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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 14:07 GMT
Are men trapped in outdated roles?
All over the world men are finding that traditional roles don't work for them.
The power they thought they had at home and work is no longer assured. Men are beginning to find that their partners earn more than they do, that women's skills are more valued at work.
Fathers have also been found wanting as they're often not around for their children, and husbands under scrutiny for their too-frequent violent behaviour towards their partners.
A woman's place used to be in the kitchen. Where should men be today?
We took your calls on the subject in our LIVE phone-in programme "Talking Point On Air". Dan Damon presented the programme and was joined by author and psychotherapist Philip Hodson.
Select the link below to watch Talking Point On Air
This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are published below.
This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are published below.
Ian, Swindon, UK
We are all born into a body and taught by society how to perform our gender roles. However, it is individual determination and opportunity which allows us to create the lives we want to lead. Long live equal education, opportunity and the ability to support others as we would wish to be supported in seeking our own, our partners, children and our community goals in life.
Mick Rebel, Derby, UK
The emasculation of men is and will cause the downfall of us all. This worldwide women's movement has turned beautiful flowers into warty frogs. Most women today look more masculine then their men. Open your eyes and have a look.
I am a lorry driver and I embrace the new found equality of women and can't wait for the day when my wife takes over my work and leaves me at 5am in the comfort of my home to get on with my washing, ironing, shopping and other chores. I can't wait for her to take the stress off my shoulders and all the health problems I suffer because of my job . Please God, let women take over our jobs and give us a break. The only trouble is my wife doesn't seem keen on the idea!!!
Claire, London, UK
Trapped in a traditional role? Who says? It's as good as it gets. It cannot get better.
Equality? How can there be equality? Men and women are different and each has different skill sets. We should embrace these differences that have evolved over several million years and not try to ignore them. The trouble is that society looks down upon many of the roles traditionally held by women, such as raising children. That is a VERY hard, demanding and important role that we should all look up to.
The increasing number of female workers decreases the cost of labour. This is good for the corporations, therefore today feminism is flourishing. The long-term effect is degradation of the society because of poor nursing. Finally the countries with traditional gender roles will overcome the "feminist" countries and will be victors of the future world wars.
Della, Bromley Kent
What is very clear from all of the comment is that men and women are different, each have their own idiosyncrasies and their own strengths and weaknesses. Those who say they can live without either sex are kidding themselves or have an axe to grind. Questions like this one add nothing to the debate except allow a few foolish people to vent their spleen.
Men will get where they want to be if they have the gumption to do it, as will women. We're not men and women primarily, but people, and the lessening gaps between us are a fine thing.
You all complain too much, why is everything someone else's fault? Take charge of your own lives as individuals, not a simple gender stereotype.
Feminism has had considerable success - sometimes at the expense of men's rights, e.g. positive discrimination, custody of children. What's the counterweight?
N. Harris, Jersey, Great Britain
I earn about eight times as much as my wife earns. It therefore makes sense for her to be the one that gives up work to look after children. If her earning potential was higher than mine it would make sense for me to give up work instead. As for domestic violence, one incident is one too many but let's not pretend all men hit their partners - this is as sexist as saying all women can't drive.
The issue is largely based on social-economic affluence. I am from the Midwest region of the United States, where the men are expected to play a significant role in family life.
I am a stay-home man, and I enjoy my role very much.
Ahmed, College Station, Texas, USA
Alan Tyne evidently has a problem. Generalising the way he does about women indicates that he has a major chip on his shoulder. Fortunately most men, and also most women, do not take this refuge of the dim-witted dunces that have to generalise because their small brains are too under-powered to understand the concept of individuality. I wonder whether the poor man has been overlooked for a job perhaps. Maybe 'his job' went to a woman. The reason for that might just be because he is so evidently prejudiced that no self respecting employer would want him.
Nigel Dempster, UK
Capitalist society demands equality
because it increases the workforce
and allows companies to pay employees
less because no longer is only the male
the bread winner for the family.
The modern corporate world demands
that a family can only financially
survive if both work. This will inevitably
destroy the nucleus family and create
extreme social problems.
The majority of humanity lives out lives trapped in roles which are centred around one outcome - the procreation of the species. If this were not so we would not be here and some other species would dominate the planet.
I am surprised by some of the male responses here. I really thought we had moved beyond all this and equality was not even an issue. As for Mr Angry from Ireland, is he for real? Does he really not know how pathetic his whinges sound? All woman have ever wanted are equal opportunities and happily we have moved in that direction. Why do certain men find that so threatening? If men had been treated as women have been for centuries and were finally given their freedom I would be happy for them. But then I am not afraid of men. Surely equality for all is simply fair?
This kind of debate strikes me as a non-issue fuelled by silly psychologists. Women need and desire men and men need and desire women. Attempting to define ones role is a pointless exercise carried out by people with too much time on their hands. While the rest of us are too busy having a good time.
Beena Giridharan, Miri, East Malaysia
Where I work there is a safe secure convenient car park at the front of the building for women, whereas men have to use a car park at the rear on the edge of a troubled estate with wrecked cars littered about.
Were the situation reversed the cries of sexism would probably make the national press, as it is we weakly accept this discrimination.
Women are happy to sneer at men and their "redundant" macho values of being tough and physically courageous. But they will equally poor scorn on a man who lacks those qualities when they are needed. Look at the way all women ridicule a man who complains of being ill - "men are such wimps". And have you noticed that whenever there is an unpleasant, dangerous or physically demanding job to be done, women always assume that it is a man who should do it? Women complain about glass ceilings etc but they are only ever interested in cushy paper pushing jobs that probably don't even really need doing .
Men are supposed to earn and provide for their family. Women are supposed to devote a significant amount of time in the upbringing of their children. She is the first and the most important teacher of children and can either create a nation of good citizens or destroy it.
John Slater, London
Potentially, both men and women have something positive and unique to offer, be it in the work place or at home. In any role, this uniqueness needs to be understood and fostered if we are to bring out the best in both sexes working together with a common aim. Sadly, working roles between the sexes are all too often seen as a power struggle or battle. We desperately need to review this attitude.
Men's role in society is being diminished at our peril. The stability of our society has depended upon strong family units. As roles within these families are blurred, self-esteem and identity are being eroded. The destabilisation of family units is evident by the increase in divorce. Now 50% of all children in this country live with step-parents. It is time for men to be men, to stand up and be counted and stop kowtowing to liberal feminist nonsense.
It is true that women are more valued in the workplace in today's society. I have found that whenever I phone up companies, if a woman is on the receiving end, they generally tend to be more helpful than men.
Having lived with my partner for over a year now, I have been interested to find myself absorbing virtually all the roles traditionally assigned to the woman of the household: cooking, cleaning, washing up, washing etc. And yes, I do work - I am a full-time secondary school teacher. Perhaps it is a sign of decreased confidence in gender stereotypes that I find myself unable to 'rebel' at the very thought of all this housework, and instead resign myself to the chores.
The problem is not just in the way in which we educate our children, it has more to do with the expectations of society. In a post industrial society based on service industries, we expect everyone we deal with to be charming, amiable and good looking; which many females happen to be better at. It is not only males that lose out but, the old, the overweight and the disabled. It is not gender that causes inequalities but the importance based on presentation rather than content.
What is needed is a discourse on transformation of power and society that engages both men and women. If we remove the incentives, such as social reinforcement and reward, that drive people to seek power using violent means, the gender discourse will become increasingly irrelevant.
Kate, London, UK
Dr. Mark Waldman
Peter Elgood Melbourne, Australia
I think that there is a very fine balance when a woman is a high flyer.
If a man tries to be supportive and give her the space that she needs to do the job that she has chosen then this may well be seen as neglect in their marriage role.
Its trying to match the untraditional with what has been traditional in marriage terms.
If God were to look down at the injustices of
this world, i.e. war etc. men are at the
I feel that as medically assisted conception
becomes the norm, more and more daughters will be born of the genes of two women. A Man's role shall be evolved out.
Deflating perhaps to my own ego, but possibly a
positive trend to emerge for the future of the
Not all men are insecure in their manhood so as to cause a
Not all men are "Macho Men". The "maleness" of men is not a
fixed characteristic. It runs from homosexual through
effeminate, retiring, normal to macho.
As to male housekeeping, many men have quite "manfully" performed housekeeping duties
quite successfully for centuries
If you look at education at the time that that schools were dominated by male teachers, boys did better than girls.
As more women entered the job market they tended to be employed in badly paid jobs, of which teaching is one. Gradually, first in primary schools, then in secondary schools they began to become a majority of the work force.
Due to this, girls, now being taught by women, do better than the boys. At the moment, only the highest levels of Universities have male dominance, and therefore these are the only places where male students have better results that female students.
Without reverting to separate sex education, there are arguments for boys being taught my men and girls by women.
I've been trying to go part time to share the caring for our child now that my wife has a part time job. My large employer (who has won countless awards for employee care etc), says that this is not possible, despite women in the business being able to achieve this.
Philip hodson, UK
Isn't it pathetic that when last year and this year boys' results were far below that of girls, the government was immediately alarmed and acted to prop the new "weaker" sex. In the past when girls were not performing well, very little was done.
Ian Cugley, Australia
Why is everyone so obsessed about gender
differences? OK, so most women couldn't do
some of the more physical jobs but apart from
that everyone's equal in my book.
The sooner we start focusing on more important
issues than time wasting over petty arguments
such as gender and race the better!
Cornelius Herelle New York, USA
The role of the man in Islam is to work and provide for the family, which includes the wife/wives and children. In no way whatsoever is the woman forced to enter the workforce and contribute to the maintenance of the home. The Islamic way of life offers a realistic alternative and thus brings about tranquillity within the home which is the primary goal of the Muslim marriage, as well as in the development of the society as a whole.
I'm 40 and used to be a Project Manager responsible for a dozen people and all the hassle that goes with the role.
Sure, I got paid well but my life was stressful and awful having to deal mainly with obnoxious feminist upstarts and their mentally limp liberal male lackeys.
Now I'm on the 'Helpdesk' get paid much less of course but I really get off on watching my female 'superiors' and lackeys alike AGE with responsibility.
Have it all (MISERABLE fems) You're welcome to it!
It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. The key word here is 'behind' - that is her place and the moment a woman steps in front conflict starts and family life is ruined.
I am all for a meritocracy. That way, every area of life would be devoid of the need for quotas and positive discrimination. Every person of whatever sexual orientation, gender, and so on would have to compete on their merits. Goodbye to political correctness, and the gender or other 'thought police' who hide behind their inefficiency, and see bias everywhere.
For the moment I am quite happy with man's role as it is defined by Islamic society. I would like to have more time for my wife and kid; and if my wife has some talent that she wants to put to work there is nothing wrong with that. Islam definitely allows for a woman to have her own source of income - as long as she doesn't try to boss me around or to be unfaithful that's okay with me and she is free to do as she pleases.
As a young man growing up during the hottest years of feminism in North America (1970's), I'm often left with the feeling that the quest for equality has a fundamental flaw - it fosters separation between the sexes. Feminism may have produced some advances, but at some point we have to see ourselves as all in this together. I am pleased when I meet an empowered woman who doesn't have a axe to grind about how men or the patriarchy has limited her potential in life.
Right on for feminism and let's keep evolving - there's more.
The women that I know, know their own abilities. If they want to have a kid, then they'll stay at home and raise him/her. If they want to work, then they won't have one. As a male, I value competence in the workplace. Some women I've known have sought for acceptance in the workplace. There's no problem there, as long as they work the same hours and do the same or better job.
Tom, Memphis, TN, USA
It's not about what you know or How much you earn. We need each other for the well being of the family. We all knows that kids need both parents. Men are still going to be the head of the family no matter what.
I have a traditional family. I work and my wife stays at home and home-schools my two daughters. It works out very well.
My wife is very educated. She has a PHD. She used to make much more money than I did. We sacrificed a more extravagant lifestyle for the kids. Family is more important than possessions. We have done with less, but we are still happy. We never starve or go without any necessity.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)
Feminists always carry on about the pay gap, but in professional jobs you've invariably got to bargain individually for your salary, and there are huge disparities among people doing exactly the same work (irrespective of sex). If, on average, women earn less for the same work, it simply shows they, on average, can't negotiate as well as their male counterparts.
100 years ago it was commonly said that if men and women had
equality they would fight and become selfish. Marriages would
break down and it would eventually lead to the collapse of our
civilisation. It appears that this prediction was correct.
Shiv I. Mirchandani, Phoenix/Mumbai
95% of my classmates in science and maths courses are male. I have also done a lot of reading that says on average, men are better and math and visual spatial things because of evolution. Women tend to be better and verbal communication and very fine motor skills, for example they are much better at sowing. Also, I read men are more likely to be leaders because of their deep commanding voices, whereas women have child like voices, and therefore males always wish to protect them like children. I think this whole argument is ridiculous and if it were reversed, women would be crying sexism. Also, where is this power you say women have. I see men leading most countries, companies, and they dominate the high tech fields.
I fully agree with what Ms Chitra has mentioned about this subject. More flexibility is required in the case of men and women in understanding the role of each individual.
Today we have women who think equality can be achieved with nothing less than leather jackets and motorcycles. In Asia we see what might look (superficially) its reverse: women subjugating their daughters into accepting the culturally conditioned role of the subordinate female.
So, in order to even think about tutoring men, we have to get one thing straight: are we deceiving ourselves by pandering to polarised gender roles, or should we take it a step further by redefining what we call socio-cultural 'gender norms'?
Stephen du Toit, London, UK
I believe that it is a reflection on the decline of heavy engineering and employment which relied on heavy muscular skills. The "new" jobs that women are doing they have always done but because of the cyclical nature of trade and manufacturing these roles are being perceived as increasing. I know this is a devil's advocate type of argument but maybe we need to have a major war so that men can be gainfully employed in engineering and manufacturing and reverse the perceived trend of poor downtrodden men. Bye now! I'm just going to get my flack jacket.
We men have to put up or shut up. We let things get out of hand by socialising at the local pub while women were reading and taking care of kids at home (this is especially true in Kenya). Always remember, there is nothing worse to waste than the brain.
Eve O'Donnel, London
Toby K., Erfurt, Germany
Men have always been primary wage earners
in families, and are still required to be such, that may
never change. Even after divorces, courts overwhelmingly
favor the women's side in who has to pay the other, even if
the woman makes more money than the man does.
And since the arrival of the golden age of feminism,
men have had fewer lifetime choices
compared to women, particularly the options
compared to married women.
Men socially can not choose to be "house husbands".
To do so would spur great ridicule, and probably
a rapid divorce from his wife. Now men are both essential for
some things, yet endlessly ridiculed and blamed for all that
ails society. We are only half way to what someday
will be "real" equality, when women give men credit where
credit is due, when women see men are equally valuable
in families, in society, in life, as the liberated modern women.
My wife has had second thoughts, so I will not be able to tell you how I feel about these issues. I must say that there is not longer a war between the sexes. Ow! Ouch! Please stop hitting me with that frying pan darling sweatheart wife!
Brian O'Higgins, Dublin, Ireland
Tom McGuinness's statements about women are generalisations that bear no truth in reality unless I am a superwoman. I do have an extremely good sense of direction, good with Maths and spatial visualization, whereas my husband does not. We are opposites in every way. Surely it is up to the individuals how they conduct their lives. It should not be a matter of power but one of partnership and give and take. Force of circumstances often dictates breaking traditional rules and we are everyone of us different.
Tharg Thargson is so right to point out that men start wars, if only women were permitted to be politicians perhaps we would find world peace.
The role of men as bread winner has changed in the industrial world; specifically in the West since feminism has paved the way for women to take the traditional role of men in our modern time. As long as men cannot afford to take their traditional role in society today, they can as well make some sacrifices in giving up the role they used play in the past. Though I am a male myself, I find it fair enough to accept the new role when I am no longer the bread winner of the house.
Jim Clarke, Dublin, Ireland
Leave it to the BBC to raise the issue. You folks are just a bunch of socialists/communists bent on social engineering to turn men into women and women into men.
When a man can destroy a woman's reputation by crying rape and hiding behind legally sanctioned anonymity. When a man can choose whether or not to keep the child growing inside of him. When a man can be taken seriously when he claims to have been attacked by his partner. When services and companies offer products for men only, with women explicitly excluded. When testicular cancer has the same public awareness as breast cancer. When a man can get away with acting strangely once a month, just because it is that time of the month. Then we can say the sexes are equal.
The UK has moved from promoting sexual equality to promotion sexual discrimination. Women now have government bodies dedicated to them, in a way that would be unacceptable were the same applied to men.
It leaves men, as natural, in the missionary position. On top.
Carolyn, Amsterdam, Netherlands
What it boils down to isn't to decide which roles should men have and which roles should women have. Rather it is a question of human beings' rights. The main idea of emancipation is not - as some people seem to think - that women should become what men are, or that men should become what women are. It's rather that your gender should not prevent you from doing what your abilities make you capable of doing. Contrary to what other people have claimed on this page, there are actually quite a number of female engineers, and they are good at it! Similarly there are a number of male nurses who are also good at their job! I think the main task we have is to stop viewing other people as representatives for their gender, and instead look at them like diverse human beings with their own qualities who deserve respect for what they are. That, of course, also means that gender discrimination such as unequal pay for the same job is intolerable!
All this talk of 'sharing' responsibilities... I for one just don't believe this to be the case for the majority of working mothers! Personally I admire any mother who manages to hold down a full-time or part-time job and dare all you men to try out - getting up during the night for the children, getting them ready for school or day care, taking them there, going to work, shopping, cooking, cleaning, helping with the homework, washing, ironing, getting the children ready for bed ... the list is endless... and of course, I shouldn't forget ... being a wife - I have to be there for my husband too. It's time ALL men (and not just a handful) realised just how much they take their mothers and wives for granted!
Men and women are trapped, indeed, in their "typical" outdated roles. Perhaps a committee of experts should clarify their new "typical" roles in the millennium ahead. It seems, however, that in the new model which replaces the (albeit unsatisfactory) old, the roles resemble more and more, those roles of the members of a committee of experts , i.e. push the barrow for their own disciplines.
John Jacob, New York, USA
Men's role today? In the kitchen of course!
In a recent US study, women still earn less money, respect and promotion than men. And then there's the housework.
If the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, why aren't ambitious men rushing to take up careers as nursery nurses - or just relishing their new-found opportunities to stay at home with their children?
My husband isn't trapped in his role. It's just that he's naturally better at cooking and cleaning than I am. He makes my packed lunches for work, makes me a cup of tea in the morning and dinner in the evening - a proper wife!
Something I believe most of you missed is the fact that the traditional nuclear family (the way we perceive it) did not actually exist until the Twentieth century. Before then, men took the role of raising their offspring quite seriously and were in fact one of the primary educators in a child's life. Children were viewed as little adults and as such, really did not have the childhood that kids have today. It was only after men went to work in factories, leaving rural life behind, that we see a shift to much less involvement in a child's life. The problem with the current view of equality between the genders is that it is too broad based. One should focus on the equality of each individual in society.
As an assertive, ambitious and intelligent woman, why should I be relegated to the kitchen? I want a nice house, car and a stimulating career just as much as any man. Although I can't deny that my husband would love to come home to a freshly cooked meal so would I. It must be great to be looked after. But then what would we talk about? The pros and cons of ironing boards?
The concept of gender roles is outdated and the sooner it disappears, the better. If men can't accept that a woman might just be better qualified for a traditionally 'male' role, then they should grow up.
Barry Hammond, Widnes, England
The roles per se are not out-dated. It is the way these roles are perceived which is out-dated! If a husband and wife (for example) wish to reverse their roles, with the man staying at home and raising the family while the wife is working, why should this not be so? Live and let live! We must all work together and forget the out-dated ideas of specific jobs for each sex.
The very question as to whether men's role is becoming outdated arrogantly assumes that an unnatural imbalance actually exists. I've more faith in Mother Nature than I do in modern day feminists. There are many things that men are better equipped for, and the same can be said for women. One thing's for sure, women's poor sense of direction and spatial visualization. I suspect that there used to be women hunters back in the Stone Age, but they all got lost and never found there way home. Natural selection at work, I suppose.
I would be impossible to attain some form of gender equality so long as parents still reinforce sexual and gender-specific stereotypes. We should educate parents on remaining neutral with reference to career or educational aspiration as children pick up on this and they would continue to perpetuate the vicious unequal cycle.
The most important role change men can make is to value their own lives as much as they value the lives of women and children. For example, every comprehensive scientific study on domestic violence finds equal rates of victimization among men and women. Nevertheless, men are afraid to speak out against the all too frequent abusive behaviour of their wives and girlfriends. Men need to think of themselves before their partners.
I think that men aren't the dominant beings in this world anymore. Now women should be given just as much rights as men and should not be discriminated against just because of their gender!!
Anne Pekie, Portland, (Oregon), US
I am for absolutely no sexism. However, sexism is actually ok, I have discovered. Take a recent book prize I went to watch, they had an award for the best book written by a woman. There was obviously no problem with that. But when I suggested to another person there be an award for a male writer, I was called sexist. Both are equally sexist as far as my dictionary definition goes. The sooner we weed out the sexism, even the "politically correct" sexism, the better it will be.
I think outdated is a word that has to be attached to the institution of marriage, which is responsible for thrusting unnatural roles on men. Society was matriarchal when it began and families began because of interdependence alone. Today, our basic needs are met elsewhere and traditional roles require conscious role-playing on both sides. Both men and women are trapped in outdated roles and the sad fact is that fatherhood is a role that cannot be done away with- for the sake of the child. As long as some men follow the beaten path of traditional roles, those who are sensitive to their own needs will feel like they are not real men.
Sue, Manchester, England
Men feel threatened by women controlling their own lives and breaking out of their 'traditional' roles because women are gaining power and influence. Speaking of the term 'traditional', traditional society is male-dominated and established, controlled and moulded by men. Only in the last 100 years have women been able to break out of the roles created for them by men. If the situation were reversed, women would be the ones advocating traditional roles because they would be at the defensive end of the power struggle.
The economic and social changes
happening all over the world, are
slowly creating a different family
culture, more focused toward
If a successful relationship with one's
spouse is to be achieved, we men
must learn to share some of
the responsibilities many of us
still consider "women stuff".
Because of rapidly changing economic circumstances the traditional roles of men and women have become blurred and interchangeable I believe this trend will continue and the role we play in life will not be gender based but "circumstance" based.
I don't think my man's ever had it so good! Wife out working bringing in extra bread, so he doesn't need to support, and he gets his meals cooked, shirts ironed, house cleaned etc into the bargain! I wonder if women have sprung their own trap - can we really "have it all"?
One thing that today's men should NOT be doing is trying to adhere to a stereotype (New Man, New Lad etc). We should be thinking for ourselves, sticking to our own principles and and achieving what is best for ourselves and our loved ones. Attempting to match an ideal, whether it be 'old style' masculinity, or the 'sensitive modern man' just leads to the sort of insecurities outlined above.
Where should a man be? No matter how much his wife earns, he should
be by her side helping out in the kitchen, in the garden and in the nursery. Instead of sitting like a lump at home waiting for the live-in caterer, he should be more involved with the day-to-day nitty-gritty of running a household and raising a family.
Morgan O'Conner, USA
I don't know where men are. We seem to be surplus to requirements now - and we're the ones that start wars. Perhaps the world would be a better place without us.
Men are the protectors and providers to both mate and offspring. It is demeaning of them to suggest otherwise. True, some men are unable to perform this role through certain inadequacies, but these are the exception not the norm.
Chris (ex-UK), Germany
Men's role? Why standing over the woman making sure she is working hard in the kitchen.
So what if women earn as much if not more than men.
What's the point of all this gender divide is ruling our lives. We are all human and we all make the same mistakes.
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