Aug 2, 2010

Are men finished?

This article in the Atlantic cuts a little close to the bone. It's called "The End of Men." A few excerpts:
The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Last year, Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, and who vowed to end the “age of testosterone.”

Yes, the U.S. still has a wage gap, one that can be convincingly explained—at least in part—by discrimination. Yes, women still do most of the child care. And yes, the upper reaches of society are still dominated by men. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment. Dozens of college women I interviewed for this story assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either looking for work or minding the children. Guys, one senior remarked to me, “are the new ball and chain.” It may be happening slowly and unevenly, but it’s unmistakably happening: in the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.


American pop culture keeps producing endless variations on the omega male, who ranks even below the beta in the wolf pack. This often-unemployed, romantically challenged loser can show up as a perpetual adolescent (in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin), or a charmless misanthrope (in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg), or a happy couch potato (in a Bud Light commercial). He can be sweet, bitter, nostalgic, or cynical, but he cannot figure out how to be a man. “We call each other ‘man,’” says Ben Stiller’s character in Greenberg, “but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people.” The American male novelist, meanwhile, has lost his mojo and entirely given up on sex as a way for his characters to assert macho dominance, Katie Roiphe explains in her essay “The Naked and the Conflicted.” Instead, she writes, “the current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex.”
Now, I won't say that I agree totally with this essay, but it does provoke some interesting thoughts. I can add a personal data point--my Peace Corps group (as is apparently true across the world) is overwhelmingly female. There were something like twenty single women compared to about seven single men. (I can't find the exact numbers--it was pretty close to a 2-1 ratio.)

I find it interesting that men have largely failed to adapt to the new culture--either economically, sexually, or otherwise. A few have put forth evolutionary psychology explanations that I find mostly unconvincing. I suspect that the current imbalance is a kind of inertia--women, due to a patriarchal system, have been working harder to achieve success, and have thus moved quickly into emerging fields as barriers to entry have been thrown down. Men are unaccustomed to the competition, and have thus been slow to adapt as their traditional occupations have been shrinking or automated.

I'd like to focus on one more paragraph:
Whether boys have changed or not, we are well past the time to start trying some experiments. It is fabulous to see girls and young women poised for success in the coming years. But allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future. Men have few natural support groups and little access to social welfare; the men’s-rights groups that do exist in the U.S. are taking on an angry, antiwoman edge. Marriages fall apart or never happen at all, and children are raised with no fathers. Far from being celebrated, women’s rising power is perceived as a threat.
Italics mine. I've often wondered at the tremendous number of camps for girls, female workshops, and women support groups here. To my mind the women of South Africa are doing relatively well compared to the men (in terms of functioning in society, not income), and the suffering of women (like SA's staggeringly high rape rate) is mostly caused by men. If South Africa could figure out how to raise its boys properly, a lot of the problems of women would vanish.

It's not necessarily a question of who deserves the help. These kind of issues aren't zero-sum. Help the boys to become men and you help the women at the same time, and in a way it wouldn't be possible to do if you were addressing the women only. I'm not saying that the female support should be abolished--just that help for males, especially boys, perhaps deserves similar attention, because it doesn't happen much here.

UPDATE: Before someone asks why I haven't been starting a boy's club or something, I have been considering something like that. Suggestions are welcome.


  1. there are more men than women in sa22. :P
    start a boy's club!!! awesome

  2. No shit! That's interesting. I think the general point holds, though. I've heard around 60-40 female-male ratios for Peace Corps generally.

    We'll see on the boy's club.