I discussed the “He-cession” and Reihan Salam’s controversial article The Death of Macho (Foreign Policy, 7/2/09) on KGO AM 810 in San Francisco Thursday. An interview with Salam which was used as a set-up for my interview talked a lot about “Macho Men” (even playing the Village People’s “Macho Man” in the background.)
Salam spoke of the male blue-collar workers displaced by the recession as if they’re privileged males who finally (and deservedly) have been knocked down a peg or two by the economic crisis. In his article, Salam wrote:
[In recent years male-dominated governments] acted to artificially prop up macho.
One such example is the housing bubble…in the United States, the booming construction sector generated relatively high-paying jobs for the relatively less-skilled men who made up 97.5 percent of its workforce–$814 a week on average.
By contrast, female-dominated jobs in healthcare support pay $510 a week, while retail jobs pay about $690 weekly. The housing bubble created nearly 3 million more jobs in residential construction than would have existed otherwise…
These handsome construction wages allowed men to maintain an economic edge over women…subsidizing macho had all kinds of benefits, and to puncture the housing bubble would have been political suicide.
I told KGO that blue-collar breadwinner males aren’t “macho men” or privileged, powerful men, but instead men who are sacrificing by doing hard labor so they can better provide for their wives and children. Salam implies that the men were being artificially subsidized and that they weren’t deserving of the better wages they earned compared to “female-dominated jobs in healthcare [and] retail.” I explained:
Construction workers earn more because their work is dangerous–I’ve been a construction worker, and I know. If you want someone to do hard, dangerous labor, you need to pay them more to do it, regardless of gender or any other factor.
KGO’s Rosie Allen asked me about men being willing to “accept” not being breadwinners. I replied:
Men being valued as breadwinners isn’t some conspiracy men dreamed up to keep themselves in power. Ask the average guy working long hours to provide for his family if he feels “privileged” and I doubt he’ll answer “yes.”
Gender roles have been converging and this economic crisis is speeding up the process. I’m not a particular proponent of the male breadwinner model, but if we’re going to convert from that model to the dual earner / dual caregiver of children model, it will require some changes from women, too.
We always talk about how men have to change, but women will have to change what they value in men. I’ve been a successful professional and I’ve been a stay-at-home dad, and there’s one thing I can tell you without a doubt—men who aren’t capable of earning a living aren’t respected, either by men or by women.
When I was asked about inequalities and discrimination harming women, I replied:
If we’re going to talk about inequality and gender, let’s start with what is by far the greatest gender inequality in our society—the way mothers are favored over fathers in child custody. Millions of men were good fathers and thought they were good husbands, but as soon as their wives decided they didn’t want them around anymore, their role in their children’s lives was drastically reduced if not terminated.
I don’t see it as a discrimination issue in particular, since I see it above all as a children’s issue—children’s right to have their relationships with both parents protected after a divorce or separation. But if you want to talk about gender inequality / discrimination, the line starts with child custody.