Editor’s Letter (November 2013): Will stay-at-home dads feel as marginalized as stay-at-home moms once did?

Editor’s Letter (November 2013): Will stay-at-home dads feel as marginalized as stay-at-home moms once did?

Editor's Letter: Sarah Fulford
Forty years ago, this magazine published provocative, trend-defining pieces about women entering the workforce. The stories depicted women in business suits—a novelty costume—looking tough, like the characters from the 1988 movie Working Girl. I have a blow-up of a 1970 Toronto Life cover in my office for kitsch value, showing a woman arm-wrestling a man with the headline “The feminists are getting stronger.” At the time, the presence of high-ranking women at the office was disruptive and destabilizing.

Overwhelmingly, the battle for equality fought by the women of my mother’s generation has been won (though women continue to be under-represented in the upper echelons
of power). In certain sectors, women have even surpassed men.

Today, more working-age women in this country have post-secondary educations than men. There are more women than men in Canadian medical and law schools. And, because education has a direct impact on income, the earning power of women in Canada has never been higher.

All of this is having a seismic impact on domestic life. A 2012 poll found that Canadian women are the primary breadwinners in more than a quarter of all hetero marriages. If men were once defined largely by their ability to provide, what does it mean to be a man now? And how can women be expected to perform all the stereotypical female tasks like cooking and cleaning when they’re busy supporting the family?

In this, our annual special issue on money in the city, Leah McLaren reports the intimate details of marriages in which women earn more than men, with a focus on families where the husband has quit working altogether to look after the kids and the home (“Moms on Top,” page 46). For now, stay-at-home dads are the minority, but they’re on the rise, and their numbers will continue to grow as women conquer the professional class. Interestingly, there are more stay-at-home dads in two-parent families in Canada than in the U.S. or the U.K. Just as we were pioneers with same-sex marriage, we seem to be on the vanguard of domestic role reversal.

McLaren’s own response to the trend is ambivalent: Will stay-at-home dads feel as lonely and marginalized as dependent stay-at-home moms did in the 1950s? Will their wives respect them if they don’t earn their keep?

These questions are being asked—and tested—all around the city. This month, at the Munk Debates, four smart female writers congregate at Roy Thomson Hall to hash out how the rise of women has changed social expectations of men. “Be it resolved men are obsolete” is the grabby topic they’ll debate, inspired by The End of Men, the book by Hanna Rosin, who will be participating in the showdown. Should be an entertaining evening.

If McLaren is to be believed, this is hardly the end of men, but nevertheless a moment of great transformation. Perhaps today’s young professionals, as they sort out who earns what and who does what at home, will put an end, once and for all, to prescribed cookie-cutter gender roles for both men and women. Skeptical? So were readers of this magazine back in the 1970s about the incursion of women into the office.