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Welcome revolution that is easing a man's burden

Billionaire Warren Buffett talked on the radio last week about his two sisters.

One was older than him, the other younger. Their intelligence equalled his but while he was expected to fulfil his potential, the main aspiration for them was that they made a good marriage.

He said it was a system that limited them. As I listened, it struck me that it was also a system that pressurised him.

Mr Buffett was well suited to it. He went on to make a fortune so large that he remains super-rich after giving half of it to charitable causes. But how many men down the ages have felt the hand of financial failure on their shoulder and deemed themselves worthless because of it? How many worked themselves into an early grave, driven by the tyranny of the bills: spurred ever onward by the need to keep a roof over their family?

In Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman, we pity Willy Loman, who buries his own failure in ambition for his son. He kills himself to release life insurance for the young man. But having only wanted his father's love, the son spurns it.

The play is a perennial success because we know Loman. He's in us, or we know someone like him. We recognise men who measure their self-worth by the numbers on their salary cheque. We understand the shame of those who feel their ability to earn falls short of their family's needs or expectations.

Other people will greet the news that women now comprise half or more of the workforce with hand-wringing and dismay. There will be talk of women displacing men.

I think they are releasing men.

The GMB union announced the new gender balance at work as the death of the male breadwinner. Some men will feel usurped but surely this sharing of the burden offers an escape to men who feel like wage slaves?

Doesn't this offer men a flexibility their predecessors could only dream about? Where women were once trapped in the home, weren't men equally trapped in work?

I hope the fact that women workers outnumber men in some regions of the UK will allow their partners to lay down some of their load – not threaten their masculinity. It will allow men as well as women to expand their boundaries.

Instead of trundling along dutifully in the job they had when their first baby arrived, they'll have a chance to discover a diversity of talents.

In the one-third of couples where women out-earn men it makes sense for the father to be the one who stays at home. Where incomes are roughly equal, couples may take turn about.

So during their working lifetime one or other partner can expect a year or so when they'll be able to juggle child care with part time work or a course of study.

It's not the end of men – it's just the end of an outmoded way of thinking about men. We held on to the stereotype of the male provider long after ditching the fiction of the home-baking housewife.

We still ask; "What does he do?" when a woman finds a mate. The answer once indicated the lifestyle she could expect. What does it matter now the woman earns her own keep?

Women are lucky to be able to time the arrival of children just when work requires the skill at which they excel: communication. They are beating men to the job. But it needn't leave their partners with (as one man put it) a disposable nappy in one hand and his severed penis in the other.

Just as women don't have to be ball-breakers to take their place in the professional world, men don't have to be emasculated to enjoy running the home.

The world now recognises that women have a broad spectrum of skills. They can handle American foreign policy, run the World Bank and, like Aung San Suu Kyi, front up a political protest movement without becoming men manqué.

Similarly, men's physical dominance doesn't preclude them from being good home makers. They have been brainwashed into thinking that the home is a woman's domain. For too long they have been relegated to the shed.

Television has shown us that men enjoy creative cooking and it's now commonplace to see young fathers pushing a pram.

What we are witnessing is the advent of an equal and intelligent division of labour for perhaps the first time in history.

In fact it might be women who have cause to regret that the pendulum has swung so far. In my childhood women were trapped in the kitchen. When my children were small, mothers had choice. We could work or stay at home.

Now two salaries are essential to buy a family home. The inexorable rise of career women has been driven as much by financial necessity as by personal ambition. Despite some feminist rhetoric, it wasn't intended to be a take-over bid.

But handled well it will bring welcome changes. As the GMB points out, equal pay for women is no longer just an issue of fairness. It directly impacts on the economic prosperity of many areas.

I hope women's influence will also bring an increase in flexi-time, job sharing and the ability to work from home.

And with the financial load shared, fewer men need feel like failures if they are made redundant. Fewer will equate self-esteem with their job title and their salary. It matters because there is a phenomenon where, like Willy Loman, men attempt suicide if they think they are worth more to their family dead than they are alive.

This social revolution has happened in an eye-blink. It has been so fast that we are struggling to keep up with it and to grasp its import.

The older generation may find it strange when their son is a house husband and his partner has a career. But it will be natural for their offspring since they will know nothing else. As the roles switch about, they will have a chance to spend time with both their parents.

When they in turn become parents, shared roles that cross old gender boundaries will be common-place. It is a change for the better and the balance is tipping right now.

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