The New Dad -- In the House and on TV

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Peggy Drexler

If television reflects the state of the sexes, men are in trouble.

I've watched two episodes now of ABC's Cashmere Mafia and I see a gaggle of males who are insecure, dependent, jealous and damaged. I caught a few episodes of Big Shots, and I see stooges with money -- self involved twits who endlessly discuss their sorry lives over Scotch and cigars.

Just this week on the first episode of HBO's In Treatment, a patient tells her therapist about her boyfriend crying because their relationship wasn't going anywhere and he wants to start a family. "Haven't you heard," she said, "men are the new women."

In the Cashmere Mafia there is no doubt about the women: smart, tough, poised, stylish, on top and in command. But the men are hazy -- split among babies and disagreeable characters, not terrible as much weak.

Granted, this is a show written for women. But it at least raises a question about female experience and expectations.

Conversely, and interestingly, there is also a new woman on television. Pick a cop show, and the female partner is Dirty Harry -- only nicely accessorized. On Law and Order SVU, Olivia even beats up an occasional perp.

OK, I'm not talking heavyweight social commentary here. But collectively, these shows say something different is going on in the world of men. There is a new man out there.

But is he the man we're seeing on television? Partly yes. Mostly -- and thankfully -- no.

I'm all for the newly-expressive male. But there is a fine line between a man who is in touch with his feelings and one that clutches them to his chest in a weepy embrace. At what point does a man unburdening his emotions make you wonder: "Did Steve McQueen ever do this?"

Here is the good news. Studies show that men are, in fact, changing.

And one of the changes will have a lot to say about the next generation of kids: Families have moved to the center of their lives. Maybe it's working wives; maybe it's the distance they felt from their own fathers whose sole responsibility was to be sole provider; maybe it's another evolutionary click of the wheel away from the days when men went out in the morning to kill for food.

Whatever the combination of reasons, there is a new dad in the house.

According to Dr. Warren Farrell, the author of the book Father and Child Reunion, the desire of dads to be involved with their children "is to the twenty-first century what women's desire to be in the workplace was to the twentieth century."

A 2007 survey by the employment Web site found that 70 percent of fathers would consider being a stay-at-home parent if money were no object. Almost 50 percent of dads of school-aged children took paternity leave when their employer offered it.

Statistical evidence is supported by small moments. Men hug more, they help with homework, they listen more, they even leave early for soccer practice. Men have not become mothers; but they have come far from the distant, silent providers of the past.

So, get a pedicure if it makes you feel good. Have your back waxed if you want to. But by all means continue your evolution into a, breathing, loving, contributing member of the family.

I say welcome, new man. You have never been more important. And I know you're not the one I see on television.

Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and the author of Raising Boys Without Men.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  February 5, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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I teach undergrads and I was actually thinking about this yesterday -- how much differently my young students look at gender relations compared to people my own age, how much more "modern" the young guys today seem. We were talking about economic development and I had a male student make the argument that countries that continue to exclude half their population from the workforce (i.e. all the women) will never be as economically successful as those that don't. He went on to make a comparison with the civil rights movement in the US (and all the missed opportunities that America had through excluding African-Americans and other minorities). THen he argued that since intelligence is equally distributed among both sexes, you'd have to be an idiot to prefer to have medical professionals taken from a lower IQ sector who were male, rather than medical professionals who were female but smarter. It was actually a really interesting argument -- and I remember thinking, "Gee, I wonder how many guys my age would make an argument like this -- or would feel like they were being feminine or something if they did?" I, for one, am deeply optimistic about the future of gender relations in our country (at least today. Ask me again tomorrow.)I just thought it was interesting -- that someone would say it wasn't about gender roles, it was about economics. And that discrimination never makes economic sense. Which it probably doesn't. . .

Posted by: justlurking | February 5, 2008 7:39 AM

The clueless idiots I see in commercials who can't cook a meal without setting the house on fire are not representative of the men in my life -- certainly not my husband and not even my father (though he occasionally reverts to type). I don't want my son growing up with these stereotypes, which is one reason why we just don't watch a lot of TV in my house when the kids are awake. Learned helplessness is pretty pathetic.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 5, 2008 7:52 AM

"Gee, I wonder how many guys my age would make an argument like this -- or would feel like they were being feminine or something if they did?" I, for one, am deeply optimistic about the future of gender relations in our country"


Race relations is another story.

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 5, 2008 7:56 AM

Chitty, not sayin' you're wrong about race relations, but on a day when many of my fellow dems/independents are choosing either a woman or a black man to be the next presidential candidate, well, I'm sorry but I'm feeling like those old Virginia Slims ads -- We've come a long way, baby.

Obama '08

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 5, 2008 9:00 AM

"when men went out in the morning to kill for food."
Just an anthropologist's quibble here. Actually, at the hunter-gatherer stage of human existence, men were heavily involved in their family life. Hunting isn't exactly a 9-5 job - it leaves plenty of time for socialization, child care and family time in the evenings. Plus, the boys, and sometimes a few of the girls, generally went with their dads (or maternal uncles in matrilineal societies, or whatever) - how else were they going to learn to hunt?

Agriculture, too, allowed for plenty of family time, since the whole family was working to the best of their abilities. The separation of men from their families via jobs only happened around the Industrial Revolution. It's not a natural thing. It's not a human norm. It's a bizarre quirk of very recent history, and I think an unhealthy one.

Posted by: upyoursgoaway | February 5, 2008 9:01 AM

Guess what? T.v. sitcoms and dramas are pretend and not documentary. The women on t.v. don't exist either. I'm not the Tide mom in khakis and a white shirt with a bemused yet, exasperated look on my face when junior comes home from football practice, I'm not Roseanne and I'm not the working mom who apparently has no time but retains perfect hair and rock hard abs, I guess "crunching" numbers.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 5, 2008 9:13 AM

Wow, you just figured out that men on TV are portrayed as buffoons, crybabies or villains? You must not have watched any TV in the 1990s, when TV's "everyman" was Homer Simpson. I'm still waiting for an episode of Law & Order where the bad guy doesn't turn out to be a white guy in a suit.

Posted by: mucus99 | February 5, 2008 9:19 AM

On Law and Order, the women murderers are either deranged housewives or deranged ambitious businesswomen. The men are either deranged blue collar bigots or deranged white collar stockbrokers. Guess you have to be deranged...

Posted by: babsy1 | February 5, 2008 9:33 AM

Reading about how men are becoming equal parents is always a great way to start my day. Thanks for the lift!

It is time for men to shed their primary breadwinner dictum just like women shed their homemaker moniker when they entered the workplace decades ago. It's a guy's turn to have it all, and if we do this right, it will give both genders a shot at balance because we'll be sharing the work both at home and on the job. Hooray for change!

Posted by: violinline | February 5, 2008 9:33 AM

"On Law and Order, the women murderers are either deranged housewives or deranged ambitious businesswomen..."

Not always - the one I watched yesterday had Whoopi Goldberg as a deranged foster mother. She was gooood.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | February 5, 2008 9:37 AM

TV never represent the reality I know... As far as the "new" man goes I highly recommend ones who have lived independently for a significant amount of time. The ones I know have basic cooking, laundry and cleaning skills. It may not rise to Martha Stewart levels of perfection but at least they don't expect women to do everything.

Posted by: tntkate | February 5, 2008 10:51 AM

Television as described in this blog is why I don't watch mainstream network shows. I rarely watch any television and when I do, I watch the History Channel, Animal Planet, Food Network and the occasional Star Trek episode or old movie.

Posted by: cfrisbee | February 5, 2008 11:34 AM

"Wow, you just figured out that men on TV are portrayed as buffoons, crybabies or villains? You must not have watched any TV in the 1990s, when TV's "everyman" was Homer Simpson."

Posted by: mucus99 | February 5, 2008 09:19 AM

Roger that. And it didn't start in the 1990s, either. Television has a long history of portraying husbands as bumbling buffoons, going back at least as far as Jackie Gleason playing Ralph Kramden in "The Honeymooners" in the 1950s. William Bendix in "Life of Riley"? Carroll O'Connor playing Archie Bunker in "All in the Family"? Sherman Hemsley as George Jefferson in "The Jeffersons"? The writers purposely draw these characters as shallow and stupid, just as they portrayed female characters like "My Friend Irma" and "Lucy" and "Edith Bunker" as shallow and stupid.

Drawing back from popular culture to classical, every student knows that Horace's works reflect his life experiences, Dante's works reflect his, Dostoevsky's works reflect his, Doris Lessing's works reflect hers, and so on. There is no reason not to believe that the way male characters are shown on TV -- buffoons, crybabies, etc. -- reflects the often-twisted lives of the Hollywood writers who create these characters. Numerous right-wing authors (e.g., Michael Medved, Yale '69) have given us insight into the life styles of these writers, and it bears little resemblance to the lives of most Americans. Let's just say two things. One, R. Avigdor Miller was correct when he said that if you had an open sewer pipe emptying into your living room, you'd be better off than having a TV set there. Two, the writers have done Americans a terrific favor by going on strike. The strike has put a cork into the sewer pipe; let's hope it drags on for months and years.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | February 5, 2008 11:39 AM

While I sort of agree and my husband is not a buffoon that way... my dad is. So I'm prepared to accept it as an archetype. :)

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 5, 2008 11:41 AM

I guess I never cared how men or women were portrayed on TV...hey, I remember "Three's Company" and that wasn't anything like my life. TV was/is called entertainment and it have never reflected my life or concerns. I never expected it to either...What about the Brady Bunch? uh...nooooooo

Well, maybe tomorrow's Duke/UNC game does, but you all knew that...

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 5, 2008 11:41 AM

dotted, GO UNC!

I've just been lurking recently because of the apparent focus on parenting, but I had to say something about this point:

"I'm all for the newly-expressive male. But there is a fine line between a man who is in touch with his feelings and one that clutches them to his chest in a weepy embrace. At what point does a man unburdening his emotions make you wonder: "Did Steve McQueen ever do this?""

You can't have it both ways, sister. You're saying that guys can have feelings now, but not too many because then they'll be weak (the opposite of McQueen). You're equating a traditionally "feminine" quality with weaknesses. At the same time you're saying that women are stronger than ever. Huh?

So essentially it's good for the sexes to dabble in each other's qualities just as long as they stay firmly entrenched in well-defined gender roles.

It's surprising that you expect us to believe that you support this "evolution" when you say stuff like the above.

Posted by: Meesh | February 5, 2008 12:59 PM

hey hey hey Meesh...what you said...I'm going to be a dittohead on your total commentary...can't have it both ways, just like you can only bleed one color of blue.

We'll both be up late tomorrow evening, eh?

MN, where are you?

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 5, 2008 1:17 PM

Hee hee! Television is supposed to entertain, and sometimes it succeeds.

My DH has been at home with the kids for 16 years, and counting. I've been bringing home the only paycheck in the family for the same amount of time. The four of us could be the Cleaver family from "Leave it to Beaver", except for that role-reversal. It was all about finding what worked for us, and ignoring expectations until the rest of the society caught up.

It is a lot of fun watching the next generation figuring out their options and making their choices. They don't all end up in the same places, but they think, and they feel, and they try things out. They aren't afraid to change their minds and try something new when the first thing they try turns out to be a mistake. They understand themselves, and they want to understand and support their partners. They want to love and cherish and just have time with their children if they decide to have them, or they decide they won't have children because they judge themselves as not willing or able to provide that level of loving investment of their time in being good parents.

I hold a huge amount of affection and respect for the 20-something and 30-something men I know - and the women, too. But I can still laugh at the TV when one momentary particle of our human foibles is exagerated for effect.

Posted by: sue | February 5, 2008 2:21 PM

The snarky obvious point is that the majority of long term committed marriages (heterosexual) end in divorce- of COURSE there's problems with how the genders/sexes view eachother and form relationships.

It doesn't help that male bashing and degradation is very supported and encouraged in our modern society these days.

It doesn't help that hetero women often want a gentleman, casa nova, barbarian and therapist all rolled into one- and they want each one to come out due to their psychic connection to knowing what the woman wants at that particular moment in that particular way.

It doesn't help that people want a "relationship" more than they want "what works best for me."

I don't want dads to be mothers (remember that post awhile ago how dads don't want to be "Mr. Moms"?), I want parents to be supportive parents and for us to stop ALL the stereotypes.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | February 5, 2008 2:25 PM

boo hiss to the wapo servers. i couldn't even read this guest post until about an hour ago, and it wouldn't let me see the comments until a half hour ago.

i always find it fascinating that people who write books on this stuff are still so confused about it in their heads. as others rightfully pointed out above, this poster has NO IDEA what she wants from women or men.

i also think it's really interesting how many women are saying they "have to" vote for Clinton in the primaries but they "secretly hope" Obama wins so they can vote for him in the main election. Again, can't have it both ways!!! Feminism is supposed to consider it a triumph to vote for whomever you support REGARDLESS of gender, not mindlessly support one candidate because he/she has the "correct" set of genitalia.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 5, 2008 3:50 PM

MN, where are you?

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 5, 2008 01:17 PM

dotted!! I'm trying to clear my desk so there's no possibility of missing the game tomorrow, LOL. What you AND Meesh said. This column manages to be both insulting and irrelevant.

Posted by: mn.188 | February 5, 2008 5:39 PM

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