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March 02, 2011

Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart

The recent publication of Kay Hymowitz's book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys has re-ignited the gender-wars in certain circles. Hymowitz's book is simply the latest in a torrent of "men are just big children" pieces, and this man is sick to death of it.

Ace already posted his take on the issue, but there are even deeper issues than sex at play here: ultimately, it's about the foundational cultural unit of our civilization -- the family. Husband, wife; mother, father, children. The last century has seen an accelerating trend away from this fundamental building-block. Beginning with World War II when women first entered into the workforce in large numbers to the 1960's "sexual revolution" (driven by, among other things, effective birth-control) to the breaking of the "glass ceiling" for many women in the 1990's, American history in the latter half of the 20th century has been one of steady female social and economic independence. That's a good thing, right?

In many ways, yes. It's certainly been good for the American economy. But this cultural trend has left many men unsure about their place in the new order of things. The traditional role as primary breadwinner and head of the household has been removed, but nothing has come along to replace it. The predominantly-liberal media and entertainment complexes have spent decades denigrating men as hapless buffoons or abusive troglodytes. Modern Hollywood heart-throbs are not square-jawed heroes in the Gary Cooper mode, but rather thin, indolent, androgynous, and (most importantly) non-threatening. And while some women often wonder out loud "Where are all the decent men?", there's plenty of evidence at hand that given a choice, they're still more attracted to the moneyed jerks of the world.

Whatever else women bring to the cultural table, they are bringing some really misguided notions about what modern men really want from their relationships and life in general. Ultimately, it seems to me that many women are implying that a man's role in life is to make the women in his life happy -- however that might be achieved. It's no accident that it's always a woman who writes a book like Manning Up, because it represents a very female view of what's going on. Hymowitz even admits as much in a recent piece in the Daily Beast, but in the tone of someone who's confused that men dare to push back against her notion.

The big problem with modern heterosexual relationships is that apart from the sex, there's really not much in it for men any more. Men have few legal rights over their own progeny; family law for decades has whittled away a man's parental rights to little more than a financial obligation. If the woman already has children from a previous marriage, the man incurs an enormous burden in return for very little gain: in most cases he has no parental rights over the children, he competes for his wife's time with the ex (and the ex's family), and he incurs huge financial burdens but gains very little actual power in the household. A man's sexual life is viewed with suspicion and sometimes disgust by women, who seem to want to train a man's sex drive in the same way they train a naughty dog. A man alone with a small child is a man always on the verge of being accused as a child molester or abuser -- society has made single men afraid to even approach children who are not their own (and sometimes even when the children are their own).

In short, men have been systematically demoted from their traditional place in society. This is good because it has given many women far richer and more interesting lives; but very bad because it has given men nothing in recompense. Women retained many of their old power-centers (child-rearing, home-making, etc.) but gained a lot of new power as well. For men, most of the change has been on the negative side of the ledger. From the male viewpoint, the only positive aspect of the change is that it's much easier to have uncommitted sex, and even here the long-term harm far outweighs any short-term gains.

Men play video games, and watch sports, and hang out with their friends, because they enjoy it. It's no more an "adolescent" activity for men than, say, shopping with their girlfriends is for women. Men do have complicated inner lives. They have hopes and dreams of their own that are not necessarily connected to the women they may be seeing. Men desire comfort and happiness in their lives no less than women do, but they seek it in different ways. Marriage -- even a long-term relationship -- has to benefit both partners, and in recent decades many men have simply found it to be not worthwhile.

I offer a simple question to women who wonder why men choose not enter into committed relationships: What's in it for the man? Why should a man get married? If men can get sex easily enough without it, what would motivate a man to enter a relationship that is almost all downside otherwise?

(DISCLAIMER: Yes, I do realize that not all women are emasculating power-hungry gold-diggers. Some generalization is necessary to make my point, but I am aware that not all women think or feel the same.)

ADDENDA: Dr. Helen (Insty's lovely wife) posts on the loss of "male spaces".

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posted by Monty at 08:29 AM

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