Helping Men by Helping Women?

In Sunday’s New York Times, Stephanie Coontz suggests that working men would benefit from policies that “put women first” because so many men face the kinds of challenges that working women have faced for decades: unstable part-time work, the high cost of child care, and stagnant wages at the low end of the economic ladder.  Coontz rightly points out that “gender-neutral” social policies so often assume a male perspective, but characterizing family-friendly policies as “putting women first” perpetuates the assumption that family responsibilities are primarily women’s.

What we need are social policies designed for the “universal caregiver” in Nancy Fraser’s term, a model of citizenship superior to both the “universal breadwinner” model, which assumes unfettered availability for employment and no caregiver responsibilities, and the “caregiver parity” model, which regards caregivers as, one might say, separate but equal to breadwinners, and deserving of support for that special care giving function. Instead of helping low-income male workers as a byproduct of supporting working women, shouldn’t we aim for policies that enable all adults to work and care for their children, parents, neighbors, and anyone else who needs it? (See Fraser, Nancy. “After the Family Wage: A Postindustrial Thought Experiment,” in Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition, Routledge. 1997, 41-66.)

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