Former Education Secretary Bennett Needs Education on Men

Former Secretary of Education William Bennett

Former Secretary of Education William Bennett has taken time out from his busy day to notice men, and he doesn’t like what he sees.  Here’s his article (CNN, 10/4/11).

It’s not a good piece for a former Secretary of Education.  That’s because it’s short on facts and logic, and does its best to contradict itself.  In short, if Bennett had turned this in as a composition exercise in, say, 10th grade, I’d give him a D.

The only reason his grade isn’t lower is that he does get some facts right.  He notices that men’s status in society has declined significantly since the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The data does not bode well for men. In 1970, men earned 60% of all college degrees. In 1980, the figure fell to 50%, by 2006 it was 43%. Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two. Women’s earnings grew 44% in real dollars from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men.

In 1950, 5% of men at the prime working age were unemployed. As of last year, 20% were not working, the highest ever recorded.

He’s on track except for that last bit.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data show that, as of the end of August, 8.9% of men 16 and over were unemployed compared with 8.0% of women.   Add the unemployed to those not in the labor force, and you get 36.3% of men 16 and over versus 46.4% of women.  That’s true even though there are 7 million more women than men in that age group.  A whopping 50.8 million women 16 and over aren’t even in the work force, i.e. they’re not looking for work.

So Bennett’s paean to women fails to notice the actual figures.  He’s the latest in a long line of opiners to claim that women will soon pass men in various employment categories.  But despite the fact that the current brutal recession has hit men’s employment far harder than women’s, there are still over 6 million more men working than women.

So Bennett’s wrap-up of men’s employment picture is just flat wrong.

The changes in modern labor — from backs to brains — have catapulted women to the top of the work force, leaving men in their dust.

What the reference to “backs” is, I have no idea.  If Bennett seriously believes that women have any advantage over men in occupations that are physically demanding – like construction, mining, etc. – I’d encourage him to consult some actual data.  Again, the BLS would be a good place to start.

As to “brains,” there’s no doubt that women are outstripping men in education, but so far that hasn’t translated into greater employment, particularly full-time employment.  Database after database, study after study find even the most highly educated women working fewer hours than their male counterparts and taking years off to care for children.

None of that fits with Bennett’s narrative of deficient men, though, so he tactfully neglects to mention it.

But the bees in Bennett’s bonnet have barely begun to buzz.

The warning signs for men stretch far beyond their wallets. Men are more distant from a family or their children then they have ever been. The out-of-wedlock birthrate is more than 40% in America. In 1960, only 11% of children in the U.S. lived apart from their fathers. In 2010, that share had risen to 27%…

Man’s response has been pathetic. Today, 18-to- 34-year-old men spend more time playing video games a day than 12-to- 17-year-old boys. While women are graduating college and finding good jobs, too many men are not going to work, not getting married and not raising families.

Where to begin?  Should I point out to Bennett that if men aren’t getting married then women aren’t either?  Since almost all our states prohibit same-sex marriage, that means that when a man marries, he marries a woman; when he doesn’t, neither does she.  But in Bennett’s way of thinking, it’s only the men who are to blame.

The simple fact is that Bennett confuses delayed marriage and childbearing on the part of both sexes with an adolescent aversion for the institution on the part of men only.  Again, if he’d only check the readily-available facts, he’d know that, since 1970, the average age at which men and women marry has increased by almost exactly six years apiece.

Far more importantly, he manages to blame out-of-wedlock childbearing on men, as if women played no part in the decision to have or not have a child.

As to absent fathers, Bennett’s stance is all of a piece with that of President Obama and countless others.  The fact that men are absent from their children’s lives has, according to those opiners, nothing to do with the family court system that rewards with primary or sole custody women who divorce, while doing everything in their power to cut fathers out of their children’s lives.

But his piece hits bottom when he tries to figure out why, in his opinion, men have all of a sudden become such good-for-nothings.  First, he lays the problem at the feet of fathers who abandon their children.  Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to notice that an equal number of girls and boys have absent fathers, but as he understands it, the problem only affects boys making them, in time, bad fathers.

What Bennett never acknowledges is that fatherlessness is far more a function of our cultural view of mothers and children as a “package deal” in the parlance of sociology, maternal gatekeeping, anti-father family courts and popular culture that paints the most dismal picture imaginable of men and fathers, than it is of feckless men fleeing their responsibilities as fathers.  The irony of his attack on what he considers to be irresponsibility on the part of fathers is that it’s Bennett who’s irresponsible.  He finds it easier to blame fathers for things beyond their control than to deal with the realities of fatherlessness.

Strangest of all is Bennett’s final prescription for men.

We may need to say to a number of our twenty-something men, “Get off the video games five hours a day, get yourself together, get a challenging job and get married.” It’s time for men to man up.

There are a lot of problems with that of course, but one of the main ones is that Bennett’s already established that young men, lacking male role models, have no idea of what it means to “man up.”

The machismo of the street gang calls out with a swagger. Video games, television and music offer dubious lessons to boys who have been abandoned by their fathers. Some coaches and drill sergeants bark, “What kind of man are you?” but don’t explain.

Neither does Bennett.  And now that I think about it, that’s probably a good thing.  After all, who wants a man who believes that men are irresponsible louts explaining masculinity to boys?  Not me.

To be a man means many things, but honesty and taking responsibility for ones actions are certainly among them.  By contrast, Bennett takes refuge in a misandric caricature of American males, and pretends he’s addressed the very real problem of men and masculinity.

Hey, it’s easier than working for a living.

Thanks to Betsy for the heads-up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *