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

From Sheena McKenzie, for CNN, and Jim Stenman, CNN
updated 11:50 AM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
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

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(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

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CNN's Pat Wiedenkeller contributed to this report.

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