U.S. households, either through choice or circumstance (in 40 percent of U.S. households, the woman is the primary wage earner). But they have to face the fact that, in making this choice, their skills might become obsolete and their wages, when they re-enter the workforce, will wind up reflecting their out-of-date proficiency. According to recent research, this kind of career interruption with its attendant decline in relevant skills, rather than pure gender discrimination, accounts for almost all of the fabled 77 cents-on-the-dollar male/female wage gap.
Men have the choice to arrange their schedules so they can pick up the kids from school twice a week. And they have the choice not to, and then to feel guilty about this choice.
The choice-filled world that women have bestowed on men is a tough world. Tough on women; even tougher on men. At least that's what the data reveal. In 1977, 41 percent of women reported feeling some level of work/life conflict, whereas only 35 percent of men did. Today, about the same percentage of women report work/life conflict, but 59 percent of men are now similarly torn.
Or maybe it's not tougher on men. It's just that men aren't used to it, and so they feel it more. And so they complain more, as all novices do.
The victors are leading men into a new world, a world devoid of narrow paths and clear finish lines, a world of broad expanses of choice and role, a world where you, not society, can decide your definitions of success and fulfillment. In its abundance, it is a wonderful world. It is also a world where, as women have found, if you possess a poor internal compass, you can wind up utterly lost.
So wake up, men. Whatever women are feeling, you are now free to feel it too.