I tried to explain that a man spending most of his time and energy going out to work to provide for his family represented a sacrifice. My explanation didn't go down well. Some of the students just wanted to acknowledge female sacrifice. Others looked gloomy and upset and the word "sexism" was heard. I had clearly said something that I wasn't supposed to say.
So why can't we acknowledge male sacrifice on behalf of women and family?
One possible explanation is that it doesn't fit in with current liberal political beliefs. Liberals see society as made up of unique individuals in pursuit of their own self-interest or their own subjective goods. So perhaps if you are a young liberal woman who believes in the pursuit of your own individual goods, it is discomfiting to acknowledge that someone may be sacrificing on your behalf. Also, if liberals do act for a more universal good it is for a certain liberal understanding of "equality," but the liberal assumption is that if inequality exists it is because men get to choose to do what they want at the expense of others. So the idea of male sacrifice doesn't fit well with this liberal outlook.
But I don't think that these aspects of liberal politics really explain the situation. I personally have heard a woman say that male efforts at work to provide for a family count for nothing "because that is just what men are supposed to do."
And I am not the only one who has come across this attitude. Rollo Tomassi has written a post titled "Appreciation" which includes the following:
I think what most men uniquely deceive themselves of is that they will ultimately be appreciated by women for their sacrifices. Learn this now, you won't. You can’t be because women fundamentally lack the ability to fully realize, much less appreciate the sacrifices a man makes to facilitate her reality. Even the most enlightened, appreciative woman you know still operates in a feminine-centric reality. Men making the personal sacrifices necessary to honor, respect and love her are commonplace. You’re supposed to do those things. You sacrificed your ambitions and potential to provide her with a better life? You were supposed to. You resisted temptation and didn’t cheat on your wife with the hot secretary who was DTF and ready to go? You were supposed to. Your responsibilities to maintaining a marriage, a home, your family, etc. are common – they’re expected. They are only appreciated in their absence.
This is the totality of the feminine-centric reality. Men only exist to facilitate the feminine reality, and any man who disputes this (or even analyzes its aspects) is therefore not a ‘man’. It just IS.
I should note that Rollo Tomassi begins his post by describing what a good marriage looks like - he is no more anti-marriage than I am. But I think he is correct not only in his observation about the difficulty women have in appreciating male sacrifice, but also in his explanation of why this exists - that it relates to women's ingrained expectation that men exist to "facilitate feminine reality" - i.e. the "feminine imperative" is so strong that women unthinkingly see men as existing to uphold feminine reality (and if they do not, or if they even question it, they are simply not "real men").
If this is so it is ultimately damaging. It is demoralising to men to think that none of their efforts will ever truly be appreciated, that their sacrifices count for nothing in the minds of women.
So what is to be done? I'm not sure to be honest, but I can throw out some ideas.
First, there is the alpha option. Women do go for the kind of man who has the drive to pursue things on his own terms and who draws others into his slipstream (I think the expression is that he invites a woman along for the ride). It is possible, in other words, for men to have a change in mindset, in which they develop their own masculine powers and virtues, as an accomplishment that has its own rewards and its own meaning in terms of a life telos, with the appeal of this to women being more of a follow-on outcome.
Second, the feminine imperative doesn't have to be as strong in society as it has become. There were once institutions that weren't dedicated to this imperative to the degree they now are. There were also clubs and fraternal organisations for men - male spaces - so that the role that the feminine imperative dictates for men wasn't necessarily as total as it is today.
If I could order society better, I would not tie up men's lives in the service of women as much as they are now. Realistically, the breadwinning role would still take up most of men's time and energy. But we could aim to free up as much time as possible for men to undertake a more public oriented role, alongside other men, designed to allow men to develop intellectually, spiritually and creatively, and to enjoy the esprit de corps, the fellowship, that comes from working alongside other men to contribute to the wider community and culture.