Better Fathers: Courtesy of the Sexual Revolution

Most Americans believe that the right to plan when to become pregnant was the most important step toward women’s liberation. A Gallup poll revealed that more people cite birth control as having the "highest impact" on women than "opportunity for higher education," "access to jobs," political representation," or even the much-publicized "women’s movement." Certainly, once birth control became legal, and especially after the introduction of the instantly popular birth control pill, women’s lives were transformed. June Cleaver became Hillary Clinton. The change was almost instantaneous.

Harvard researchers recently looked into the relationship between family planning and women’s liberation and came to the same conclusion. The study, The Power of the Pill, shows that almost immediately after legalization of contraception there was a surge of women entering college and the professions. From 1970 to 2000, the number of women graduating college more than doubled. Women now represent 61 percent of undergraduates. In just two decades after the legalization of family planning the number of women in the workforce nearly doubled. Today, there are nearly equal numbers of women as men in the workforce. Women’s liberation was set in motion by the sexual revolution — the correlation has been amply documented.

What’s left out of all this good news is men. Little attention has been paid to the impact that women’s liberation has had on men. The unacknowledged truth is that men have been transformed too. Today, men have more freedom, flexibility and choices — in the most meaningful ways. A University of Michigan study found that children’s time with their fathers increased significantly only in families in which the mother worked out side the home. As researchers of the Families and Work Institute summed up, "There are many other indications that the workforce has become more family-friendly — especially the fact that American fathers are spending more time with their children than fathers did a generation ago."

This trait seems to be passed along in the DNA of the new workforce. Gen X fathers spend significantly more time with their children than baby-boomer fathers — a difference of more than one hour each day. And most men are aware of this difference: 84 percent report that they spend more time with their kids than their fathers did. As the researchers point out, "Obviously, this trend is affected by the increase in the number of employed mothers." Today, more husbands count on their wives to bring home a significant share of the family wealth; nearly one in four women now earns more than her husband. With this, men have options to leave a negative work environment, change careers, take more career risks, and be more involved with their children.

Today, as a result of not having to shoulder all the economic demands of the family, and by having smaller families, men have been allowed to become more involved fathers — better fathers — than ever before. And they seem to like being fathers. Eighty-five percent of dads say they get more joy out of fatherhood than their own fathers did.Photo by Tom A.Photo by Tom A.

Of course, you’d never know this if you listened to the so-called pro-family groups set on convincing us that they way we live is tearing the country apart, family by family.

No doubt, some men are angered — silently or otherwise — by women in the workplace. The competition is keener than ever. Yet in the past thirty years, men have been transforming. Today, the majority of men say they desire an equal marriage (77 percent). And they appear to mean it. Mothers spend thirty six minutes less on chores on workdays and an hour less on non-workdays, than they did 25 years ago. Dads spend thirty minutes more each day helping their wives raise their children than they did twenty-five years ago.

Fathers increased involvement starts at the very beginning of their children’s lives: 90 percent of dads are present in the delivery room (compared to 10% in 1970).

"Men are doing more changing, feeding and burping than they were 30 years ago," states James Levine, who heads the Manhattan-based Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute.

"At parent teacher meetings," says Levine, "you’re still going to see more women than men, but the number of men is increasing. We’re seeing this across all income, racial, ethnic and geographic groups. It’s a very broad based social phenomenon."

Dads today are more affectionate with their children: 60 percent hug their school age kids every day, and 79% tell their children they love them several times a week. "This is welcome news because it benefits the child," says Jaipaul L. Roopnarine, a professor of child studies at Syracuse University who has researched cross-cultural fathering for more than two decades. "Children whose fathers are involved with them show better education achievement, fewer problems in school, and they’re better off socially."

All this seems to have created a revolution in how men see themselves. Seventy percent of dads today feel they would be just as effective staying home and raising children as their wives. The Gallup organization found that one in four men would actually like to stay home and take care of the house and family. Spike TV, the TV network for men, surveyed 1,300 men and found that the number considering staying home is even higher; the poll found that 56 percent of men would consider becoming stay-at-home dads. As the Spike TV pollsters explain, "This is the first generation of men to feel the full effect of women entering the workforce. As women have become partners in the workplace, men are now adjusting to a more equal status at home." And record numbers of men are choosing to stay home too. Today statistics show that roughly 2.5 million dads nationwide stay home to be their children’s primary caretaker.

The unheralded result of women entering the workforce, thanks in large part to family planning, has been the rise of the real family man and the making of the more devoted father. It is to the point where the vast majority of men today, 72 percent, say they would sacrifice pay and job opportunities for more time with their families.

Spike TV found that most men would choose attending their kids’ sporting event over an important work obligation. The Spike TV pollsters explain, "There’s been a paradigm shift. Men want involvement with kids. Even with infants, they get up at night. It was NEVER like this before. They’re taking parenting seriously. New responsibilities with kids and in homes are enriching men’s lives. They’re excited by it and proud."

So much for the break up of the family caused by women’s emerging roles, the sexual revolution, and the birth control pill — family is more desired, and enjoyed, than ever before. With women sharing a larger stake in providing economically for the family, men have stepped up their investment in nurturing.

In a 1995 interview, feminist icon Gloria Steinem summarized the achievements of women’s liberation this way, "We’ve taken one giant step forward by convincing the majority of the country that women can do what men can do. But the next step is convincing the country that men can do what women can do. So far, we don’t believe it ourselves." Maybe it’s about time we start believing.

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  • invalid-0

    I think that men focused so much on the loss of male privilege they did not stop to see what they would gain with feminism. While they want to be able to assert themselves they don’t want the gray flannel suit lives of their fathers either. I think that it is a matter of balance. After they discover the benefits of true gender fluidity I predict men will finally see that feminism/womanism benefits everyone.

  • invalid-0

    In my house, we flip the traditional marriage on its head. I work, my husband stays home with our son. We both love it that way. When I tried to change it around (because of friends and family telling me he was a “bad husband” for not working), we both became so unhappy that we ended up in couple’s therapy. She said something I’ll never forget: “don’t come back unless you really want to change.”

    When we really looked at our relationship, we realized that we were trying to break something that works for us. He hates working – I hate child-rearing. [Note: I DO NOT HATE MY CHILD – he is the most precious part of my life.] I am glad that the majority of Americans are starting to realize that marriage roles exist to serve the couple, not the couple to serve the traditional marriage roles. It’s not “right” or “wrong”, but what makes your relationship happiest and healthiest that counts.

  • invalid-0

    i among many other men who are not in the traditional relation ship roles know that it dose work better and there is a lot to gain, but i find the women are the ones who feel empowerd and liberated and its wonderful and long over due, but unfortunately many men feel emasculated and are struggling with what it means to be a man in this day and age.

  • invalid-0

    Christina: just wanted to leave a note that I always enjoy reading you so much. It’s such a boon to have your perspectives out and about in the world.

  • harry834

    It’s gonna be fine. We adapt well when we exercise our spirits, and we men have a lot of spirit. Times change. Concepts of equality change. But we will do fine – and thrive – despite some initial feelings of awkwardness. We crawl first, then walk, then stride.

    Besides, the struggle of change is a good excuse for nap-time :)

  • invalid-0

    I think the father at the office and the mother at home with the children is, relative to the whole sweep of history, quite recent. In old agrarian cultures before public schooling there must have been a lot of give-and-take in the care of children. The kids probably went out with their dads to the fields and helped him with chores around the farm. The wife went out to the fields too and took the baby. Hus-band and hus-wif (housewife) were direct equivalents.

    But now the real challenge is divorce. The courts have made divorce like winning the lottery for the wife (I speak from the UK), so at the first hint of turbulence in the marriage the family immediately breaks up.

    The study of delinquency by Hathaway and Monachesi in the sixties showed that single-parent fathers actually did much better in terms of preventing the children from becoming criminal than single-parent mothers. So why not give custody of children to the fathers in at least 50% of cases? The divorce rate would shoot down because neither parent would be sure of the outcome.

  • invalid-0

    I do agree that the current disproportionate rate of full/primary custody awards to the mother is probably the result of some extent of unfairness in the system, and we should try to have a more equal distribution in all cases where the father is a fit parent. (Some of them may be abusers, but surely not 80+ percent)

    However, trying to lower the divorce rate by making sure people stay in a bad marriage because they’re afraid of losing their children doesn’t make any sense. Wouldn’t it be better to lower the rate by encouraging people to think harder about their choices so they don’t end up on the cusp of divorce with kids first place? What you seem to be suggesting sounds like a recipe for misery for everyone involved, kids included.

  • invalid-0

    No, every marriage goes through a rough patch after about six years and I suggest a renewable six-year marriage contract that makes fair provision for the children at the end.

    The likelihood of abuse of the children is at its lowest when the father is present.

    According to a recent UK government questionaire the rate of domestic violence is exactly equal for both men and women. In lesbian unions it seems actually to be higher. Abuse isn’t a particularly male thing.

    Life-long marriages are characteristic of civilisations at their high point: it takes thousands of years to work up to it. It creates an environment for children in which fine delicate qualities can develop. But it means hard work to get over the six-year hump – for the marriage to get its second wind. And you have to remember (I did not – that was my mistake) that you are marrying not just one person, but their whole hinterland of relatives – in particular the mother-in-law.

  • invalid-0

    I find this article to be ingenous and bizarre at best.
    Clearly the blogger is talking about a very select few upper income studies.
    As a matter of fact, the reality is far different. Take for example the fact that in the inner city, 80 per cent of the children do not even have fathers and some do not even know who he is.
    28 per cent of all children in the United States do not live with a male parent in their lives much less someone they can call “Dad.” And the real reason fathers are spending more time with their children is because they must do so out of necessity. In order to make ends meet, a woman must work in order for the family to survive. And, with a divorce rate at betwween 48 to 52 per cent–depending on which “study” you advocate, let us not forget the number of single Mothers out there trying to survive raising a family alone. Add to this the dramatic increase in gasoline which is causing an alarming financial impact on so many middle and lower class families– Is this blogger writing from the planet Earth?
    One can also add the number of single households that is getting very close to 20 per cent of the total population, along with larger and larger doses of latchkey kids and millions and millions of older women in the United States that have no significant other.
    I have no idea what this blogger means when she says:
    “when to become pregnant had the highest impact on “women’s liberation.” What she really means is “when to abort a fetus.” To my knowledge, there was never a law passed that did not allow a women to take contraceptive measures. It would be accurate however to say that “when the Food and Drug Administration agreed to allow contraceptive devices to be sold to the general public ” had a dramatic impact on a woman’s ability to reasses her situation and her actions.
    Nor has anyone defined “women’s liberation” in this article. If we mean “liberation” as having the ability to abort a fetus at will, then I would agree that this is very “liberating.” If we mean that women’s lives are so much the better because they are now “liberated,” then I am not so sure. And, I doubt that there is any way to statistically verify this. My own personal experience indicates that there are many very frustrated and tired women in the workplace–as there are men.
    All the studies that I have seen indicates a serious dissatisfaction on the part of both men and women working longer hours and receiving less time with their children and feeling more financial pressure as goods continue to escalate without the commensurate increase in wages.
    Ultimately it goes to show that there are so many studies out there by “experts” and as we can see here, they are in many cases seriously contradictory.
    In conclusion, this blogger’s statement: “Better Fathers courtesy of the Sexual Revolution,” is definitely off and
    certainly scientifically invalid.

  • invalid-0

    Interesting debates here. From my experience, more time with father is a wonderful benefit for kids. And, many grown men, often ‘fathering-starved’ need more contact with their dads.