Check out this satirical piece of suffrage literature from 1915. My favorite reason is #4: “Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms and drums.”
Tristan Bridges of Inequality by (Interior) Design traces the sociological roots of the man-cave.
Industrialization and suburbanization brought about fantastic transformations in family life and gender relations. Men and women began to rely upon one another in new and unprecedented ways. Divisions between work and leisure became more pronounced for men and this same boundary was probably blurred more than ever before for women. The same forces that led Lasch to call the family “a haven in a heartless world” were inequitably distributed between family members. This fact is reverberated in our design and use of home architecture.
Reading over this for the second time, I can’t help thinking how men in our culture have lost their identity as patriarchy collapses. Clinging to the trappings of old-fashioned masculinity ultimately only delays the inevitable need to redefine what it means to be a man.
Libby Anne gives us a great primer on how patriarchy hurts both sexes.
If I took time off of my career to focus on my children, that wouldn’t be seen as odd. If my husband did the same, he would face questions. Women are encouraged to express their emotions, but men are expected to be strong. It is seen as natural for a woman to cry in a stressful situation, but men who cry are seen as weak.
Today National Review published an op-ed piece by Charlotte Allen, in which she contends that a male presence in Sandy Hook Elementary School could have prevented much of the slaughter:
In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel—the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist”—were female. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. Women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers… Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak—but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel. Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.
This is asinine. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that Dawn Hochsprung, the principal who attempted to charge Lanza, failed in her attempt because of her feminine weakness. She failed because Lanza had semi-automatic weapons and she did not. Suggesting that a male former football player could have fared better against multiple bullets is farcical, and wishing that some of the larger school children would have physically accosted the shooter borders on sociopathic.
While standing around the fire pit at the Stauffer clan Thanksgiving, someone asked me if I thought women were happier because of feminism.
Because of personal history, I knew the subtext of the question was, “I think women are actually less happy”, so I responded accordingly, and in two parts. I’ll tell you part two later. Part one was, “Yes, women may be less happy now than they were before second-wave feminism.”
On Monday, Fox News published an op-ed piece by Suzanne Venker called “The War on Men”, in which Venker contends that feminism has left men marginalized and angry, resulting in a waning interest in marriage among the male population. As you can imagine, it was highly inflammatory and anti-feminist, containing such straw-man statements as:
In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy. Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestal (women had their own pedestal, but feminists convinced them otherwise) and climbed up to take what they were taught to believe was rightfully theirs.
Now the men have nowhere to go.
It is precisely this dynamic—women good/men bad—that has destroyed the relationship between the sexes. Yet somehow, men are still to blame when love goes awry. Heck, men have been to blame since feminists first took to the streets in the 1970s.
I won’t deconstruct this or the many other problematic parts of the article; we’d be here all day. Feel free to read these excellent responses by Hanna Rosin at XX Factor, Sharon Hodde Miller at Her.meneutics, and David Sessions at Patrol Magazine. The crux of the piece for my purposes occurs near the beginning and appears to be Venker’s thesis:
I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same.
Women aren’t women anymore.
Translation: “Women aren’t women anymore according to the defined gender roles to which these men subscribe.”
Venker goes on to argue that not only men but women also are less happy because of feminism, being less likely to find a man with whom they can settle down and start having the babies we know all women crave. So, in a backwards kind of way, Venker and I agree: women are—or may be—less happy now than in the 1950s. Our accord ends there, though.
I think women (and men) may have been happier before the advent of feminism not because they were better off but because rigidly-prescribed roles—including gender roles—feel comfortable and safe and give people a sense of purpose and direction, provided they thoroughly believe in the underlying truth behind those roles. For example, one of the things I like about Christianity is that it tells me something about who I am—in relation to God, society, and other people. By knowing who I am, I become empowered to make ethical, moral, and practical choices, the building blocks we use to construct our lives. Similarly, patriarchy—and complementarianism, its more soft-hearted younger brother—tells men and women even more specifically who they are, based on their anatomy.
When we began to abandon “traditional” gender roles, we lost that feeling of comfort and security they provided. Women must now, to a much greater extent, figure out for themselves who they are, and that can feel scary and isolating. Correspondingly, men must also define themselves without the assistance of clear gender definition; the difference in their lot from that of women is that they have, by and large, resisted doing so. The male rage to which Venker alludes, to the extent that it actually exists, results from this unwillingness to accept that society is no longer going to spot them 50% of the data they need to understand themselves and find success in life.
Of course, when men are unhappy and angry, women will be, too. We all occupy the same society, and many women would like to team up with a man for marriage and family, as well as for the “mutual society, help, and comfort” mentioned by The Book of Common Prayer. When, therefore, men respond to the disappearance of defined gender roles with recalcitrance and resentment, women suffer. Moreover, because men have for so long controlled—and continue, to a great extent, to control—our societal structures, the very systems we operate in and depend on contribute to the undermining of women’s happiness.
So: yes, it is possible that women are less happy now as a result of the advances of feminism. Let us at least assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true. That’s part one of my answer to the question posed to me on Thanksgiving.
Part two is: Even if women are less happy, it’s a good unhappiness that will ultimately give way to even greater happiness. As I said before, rigidly-defined roles only provide security, comfort, and direction if people thoroughly believe in them. In the 1960s women began to lose their belief in prescribed gender roles, and with good reason. The evolutionary need for such roles had evaporated; no longer did the survival of the species depend on the physically-stronger half hunting and killing lots of animals and protecting the weaker half (and the children) against the violence of both aggressive outsiders and the elements. Moreover, the predominant religion of the mid-century West, despite popular misperception surviving to this day, has little to say about gender roles, and protestations to the contrary began to ring hollow in the face of the gut feeling that only arbitrary existing power structures were dictating the course of women’s lives.
I believe that rigid gender roles are false at a fundamental level—that both men and women should be free to choose the direction of their lives independently of their body parts. If this is true, not only is women’s present theoretical unhappiness a good unhappiness, but their former happiness was bad happiness, the kind of “happiness” people claimed on behalf of antebellum Southern slaves or serfs in the feudal system of medieval Europe.
Furthermore, assuming (as I do) that feminism continues to gain ground, eventually resulting in true equality between men and women, I believe that both sexes will be even happier—each individual being absolutely free to choose his or her destiny without the constraints of anatomy and to marry and raise children—or not—for reasons that having nothing to do with societally-reinforced dependencies.
That goal seems worth some short-term—and on a historical scale, several decades or even a century are the “short term”—unhappiness for everyone.
Stick with me. I know I say this over and over, but it bears repeating: I’m still pretty new at the feminism. That means I may occasionally—or frequently—make dumb, ill-informed, anti-feminist, or just plain inaccurate statements. So anyone who knows better may feel free to tell me exactly how wrong I’m about to be. ↩
I refuse to submit to the non-title-case spelling of the original headline. ↩
On Tuesday, The Daily Beast published the results of an interview with Venker, in which she claims she was misunderstood. Her semi-coherent explanation of her actual meaning does little to undermine the inherent sexism and logical weakness of her position, but I mention it in the name of fairness. ↩
Most people probably feel this way about their religion of choice. ↩
I use the word “anatomy” advisedly, because I do not think that “gender” is as clear-cut a concept as many would have us believe. ↩
Not all loss is bad. Or, more accurately, some loss is necessary. As Steve Jobs said, “Death is nature’s change agent.” ↩
I realize I am being very ethnocentric, but I don’t feel qualified to discuss the history of any other culture. ↩
Although, of course, both these groups suffered worse conditions than mid-century Western women. ↩
Contrast this new Bond to Roger O. Thornhill, the charmingly hapless advertising man played by Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.” Like Bond, Thornhill pulls off some amazing physical feats—his mad frantic escape from the crop duster, the traverse of Mount Rushmore—and like Bond he wears an expensive suit. Unlike Bond, though, when he takes it off we do not see some marbleized man, an ersatz creation of some trainer, but a fit man, effortlessly athletic and just as effortlessly sophisticated.
Wishful thinking. I very much doubt that Cary Grant retained his fit appearance without effort, and even if he did he was just lucky that his natural body shape happened to be what women found sexy at the time. Cohen is 71, so he has lived through quite a few decades and should know that tastes change, which is why looking at pictures of 1980s high-school cheerleaders makes me giggle, not blush.
Cohen goes on to disparage shapely men for being ill-read:
Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held. That’s why Sean Connery was my kind of Bond. He was 53 when he made his last Bond film, “Never Say Never Again.”
This is a little beside the point, but find me someone who thinks Never Say Never Again (which only sort-of counts as a “Bond film”) reflects well on Sean Connery.
More importantly, Cohen here betrays his jealousy more clearly: he is now at the age when the opposite sex will more likely value his intellect or sophistication than his physical appearance. That was not true of Sean Connery at 53, and it is not true of Daniel Craig at 44.
Jill Filipovic writes a great response to Cohen’s petulance:
Men should not have to do anything other than be old in order to get whatever they want. Women, on the other hand, are desirable only when they are very young, and only if they are very thin and very white and very inexperienced and probably blonde. In Richard Cohen’s estimation, that is a sexual meritocracy, because “meritocracy” apparently means “I get whatever I want without having to work hard at it and also women are things.”
Or at least, not in a widespread, pervasive way, as this headline (and article) suggests:
In some respects, women have fought to become equal with their male peers and won. However, in others, the scales have tipped the other way, leaving men wrong footed. I can already hear the cries of ‘RUBBISH!’ now, but hear me out for a second or two.
Okay, I will. Continue.
Any male who wants to get involved in a ‘caring’ profession, or in any aspect of the beauty industry, is instantly thought of as effeminate. This male nurse has defended why he chose the profession, but why should he? This is the flip side of women taking on ‘manly’ roles, such as fire-fighters, mechanics and engineers. However, we tend to celebrate women in ‘male’ roles, while we deride men in ‘female’ roles.
This isn’t the only area where men are at a disadvantage. During custody battles, it is usually assumed women are the best carers for the couple’s children.
Nonsense. Assuming men are untrustworthy caregivers, either professionally or personally, isn’t a result of feminism’s achievements; it’s just the flip side of the gender stereotyping feminists work so hard to combat. Get back to me when someone starts discriminating against men for jobs in STEM fields.
Back in the early days on TV and cinema, men were always the heads of the household, where women had to obey them. However, in the last two or three decades we’ve seen the arrival of the ‘dumb dad’. Think Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin. They are dads who, deep down, love their families, but are also selfish, stubborn, ignorant, and just basically infantile. They are usually backed up by the loving wife character, someone who is much smarter than their husband, but who doesn’t receive the credit for keeping the family together.
This argument might hold water if Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin didn’t ring so true. Some actual men, including fathers, are boorish, irresponsible people, and those character flaws, like all others, make for good comedy. Portraying these sorts of characters in TV might present a problem if no other, more positive male role models existed. Fortunately, they do; the fact that the defenders of pure fatherhood have been using Homer Simpson as a pariah for over 20 years demonstrates the relative paucity of this particular stereotype.
It’s all too easy, as a ‘modern woman’, to do down a man just because of his gender. After all, who hasn’t heard a friend utter the phrase, ‘Ugh, men, they’re all bastards’? Imagine if that were swapped around. As a woman, would you stand for it? Of course not!
Look, as long as people exist, some of them are going to hate each other for bad reasons. Some won’t actually hate but will occasionally say hateful things they don’t quite mean. We will never fully eradicate sexism (or racism, or homophobia, or any other brand of hatred), but we can make headway, and we have. Occasional incidents of man-hatred don’t indicate a pervasive cultural misandry, and if you need evidence that the scales have not actually “tipped the other way”, I invite you to read every other post on this website.
Baby tech, in general, has been optimized for women. Diaper bags often feature floral designs. Burping cloths tend toward the pastel. The aesthetic assumption of most infant-care devices is that even the things that could be done by either parent will be done, ultimately, by women. Products’ appearance subtly tells men, “Sorry, guys, this is not for you.”
Not the Megapram, though!
(You’ll just have to read it.)
A group of Scottish men who meet monthly at a Glasgow gentlemen’s club—no, the other kind—to drink whiskey sours and learn new sewing techniques.
I just have no words to describe how wonderful this makes me feel.
Via The Frisky.
Sarah Innis of xoJane responds to research suggesting that women find men more sexually attractive when the men do housework:
I know that while my partner wants to live in a clean house, he doesn’t actually want to do the cleaning. I cannot bear to ask him to do chores because, in my experience, a) it sounds like nagging b) it still won’t get done until he is good and ready, which inevitably is long past the time when I am good and ready to see the job completed and c) refer back to “a.”
I remember the pastor who did our premarital counseling telling us we should compete to see which of us could outserve the other.