Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Why men should be more like Brad Pitt (and not for the reasons you think)

From Sheena McKenzie, for CNN, and Jim Stenman, CNN
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Academic Anne-Marie Slaughter says Brad Pitt is 'posterchild for engaged fatherhood'
  • Equality isn't just about women's issues, it's about men sharing breadwinning and caregiving
  • Many men find it difficult to take time out from work to care for family

Editor's note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time -- remarkable professionals who have made it to the top in all areas of business, the arts, sport, culture, science and more.

(CNN) -- Oh Brad. So strong. So virile. So capable of wielding a sword in Troy, destroying zombies in World War Z, and seducing leading ladies with just the tilt of a cowboy hat in Thelma and Louise.

"He's a real man's man," gushed fiancé and mother of his six-children, Angelia Jolie.

But that alone is not what makes him such an important role model for men today, says one of America's most distinguished feminists and international affairs professors, Anne-Marie Slaughter.

It's his ability to share breadwinning and caregiving with his partner. Which has a lot more to do with empowering women than you might think.

A real man's man? Brad Pitt shares the care-giving with Angelina Jolie.
Getty Images

"Think of Brad Pitt in Troy, he's a real guy, no question," said 55-year-old Slaughter, President of the New America Foundation, and former Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department. "But he's also become a posterchild for engaged fatherhood."

"When Angelia Jolie is on location, he's there with their six children, and when Brad Pitt is on location, she's there with the kids. So that's really sending a very different signal about what an icon, a movie star, and definitely a leading man is."

Of course, as Slaughter admits with a chuckle: "We never see the probably 15 people on the 'childcare train' that I'm sure they drag along with them."

The conversation has been tilted too far in the direction of women's issues
Anne-Marie Slaughter

But Hollywood A-lister Pitt -- often seen splashed across celebrity magazines with his brood in tow -- nonetheless represents a shift in how society views men, she says.

And that has big consequences for women.

"Why women still can't have it all"

Around a year-and-a-half ago, Slaughter was a hugely successful, though relatively unknown academic.

Then, in the summer of 2012, she wrote an article in The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," and it became the most read in the publication's history, with over 224,000 people sharing it on Facebook.

Why the huge response? In the article, Slaughter spoke of her decision to leave her job as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, after two years working under Hilary Clinton.

Gender equality is about more than just women's issues, says Anne-Marie Slaughter.
Getty Images

Commuting from New Jersey to Washington each week, Slaughter was getting up at 4.20am on Mondays and returned on Friday evenings -- all while her teenage son was having problems at school.

And so she left her government job and returned to teaching at Princeton University: "Because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible."

Beyond the women's movement

Now Slaughter is extending the debate on gender equality -- and focusing on men -- in this interview with CNN .

"The conversation has been tilted too far in the direction of women's issues, women's problems, missing women in the workforce. That is a huge issue. And it's appropriate that 60 years after the 'Feminine Mystique' was published, that we should be asking these questions. But I really see this issue as a much broader social issue -- as an issue of breadwinning on the one hand, and caregiving on the other."

Slaughter left her job at the U.S. State Department, saying: "Juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible."
Getty Images

"Men's choices are actually still much more restricted than women's. Because although women no longer have to just be in the home, men are still pretty uniformly socialised to believe their place is in the office. And if we really want equality between men and women, we can't just measure it in terms of how well women succeed on traditional male terms, we have to measure it in terms of the degree of choices that women and men have."

"About 20% of the responses I got to The Atlantic article I published, were from men. They said: 'I want to be a fully engaged father' or 'I want to take time to be with my parents as they age,' and 'If you think it's hard for a woman to ask for flexible hours, or work from home, or work part time, well if a man asked for those things, not only is he told he's not sufficiently committed to his career, he's told either explicitly or implicitly that he's not really one of the guys.'"

We have to rethink what we value in men. Not just their striving and competitive sides, but also their caring and protective sides
Anne-Marie Slaughter

"If you notice in comparison to 40 years ago, pretty much every male star you see is toting a baby, is out with his children, is equally engaged as a dad and proud of it. So that's an interesting marker on popular culture."

"I said to my 16-year-old son: 'Would you mind if your wife out-earned you?' He looked at me at first and was like: 'Are you crazy?' And then he said: 'Guys who are really insecure about that are really insecure about something else.' And I thought: 'It's a different generation.'"

"Why can't a man marry well? Why can't a man find a woman and marry and people say: 'Wow that was a great catch' and part of what that means is that she earns a great living and they're going to both live very comfortably, and they can provide caregiving and breadwinning however they want."

Opinion: Our predatory capitalist system need not be a zero-sum game

Read: A century of women power dressing in the workplace

Learn: Five things you didn't know about YouTube's new boss

Watch: The orphan who became a billionaire 'Tsarina'

CNN's Pat Wiedenkeller contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Women's-only private members clubs are becoming more popular, offering spaces to work, socialize and relax, albeit with hefty membership fees.
November 28, 2014 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
A new social network for women claims to be 'troll-proof' and was created by Karen Cahn, former Google, YouTube, Aol executive.
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
She's the daughter of a Beatle and counts Kate Moss among her friends, but she had to create her own mark in the fashion world.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Alli Webb always loved having her hair done, so she decided to bring that happy feeling to millions of women worldwide with her business, Drybar.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
NASA's chief scientist Dr Ellen Stofan wants to land humans on Mars by 2035, but there are some serious challenges to overcome before then.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 1041 GMT (1841 HKT)
The Design Museum hosts a power dressing exhibition, from Joan of Arc's short tunics, to Joan Collins' eye-gouging shoulder pads.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1520 GMT (2320 HKT)
Opinion piece from architect Zaha Hadid on growing up in a very different Iraq, to close Leading Women's month of STEM coverage.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Leading Women ran an iReport assignment which resulted in some amazing images of girls in STEM from our readers.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1108 GMT (1908 HKT)
Robots can be many things -- knowledgeable, dexterous, strong. But can they ever be genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious?
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1830 GMT (0230 HKT)
Victoria Beckham has come a long way from Posh Spice. She has now been named Britain's top entrepreneur, by magazine Management Today.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1447 GMT (2247 HKT)
Just one in seven engineers are female. STEM experts share their ideas on how to get more girls into the industry.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1007 GMT (1807 HKT)
In 2006 she sold her business to Estée Lauder in a reported multi-million dollar deal, five years later she started a brand new company.
ADVERTISEMENT