It’s one of our cultural paradoxes that women’s issues tend to be treated as a discrete subject that affects only half the population. And, while many men have probably heard about the hoopla surrounding Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, it seems that very few have read it. An informal survey of 20 of my male colleagues found that zero men had read the book, and none planned to.
Yet, the ideas in Lean In are as important for men to consider as women.
One area of the book that has far-reaching implications is a simple sentence: “A truly equal world should be one where women ran half our countries and companies, and men ran half our homes.”
Take a moment to digest that sentence. Especially the second part.
I think we’d all agree that women ought to be much better represented in business and government. It’s embarrassing that the United States ranks 71st in female legislative representation in the world (behind Bangladesh, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates) and that women make up only 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs, 6% of top earners, 8% of top corporate leadership positions, and 16% of board directors and corporate officers. Yet, the second part of the statement – that a truly equal world has men running half our homes – is dizzying and challenging to the point of being radical.
Would it even be possible for men to run half the homes in the world? And, if so, what would it look like if men played a much more active role in the home?
The deficit in men’s assistance with housework and child care is striking. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 82.5% of women engage in household activities, while only 65% of men do. And when a husband and wife are employed full-time, the mother does 40% more childcare and 30% more housework than the father. This translates to 1.17 hours per day that women spend on household and caregiving activities. Which translates to 18 days a year.
Imagine a world if half of those 18 days were converted. Imagine what it would look like if men added nine days to their housework and childcare duties, and women subtracted nine days from the same.
Let’s first think of this in business and marketing terms.
That’s nine days – about four hours a week – for men to cut from their leisure and recreational activities. And men spend 37 hours per week watching TV, playing games, socializing, and exercising. There are some obvious benefits. What if men bought more groceries, shopped for more kids’ stuff, and had a more active hand in doing the laundry. The marketplace would have to reflect a more male point of view towards food, fashion, entertainment, design, and many other things. I, for one, would be okay living in a world with more ribs and Bugs Bunny, and less kale and Dora.
Stepping up with housework and child care would be a behavioral change, but I can’t imagine it would feel like a major sacrifice. Nor would it be disruptive to business or society. If men picked up nine days of housework and childcare, I have to believe that big, powerful cars would still get bought and sold. I think we’d still figure out how to make our Fantasy Football activities look like Excel spreadsheets. And the world will be damn sure to hear our opinions on potential plot lines for Star Wars 7 (if Han Solo is not in it, so help me god…).
But let’s forget about women and men and gender inequality and Sheryl Sandberg entirely. What if men decided to lean into their families? Imagine the implications for future generations.
Study after study shows that the more fathers are involved in their children’s lives, the more advantages their children have. Highly involved fathers raise children with higher levels of educational and economic achievement, better psychological well-being and cognitive abilities, and a stronger emotional quotient (they’re more empathetic and socially competent). Every one of these areas touches on the critical cultural, political, and economic issues of our era.
So, by getting more ambitious at home, men stand to get better and smarter kids, happier and more successful wives, and probably more ribs. If that’s not enough, according to Ms. Sandberg, there will be more sex, too.
Anyone up for leaning in and starting a men’s movement?