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No Man's Land is the result of over one hundred interviews the author (or her graduate student assistants) conducted with men in the New York metropolitan area. Gerson is interested in the changing roles of men as regards work and family. In order to discover how men's roles are changing, she analyzes the interviews and ultimately comes up with the following:
There are essentially three types of men in terms of their commitments to work and family: (1) Those that are oriented toward Breadwinning; (2) Those that are oriented toward Autonomy; (3) Those that are oriented toward Family Involvement.
Breadwinners are men that are the primary wage earner for their families. They express their concern and love for their family by working long hours to make enough money to support their family. The long hours usually mean that they don't really spend time with their family, but they consider this a way of showing their family how much they love them.
The Autonomous are men that are not interested in family. They may find fulfillment in their work or in things outside of work, but they are more interested in finding their own fulfillment than in creating or maintaining a family.
The Family Involved are men that have put their families before everything else. They may reduce the hours that they work or purposely avoid promotions so they can spend more time with their families. These men may not make as much as the Breadwinners, but they are more interested in spending quality time with their families.
Of course, Gerson does make the point that men can shift from one path to another (e.g. from Breadwinner to Autonomous or vice versa and so forth) or can kind of mix paths, but it is easiest to understand men from these perspectives.
And, though she never really comes right out and says it, the main reason for why men end up where they do is because of job opportunities (at least, that is the impression you get from reading the book). What is meant by this is that some men climb the corporate ladder quickly. If they had a family when they first started this climb, then they become Breadwinners. If they didn't, then they become autonomous. If they start climbing the corporate ladder but then get stuck, they may become Family Involved. And, a lot of men that are not successful in work and thus are fearful that they can't support a family turned toward Autonomy.
The book ends with the author making some vague comments on how the workplace (and the world for that matter) should change so men can more easily be Family Involved; I guess that is assumed to be the ideal.
As I said before, there is a lot of information in this book and it really is pretty easy to read. The problem is that the information isn't really presented in a format that makes patterns in men's lives distinguishable. Every time she offers an example to illustrate a point, it is followed by another example two lines later that contradicts the previous one. And, even though Gerson categorizes men into three categories, she also points out that you can move between these rather fluidly or you can combine categories - which makes the categories almost meaningless.
But the biggest problem with the book is that she attributes men ending up in these categories to men's success in the marketplace. Now, it may be a bit extreme to say that she is claiming that men's financial success is really the only factor; she talks about how some men have orientations towards being Breadwinners or being Autonomous from very young ages, but there is no discernible pattern in how these men end up - they are just as likely to go from having a Breadwinner orientation to becoming a Breadwinner as they are from having a Breadwinner orientation to becoming Autonomous. So, the impression you end up with is that your job is going to determine your orientation toward your family rather than your family or desires for a family determining your job.
Gerson does ultimately spill the beans about her bias: men should be Family Involved and workplaces should change to allow that to happen. I must admit that I don't disagree with her, but as an academic, is she supposed to have an opinion on things? I don't know, that's a question that is beyond my ability to answer.
Anyway, I would like to say that the book is insightful and informative, but the conclusions are just not very convincing. Some more quantitative studies have found evidence for her claims and some have contradicted her claims. Some very recent work shows that most men have a traditional attitude towards family - they are Breadwinners regardless of their financial situation.
I think Gerson makes a good argument for men having possibly conflicting roles and definitely having conflicting demands, but she never really makes clear what is driving all of this. Perhaps her data won't allow her to do that. If not, then even though the book is interesting you could argue that it hasn't really given us more information than we had before.
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