Men and the Women Who Make Them Irrelevant

Two books claim the rise of women is marginalizing men.

Numbers show that women are still paid less than men, female politicians make up a very small number of lawmakers and women are underrepresented in the C-suite, but author Kay Hymowitz makes the argument that women are causing the next generation of men to grow up to be socially weak and confused. Meanwhile, author Kathleen Parker contends that women have made men irrelevant in their family lives.

It seems that as women are growing stronger, it’s their fault that men are becoming slackers. In short, women’s progress is ruining the very fabric of family life.

Hymowitz and Parker both published books lamenting the plight of men in the face of the ground women have covered. This attitude removes men’s responsibility and culpability for behavior, ambition and accomplishment, and blames the rise of women. It also gives men absolutely no credit at all.

Parker’s sweeping generalizations of men as victims and scathing condemnation of the “slut culture” is enough to make you bristle. Even the title, Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care, assumes that women are moving forward with no regard for men at all. According to Parker, women dress like sluts – even the toddlers – which sends confusing signals to men. Then women have the nerve to cry foul when these poor confused men dare to look at them or pay them a compliment. How can men be expected to control themselves when all women dress so inappropriately at work and in public? You may not want to hear about her skeptical view on rape in the military, either.

“The rise of America’s slut culture would seem, on the one hand, a boon to males, whose legendary attraction to visual stimulation has rarely been so eagerly indulged. On the other hand, the sight of so much flesh from coffee through cocktails must be discombobulating, especially to young males, who report being perpetually aroused. Such males may be forgiven if they’re not sure when greeted by a comely lass whether to grab a sword or a sheath-of the latex variety. Or perhaps a shield. To walk down any street in almost any town or city today is to be taunted by a parade of approaching midriffs featuring pierced navels and retreating ‘tramp stamps’ – tattoos that rise like bait from too-tight, low-riding britches.”

Parker contends that society has tried so hard to be fair to women that they have completely marginalized men. While defending Parker’s book, Amanda Platell asserts that “by bending over backwards to make single mothers feel good about themselves, by diminishing the role of fathers, by elevating women as the superior parents, we have gone a considerable way to destroying one of the basic tenets of a successful society – family life.”

Single motherhood and divorce are evidently the root of all evil, although I fail to see how both of those phenomena can be blamed solely on women. Parker demonizes single mothers as high-powered, selfish career women who shop for donor sperm rather than bother with a relationship, and shame on our society for embracing them.

Platell reports that the number of babies born to unwed women between 30-44 rose 17 percent between 1999 to 2003, but I doubt this number can be blamed entirely on “choice motherhood.”

Parker claims that our society regards the contributions of fathers to children’s upbringing as “optional.” What about women whose partners abandoned them or men who don’t want to be fathers? Or unmarried couples who choose to raise their children together?

Although there are some women who do plan to be single mothers, this is plainly not the ambition of the majority of mothers who find themselves unmarried (or simply without a partner) with children. The social stigma around single motherhood has lessened, but a recent survey shows that our society certainly doesn’t embrace single motherhood. Parker makes it sound like women are on a crusade to eliminate men and their role in society and family, when men themselves bear at least some of the burden for their absence.

In her recent book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, Kay Hymowitz chimes in with her own theory about how the newest generation of highly educated women are causing men to lack ambition and be confused about how to interact with strong women.

Men then choose their own form of opting out, where they prefer to remain in an extended state of adolescence rather than learn to engage with women. Hymowitz discusses the possibles causes of this extended pre-adulthood, where men’s roles have been turned upside down because women don’t “need” them in the same manner as in previous decades – as breadwinners, as defenders, as the dominant gender.

Instead of lauding this advancement of women, and the fact that women are currently navigating this new landscape better than men, Hymowitz falls in with Parker and blames women for eschewing this new pre-adult single man and perpetuating the cycle.

“Single men have never been civilization’s most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn’t be surprised. …Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do. They might as well just have another beer.”

Both authors assert that as women struggle to be seen as equal and society indulges them, their efforts are marginalizing men and wrecking families. Parker asserts that women and men are not equal, though what she really means is that women and men are not the same. On that point, we agree. Women and men are not slices of the same apple in biological makeup. But we’re certainly from the same tree. Women have been fighting to be seen as human beings deserving of equal respect, equal opportunities, and equal treatment for decades, even centuries.

Now, Parker and Hymowitz say that that progress is detrimental to men.

What’s the answer, then? Since Parker and Hymowitz don’t believe in personal responsibility for men, women are apparently to halt their own progress. I have a different view of men. I believe that men can grow up, resist becoming “slackers” and engage in healthy relationships with strong, accomplished women, as well as become involved fathers and members of their communities.

It’s simply untrue that women are oppressing men. EcoSalon’s editor-in-chief Sara Ost summed it up well, saying, “Recent research shows that men still make more money than women. Plus, men are less likely to be the victims of abuse. Men also dominate in sports, the military, politics, finance, venture capital, executive management, medicine, research, publishing, engineering, science, diplomacy, philanthropy, the arts, fashion, design, the restaurant world, architecture, literature, the church, education, law, technology, media, and nearly every business in the Fortune 500. You see what I mean: men are falling apart at the seams.”

For years, women have worked to overcome many obstacles, both professional and personal, and women still have a long way to go. Just as women have worked to be heard and be counted, and still are, men can work to change their role in society if there is an imbalance. Parker says that saving men saves everyone, and we all “stand to benefit from a society in which men feel respected and thus responsible.”

It’s time for a society where everyone is respected, period.

Women fight issues on all fronts beginning at a young age: body image issues, low self-esteem, a prevalent sexual double standard, the 25 percent possibility of being sexually assaulted by age 18. Life as a woman isn’t easy. Nearly 25 percent have been victims of domestic violence. Reproductive rights are legislated by men. Women earn less pay and face the overwhelming likelihood of remaining in lower ranks at work. To be a woman is to live in an inhospitable national climate toward paid maternity leave. No one asks a man how he manages the juggling act of childcare and career.

The increase in women’s education and independence only raises the bar for men to help build an equitable relationship and a stronger family unit – and a more resilient American culture. I resent the suggestion that the majority of women in this country are promoting the concept that men are irrelevant and unneeded. Not this woman.

If there are changes that need to be made to help poor, marginalized men, who is in the best position to effect change? The men who run nearly everything, or the women who are still fighting to be seen as equal?

Image: rough groove

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.