Suzanne Braun Levine, founding editor of Ms. Magazine, has a new Shebook titled Can Men Have It All? a journalistic narrative about the surprising future of fatherhood. Here Levine shares her wisdom and witty take on the subject while musing over emerging new family structures and the rise of e-readers.
What’s the story behind Can Men Have It All?
Having watched, reported and lived the family-life conflict myself, I began tracking the male version with interest when I saw more and more men in my neighborhood with babies in Snuglis in the middle of the day. I interviewed some of those men and wrote about the changes their families were undergoing in my first book Father Courage, back in 2000. Since then, the sight of men engaged in the daily lives of their children has become much more common, and those dads are describing and experiencing real intimacy with their children. So it seemed liked the moment to revisit the work-life conflict from the male perspective—and what it means for women and couples. With Can Men Have It All? I have taken another look at the loving, dedicated, and sometimes confused couples who are trying to make it work. I found that many of the obstacles to shared parenting are still there and need to change; I also found some real-life pointers from those I spoke to that might make things easier for others.
What motivated you personally to do the reporting for this piece?
Whenever you are identifying an emerging social trend, your audience—and your critics—expect you to “prove it.” So you need statistics and studies. I have had a wonderful time in my work finding intriguing new discoveries, especially in the area of brain science, that show how nature prepares us for whatever we encounter in life. But first and foremost, it is the voices of people who are in the midst of change that will enlighten us all.
When did you first decide you were a writer?
For all the years I was an editor and when I taught journalism at Columbia j-school, I argued that someone who loved words was either an editor or a writer, that the metabolism was different and the skills almost mutually exclusive. I’m eating my words now, but I think there is something else going on. To be a writer you have to believe you have something to say, and I, like many women of my generation, didn’t think my words were worth much until I got past my first adulthood into what I call my “fuck-you fifties.”
Do you have an imaginary reader you write for? Who is it?
For almost all my professional life I have been in conversation with women who are breaking free and yet wondering if they were crazy or the only one feeling that way. The women’s movement taught me that the most important thing we can do for each other at every age is to make clear that we not alone—that if one woman experiences a particular conflict or pain or makes a surprising discovery about herself, it is more than likely other women are feeling the same. We only need to tell the truth about our lives, and we are empowered to make change in our own lives and in the world. And no, we are not crazy.
What is your favorite word right now?
Twee. I love the sound of it. The definition is ”affectedly dainty or quaint.” I use it whenever I can to put down whimsy, which I hate.
Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now? When do you like to read on a device?
Over the past couple of years I have shifted over to a Kindle, first because I like long books and it is hard to hold a tome for very long and second because I travel on the subway a lot and it makes it easier to take my “book” with me. Thanks to my Kindle, I am sure I have read more in the past couple of years than before.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Another advantage of the Kindle is that as soon as a friend—or more precisely, one of the special friends I trust in these things—recommends a book, I type it right into the Kindle and order it. Recently, I have found this way and loved both books by Donna Tartt (The Secret History and The Goldfinch).The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, Life After Life by the always mesmerizing Kate Atkinson, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. And I have continued my lifelong pursuit of everything Alice Munro writes.
Do you have a thought that you’d like to end with?
“Every day is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
Check out Suzanne Braun Levine’s Shebook, Can Men Have It All?: What the “daddy track” means for women.