Thursday this week was a big day for me. I was at a conference presenting papers, which isn’t extraordinary as such, but one of the papers I presented was on my research on men opting out. So now that I’ve spoken about it publicly I feel like it’s finally official! This research is really happening!
Before you get too excited let me start by saying that this research is really very much in the early stages. I’m still only starting out and in my presentation I presented preliminary, tentative impressions of the interviews I’ve conducted so far. But having said that, there are some things that can be discerned from these interviews that are really very interesting. And working on this presentation really reminded me how exciting and fascinating this research is.
The first main impression is that men’s opting out and in processes really don’t seem to differ that much from women’s. They basically go through the same stages from opting out to opting in. Like women they experience turmoil, fatigue and a lack of control; then they experience something that triggers them to take the step and actually opt out; and in their new lifestyles and/or alternative solutions for work that they opt in to, they gain a sense of authenticity and coherence, and a feeling of having more control over their lives.
And just like for women, a common denominator seems to be the hectic, high-pressure, all-consuming nature of corporate culture. Although their opting out and in experiences are anything but easy, I’m still secretly pleased to notice this because it supports the notion that there is something detrimentally wrong with the way we organize work as well as with the working cultures we create. Well, at least it is for many people and we really need to do something about this. We need to critically examine what it is we are doing to people in these working environments and what we can and should be doing instead.
And then there is the way we define successful careers. The career models that continue to be idealized by most organizations today are quite linear. You’re generally expected to progress up the proverbial career ladder in a timely fashion if you want to reach the top. Too much deviation from this path might define you as unambitious or not having what it takes. Now there is a lot of research on different career models that better correlate with how people today want to and actually do live their lives and manage their careers, but still, the linear career model continues to be the one most prevalent.
This linear career model is a remnant of the post-World War II career model that was developed by men for men. Typical to that era, these men generally had housewives at home to take care of the home front, and it has been argued that managerial jobs weren’t created for just one person, but for one and a half people. That is, for the man with the job, and also for his wife who did everything else for him. And considering professionals work longer hours than ever before, I guess its no wonder a lot of contemporary people seem to have trouble handling it all!
Because this career model was created by men for men, we call it a masculinist career model. However, as we all know, not all men are the same. They don’t all want the same thing and they don’t all want to work in the same way. Just as women are a diverse group, there are multiple masculinities, that is, different ways of being a man. So while these career models are created for men, in reality they’re created for a certain traditional way of being a man, which doesn’t really leave a lot of room for much diversity among men either.
But another thing I’ve found, is that there are a lot of assumptions about men; almost more, it seems, than about women. Or at least this is the impression I’m getting. When telling people that I’m interviewing men, I sometimes get comments about how men won’t open up and talk about their feelings, or how they don’t opt out, and if they do it’s for completely different reasons than it is for women. For example, many assume that relationships aren’t as important for men as for women, and sometimes I hear that if men do opt out it’s not about difficulties or turmoil but more about challenge and self-actualization. And even more interestingly, these comments often come from men.
Well, like I said before, I’m in the very early stages so I can’t make any generalizations, but so far I would say none of these stereotypical assumptions are proving true.
I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. In the meantime I’m always looking for more men to interview so if you are a man who has opted out and in, or know of a man who has opted out and in, and who would be willing to be interviewed, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!