Save The Males

June 25, 2008 —Gender politics can be complicated.  I got my first hint of this in fourth grade, on “American History Day,” when students were encouraged to dress up like their favorite figure from days of yore.The choice, in my mind, was obvious:  Abraham Lincoln!  Best president ever!  But as I entered the classroom that January morning, fake beard already drooping, I noticed something startling:  All of the other girls had, well, dressed up like girls.  Like spouses, to be exact.  Half were Martha Washington, and I counted at least three Mary Todds, including my friend Margaret.  We made a cute couple, but I also couldn’t help wondering why anyone would choose boring old Mary over legendary, honest Abe.

Decades later, we’ve supposedly made progress in the gender wars.  Feminism has flourished, many say, leading to a more enlightened, open, and liberated time.  In her new book, “Save the Males,” syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker argues that this is, quite simply, a bunch of bunk.  We’re more confused that ever when it comes to gender, she writes—and males, not females, often bear the brunt of the assault.

Ground zero, she argues, is the classroom. “Boys learn early that they belong to the ‘bad’ sex,” Parker writes, “and their female counterparts to the ‘good.'” In schools across America, she reports, boys are stifled, feminized, and drugged; curriculum content is gender-equitable to a near-absurd degree (“We’ve created a new generation of Americans who may be more sensitive, but they don’t know much about history,” she writes); and years of “dueling girl and boy crises” have morphed into a we’re-all-the-same dogma, ultimately translating into Brave New World-style games of tag where “nobody is ever out.”

Beyond the schoolyard, Parker writes, “males have been under siege by a culture that too often embraces the notion that men are to blame for all of life’s ills.” In films, music, and television, “men are variously portrayed as dolts, bullies, brutes, deadbeats, rapists, sexual predators, and wife beaters.” Fictional females are often do-it-all superwomen, either embodying the “sacred feminine” of the DaVinci Code or rolling their eyes at the pot-bellied, “According to Jim” buffoons they’ve had the misfortune to marry or date. Real-life women, meanwhile, are busy feminizing their men, dragging them to “The Vagina Monologues”, pushing them into breastfeeding classes, and sharing way, way too much information. “Here on Planet Lamaze,” Parker wryly writes, “everybody’s a gynecologist.”

Sound silly? It is, and in certain sections, “Save the Males” will make you laugh out loud. But, as Parker argues, these things are also symbolic–and, when it comes to trends like the dramatic devaluation of fatherhood in the U.S., they’re also deadly serious. “Historians aren’t sure of the precise date,” Parker writes, “but sometime around 1970 everyone in the United States drank acid-laced Kool-Aid, tie-dyed their brains, and decided that fathers were no longer necessary.” The statistics here are scary, but not unfamiliar: America “leads the Western world in mother-only families”; 30 to 40 percent of American children “sleep in a home where their father does not”; and between 1999 and 2003, the number of babies born to unmarried mothers between the ages of thirty and forty-four increased by nearly 17 percent.

The results have been well documented, Parker argues, and they’re not pretty. “Growing up without a father is the most reliable predictor of poverty,” she writes, as well as “drug abuse, truancy, delinquency, and sexual promiscuity.” Regardless, single motherhood by choice is surging in popularity. When it comes to divorce, child custody, and family law, Parker argues, “pure and simple, the deck is stacked against men”–reducing them, in many cases, to “sperm and a wallet.”

“Save the Males” ties some of this dysfunction to our hypersexed, pornified culture–a culture that, Parker argues, is largely fueled by the fairer sex. “For those of you who skipped their women’s studies classes,” Parker writes, “first-wave feminism got women the vote; second-wave got them employed and divorced; third-wave is busy making them porn stars.” Sex, our culture declares, means nothing, and shame is an anachronism. Strip aerobics and pole-dancing classes have invaded even the snootiest gyms, and on college campuses, one-night-stands have taken the place of dating, provoking a “dirty dance of mutual contempt” between our youngest men and women.

It’s destructive for young men, Parker writes, to live in a society that’s “marinating in pornography.” It’s also confusing, she argues, to live in a world where the full range of female Halloween costumes seems to be a) slutty nurse; b) slutty housecat; or c) slutty one-eyed pirate. Fair enough. But at a certain point, one is tempted to find one of the “perpetual adolescent” “child-men” we’ve “created”, unplug his Wii, and tell him to toughen up. And while “Save the Males” is full of valuable points, it struggles a bit when it comes to the question of who really gets hurt by the post-sexual revolution culture–because it’s often women, not men.

Even famed feminist Germaine Greer, as Parker notes, admitted that the sexual revolution was a lie. “Permissiveness happened,” Greer said, “and that’s no better than repressiveness, because women are still being manipulated by men.” Parker’s main disagreement with Greer is that “women, if they are manipulated by men, are having their share of the fun without taking any of the responsibility.” Anyone who has spent a lot of time with young women, however, can tell you that the “fun” quickly turns into anguish. “Really, when you look at it, hookup culture is gravy for guys,” Laura Sessions Stepp, the author of “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both,” recently told the New York Times. “So how much are we winning?”

“It’s not fashionable to question women’s decisions,” Parker notes. In fact, these days, it’s not fashionable to judge anything at all, which may be one of the roots of our problems. This will likely mean that “Save the Males”–which, despite occasional stumbles, is a smart, funny, and engaging read–will make some people cranky. “This book was harder to write than I had expected,” Parker concludes, “for reasons that are probably apparent by now: Everything in it could be restated as an argument for saving females.”

Obviously, “Save the Males” begs to differ. And regardless of who you think is worse off (or, if you’re like me, and you’re just tired of victimhood altogether) the book is right on when it comes to our culture’s increasing gender confusion. And Parker is also right that America’s females don’t need to be saved…at least not from oppressive, evil men. Judging from many of the problems outlined in the book, if women need to be saved from anyone, they need to be saved from themselves. In the meantime, it’s fair to say that everyone–yes, everyone–loses.

Real Clear Politics, 2008

 


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