Tuesday, March 16, 2010

EFM: Emasculating For Men?

On Sunday, I said I had taken a respite from posting due to college basketball, but that is only half true. The whole story is that I was occupied Friday with a Free Study Inside (FSI) course for Employment-Frenzied Mates (EFMs) about finding jobs (or careers, for the lucky) at posts.

I gathered lots of interesting data and advice during the daylong course (in fact, somehow I was in class longer than Natalie even though she is learning Spanish as a requirement and her only job right now. Also, this was flag day for the 151st A-100, and one of our friends, and EF'M reader, got assigned to Belize; we will be visiting.)

One piece of datum the presenters shared was that are 9,743 EFMs as of November 2009. Of this group, 7,901 (81%) are women compared to only 1,842 (19%) men. Within the class I was attending, of the 23 in attendance, 16 were women (69%) and there were 7 (31%) men*. The asterisk is there because there actually were only six men there, but one of the women was the FSO, and she was there gathering information for her husband.

Also, during the event, one of the men I met took the nontraditional step of adopting his wife's last name and dropping his. And as recent as yesterday, while researching on how readers were finding EF'M, I found that someone Googled "what is it like being the wife of a fso," and that brought them here.

Now, I'm not too proud to be a "stay-at-home" husband (it does help that I'm actually a work-from-home husband) and never really considered my masculinity to be at risk. Yet I should admit occasional feelings of discomfort on the topic.

It is not that I mind taking a financial backseat to my industrious, ambitious wife while putting my career on hold. Far from it. Part of the reason for my signing off on this whole deal stemmed from the fact that I was not getting any satisfaction from my career.

Rather, I can sense judgment in others - friends, family, and even the foreign service community. What is wrong with this guy? How can he watch idly from the sidelines? And from the foreign service, why doesn't he take the tests, too, and become a tandem?

Maybe this paranoia stems from cracks in my self confidence. Maybe I'm more proud than I once thought. Or maybe I subscribe to 1950s stereotypes more than I knew.

At least within my circle of friends, family, etc., it still is fine for the man of the house to be the sole (or dominant) breadwinner while the woman stays home and tends to the household duties. But when you challenge this norm by reversing these gender roles, there is some awkwardness.

Now it is up to me, and my fellow male EFMs to make peace with that judgment until the rest of the country catches up. For me, that is why having some source of independent income is so important. Not only does it let me maintain an identity separate from the foreign service, but it is part of my claim to my manhood. I'm bringing home some of the bacon, too, even though I'm also cooking it.

So if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the grocery store now, and I'm fine with that.


  1. It feels lousy for anybody to have no purpose, it is not a specifically a male issue. EFM and MOH both are facing the problem of being forced to take 'jobs' rather than following a chosen career. I suppose it is the nature of the FS and we are choosing the life. But it sure would be nice if partners could have fulfilling, gainful employment without becoming tandem.

  2. Thanks for posting. We're facing these same hurdles too, and simply knowing that there are others out there in the same situation helps.

  3. I appreciate seeing more men as the EFMs.... I think it gives your and your spouse a much better perspective.

    And honestly, if my husband could cook anything besides mac & cheese or scrambled eggs... I'd have him do it all. But alas... he's no Wolfgang Puck.

  4. Wonderful post, David, and I'm jealous of you guys getting to meet up with other folks up there at The Mothership!

    There are many trailing husbands out there... and I don't know that going tandem is *always* the answer, although supposedly it should be. I've heard whispers that even tandems aren't always kept together, and for couples (especially with young children at the time!) how is THAT supposed to work?

    It's a tough topic...

  5. Dear David,
    I think the key to transforming state department culture about families lies in people like you who are vocal about what you need as an EFM to have a fulfilling life. I think there is a v-e-r-y slow realization happening that FSOs and FSSs don't pick aimless dullards as their life partners, and while the stay-at-home parent model is perfect for some families, it is totally wrong for others (like mine, since we have no kids).

    I think the legacy of the old style will take many more years to wear off. After all, there are still many people around from the days when women had to quit when they got married.

    Becoming tandem isn't a perfect solution at all, and there's a very real likelihood that at best you will have a few months of separation for initial training, but at any time something like a fifth of tandem couples are posted apart. The State Department needs to accommodate spouses who DON'T want to be diplomats or diplomat-lite assistants (hard as it is to imagine not wanting to be one of us!), and although that's complicated and difficult to do given the basic structure of the diplomat's career, it is absolutely key to retaining good diplomats that also want to be good partners and not divorcees.


  6. We are dealing with this right now too - of course, like everyone I guess. We are currently having the Tandem debate (I just made the consular register) and I keep having this feeling that, if I ever want to have a true career, that I should probably go for it. But, with two small kids and my heart really in my old line of work (which should be highly portable for the FS life) I keep realizing that I may end up never actually joining an A-100 class. Only recently have I realized that that's okay. I am firmly planted right now in "I don't know" and trying to be comfortable with that. However, something tells me I actually DO know and just have to keep plugging away at finding where my heart leaves me. Thanks for the great thoughtful post.

  7. Great post and many LOL moments, thank you. I just posted about being unemployed (as of Friday). It's a new seat for me too and one that will take a while to adjust to. We'll be in DC in just over a week. Keep up the great posts!

    P.S.- I linked you to my site, hope that's ok?

  8. Thank you so much for posting this. My husband will also be the EFM (we're on the register now) and we've had to talk so much about exactly this issue. HE feels fine with being the at home partner and parent -- he's done it in the US and is frankly far, far better at it than I am, despite my XX Chromosomes - and is looking into ways to volunteer or work while we're at post. But the amount of crap he's had to take from others (mostly, at this stage, family and friends who are freaked out about "Oh no! What will [Spouse] do abroad!") is unreal. Combine that with the 80/20 split of women and men as EFMs and some less-than-savory experiences he's had with the stay at home mama contingent here in the states and the easy-breezy "all girls together!" stuff he's mainly read about EFM life (AAFSW, I'm looking right at you all!), and his composure is cracking a bit too.

  9. Also, it really surprises me that going tandem is often touted as the wise option given how few candidates actually make it through the various rounds of tests and then the clearance process. Isn't the success rate at like two or three percent? Unless spouses are given some preference I don't know about (I hope!), I don't think any couple can count on the tandem thing being a sure bet, or even a good bet. Am I wrong?

  10. Great post! In my case it would be okay if I just choose to stay at home, spend the days shopping, and exploring the country we are in; but like you, I would also like some sense of fulfillment, something I can be proud of that's mine, or at least something to keep my brain cells going.

  11. Great post. We've been dealing with the potential problem of trailing spousal-ness for a while.


  12. Eh, manhood has little to do with how you make $. Purpose as defined by standard career ambitions may work for most, but certainly not all.

    Soon to be the trailing spouse husband of an FSO myself... her startup coincides nicely with the end of my 'second career.' Some family and folks look askance, but honestly, what they think doesn't matter. If you're happy and your wife's happy, that's all that matters.

    I get about half 'what are you going TO DO?' and about half 'man, lucky early retirement for you, huh?'

  13. Hi David, I've quoted from this great post and linked back to your blog here: http://www.ilw.com/articles/2010,0331-schwartz.shtm
    Thanks and be well, Liam Schwartz

  14. Hey David - here another EFM from the 151st A100 class! Would love to hear & learn more about life in Hermosillo... tried to subscribe to your blog, but couldn't (?). Will try by email... Anyway, here is the link to the Miranda Family blog, currently posted in Recife, Brazil... Let's keep in touch!

  15. Thank you for this post! Increasing numbers of male EFMs will challenge people's expectations and stereotypes. My (EFM) husband and I look forward to that, and in the meantime, we are happy about the opportunity for him to explore independent work abroad of his choosing...