Men and choice
Since I have to rewrite my PP book completely (a difficult verdict to swallow from a publisher, but one I now recognise as correct), I’ve been doing some further interviews, or conversations as I prefer to think of them . My latest respondent described to me the remarkable case of her father, a senior engineer who chose to leave his job and be the main parent for his four girls, while his wife took up her career as a teacher. This was not for financial reasons – the father would have earned more, even though the mother ended up a headteacher- – but simply because the couple decided that for both of them that was their preference. It all seems to have worked out extremely well, satisfaction all round – the daughters included.
How many of us men would have the imagination and courage to make that choice? In a way, trading a senior professional job for total househusbandry is just too exceptional to get much of a purchase on most people’s option ranges. We need a wide range of examples of different timetabling, at different stages in life.
I’m increasingly intrigued by how far men actually make choices, especially on just how far up the ladder they want to go, and what the constraints are on them . Another of my respondents told me of a male friend, father of two young kids, who went down to a 4-day week. He works in a profession with a largely liberal peer group, who might be expected to have given this decision a fair wind. But his male friends reacted as if he had somehow decided to give up on his career. Remember, he had gone down just to 4 days.
This comes under what Christine Nightingale in her recent post on women and democracyrefers to as the need for men and women to model behaviour differently. Christine is referring to people at the top of organisations. It would be a huge step if more men at this level worked part-time – and not only for child-rearing reasons.
I think we need to understand far more about the implicit as well as explicit pressures which narrow men’s choices. I’m very well aware that may raise some hollow laughs, or more. But I think it’s true. and I’d really like to hear from anyone who might have a story to tell about that.