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.
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.