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We Need Men

Vivia Chen

October 29, 2010

411YoumKP+L._SS500_ Joan Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, has long worked in the work/life balance trenches. She's written a new book, Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter.

Recently, I talked to her about what makes her book on this well-trodden subject different.

You talk about reframing the work/balance issue to include men. Is the idea of enlisting men really new?
I'm not talking about enlisting them, but opening the discussion about the pressures on men.

What kind of pressure do men face? 
In law and other professions, it's expected that you make work the centerpiece. The presumption is that men will put work above all other demands, which means they need stay-at-home wives or women who work part-time. . . . The old-fashioned idea of being the sole support of a family is pretty daunting. The exquisite privilege of working 60-70 hours a week is not something that men treasure.

But are men really complaining about the all-or-nothing workplace? How do you know they care about this issue?  
Men come up to me to talk about it all the time

But aren't those men a self-selected bunch?
There's a groundswell of men who are interested in the issue. And a growing number of younger men who are insistent on more work/life balance, who want more involvement in their children's lives.

So what can men add to the discussion?
The focus had been on women. But you can't [succeed] unless there's change for both men and women. Flextime and part-time are stigmatized until we open the conversation about what we expect of men.

Speaking of expectations, you make an interesting point in your book that white- collar men prove their masculinity by working long hours at the office, rather than getting dirty and sweaty like their blue-collar brothers. So is asking men to slow down and share the housework threatening the male ego?
Newsweek recently had an article that was a response to "The End of Men" [an article about the rise of women in the workplace] in The Atlantic. [Newsweek] used the term "re-imagining masculinity," which I wouldn't use. Our idea of a successful man is not someone who's wearing a Snugly. So long as we define success as constant devotion to work, change will be difficult.

Do you ever get pushback from lawyers about your ideas to change the workplace?
The more traditional ones will sometimes say, "This is la-la land." But the younger ones have a different view; there's already a generation war in the law firms.

How long do you think it'll take the workplace to change into a more balanced environment?
We are in the early stages of the conversation about pressures on men. It took five to six years to change the conversation about women. People use to say that [professional] women were cheerfully opting out; now we know that they were pushed out.

Readers--especially men: Is work/life balance a major issue for you? Would you ever consider going part-time? Do you think you'll pay a price if you do?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


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To answer the first question, the answer is no, work/life balance isn't a major issue. As a guy, I just want to spend as many hours in the office doing tedious work as possible, and then, hopefully, die before I get to enjoy any of it. After all, why have fun when I could be reviewing documents and arguing with people!

If I were to pursue something I enjoy, there is an almost certain chance that I will pay a price in the form of less sex, since women prefer guys who make more money. The hope would be that I would land in something both lucrative and enjoyable, or get a job where there is ready-access to a large pool of woman (such as a restaurant or club) or reinvent myself as a thug. Otherwise, emphasizing life over work would be like cutting off my testicles, for many of the reasons Steve mentioned in his comment.

I agree that this issue needs to factor into the discussion somehow, but we also need men to WANT a better work/life balance. Far too many of them still find their worth in their jobs.

The funny thing is its not just really ego. Its Money, Fashion and for the desire to have materials. Most woman say thay want a sensative guy who will help and be home and do all of thoes things but nobody wants to sacrafice anything, you got to have two brand new cars, an overpaid home five TV, and all of all that other stuff. Thoes changes wont happen because every one wants the two hundred dollar glasses and all the exspensive stuff but then why are so many families screwed up. Because parents dont know what there kids are doing and kids dont know anything about there parents. Its our new Society, Enjoy.

About time someone focused on this. I've often thought that the reason professional women drop out of the working world when they had kids is because the COULD without social approbation, and that men CAN'T (though now it's changing a bit). My husband, an overworked, underpaid architect, could use some work life balance more than most!

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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