Feminists have taught us that the personal is political. This is so true when looking at the distribution of unpaid labor in the home. Men's resistance to doing domestic work is a reflection not just of a single man's gender identity or sense of masculine entitlement - rather it can be directly connected to a national, even global, gender order, in which some men have power over other men and all women. We have to take this fight out of our individual homes, and out into the public sphere, into the political sphere, where we must challenge the very premise of hegemonic masculinity, and create a theory and language of genderism (as opposed to just feminism) that can be used to deconstruct the gender order and the ideals of masculinity that ultimately hurt us all.
When discussing gender inequality, we have focused primarily on the situation of women. No doubt, since it is women who have fought to improve our status relative to men in our societies, we have started with fighting to create political, economic, social and personal space for our full and legitimate participation in society. We have created a feminist/womanist language so that we can identify and talk about those aspects of society that lead to our subordinate status. But recently, feminist scholars have started talking about what Arlie Hochschild called the "Stalled Revoluation" - women (and ideals of femininity) have changed, but men (and ideals of masculinity) have not changed as quickly, if at all. But is this simply a problem of "obstinate men," protecting their egos and power, and doing bad things to women?
It is here we must distinguish between the individual trouble and the social issue. Yes, there are "bad" men (and women), and yes, some men have a great deal of power over women (and other men - esp. for Western Societies, see Robert Connell's discussion of the Gender Order: Some men, over other men, over women). But all men and women are born into a society that is already structured and each of us is put into a sex category that we must then learn to appropriately meet the expectations of, and survive in.
In the United States, and other western societies (I can't speak for other societies, but some of this may be true as well), male infants do not shoot out of their mother's womb shouting, YES! I WILL NOW GO OUT AND OPPRESS WOMEN! Rather, these infants are immediately held to a standard of masculinity, one that is taken for granted and rationalized with various biological explanations. In the US we tell them they must be strong, dominant, unemotional (except anger, which is okay), independent, competitive. And most important, we tell them they must NOT be a woman, a girl, a pussy, a wus, a fag (homophobia is an important tool in the policing of masculinity; we conflate two very separate issues - sexuality and gender - so that we may better control gender), WORSE THAN A GIRL. And most boys resist, at first. When I coached 7 - 14 year old boys in basketball, the young ones would be angry if I didn't attend to their hurts (but the older ones were stoic, strong), if I got too competitive or demanded they be tough when they just wanted to have fun. Yes, they resisted, but only for a while, as the sanctions for resistance became too great and too frequent. We make these boys who grow up to be men who do not share in the feminized domestic sphere.
Oh, it is not enough to say, well, these boys and men need to know that words are not so important. Because we are not just talking words. We are talking about negative sanctions ranging from teasing, to bullying, to loosing jobs, loosing raises to being killed. For boys, masculinity can feel like "do or die."
In American society, housework is gendered. A man who takes responsibility for housework is not appropriately "doing gender" - expressing socially expected masculinity. His friends will not understand. His family may not understand. And his employer will most certainly not understand, especially since "real men" are supposed to be "serious" about their work, which means work must be their main focus. This latter point is the same expectation women face, yes, but for men, on whom many families continue to depend for the majority of their income, a very big deal.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being an apologists for male dominance, I am not suggesting that we just say ahhh, poor men, and leave it at that. Rather, I want us to understand the difference between the larger social issue - a hegemonic gender order that resists all challenges, including women crossing gender boundaries only to find new boundaries erected to further define them as different, and thus subordinate to, men - and the individual - husbands, partners, sons, who may say they "love" and "respect" the women in their lives, yet allow those women to work the "double shift" of job and home while our health, social standing, and emotional well-being suffer. These individual men do not have a language to talk about masculinity - in fact, if a man talks critically about gender it becomes proof that he "can't take it" and that he is not really a man. These individual men do not have social supports for challenging the way things are - even men who believe in the ideals of equality, who want to spend more time with their children and partners, who do not want to continue to be dependent on women as emotional conduits - and the risks they face are real.
As women, we certainly understand risk, and sanctions, and even the possibility of being socially ostracized, unemployed, or murdered, simply for being women. So it might be hard to shift our view, and take the perspective of men; we might be impatient that they are not willing to give up all that women have already given in our fight of equality. For crying out loud, we might say, all we want is for him to do the dishes! But fighting this battle at the individual level will not work. WE must look at the social structures, and cultures that give meaning to those structures, and help push for a rethinking of masculinity. And this will prove tougher than our fight regarding femininity - because the competitive male hierarchy is the hub of the gender order - and, perhaps more frightening, hegemonic masculinity defines not only what we expect of men, but is also the core of our national identity (in the U.S. the country is described in masculine terms and in politics, players insult one another by associating them with femininity).
The personal is political, the local is global. And while many of us women (and men sympathizers who have already taken the risks of challenging gender) are tired of having to fight, who want men to take some responsibility, we will probably be the ones who must keep the battle going as we are most always going to lose if things continue as they are.
We are also the mothers of sons, and thus, we have the most immediate access to the men of the future. It is past time to ignore claims that we are contaminating our sons with our "femininity" (HA!); we must teach them the language of critique. We must teach them how masculinity works (there is great deal of recent scholarship on this issue now) and we must give them viable alternatives. And we must teach our daughters the same language - if my female students are any indication, young women today are no more aware of the workings of masculinity than men are.
So, yes, again, it is up to us to change the world. Is anyone really surprised?