By Marcus Buckingham
December 14, 2009
In its recent special on the state of American women, Time magazine announced that the gender wars were over and declared a tie. "It's no longer a man's world," Time concluded. "Nor is it a woman's nation. It's a cooperative, with bylaws under constant negotiation and expectations that profits be equally shared."
I'm not so sure. In a war, no matter the outcome of a certain skirmish or battle, the winner is the party whose attitudes, behaviors and preoccupations come to dominate the postwar landscape. By this measure, the outcome of the gender wars, if wars they were, is clear: Women won.
Men's attitudes more and more resemble women's attitudes. In 1977, for example, 72 percent of men believed men should be the primary breadwinners and women should be the primary caretakers of home and family. Today, only 42 percent of men hold those opinions, which happens to be almost exactly the same as the percentage of women who feel that way (38 percent).
Men's behaviors are becoming more and more like women's. In 1977, men spent, on average, only six hours a week doing housework, as compared to 21 hours for women. Today, when it comes to the "second shift," men look a lot like women—men now spend 13 hours a week on housework, while women spend 17. Similarly, 40 years ago, the average Don Draper spent only two hours a day caring for his nonteen kids, while the average Betty devoted almost twice that much time to her kids—3.8 hours per day. Today, Betty's kid time is exactly the same, while Don's has climbed to three hours per day. Gen Y dads have taken it up a notch. They now spend more than four hours a day on childcare.
"To know a culture, look to its heroes," goes the saying, and here, too, we see change and new models of leadership. Gone are the macho monarchs—Jack "Neutron" Welch, George "The Decider" Bush, Michael "Micromanager" Eisner and Carly "The Fighter" Fiorina (not all male models are masculine). In their place, we now honor a new style of leader, no less visionary, but more pragmatic, more conciliatory, building consensus as they quietly get things done—in the Oval Office, Barack Obama; at Hewlett Packard, Mark Hurd; at Disney HQ, Bob Eiger; and at the Welch mansion, the softer, friendlier hybrid, JackandSuzy.
Even our entertainment heroes have lost their masculine muscle. Arnold, Bruce and Stallone are long gone from the screen, but even the flirty, flaky, funny adolescents—Tom, Brad, Jim, and Will—no longer charm us quite as much as they once did. Instead, our leading men are the likes of Zac Efron who, though he can still "Michael Jordan" it on the court, now has to sing and dance charmingly to earn our affection. Or the dangerous but effete and oh-so-delicate Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame. Or the gender-bending, pirate-styling and pretty Johnny Depp. Even James Bond has found his feminine side—all he wants is a quantum of solace, crushed as he is at the thought that the one he loved, really truly loved, betrayed him.
The war is over. Women won. And, as ever, to the victor go the spoils.
And what are the spoils of this particular war?
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.