By Moe Carrick
No question: I celebrate feminism and the changes it’s brought globally. But it’s dangerous to ignore the hard truth that men are not thriving. Shifting demographics and a changing notion of what it means to be a man pile onto a mountain of loss and confusion for many men today. Men commit suicide 3.7 times more often than women. Ninety percent of the US prison population is male. Gun-related massacres — almost entirely at the hands of men — are hugely on the rise in the last 20 years. Addiction rates remain chronically higher for men than women. Yet until men and women fully thrive, our most profound societal problems will remain unsolvable. We need true partnership between men and women in ways that benefit all.
Imagine a new world where men are encouraged to be vulnerable — to give and receive empathy, compassion, and support for life’s pain points including depression, loss, and fear. Think about what it would look like if more men supported each other in successful self-management, and taught their children that courage includes being scared and sometimes failing. Consider what true equity would look like: women holding half of all top business jobs and governmental offices, contributing materially to gross income, innovation, and stability, joining the workforce early and staying through their lifetime. I propose the following five critical shifts to reach this world of true partnership.
1 - ENCOURAGE MEN TO TURN TO EACH OTHER
Supportive spaces just for women are now ubiquitous, from yoga groups to book clubs to women-only conferences. These deliberate, mindful opportunities for deep connection have clearly helped women. Moving beyond old-school “boys’ clubs” that reinforce outdated models of rank and status, we must create conscious and thoughtful ways for men to come together in support of one another and of men’s contributions to society. Through men’s work with each other, the notion of what it means to be a man today can shift and evolve as new, healthy partnerships grow. Organizations such as The Good Men Project, which offers a glimpse of what masculinity might look like in the 21st century, and Men Advocating Real Change, or MARC, provide resources and ideas for men engaging with each other.
2 - OPENLY DISCUSS ROLES AND EQUALITY AT WORK
Most people today value meaning at work and lifestyle considerations above all else, and yet the majority of leaders across all sectors remain men whose work dominates their lives and who are often supported by a stay-at-home spouse. When we discuss better work–life balance, we often focus on women’s issues and needs, particularly within their roles as mothers or homemakers, without discussing men’s need to have lives and relationships outside of work, including community involvement, caretaking roles, and hobbies. Openly discussing the benefits of social change relevant to men and women alike — with regard to money, time, connection, visibility, and impact — provides higher likelihood of balancing competing demands between work and home for men and women according to more equitable norms. Invite employees in your company to discuss what priorities at home and in their community matter to them as they strive to work hard. Such open conversations invite vulnerability from both men and women about their personal story and how they want their individual relationship with work to play out on a day-to-day basis.
3 - CHANGE HOW WE RAISE OUR KIDS
We raise boys and girls differently, and it affects the men and women they become. Girls are stereotypically encouraged to be cooperative, verbal, unobtrusive, supportive, and emotionally tuned-in. Boys are acculturated to be decisive, logical, strategic, and never “weak.” These habits land us in a world of hurt when it comes to true partnerships as adults: women often hesitate to assert themselves and speak directly in conflict, and men are often left without the skills to name — much less embrace — emotions beyond anger and detachment. One way to start changing these lessons in practice is to pay attention to how you notice a child’s assets: focus on the humor, eloquence, or creativity of girls, rather than appearance, or invite a little boy to talk about his feelings when he is upset rather than encouraging him to simply “buck up.”
4 - KILL THE RUGGED INDIVIDUALIST MINDSET
“I stand alone” might well be the mantra of 20th-century manliness, but it is now an outdated phrase that invokes isolation and loss. Standing alone has been replaced in the global economy with standing together. In their bestseller “The Athena Doctrine,” John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio highlight the fact that nurturing, communication, sharing, and cooperation are the traits most desired by businesses globally. Debunking the myth that any of us, especially men, can stand alone and succeed will unlock the capacity for men to become networked human beings with material support and engagement that brings out their best. We can do this by reinforcing the workplace norms for collaboration, listening, trust-building, and empathy, thus inviting partnership behavior rather than the lonely isolation of handling problems alone.
5 - ALTER HOW WE VALIDATE MEN AS CARETAKERS AND WOMEN AS CAREER-HOLDERS
Women who work often speak of feeling guilt-ridden or chronically overextended due to their internalized feeling that they should be perfect mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters at the same time as they are successful in their careers. And men who step off a career track to take care of family or pursue other interests continue to face subtle ridicule and nuanced pressure that they are not doing what men should do: support the family. Let’s start talking about how women are breadwinners and world-changers in significant ways, and that men can be and are appropriate and tender caretakers of home and hearth. We must talk about our unconscious biases across gender lines and how they impact the paths we clear and celebrate for men and women. Openly discussing the complex roles we each play and the societal expectations we carry will assist us in finding new ways to validate one another across gender.
Feminism (equal rights and opportunities for all) can only succeed if men and boys also succeed. We need to reconsider how we work, how we parent, how we love, how we spend, how we listen, and how we lead. I propose we have the honest conversations at home, at work, and in the community that are necessary to create lifestyles that make sense for human beings, workplaces in which men and women thrive equally, and homes in which breadwinning and caretaking are worthy ambitions for men and women alike.
Moe Carrick is the founder of Moementum, Inc., a leadership consulting business and certified B Corp. She grounds her approach in a unifying and undeniable truth: successful work is dependent upon human relationships. Moe feels privileged to work with clients such as Prudential Financial, REI, Nike, Tech Soft 3D, and many others. Find her at moementum.com or on Twitter @moecarrick.