The interdisciplinary EU research project Work Changes Gender researched the implications of changing working conditions, the self-image of men, as well as gender relations in Norway, Spain, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Israel.
The research project began with an investigation of the far-reaching changes in gender relations that have occurred in the labor market over the past decades. Only a minority of men who are fit for gainful employment actually work in the so-called “standard employment relationship”: full-time, non-temporary and with social insurance. This is clearly demonstrated by the various developments that have occurred in the EU since 1988. The rate of unemployed women has sunken from a high level, while the rate of unemployed men has risen from a clearly lower level. Men now work more frequently in temporary positions. Although the tendency is toward more temporary employment for both men and women, the number of men in temporary positions is nearing that of women. The number of men working part-time in the EU has doubled since 1988, climbing from 3.1 to 6.1 million, while the number of women working part-time—which is already very high—is growing only slightly.
The purpose of this investigation was to identify the men’s strategies that both aimed at dealing with these changes and were oriented toward quality of life and equality. Apart from analyzing economic data and engaging in discussions with experts, researchers in participant countries conducted a total of 140 semi-structured interviews with men. The majority of the interviewees were men who voluntarily deviated from a normal work schedule and were working part-time.
In organizations, it is not only women but also men not working a standard full-time schedule who are confronted with a glass ceiling when seeking higher positions and careers.
In the institutions of our society, it goes without saying that men are assigned professions and careers. The higher value attributed to a “normal work life” in contrast to other forms of work continues to make it difficult to combine part-time employment or employment interruptions with career opportunities. In Germany, men who voluntary deviate from the full-time norm are frequently viewed and treated in their organizations as oddballs and dropouts. This point has clearly been demonstrated through expert-led discussions with equal rights representatives and employees.
In the interviews, many men emphasized that their employment deviation has hindered their careers. A German employee who chose part-time work explained it this way: “The moment you decide to go part-time, you’re dead career-wise. It would be naïve to think or believe otherwise, to think that you still had a chance.” These losses in potential standing, power and income are most often consciously accepted.
The situation is different in Norway, where, for instance, the one month of parental leave, “reserved” for men is used 90% of the time. With the second and third child, men take more time off to devote to child raising. A lower assessment of the value of work and higher one of family is experienced here as a source of satisfaction. The predominant wish of fathers to be breadwinners and to raise their children can be supported by governments, is realized more and more by men, and is becoming a new model for fathers
Men strive for forms of life that break with clichéd rolls.
Among the men interviewed, there were a host of different motives for reducing their workload: partnership, realizing caring duties or wishes, social commitment, or simply the “demand for a full life”. The quality of life acquired in this way is consciously offset against a professional career.
A change in men’s values is more clearly seen in the private sphere than in the professional world. In the European Union, a differentiation in the form of long-term relationships is taking place. The forms of life of the men interviewed were correspondingly diverse, ranging from single parents, singles, married couples, long-term relationships as well as communal living to homosexual and heterosexual “living-apart-together-pairs.” These forms of life lead to different distributions of work in these communities and also to new forms of emotional reproduction.
Men in caring situations also encounter difficulties in the private sphere.
One result of our interviews with men in caring situations is that the often new and manifold requirements and changes initially cause feelings of insecurity. Active fathers at the playground—“alone among mothers”—are viewed as oddballs, exceptions, etc. From their corresponding reactions, they feel insecure and “out of place” in their self-perception as men. Over the course of time, this is dealt with through reflection and a change in social contacts and networks.
In Germany and Austria, men are subjected to a deep-seated traditional familial model combined with a gender-dualist division of labor. In these two countries, men have to fight against ideological stereotypes. In Bulgaria however, the men are very pragmatic about taking up caring duties in a society where women demonstrate a very pronounced orientation to professional work. This is not perceived as a threat to their masculinity concept.
This different form of men’s behavior is, however, not to be conceived of as a new concept of masculinity. It’s more the case that it remains, to a great extent, isolated. It is often not connected with a demand for equality either. Most of the men we interviewed do not define the position of men in society in a new way. Although they affirm and realize some elements of “new masculinity”, many are also representative, to some extent, of traditional masculinity concepts. Distinct new patterns of interpretation are not being integrated into a comprehensive understanding of a different, new masculinity. For men, this is not possible given current social circumstances. In many European countries, non-conventional individual self-perceptions held by men are not yet granted recognition. Thus many men fall back on or persist in identifying with old role models that are, to a large extent, disconnected from the social reality around them. Nevertheless, contentment outside of the “normal work life” is possible if these forms of work and life are chosen by the individual.
Men too require a policy of ensuring equality that is intended for them.
Although the new strategy of Gender Mainstreaming in its conceptual form applies equality to men and women, it is very difficult, even with this concept, for many actors engaged in equality processes to see men not only as “hinderers” or “supporters” of women-oriented equality policies, but also as a target group that is to be included and recognized as having its own requirements and interest in achieving equality. The men interviewed do not foresee equality policies as something that can potentially have an effect on them. Often they do not feel that they are addressed and that their interests will be heeded in the framework of equality policy. Thus they fall back on individual strategies.
Like women, men may require support, for instance in their search for part-time or family-friendly solutions, business contacts, and collective interest representation. Equality policy thus offers a suitable framework, is able to put traditional masculinities into question, and directs attention to the diversity of living situations and forms of masculinity.