Lane: The new millennial family space

BY JOE LANE | AUGUST 03, 2015 5:00 AM

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Despite the horrifying cliché of beginning any written content with a definition, I feel it appropriate. Merriam-Webster defines “feminism” as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights.”
Anybody who disagrees with the viewpoint of feminism is living a pretty archaic lifestyle, especially in the United States. But, of course, the debate rages on and has become a ubiquitous part of society today.

Many believe that the modern-day definition of feminism has shifted more toward the need for reparations from men for centuries of wrongdoing. In the meantime, men seem to think they have become anti-feminists simply because they’ve grown frustrated with its ever-expanding social-media presence. Feminism is, by definition, supposed to be equality between men and women — which means not putting one down to raise up the other.

As the New York Times points out, there is a growing component of this debate that is flipping gender norms on their heads. According to a recent Times article, millennial men are having difficulty with work-life balance. The article says that when compared to previous generations, millennial men have a much greater desire for an egalitarian family dynamic.

Not surprisingly, women would also like to see men take a more egalitarian role in their family lives. However, according to a study in the American Sociological Review referenced in the Times article, current business practices do not allow for such roles. When men and women are faced with particularly difficult times in their family lives, the article asserts, they respond differently.

Despite millennial men’s desires to have a more equal role in their families, they still respond to tough times by working more. Meanwhile, women respond through use of paid leave and flexible schedules. To truly achieve the end goal of feminism, this has to change.

What tends to get lost in the details of modern feminism is that the ultimate accomplishment should be equality. Many seem to think it means men giving up as much as possible. The reality, however, is making certain that men and women play equal roles, receive equal rewards, and deal with the same level of hardship in society, work, and family.

There is a scene in the popular TV show “The Office” in which one employee, Dwight, has combined his desk with another employee’s, Jim’s, while Jim is gone on a brief paternity leave. When Jim returns and reclaims his desk, Dwight is displeased and does whatever he can to get Jim to leave work — using up sick days — to spend time with his newborn. At one point, Dwight says, “You’re here at work, and the baby thinks the refrigerator is its father.”

Comedy, to be sure, but the point is valid (not the refrigerator part). Jim is at work only a few days after the birth of his child, and Pam (his wife) spends several weeks at home with the child.

The United States does not need to go as far as Norway or Iceland, but it does need to change the male workplace dynamic. While employers and the government are in charge of creating fair gender legislation, it’s in the hands of male employees to prove that they, too, want an active role promoting modern feminism.

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