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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

DRAWN OFF TOPIC

Linden MacIntyre on whether women need men Add to ...

Linden MacIntyre is co-host of the CBC’s the fifth estate and winner of nine Gemini Awards for broadcast journalism. His second novel, The Bishop’s Man , won the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize. He will be reading from his new novel, Why Men Lie, at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on April 28, Memorial Park Library in Calgary on May 7, Greenwoods’ Bookshoppe in Edmonton on May 8, and Vancouver’s Central Library on May 9.

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Recent studies have shown that the income gap between men and women has dramatically narrowed. In 40 per cent of American households, wives outearn their husbands. Do women need men any more?

Not as much as they used to, clearly. I think men are becoming accessories and/or options. I think kids need men. Kids benefit more from two-pronged parenting. In that regard, women benefit from the presence of a man in the household.

The importance of men to women changes over time. In early life, women like to think of men as necessary for having a family. It’s always better to have two incomes in a house. At middle age, the game changes significantly. Women find they don’t need men as much. They need companionship, they need intimacy, but women have a capacity of finding it with each other. Intimate connection is not as easily achieved in the male world.

Men at middle age go through an identity crisis. Men define their masculinity in much more primitive and traditional terms. We don’t seem to be well-equipped for objective evaluation of what we are good for, or good at. To some extent, men are looking to women to find how useful or valuable they are.

A couple of generations ago, the woman was traditionally at home, the man out in the world, bringing home the bacon. He returned as breadwinner, father, head of the household. That has changed. Where does that leave men?

It alters the importance of the man in a woman’s life. In the same way a woman is not more physically vulnerable now because she doesn’t have a man barring the door, a woman is not economically vulnerable any more just because she doesn’t have a man bringing in a big fat paycheque. Maybe she can bring in a bigger, fatter paycheque. There is a choice in terms of who your emotional intimate is going to be. There is a strong urge on the part of women to find that with a man, but it is an optional thing.

Many men are still uncomfortable with the woman in their life outearning them. Is that something they should get used to or is man as breadwinner too ingrained in our DNA?

Men are getting over it. The guy is comfortably falling into a role of greater domesticity. Men are becoming increasingly willing to subjugate their own career options to the possibility that the woman will be more successful and bring home more material comfort.

There was a time, 30 or 40 years ago, when the concept of being a “kept man” was odious. Nowadays, just go and hang around school; it’s the guys dropping the kids off because Mom has gone to work. This is something we have now become accustomed to and part of the sense that a woman is a more independent human being than she ever was.

Women have a remarkable humanity about them that has been restrained too much by history and technology and biology. The more it is cut loose and achieves its full expression, we’re all better off.

We’ve been speaking from a North American perspective, where money is how you keep score, where success is defined by income. In other cultures, success is defined by family and quality of life. Do women need men less when success is defined in those terms?

In those cases, just because of the structures of society, women definitely need men. In parts of the world where women can’t drive a car, can’t be seen in public without a man who is related to her. It is unfortunate.

Men rule such societies, and a man rules his home. Here, when he no longer does financially, is his self-esteem lowered or eradicated?

It depends on the man. A lot of domestic friction may relate to this residual tendency of the man to feel his worth diminished as her worth is enhanced, which is a sad way of looking at things. It’s one of the growing pains in a complete change in the relationship between men and women.

Are you the breadwinner in your home?

I am just one of them.

I presume that, in your father’s day, he’d have been the breadwinner.

My father never went to school. He could read, write, talk, speak two languages, but he never went to school. Not for a minute. Therefore, his access to income was limited. He didn’t have that piece of paper that got him mobility in the work force.

My mother went to school and became a teacher. When pickings got slim, my mother just went back to work. Mom had to work. My father was a good man, a hard worker; he just sometimes had trouble getting to the next job.

That model informed me, so my traditional bias was straightened out maybe ahead of the curve.

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