Barbara Ehrenreich's The Hearts of Men
Barbara Ehrenreich, in The Hearts Of Men, illustrates how gender roles have highly constricted men, not just women, and therefore have inhibited American society from developing its full potential. She deviates from conventional wisdom, which says that gender roles have been largely detrimental to only half the population, which is simultaneously confined to working in the domestic sphere and prevented from participating in the public realm. Her theory says that Americans subscribe to a "sexuo-economic system" which reduces men to "mere earning mechanisms" and forces women to "become parasitic wives" (6, 4). As she explains, members of both sexes adhere to a system which forces them to succumb to specific gender roles, which in turn prevent them from becoming their true selves. Thus, every American has a vested interest in restructuring the ways men and women interact.
The most striking element of Ehrenreich 's argument, however, lies in the her assertion that men have suffered more than women from their gender role. This provides a compelling incentive for the American patriarchal power structure to want an end to stifling gender roles. The power of her argument comes from the union that would occur, if men agreed a change must be made with women who have felt this way for centuries. Ehrenreich hopes that men and women "might meet as rebels-not against each other but against a social order that condemns so many of us to degrading or meaningless work in return for a glimpse of commodified pleasures" (182).
The most illuminating element of The Hearts of Men is the unique approach Ehrenreich takes in evaluating the effect gender roles have on men financially. She takes the fact that America is a country which evaluates the success of its citizens for their material and financial gain as a given, and focuses on how gender roles affect American men financially. Ehrenreich understands that Americans are most motivated by money and concludes that men have denied aspects of their personalities to compensate for their role as economic provider.
Ehrenreich demonstrates how men have suffered from being the family breadwinner. Men are less healthy than women, from both physical and mental standpoints, because they bare the majority of economic responsibility for their family. Despite the growing number of women who have joined the labor force in recent years, men are paid almost forty percent more, which makes their salary more valuable to a family than a woman's. A family must retain a man as their beast of burden because America places increasing emphasis on the value of its citizens through their material possessions. This makes many men feel that their role unduly taxes their resources. "Perhaps men will live longer (and more enjoyable lives) in America when women carry more of the...