The Psychology of Men's Health

By Christina Lee; R. Glynn Owens | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 7
Men and work

In western capitalist societies, men are defined by 'what they do' - their paid occupation in the public sphere - rather than by who they are. A central tenet of hegemonic masculinity is the assumption that a 'real' man will have a full-time, permanent job - probably involving making something - which supports his family financially (Price et al. 1998). He will see his career as the most important aspect of his life, and will always be prepared to sacrifice family activities for work and for career advancement. As Coltrane (1989: 488) expressed it, the 'essential nature of men is taken to be that of provider' both by men themselves and by society more generally. Men who are unemployed or underemployed, who live in rolereversed or in same-sex relationships, or who otherwise do not conform to the stereotype of the man providing for wife and children, are stigmatized (for example Grbich 1992). This social stereotype has failed to keep up with the changed realities of work and family life, and many men are likely to experience stress and stress-related illness as a result of having to deal with conflict between social expectations and the reality of their personal and family lives.

Radical feminists have argued that capitalism and patriarchy are inimical to the best interests of women: that the dominant cultural discourses of patriarchal societies position men and women as essentially different, and that social institutions - including law, government, employment and childcare systems - militate against women's freedom to make optimal life choices (Riger 1992). These arguments can be extended to the position of men. Those men whose choices or life circumstances mean that they do not participate in the benefits of patriarchy are stigmatized, while those who do conform to social expectations are also unable to make genuinely unconstrained choices about their lives. This chapter explores issues surrounding work, both formal paid work and unpaid domestic labour, for men. It demonstrates that men's lives and choices are influenced by social

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