#WeKnowYouCare: On The Basis of Sex, masculinity, and caregiving

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You cannot value something you cannot see

Which is why we’re so excited about the campaign we’re running inspired by the feature film, On the Basis of Sex. In short: because #WeKnowYouCare.

It’s been more than a year since the #MeToo movement went into full swing, and we’ve seen women come together in solidarity across industries, continue to hit the streets in protest, and run for office and WIN. But what about the men?

We know there’s more than “a few good men” out there. Men who are caring and strong, and demonstrate it day-in and day-out as caregivers. In fact, there are 16 million of you caring for an adult loved one, doing the essential, skilled and difficult work that helps keep our families together (yup 40 percent of all family caregivers are men!).

But the work we all do as caregivers often remains invisible and undervalued. And for those of us who are men, it can be especially isolating and difficult to manage. Traditional ideas of what it means to “be a man” and what men are “supposed to do” can get in the way of doing the skilled and challenging work of caregiving well. Men work hard, but often silently, to care for their loved ones.

Studies have found that caregiving men are more isolated, reluctant to ask for help, uncomfortable discussing the emotional challenges of caregiving, and unprepared to take on new caregiving responsibilities than women.

#WeKnowYouCare aims to change that. We will be using this hashtag to shine a light on and celebrate the work caregiving men do to step in at life’s most critical moments while challenging all of us to reflect on our care relationships and experiences and ask: how could it be easier? How can we feel more supported and connected – and what is standing in the way?

 

About the campaign

#WeKnowYouCare is inspired by the true story of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg bringing a groundbreaking caregiving case on behalf of a man named Charles Moritz before the Supreme Court early in her career. Moritz was an unmarried man caring for his mother. But because a law providing for a caregiver benefit assumed that only women could be caregivers, he was denied the benefit and unable to hire a caregiver that would have allowed him to keep his job.

Charles Moritz was not alone then, and 16 million of you show he would definitely not be alone now. As part of the campaign, we’re sharing three of these millions of stories through short and poignant videos. They take an intimate look at the challenges of caregiving, and highlight what many men experience as they work hard to support their loved ones.

So, we hope that you’ll join us to:

  • Watch and share the stories of amazing, dedicated caregivers like Charles, Ivan, Scott, and Jeffery (see below) with as many people (especially men!) as possible. And if you are involved in caring, make sure to share your own!
  • Reflect on your caregiving experiences and relationships, and how gender norms may have impacted them.
  • Sign onto the #WeKnowYouCare statement of values. This shows support for changing the gendered conceptions of care in our society and culture.
  • Spark and participate in conversations offline and online, using the hashtag #WeKnowYouCare (stay tuned for Tweetchats later this month!)
  • Join the larger Caring Across Generations community in our Facebook Group to advocate for better public and workplace policies supporting caregivers.

2019 is going to be an exciting year, so you’ll want to get involved.

 

Setting new precedent around masculinity

Caregiving requires physical, emotional, and mental strength — and when you’re in it for a longer haul, incredible stamina. In our families, men are increasingly taking on caregiving duties — cooking and cleaning, managing medications and appointments, and providing dedicated emotional support to their spouses, parents and children. More than half of male caregivers — 63 percent in fact — are the primary caregiver for their loved one.

As we start to call out harmful forms of masculinity, it’s important to define what non-toxic masculinity looks like. It’s time to flip the script and dismantle the gender norms, stereotypes, and behaviors that define masculine strength as coming at the expense of women. And as Marty Ginsburg’s character notes in the film, On the Basis of Sex, these norms and stereotypes harm and hold men back, too.

The good news is we don’t need to start from scratch! Men are already showing up and stepping up as caregivers. With #WeKnowYouCare, we want to call this men in, and draw the circle even wider, while also pushing the limits for future generations.

As part of #WeKnowYouCare, men are speaking out about the challenges they’ve faced as caregivers, inviting others to join them, and showing us an alternative vision of masculinity that is about how we can all be in this together. They are breaking their isolation and becoming more effective caregivers. Ultimately, they are showing us how caregiving takes an ensemble of people — all of us really — so that everyone has the freedom and strength to be there for the people they love at life’s most critical moments.

 

Setting new precedent around how we care for our families

We want to be able to be there for our loved ones, no matter what. And it will take everyone to build a society that enables all of us to live well and age with dignity.

But leaders in our government and workplaces have fallen behind with policies to support our families’ caregiving needs — in large part because our policies still reflect a time when cultural expectations dictated that there was one extreme breadwinner (a man) working outside of the home, and one extreme caregiver (a woman) inside the home.

Associating caregiving with the work of women has contributed to the overall invisibility and devaluation of caregiving and caregivers, and a patchwork of confusing, unaffordable, and inadequate supports. Millions of family caregivers across-the-board are now routinely choosing between caring for loved ones or keeping their jobs.

Meanwhile, the in-home caregivers we rely on for assistance — disproportionately women and women of color — make on average just $13,000 a year. It’s no wonder we’re facing a dire shortage of workers for the nation’s fastest growing workforce. Care is so devalued that the professional women caring for our families are unable to care for their own. (And we need more men, too!)

Here’s where we’re actually at today: more women are working, and more households rely on dual incomes just to stay above water. As we redefine masculinity and our collective capacity to care, we must also come up with new collective solutions to transform our caregiving programs and finally value this essential work, once and for all. We must shift caregiving from being an individual burden into a collective responsibility that lifts us up all.

The timing could not be more urgent: with the baby boomer generation retiring and millennials becoming parents, we need more care than ever before. By 2025, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and seven out of ten of us will need at least some form of assistance with daily activities, like cooking or bathing.

This should be a blessing. Living longer means more time that we get to spend together, across generations. Whether it’s expecting a baby, caring for an aging family member, or supporting a loved one with a disability, the ability to take time off or hire assistance can make all the difference – for men and women.

#WeKnowYouCare is a way to expand the conversation about caregiving and help get us all on the path to spending more time together with our loved ones. But we also need to push for changes in the way our support systems work, so they better reflect this vision and lower the barriers that keep us all from living well and aging with dignity. You can check out more about that here on our Policy Agenda page.

 

Videos

We’ve created three videos in which caregiving men give us an intimate look at their caregiving journeys over multiple decades. They illustrate multiple facets of caregiving, and highlight what many men experience as they work hard to support their loved ones.

This is Ivan Lambert.

Ivan, a semi-retired pharmacist in Las Vegas, Nevada, reflects on his 20-year journey caring for his wife Marsha as her multiple sclerosis progressed. Ivan’s care trajectory has pushed him to accept a reversal of the traditional roles and responsibilities in their marriage, and to seek and embrace the support of a community of caregivers who helped him work through the deep sense of anger that he felt during the early years of her diagnosis.

This is Jeffrey Kearney.

Due to his mother’s chronic illnesses, Jeff Kearney grew up in a house full of caregiving men. While Jeff’s father has stoically and silently cared for his wife throughout their marriage, Jeff looked after his brother and became a long-distance caregiver for his mother. As Jeff shares, their family’s care story has been shaped by the culture in the South, where men in nursing and caregiving roles are still seen as the exception to the norm, and by the all-too-common story of a lack of access to the care they so deeply need.

This is Scott Miller.

“I thought I would die from the strain and the stress.” Scott Miller gives us a candid and intimate look into his path as a caregiver for his wife Adele who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s 13 years ago. Scott shares how his traditional upbringing as a man shaped his greatest challenge as a caregiver — his inability to reach out for help and accept much-needed financial and emotional support from his children when things became really difficult.

Get the inside info on how the #CaringMajority is changing the future of care, every month.

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