For a brief and shining moment, it seemed as if the New York Times had let go of its war against toxic masculinity. Maybe the editors believed they had finally wimpified their readership. Maybe somebody whispered in their ear that it wasn’t working. Maybe they figured out that their vision of toxic masculinity, guys being what guys wanted to be, wasn’t actually toxic.
Maybe they couldn’t squeeze it in between their 27 op-eds about why Trump was literally Hitler. After all, their slogan is “all the news that fits, we print.” But it’s back, raising the age-old question of whether Millennial men want stay-at-home wives.
But the millennial category lumps together everybody from age 17 to 34, a group varied by race, ethnicity, religion, income, education and life experience. Don’t think for a second they are united. As a set of reports released Friday by the Council on Contemporary Families reveals, fewer of the youngest millennials, those aged 18 to 25, support egalitarian family arrangements than did the same age group 20 years earlier.
The word “Millennial” refers to a generation, not race, ethnicity, etc. That’s why the group is varied by other factors than year of birth. And most people grasp that traits shared are not absolutes. This isn’t a high-level concept. Consider this foreshadowing, the question being whether it suggests where this is heading or whether its writer, Stephanie Coontz, is kinda clueless.
Using a survey that has monitored the attitudes of high school seniors for nearly 40 years, the sociologists Joanna Pepin and David Cotter find that the proportion of young people holding egalitarian views about gender relationships rose steadily from 1977 to the mid-1990s but has fallen since. In 1994, only 42 percent of high school seniors agreed that the best family was one where the man was the main income earner and the woman took care of the home. But in 2014, 58 percent of seniors said they preferred that arrangement. In 1994, fewer than 30 percent of high school seniors thought “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family.” By 2014, nearly 40 percent subscribed to that premise.
An outlier survey? Nope.
A different survey found a similar trend, in this case concentrated mainly among men. In 1994, 83 percent of young men rejected the superiority of the male-breadwinner family. By 2014 that had fallen to 55 percent. Women’s disagreement fell far less, from 85 percent in 1994 to 72 percent in 2014. Since 1994, young women’s confidence that employed women are just as good mothers as stay-at-home moms has continued to inch up, but young men’s has fallen. In fact, by 2014, men aged 18 to 25 were more traditional than their elders.
There are a variety of ways to read these shifts. Coontz sees only one.
No wonder some young people think that more traditional family arrangements might make life less stressful. Tellingly, support for gender equality has continued to rise among all age groups in Europe, where substantial public investments in affordable, high-quality child care and paid leave for fathers and mothers are the norm.
The problem isn’t that people have come to the realization on a personal, though generationally pervasive level, that the fantasies of social justice don’t actually work, but that the government needs to spend more money for child care. After all, if we could just get those damn kids off their parents’ back, life would be fabulous. And then those misogynist Millennials would embrace feminism again instead of returning to the traditional patriarchal views of “their elders.”
Ironically, none of this should matter to women. Why should they care what a Millennial guy wants? If they want to be the master of the universe, they don’t need some guy’s permission. But that, of course, is part of the fantasy. Much as we can construct facile narratives that enable our wildest dreams to appear less than ridiculous, you can’t talk your way out of physics.
If Millennial women want to have a relationship with a creature other than their cat, they need to get along with Millennial men. They can demand whatever lifestyle they want, but that no more means guys have to acquiesce to it than it means women can’t do as they please. It may seem, if one judges by TV commercials, sitcoms and romcom movies, that everybody is gay or transgender, but the vast majority of people prefer to be perfectly normal, traditional, usual. They don’t want to dress like the opposite sex. They prefer a mate with opposite genitalia.
And they love their children and want them to have a normal life. This raises two problems: first, that somebody has to raise the kids, and second, that they would prefer it be a parent rather than some random person. So who should it be, the wife or Mr. Mom?
During the 2016 primaries, when Professor Cassino asked voters questions designed to remind them that many women now earn more than men, men became less likely to support Mrs. Clinton. Perhaps a segment of youth is reacting to financial setbacks suffered by their fathers. Indeed, a 2015 poll commissioned by MTV found that 27 percent of males aged 14 to 24 felt women’s gains had come at the expense of men.
The fantasy narrative is that there is no such thing as a zero-sum game, that there are vast arrays of jobs out there for everyone. Except no one who lives in the real world can find them. An employer has a job available? If it goes to a woman, then it can’t go to a man. And vice versa. As women came into the workforce, jobs that had traditionally gone to men went to women. And in a contracting workforce, that means men were left jobless. It’s just numbers, nothing more.
The only way to accommodate these guys without jobs into the feminist narrative was for them to stay home and perform the wifely duties. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what they’re willing to do. But guys are no more happy to wipe tushies than gals. Yet, tushies need wiping as they won’t wipe themselves.
This is where the horrors of toxic masculinity crashes head first with the gender equity narrative. If Millennials don’t want their children raised by a pay-to-play parent, and men don’t want to be the wife any more than women, something has to give.
This isn’t to argue that women are wrong to want to go out in the workforce, achieve whatever they can and be the family breadwinner. It is to argue that guys want the same, and there is no rational basis to make women’s desires superior to men’s. Unless you believe they get a free pass because of the patriarchy, but that puts Millennial men in the awkward position of giving up their life to compensate for the women’s narrative. Here’s the kicker: nobody wants to squander their life for the sake of a false narrative.
For those Millennial parents who want nothing to do with their kids, child care may be the answer, particularly if they get it as an entitlement where everyone else pays for their choice. Who doesn’t love other people paying for their choice? But traditional roles and values didn’t come about because of some conspiracy of the patriarchy, but because roles needed to be filled and choices needed to be made.
So Millennial guys are figuring out that it’s not a bad thing to be a male and to want the things guys want? This doesn’t come at the expense of women. Women can do as they please. They don’t need a man’s permission. But they can’t have their man and eat it too. Reality bites, but it’s still reality. Women don’t want to squander their lives playing the traditional wife? Neither do guys. And neither wants their kids raised by other people, no matter what they do in Europe.
As much as Coontz thinks the relief valve of cheap or free childcare is the answer, kids still need parents, and parents want to be parents. And society needs to concern itself more with that than with the feminist fantasy.