I’m going to keep this one short. My article here is a response to a review of a movie “Fair Play” by the New York Times columnist Jessica Grose. In her article she writes this:
Real equity would require more men to pull back from so-called greedy work with long inflexible hours as much as women do and to take an equitable share of domestic labor, parenting and caregiving. “Fair Play” at least understands that we’re a long way from that happening.
We are a long way from gender equity, and I can tell you why. The reason is this — this article, like every article on this subject ever written before — requires something only from men.
“Equity,” as we currently understand it, requires men to do the stepping back, without in any way trying to understand the consequences such stepping back imposes on them.
Our current “equity model” is one of male moral debt. The moral debt model says to men: “you owe women — you owe women, for their time, their emotional labor, for the hours they spent nursing you, feeding you, cleaning up your messes…” I could go on — women have been giving, and giving, and giving to men for eons — so understandably for many women and and at least some men, fairness looks like this: “you owe me, buddy.”
This is the model, but as some researchers in equity discussed in this article: https://hbr.org/2020/03/whats-really-holding-women-back, the model isn’t working very well.
However, their response is not to question the male debt-equity model, but to double down on it. Like essentially all articles before it, and Ms. Grose’s article alongside it, it proceeds on an assumption: remind men of their moral debt to women and the debt will be paid. Men’s current resistance to accepting their moral debt is really a product of men simply not listening.
The male debt-equity model argues, in essence: men aren’t paying their moral debts because they’re selfish. The answer then — an answer born perhaps of frustration and despair — is to increase the consequences for men: withdraw, make my own life, hang out with my girlfriends. Understandable, totally logical. If you keep trying something, and it doesn’t work, then why keep trying to change those who don’t want to change?
I can’t blame women who choose to follow this path. We men are difficult, and some of us are truly dangerous, cruel, violent. Women must constantly navigate a world where they fear for their lives. But I can also promise you this: withdrawing from men will not get you fairness or equity, it will only get you the status-quo or worse.
The problem, in my view, lies not with men per se (though you are welcome to believe so) but with the male debt-equity model.
What the model fails to account for are the costs to men for following this model. The model itself, though grounded in masses of real world facts, is nonetheless a belief — a particular form of interpretation borne of feelings, instead of an analytic assessment of what will work.
I have a lot to say on this subject but let me suggest what will work — since that is what we’re aiming for:
Real equity would also require more women to choose and value men who step back from greedy work — to show men instead of telling them that this is truly about equality.
Women currently place a very, very, very low value on men who step back from greedy work — they do NOT choose the teacher over the law partner, the social worker over the CEO.
Because of the way the male debt-equity model functions, because it assumes that equality = men owe women, the model fails with men. And it will continue to fail until women and some men accept that the model needs to be changed.
Equality is a collective struggle.