Do Men Need to ‘Lean In’ Too?

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Rest assured the debate and cultural ripple effects from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In are still alive and kicking — and now men have leapt into the discussion, as evidenced by NY Mag‘s “Can Men Worry About ‘Having It All’ Too?” and Esquire’s, “Why Men Still Can’t Have It All Maybe.”

Not to discredit the interpretation and analysis of each response, but there is something funny when a book promoting equality for women in the workforce turns into a discussion by twenty-something Williamsburg dudes over what schools their future children will attend.

Don’t get me wrong, important topics promote important discussion. Kurt Soller’s NY Mag piece brings up a legitimate concern: namely that men should be as vested and informed about their non-work lives as women are. But somehow his overall premise — that he, and most men, are painfully untrained (emotionally and logistically) for this sort of involvement — strikes me as dubious. Yes, I get it, men have long established themselves as chief bread winners and by virtue of this awesome responsibly have historically been cut out of the baking or slicing of said bread. But I’d argue that if you look at men and women these days, there is greater gender parity when it comes to the bigger picture of non-work responsibilities, be it negotiating the care of aging parents, folding a sweater properly, or sniffing out a ripe avocado.

Meanwhile, the concern that young men have no domestic-life leaders to look up to is misinformed. Have you been to the constantly-expanding family-oriented parts of Brooklyn lately? They’re a veritable Smurf County of stay at home/work from home dads, armed to the teeth with organic purees and eager as anyone to chat about…ANYTHING.

Granted, not everyone lives in a New York bubble. But the fact remains that seeking a mentor or role model that you want to emulate requires some work, regardless of whether you’re male or female. If men are truly willing to look for a male role model who doesn’t spend 65 hours a week at the office, he can find one — but he may need to do a little work first.

Which brings me to my key point. It is up to guys (of all ages) to promote a culture of deeper dialogue and sharing among men. If guys don’t practice talking to each other about real shit in their teens, they are destined to talk about “Simpsons” episodes and NFL draft picks forever. This doesn’t mean we need to revamp “chilling” to include naked-bongo-cry-circles, but it does mean that we need to open up the spectrum of what we as bros bro-out about. Yes, the Ravens without Lewis will be a challenge, but also yes, a little yoga could potentially help relieve your anxiety, and yes, I feel a distancing between us since January. Is this something you’ve noticed too?

Finally: to the army of twenty-something male go-getters, relax. Finding a career driven twenty-something with a thriving home life (kids, etc.) is like spotting a unicorn rollerblading. It doesn’t really exist. It takes time to cultivate a balance — to evolve toward a gradual understanding that a job promotion, at the cost of family time, is a net-net life demotion. Which is to say growing up and living a meaningful life is about negotiating the need to Lean In while respecting the value of Leaning Out. If we can wind up in a somewhat straight line, well, we can consider it a victory.