With the rate of unemployment reaching record highs across the U.S. in the last few years, many men are at home while the women in their lives are at work. If you look at the statistics in Black communities, the statistics get worse-much worse. The rate of unemployment among Black men has been at a high of 16% which roughly means that one in every seven men is unemployed.
Yesterday, I spent the day with my small family as well as one of my husband’s brothers who happened to be off from work at that time of the day, while his wife was at work. I watched with much admiration as he cared for his almost 3 year old daughter with so much love and affection. He was feeding, changing pull up diapers and giving out an unlimited number of hugs and kisses. I’ve also had the experience of watching my own husband in a similar role.
What is particularly interesting about watching both men is that nothing about their interactions with their children seems bothersome to me or them. That being said, I have been aware of a growing mumbling and grumbling, mostly among men, about how society and media is on a huge campaign to “feminize” men.
Of course, this is a very complex issue. A lot of us grew up during the time when we generally understood that women were the nurturers and care takers of children and the family while the men were…not. Some saw men who were providers and protectors while others just didn’t see much of their fathers at all. Those that lived in homes with absent fathers, generally experienced living with women who played both roles; providing and also being care takers.
It is interesting to note that a lot of conversations about what a lot of men say they find undesirable about Black women-“strong Black Women”, is actually what might be women exhibiting traits that we would primarily associate with being a man. So, it could be said that women, primarily because of their circumstances, are becoming more like men.
Personally, I do not want to be “like a man”, nor do I think that I am, but I am aware that a lot of women who have “strong” personalities, do tend to rub people the wrong way and I am no exception (*chuckling to myself). Also, I have no desire for my husband to be “like a woman”. A lot of people are still more comfortable with the softer image of a woman who is content with just being a wife and mother, rather than a powerful businesswoman. In the same token, some are more comfortable with a “manly man”.
It seems to me that if women have adapted in order to function in the workplace, because in the last 50 years, the number of working women has exploded, men would also adapt to participating more actively in the various household functions that were previously reserved for women. Think about it: If a woman is “helping” her husband to provide, it stands to reason that he would help her “nurture”. It would then also follow that, with more and more men being unemployed and their wives being employed, the women would then “provide” more and the men “nurture” more.
The rumblings that I hear about the “feminization” of men, to me, seem a little narrow minded. If men are being “feminized”, it would only be because women have somehow, been forced into some sort of masculine function. To perceive the workplace as a masculine function and the home as a feminine function is a perfect example of the narrow mindset that I am referring to. A more logical approach would be to look at both the home and the workplace as opportunities to create the lives and circumstances that we all desire for ourselves and our children.
For some people, it may still be possible to restrict the men to the workplace and the women to the home because that is what they desire. Unfortunately for some, that is not an option. Many women, especially Black women, are single parents and many men, especially Black men are experiencing long periods of time where they are unable to find work that will allow them to provide for their families. Even among those that have the option, many women do not want to stay home and instead prefer to work.
The so called “bad economy” has unarguably affected many men and women and sadly, when Americans are negatively “affected”, many Black people are devastated. What many of us may not have expected though, is that the “bad economy” would open the door to important dialogue about who we are as men and women and how we assign value and worth to each other.
I don’t believe that a man taking care of his children makes him a woman any more than a woman working makes her a man. I believe that one positive step that we can all take, as a community, is to start having conversations about what our desired outcomes are and then work together to create our best lives.
I’m not suggesting that we, as women, stop embracing our femininity and beauty as a gender. That is, after all, what makes us attractive to men. Also, I am not suggesting that men have to stop being men in their own unique way. What I am saying is let’s stop being so rigid that we end up focusing on the wrong things and resisting changes that could ultimately lead to happier, healthier and more functional lives.