Feminism Brings Benefits to All -- Men Included
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This article appeared originally in the San Jose Mercury News.
On Tuesday, for the first time in American history, a woman will take a seat behind the president of the United States as he delivers his State of the Union address. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will be elbow-to-elbow with Vice President Cheney during the speech, described her rise to speaker earlier this month as a great victory "for our daughters and granddaughters.''
It's a victory for our sons and grandsons as well. That's because when feminists succeed, men tend to benefit, too. Indeed, I've been one of those beneficiaries myself.
Born in the 1950s, I have my roots in the era of "Father Knows Best.'' In those pre-feminist days, men dominated in the political arena, ran virtually all of the businesses, and controlled -- at least legally -- much of went on in the home. Indeed, in some states, a husband had the right to strike his wife if she got out of line.
But as I came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I stepped into a fresh, feminist world. Women were marching for legal rights; they were competing with men in the education and work worlds. In 1972, my own mother entered the workforce (after raising four children) to begin what would become a 25-year professional career.
At that time, many of our national leaders warned that as women gained, men would lose. But the opposite actually occurred. As women's options grew, so did men's.
I noticed this first in college as I contemplated my future work life. Feminism freed me from the expectation that I would be the primary wage-earner in my family. Where I had once considered a career based largely on how much money I would earn, now I could ask myself: What do I really want to do?
Thus, my interest in going to law school vanished; my passion for writing took precedence. I entered a profession that I still enjoy today.
Feminism also benefited me in my relationships with women. The women I dated in college and afterward no longer looked at me as a "success object'' -- someone who would provide for them. They were strong and motivated enough to take care of themselves. They sought careers and adventure, and a man who would be an equal partner. Thus, I had the luxury of dating, and eventually marrying, a woman whose full potential was not curtailed by society's limitations.
After I married, my options continued to expand. With my wife sharing the responsibility of earning our family income, I had the opportunity to share in raising our son. In his earliest years, I stayed home with my son every morning before handing him over to my wife in the afternoons.
Later, when he started school, I was the one who met him as he came off the bus at the end of the school day. My wife treated me as a parental equal. Our relationships allowed me the flexibility to coach my son's baseball teams, attend his band performances and visit his classrooms to meet his friends and teachers.
My own father has lamented to me that he didn't have as close a relationship with his children as he would have liked. Whatever regrets I have in raising my son, a lack of time with him will not be one of them.
Indeed, I'll be sitting next to my now 13-year-old son on Tuesday when the president stands to deliver his State of the Union address. I'll point to Pelosi and remind him that this is a historic day. Her rise to third-in-line to the presidency, I'll tell him, is an indication not only that girls and women can achieve their dreams, but that boys and men can do the same.
Neil Chethik is writer-in-residence at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Ky. He also is the author of VoiceMale (Simon & Schuster). He wrote this article for the Mercury News. You can view his website at www.neilchethik.com.