Because Men Can’t Win

At the Careerist, Vivia Chen posts of a survey that some might see as evidence that men aren’t just greedy, blood-sucking opportunists who want only to accumulate vast wealth to prove their masculine worth.

According to a newly released survey by Citi and LinkedIn, more men than women place a higher priority on love, marriage, kids, and the whole domestic kit and caboodle. Yup, you heard right: Men are the true guardians of family values!

If you detected just the faintest hint of sarcasm in there, your meter is working perfectly.  The survey shows:

Here are the key findings from “Today’s Professional Woman Report,” which surveyed over 1,000 female and male professionals on LinkedIn:

- More men than women want it all (marriage and kids—not just career). The survey finds that 79 percent of men say “having it all” means having a “strong, loving marriage” vs. 66 percent of women who feel that way. Also, 86 percent of men “factor children into their definition of success vs. 73 percent of women.”

- More men than women believe in the institution of marriage. The survey finds that 25 percent of women think that marriage is not necessary in a “strong, loving relationship,” while only 14 percent of men share that view.

- Women increasingly say that love and marriage do not define their success. Since 2012, the number of women “who do not factor marriage or relationships into their definition of success has nearly doubled (from 5 percent to 9 percent).”

- Both men and women say work/life balance is a major concern It’s a virtual dead-heat: 50 percent of men vs. 48 percent of women cite the need for balance.

Chen is unimpressed, and so should you, she informs.

To me, the survey simply reinforces the privileged position that men have always enjoyed. Frankly, it’s easy to sing the virtue of family life, when you’ve always had someone at home to keep things tidy. So why not rant that a career without a loving family is empty—if you’ve always had both?

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. And where do I find someone to stay at home and “keep things tidy”?

Chen points to certain aspects of the survey to show how men are just as evil as always:

Indeed, where the gender gap really shows up is in the responses to questions about company perks. By a wide margin, women rated flex-time (90 percent of women vs. 72 percent of men) and good maternity/paternity leave policies (56 percent of women vs. 36 percent of men) as key benefits. As Amanda Hess writes in Slate: “Shifting the work-life balance conversation will require men to translate their “family-oriented” identity into more hours actually spent with family.” In other words, men have to put action to their words.

I agree wholeheartedly with Vivia that her cherry-picked responses are worth noting, but not for the same reasons.  What they tell me is women remain less committed to their professional obligations, preferring instead to put the things they want to do ahead of the things they are committed to do.

What gives rise to this confusion isn’t a desire to return to the days of Suzy Homemaker, but the days of Helen Gurley Brown, when the myth that “women could have it all” was born.  Let’s face it, the Suzy Homemaker days were pretty darned good for men, with the exception of not having a second income to pay for the new iPad.  But men can’t have it all, and neither can women. You want equity? That’s equity.

No one promised a lawyer that you would be able to make the big bucks, enjoy the prestige of being a professional, and always be there for junior’s soccer game.  Whether the lawyer is male or female makes no difference.  We are all duty-bound to our professional obligations.

Except, as the survey suggests, that isn’t how we all feel about it.  One gender appears a little more concerned about itself than the other, though the survey results suggest neither is sufficiently altruistic to put its obligations to those whose lives and fortunes depend on it first.

As Vivia, with surprising snark all things considered, contends that men are blowing smoke, easily embracing family values because women embrace them just a tad more, proving that women remain slaves to their family duties while men can be facile since the women are there to carry the burden.

It’s not that she would prefer the alternative, that men openly concede that it’s good for them that women continue to bear the burden of family so that men can enjoy their role as hunter and breadwinner of the tribe.  No, there will be no happiness until men don the Suzy Homemaker aprons and have brownies ready for when mom comes home after concluding the billion dollar deal.

I have no beef with baking brownies. And I managed to make it to every one of my son’s fencing competitions until he went off to college.  But I didn’t do so because of gender parity, but choice and very careful planning. Still, that’s not good enough, because my focus never left my clients and my recognition that when I swore to zealously represent them, I understood that I was giving up my right to do the things that made me personally happy.

So when a survey like this is used to suggest that males still enjoy the remnant perks of incipient sexism, I call bullshit.  What this survey says to me is that we’ve come a long way, baby. And that’s good, as the Suzy Homemaker days were wrong to women who are indeed entitled to be as fruitful in the workplace as they may have been in the kitchen.

But if that’s not good enough, because it fails to fulfill the fantasy that gave rise to Helen Reddy songs, then tough nuggies.  No one promised men that it would be easy, and there surely is no reason why it should be different for women.

And whining that whatever we do isn’t enough to satisfy your demands isn’t going to change the reality of our obligations as lawyers.  Rather, it reminds us that some women have yet to fully commit to their obligations to clients when it gets in the way of something they would prefer to do. Was that your purpose? I don’t think this is what you were aiming for.

14 comments on “Because Men Can’t Win

  1. David Sugerman

    A Helen Reddy link? I know it’s all about the eyeballs with you, but your evil plan is destined to fail. Those who do not know better will run screaming from the room before the last chorus. Those of us old enough to know not to click it will be even more vigilant when perusing SJ. Nice try pal.

    To the merits: Perhaps the 1L curriculum should include a mandatory first-term class, “Professional Obligations in a Nutshell: No You Cannot Have It All”.

  2. jakee308

    I figure that the only way Feminists will be satisfied is if men start having children.

    And then they’ll probably complain about that.

  3. Maggie McNeill

    Even disregarding Chen’s ridiculous interpretation of it, that study suffers from a severe selection bias. Career women already self-select toward careerism & away from family, while men have no choice but to have career. For a true look at the difference between male & female attitudes you’d need a far more varied sample than people on LinkedIn, because many *average* women aren’t going to be there in the first place.

    1. SHG Post author

      I agree that the survey was skewed by self-selection, but that tends to favor Chen’s position. I suppose her response would be that men have a choice, though anatomy may be an obstacle, but most refuse to see it because of latent sexism. The reply to this is why should men be subject to the inverse cultural dictation that she complains of?

    2. David Sugerman

      The selection bias is much worse than self-selection. It starts with a skewed and silly population (LinkedIn users). The upshot is that the numbers are meaningless. I suppose some would say that pointing out the garbage-out nature of these stats is paternalistic or patronizing. Seems like if she wants to traffic in data-based arguments she should use just a tad of rigor to avoid the Helen Reddy vid.

      1. Maggie McNeill

        Agreed; it’s an unrepresentative convenience sample. Same problem is rampant in my field; all too many studies which represent themselves as about prostitutes as a whole are actually studies of incarcerated or rehab-ordered streetwalkers who tell the “researchers” exactly what they want to hear. It’s a convenience sample already skewed badly from the whole sex worker population, then further skewed by the survey process itself.

      1. Brian Tannebaum

        I know you try to hurt me with those types of comments, but you can’t. You just can’t.

        And 5 x 8 is 40

  4. John

    I’m not aware if the law regarding family leave has changed since my daughter was born (5 years) but when she was born I was offered the chance to use family leave time. Only catch was that I wouldn’t get paid (unless I used vacation) whereas my wife would. So my wife and I talked about what we wanted to do, because either I couldn’t use vacation later to spend time with both of them or we would lose a paycheck for the time I would not be working. So to say that men don’t value maternity/paternity leave the same as women is disingenuous since the value of the leave is not the same for men and women.

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