A longtime gender equality activist and masculinity studies scholar argues that women are not the only victims of patriarchy.
Kaufman has written or edited numerous books on gender equality, including The Guy’s Guide to Feminism, co-authored with Michael Kimmel. Without denying the obvious privilege that men enjoy in a sexist world—e.g., as a man, Kaufman admits, he doesn’t have to worry that his boss will automatically assume he can’t go on a work trip because of family demands—Kaufman insists that ideals of masculinity present men with a script no one can follow and that “men pay a terrible price for the very ways we define manhood and construct men’s lives within societies where we have more power.” Therefore, men should take feminism and gender equity seriously: “It turns out that gender equality will mean that our lives as men will be changed for the better, too.” In particular, they should embrace caregiving for children, which would be positive for women, who, in a world where everyone was both an involved parent and a good worker, might not be viewed first as mothers by their bosses. Certainly, it would be good for children, who do better if they have involved fathers. Here, Kaufman takes pains to note that these benefits do not mean fathers are “necessarily unique or indispensable,” so that his arguments can’t be plucked up by those who would denounce single or lesbian mothers. Furthermore, writes the author, engaged fathers say they feel happier and more mature, complete, and secure than less-engaged fathers. More speculatively, Kaufman proposes that, because caregiving fosters empathy, it’s possible that men would become less violent. Achieving a co-parenting utopia is, of course, not just a matter of men deciding to read more bedtime stories to their children. Policy changes are crucial, and the author offers a few suggestions, including the introduction of flexible parental leave with “non-transferable daddy days.”
A rousing vision, though it’s hard to see where childless people fit into Kaufman’s otherwise inclusive and timely arguments.