The following scene can be observed in many a present-day Estonian family: the mother rushes off to work whilst the father shuffles over to the TV set in his slippers to try to spend the day in the company of his children and their grandparents. To save money, the kids have been taken out of the daycare centre, the grandparents out of their retirement home. If you look at this scene through rose-tinted glasses, it looks quite idyllic: several generations living together again, the grandparents passing their wisdom on to the next generations. For the paterfamilias, the crisis seems like a challenge that allows him to spend more time with his family and become human again. The breadwinning mother has left the nest, spread her wings and taken flight; her motivation and the opportunities to devote herself to her work are greater than ever.

But this situation can also turn into a scene straight out of hell: the mother coming home from a hard day’s work to find her husband half-drunk on several beers he guzzled down to alleviate his identity crisis. The euphoric toddlers, long forgotten in front of the tube, have sore red eyes, overflowing nappies and are famished to boot. The old folks, who have not taken their medication, are unusually excited.

Welcome to the he-cession

According to the end-of-July figures, there are 70,244 registered unemployed in Estonia: 31,670 of them are women and 38,574 men. Unemployment today has no party or nationality. It has a male face though. The recession has hit men’s occupations hard, in the building trades and the unskilled sector, while sparing sectors like education and health care in which women workers predominate. It is the same recession model as in the United States. So in an editorial on, Vladimir Gonzalez calls it a “he-cession”.

The impact of the role reversal in the professional domain also concerns men and women’s sense of identity and self-esteem. Being the one who brings home the bacon is also a day-to-day power issue. The breadwinner, whether he or she, won’t hesitate to make the most of the situation. This change causes a great deal of tension within the family: indeed, statistics show a rise in domestic violence in Estonia. Whereas society generally accepts that a woman who loses her job will find fulfilment in the private sphere, in housework or childrearing, a man who busies himself about the house is a bitter pill for his circle to swallow.

Rise of the soft man

A new economic situation always breeds new ways of thinking. In Finland, back in the early 1990s, when recession-driven unemployment struck one-fifth of the working-age population, the entertainment media popularised the idea of “the soft man”, insisting that the definition of masculinity was changing. What lay behind this “soft man” concept was not so much an observed role change in society as a new marketing gold mine for beauty and health products, though it did suit the Finnish crisis perfectly. These ads urging men to take care of themselves and their households may well have helped avert many a domestic tragedy. It was precisely during that recession that people started talking about the role of the father and publicly ventilating the issue of male violence. An attempt was made at the time to transplant this new male type in Estonia as well, but it did not succeed very well as the Estonian male was busy reaping the fruits of the economic recovery in those days. These days, however, he should be well primed to endorse a status upgrade for caring fathers.

Vladimir Gonzalez writes – probably a bit facetiously – that when faced with the country’s bankruptcy, Icelanders kicked out all the men in power and then put a lesbian in the prime minister’s seat. It is too early to tell whether only women can save the world that men have led to the brink of catastrophe. Nor can the global economy be likened to our daily experience in which women are quite capable of straightening up the house at night after an all-male boozing session. The world economy is more like a morning-after in which the men, stone cold sober again, clean up their mess themselves.