Changing Roles for Women Lawyers—And the Men in Their Lives

The roles of women and men in our society and in our profession are changing, and we need to embrace the opportunities presented by those changes.  As women lawyers and law students, you have chosen a profession that will result in success and power, and this has the potential to interfere with the relationships that you have with men—many of whom may be threatened by these new roles for you.  It is important to think about these changes and to anticipate the future dynamics to give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome.  Here is some food for thought.

There is no real news in the fact that the roles of women have changed.  It has been going on for decades, and much has been written on the new roles for women as professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, managers, and power brokers.  Women entered the workforce in record numbers during this time, and there was bound to be plenty of change for them.

We also know that the roles of men have changed and that many of those changes are related to the changing roles of women.  Many men are more involved in caring for their children, in the details of home life and in supporting the work their spouses do outside the home.  Some men have enthusiastically embraced these new responsibilities and involvements and some have done it more reluctantly because it needed to be done.  It has not been easy for the men any more than it has been easy for the women, but very often financial and economic concerns have driven the result.  We now have many more stay-at-home fathers than ever before, and it is not unusual for a law firm to provide paternity leave as well as maternity leave.

This is common knowledge, but I recently read a new take on this familiar story that I think may interest you.

First the backstory.  You may have seen the April 26, 2011 front cover of Newsweek magazine and the accompanying inside story titled “The Beached White Male”.  The gist of the article is that unemployment during the current recession has many men feeling defeated, shamed and powerless as the roles of breadwinner have shifted and the male confidences are eroded.  It is a despairing article and paints a very dismal picture of the future for men in America.  The author predicted that we will not be getting back to the “way things were for men” any time soon.

The new take that interests me is provided by a response to that article written by Dan Mulhern, husband of former governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm.  The response appears in the May 9, 2011 issue of Newsweek, and is captioned “How to Be a Real Man.”  It is written as a letter to Mulhern and Granholm’s  13 year old son and is summarized as follows:  “The old rules don’t work–as I’ve learned being married to a powerful woman.  Here’s what I am telling our son about modern manhood.”  Mulhern goes on to describe the role reversal for him when his wife became governor—instead of him, as he had expected–and his insecurities about his strength and manly contributions to the family.  He describes extreme doubt followed by a realization of the great opportunities in becoming comfortable with himself as a caregiver, lead parent, and supporter.  He found a new and deeper meaning to treating his wife as an equal and in learning new skills for communicating, negotiating, showing emotion….and even sacrificing.  In summary, he found that it is “a great time to be a man”.

Think about this and then file it away for another time when you may want to share it with someone who is feeling uncomfortable in his new role.  It is positive and hopeful and inspiring, and it may just go a long way toward making the transitions to these new roles and perspectives less painful.

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