I can never figure out the blogosphere. I start blogging less frequently, and my traffic — and comments — go up. May 2009 has seen my highest number of visitors this year, despite a notable reduction in the number of posts. Go figure. Perhaps less is more?
Lots of discussion below last Thursday’s post, much of it both civil and thoughtful. I’m appreciative. Once again, the theme of male insecurity has been raised and discussed; once again, we find ourselves discussing the topic of feminism’s impact on men. Reading the comments, however, I’m struck by something that seems both logical and ever more apparent: one source of the resentment so many men seem to feel towards feminism and what it has wrought lies in their perception that it has made women less, rather than more, sexually available to them.
We recently debated the “problem” of men “never feeling hot.” Commenters of all sexes shared painful stories of feeling unattractive and unwanted. No question, it’s hard to live with the sense that one is physically undesirable, particularly in our beauty-obsessed culture. The psychic toll that sense takes on men and women alike is real and undeniable. But where it gets really ugly (intended word) is when we see flashes of male entitlement, part of what is often called the “Nice Guy” syndrome. That entitlement manifests as the angry, indignant claim certain men make that women “should” see past their physical shortcomings and their social ineptness: Why can’t they see what a nice guy I am? Why are women such superficial bitches? Many women have been on the receiving end of hostile, sometimes whiny tirades such as these. Whatever sympathy might be possible for the unlovely and the awkward vanishes utterly in the face of such astounding entitlement.
I wrote last fall against the tired old “male responsibility requires female vulnerability” thesis peddled by an array of social conservatives from Brad Wilcox to Kay Hymowitz. The thesis is that men “need to be needed”, and in the absence of feeling needed (by women) they will behave badly. Therefore, women need to make themselves vulnerable and dependent, forcing men (or giving them the opportunity) to take charge, to play the role of the knight-in-shining-armor, to feel indispensable. To listen to the right-wingers tell it, once men are given the sense that they are indispensable, they will shape up and fly right, illegitimacy and crime will vanish, the rise of the oceans will cease, and all God’s children will say “Amen.” Or something like that. Of course, in order for men to feel indispensable, women will need to surrender, become docile and nurturing rather than independent and ambitious. We’ve heard this hooey a million times before, but like supply-side economics, this belief in the “responsibility for vulnerability” transaction remains a difficult bogeyman to slay.
Here’s the connection to our Nice Guys(tm): feminism has empowered women economically, educationally, and socially. An increasing number of women can afford to live on their own, and can find happiness and fulfillment outside of a heterosexual relationship. This means that increasingly, sexual relationships with men are a choice rather than a necessity. And when we don’t need something, and can afford to act out of desire alone, we can be much more selective. Thus a great many men whose physical, social, intellectual, and emotional attributes add up to a less than stellar sum will go “unselected” by the women they long for. Dimly aware of an “earlier time” when “women knew their place” (the bygone days of the vulnerability for responsibility exchange), these men direct their rage not only at the women who reject them but at the social movement that empowered women to be more “choosy” about those with whom they mated. If it weren’t for feminism, these lads figure, women would need them for financial survival — and as a consequence of that need, would be more willing to overlook their various defects.
Hence the appeal of younger, more economically vulnerable women; hence the appeal of mail-order brides. Hence the misogynistic attacks on independent women and the institutions (the academy, the marketplace, the political system) that seeks to encourage that independence. No wonder so many of these angry men are clustered on the political right, even when the GOP takes stances at odds with their own economic interests! In their minds, the Democratic party and the liberal left has created opportunity after opportunity for women — and, as a direct consequence, made men’s access to dependent girlfriends and wives that much more difficult. No wonder the rage boils up.