Sex roles have been changing in this country and many others for decades now. But societal change doesn’t come without its painful writhings that many see as the death throes of the old order. Women of course have become wage earners as never before and, in order to do that, they’ve become college students making up some 58% of enrollees in institutions of higher learning. To many of us, that’s all to the good. Men who stop to think about it can take some comfort in the knowledge that they’re not their family’s only earner. The fact that a man’s wife or partner brings home a substantial income makes his family that much more secure.
And that’s in addition to the obvious fairness and justice of not discriminating against half the population in their ability to support themselves and others. As I say, to my mind, that’s all to the good. But what was begun as a movement to broaden the horizons and increase the autonomy of women turned out to be more complicated than that. What looked at first to be tasty fare turned out to have an unappetizing side course – misandry. Whatever may have seemed possible back in the early days of second wave feminism, what occurred in the event was a wholesale denigration of men in an astonishing variety of ways. We were told, for the first time ever that men were stupid, sex-obsessed, taught to be violent toward women and children, uncaring about their children, lazy and bestial. Why we couldn’t have made way for women to assume their rightful roles in society without all the hatred of men remains a mystery to me. But there it is, and it’s still with us. And that’s a problem for all the obvious reasons – denigration of entire groups based on physical characteristics has always been a bad idea; I thought we’d learned that. But trashing men turns out to be impeding the advancement of women as well. That’s nowhere more clear than in the area of fathers and children. A society that’s taught itself, against all the evidence, that fathers generally pose a danger to their children and that mothers don’t is a society that aims to keep women in the home with the kids and fathers working for a living. In short, the part of feminism that peddles those falsehoods about fathers opposes the part that wants women to advance in business and other areas of public life. As I’ve often written before, to promote fathers’ rights to their children and an expanded role in childcare is to promote increased roles for mothers’ outside the home. The result I believe, will be greater opportunity for both sexes and a broadening of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Men who truly embrace the role of father will be happier, less stressed and more fulfilled than those who channel all their energies into work. Women who know that they are free to achieve at work, in academia in politics, etc. will feel stronger and less dependent than those who don’t. This I believe. All of that will require a great reordering of our concepts of the sexes, much of which has already occurred. What’s left undone is the important business of seeing men for what we really are, instead of what the misandric mythology of the last 40 years would have us be. If a woman really believes that men are stupid, lazy and violent, she doesn’t leave her kids in her husband’s care. But if she doesn’t leave her kids in her husband’s care, it becomes very difficult to achieve, earn and save outside the home. So part of completing the revolution for women is to complete it for men. Fortunately, so much of the misandry of the past has been built on a very shaky foundation of untruths, half-truths, bad logic and political ideology that it shouldn’t have much staying power. Face it, too many decent women live with too many decent men for many people to believe for long the nonsense we’ve been taught about men. Now comes a book by Canadian academic, Anthony Synnott called “Re-Thinking Men: Heroes, Villains and Victims,” that takes on much of what I’ve been saying. Here’s a press release about it (Eurekalert, 12/13/10).
Synnott spent a decade researching the book, where he chronicles how males are no longer the principal bread-winners in their homes or leaders across all spectrums of the workforce. So when, exactly, did traditional male roles change? “The invention of the birth control pill had the biggest impact on the definition of men,” says Synnott. “Until then, men had been the main providers of their families and in World Wars I and II the main protectors of their countries. Men had also been rulers – in terms of politics and economics – despite the universal suffrage in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.”
Just so. How can a woman, who can’t decide when or if to have a baby, be much of a force in the workplace? It’s hard, and often impossible. But whatever the case, the trade-off between working and childcare is once again apparent. Refreshingly, Synnott looks at the facts of life as a male and sees what few seem willing to admit. He notices the widespread and virulent misandry of the past decades, but he also notices the many ways in which the sexes are unequal that find men holding the short end of the stick.
Another topic investigated in Synnott’s book is the disparity of male-to-female death rates. Figures are stark: Men make up two thirds of accidental deaths, whether these occur in the workplace, in a car, on a bicycle or crossing the street. Disproportionately high numbers of men find themselves homeless, addicted to drugs or in prison.
This is a refreshing departure from the willful ignorance of mainstream commentary. Last year I devoted some four separate postings to the astonishingly misnamed “Global Gender Gap Report,” a product of the World Economic Forum. One of its salient features was its treatment of all inequalities in which men fared worse than women as equalities. Therefore, to take the United States as an example, men’s poorer health and underrepresentation at all levels of education were referred to as equality. Synnott claims that the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center was a turning point in the misandry of our culture. So visible was that event and its aftermath in which over 400 male firefighters and police officers lost their lives trying to save others, that the narrative of men as at best worthless had to be recast. Or so Synnott wants us to believe. He may be right. I certainly hope so. But a narrative that holds that men’s greatest value is found in that which gets them killed is, to my mind at least, not much of an improvement over its predecessor. Very few men display that type of heroism; fewer still should be required to in order to prove their worth. Still, Synnott’s book looks like a good read and, perhaps more importantly, a landmark on the long march of men back from the land of exile to which so many had sought to confine us. Thanks to Don for the heads-up.