The pleasures and pitfalls of latter-day chivalry

I’ll be traveling much of August, so my writing pace will slow down. My last column until the end of the month at Good Men Project runs today: May I Walk You To Your Car? Chivalry and its Contradictions. Inspired by an evening with my wife and our good friend Batsheva (who blogs here) it’s an attempt to distinguish between gender-based performance and gender-based obligations. Excerpt:

So when I walked Sheva to the car, I was performing a traditionally masculine role. I knew Sheva well enough to know that my escorting her would be appreciated; frankly, I enjoyed her appreciation. Playing that part didn’t undercut my contention that men and women are fundamentally equal with (a tiny number of biological limitations aside) essentially interchangeable roles. We all knew that if there had been a more serious danger, my delightful but potentially lethal wife would have made a far better escort for Sheva. If necessary, that would have been a subversion of traditional expectations. But it wasn’t necessary.

That little performance from our house to her car made me feel good. Because I know her well, I knew the gesture would be appreciated. If I hadn’t known Sheva as well as I do, I would have been far more cautious about the offer to escort her. We don’t get to play parts that make us feel good at the expense of others. A “gentleman” shouldn’t foist his manners on to others; to use another example, if a woman doesn’t want a man to race ahead and open doors for her, he shouldn’t be miffed if she doesn’t thank him profusely every time he does so. The performance of traditional roles is about mutual pleasure, not about mutual obligation.

Read the whole thing.

“Find out what it means to me”: r-e-s-p-e-c-t, Rodney Atkins, Aretha Franklin, and sexual justice

A revised version of this post appeared in 2007.

In the various workshops I’ve put on for young men (and not so-young-men), I’ve talked a lot about the real meaning of one of my favorite words, “respect.” (And if you’re thinking of the Aretha Franklin song now, hold on, I’ll get to it.)

I often start by writing the word “respect” on a flip chart or chalkboard, and then ask the folks I’m working with to play the word association game with me. Everyone gets to throw out the first thing that comes into their head when they hear or see the word. As you might expect, I get a lot of different definitions. Some people do think of chivalry; almost always, someone will say that “opening the door for a woman” is the first thing that he thinks of when he hear the word. Others will offer a negative definition, suggesting that “respect” is more about what you don’t do than what you do: “It’s like watching your language around a girl”; “It’s about not grabbing her just ’cause you want to”; (I remember that definition vividly from one high school group), “It’s treating her as a girl and not like a guy.” I write as many of the definitions and word associations on the board as I can. <

I then tell them the meaning of the word. Spectare means “to look”; re means “again.” So respect is “to look again.” I then ask the audience what they think “to look again” might mean when it comes to how we treat each other. (Usually, some wiseacre will say something like “That means when you see a girl who’s lookin’ fine, you look at her twice!” Everyone laughs indulgently.) But most of them start to get it: “looking again” means looking beyond a superficial exterior. Another way of thinking about “respect” is to suggest that it’s moving beyond “looking at” to “seeing”. To be looked at is to be perceived as an object; to be seen is to be recognized as a unique and valuable human being. Most young people can instantly think of times when they’ve felt the difference between “being looked at” and being truly “seen.”

Respect isn’t chivalry, if what we mean by chivalry is a fairly rigid, antiquated code of prescribed ways of treating men and women differently. Indeed, respect and chivalry can be in considerable opposition. If a code of chivalry conditions me to treat a woman in a certain way merely because she’s a woman, then by definition I’m not respecting her — because I’m not seeing her as a person, only as a female. Think of the epic battles that happen over the issue of holding doors open. I can think of countless men who’ve complained that, to put it vulgarly, they’ve been “bitched out” by women for whom they held open a door or performed some other act of traditional “courtesy.” Respect, however, is deliberately refraining from imposing your own particular views on how the sexes ought to relate onto others. Respect is paying enough attention to those around you that you begin to see as unique human beings; respect is adapting your own behavior to the different needs of different people. Chivalry is a “two-size fits all” approach.

Everyone knows the Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T song. One of the best lines in it is the refrain “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” It’s not a throw-away lyric! Find out what it means to me. That “to me” is vital, and it’s right on. Respect may mean one thing to Aretha, and another thing to Joanne, still another to Maria, still another to Jill, still another to Ralph or Harry or Ted. Respect involves making a unique connection with one other human being; it is inherently incompatible with any rigid code of gender-based conduct. Holding a door open for someone who doesn’t want the door held isn’t respect.

Aretha’s magnificent song has a very different definition of respect than one that did very well on country radio a couple of years ago: “Cleaning my Gun”, by Rodney Atkins. A song about a protective father, it includes these wince-inducing lines:

Well now that I’m a father
I’m scared to death one day my daughter’s gonna find
That teenage boy I used to be
Who seems to have just one thing on his mind
She’s growing up so fast it won’t be long
‘fore I’ll have to put the fear of god
Into some kid at the door

Come on in boy, sit on down
And tell me ’bout yourself
So you like my daughter, do you now
Yeah we think she’s something else
She’s her daddy’s girl, her momma’s world
She deserves respect, thats what she’ll get
Ain’t it son, ya’ll run on and have some fun
I’ll see you when you get back
Probably be up all night
Still cleaning this gun

It’s an old and ugly trope: Daddy uses the threat of violence to guard his daughter’s sexual innocence. “Respect”, in the Atkins song, offers no possibility for agency on the daughter’s part. Rather, “respect” is defined as “keep your hands off my little girl”. The beau is invited to find out what “respect” means to Dad, and it doesn’t matter one bit what it means to his daughter. And the end result will be the same: keeping your hands off your date just because you’re scared of her papa’s gun is no more a sign of respect than pawing at her in self-centered lust. In either scenario, there’s a complete failure to look again, to see what the woman involved might actually want.

Many feminists are rightly suspicious of the language of “respect” because they hear the word the way the likes of Rodney Atkins use it. But the word is a useful one, particularly when we reclaim its original meaning. When we use it the way Aretha used it, with its exuberant insistence that we “find out” the unique desires of the people with whom we interact, it’s a positive concept indeed. In the struggle against rape, harassment, and sexualized violence, clarifying the authentic meaning of “respect” is vital. And once properly understood, it’s something we can insist upon.

Letting kids play on the gender spectrum: a partial defense of “Egalia”

Several people sent me the link to this story that ran on Yahoo this weekend: No ‘him’ or ‘her’; preschool fights gender bias.

At the “Egalia” preschool, staff avoid using words like “him” or “her” and address the 33 kids as “friends” rather than girls and boys.

From the color and placement of toys to the choice of books, every detail has been carefully planned to make sure the children don’t fall into gender stereotypes.
“Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing,” says Jenny Johnsson, a 31-year-old teacher. “Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.”

It’s a rather innocuous project, but judging from the hand-wringing comments below the piece, it’s an initiative that’s misunderstood. The school doesn’t, for example, deny biological difference (the children play with anatomically correct dolls.) The school doesn’t force little boys to play with dolls while insisting that girls take up sports. Rather, as Johnsson says, the whole idea is to give kids the “fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.”

Having a daughter in preschool has reinforced something I already knew: gender happens on a spectrum. Some girls are “girlier” than others. Our Heloise wants to play with dolls more than soccer balls; her friend Ruthie prefers rough-housing. Some of the boys prefer playing house with Heloise; some of the boys prefer to tumble about with Ruthie. At this stage in their little lives, Ruthie and Heloise (like their preschool classmates) find themselves at different points on the spectrum of stereotypical gender behavior.

Gender essentialists insist that there are certain immutable truths: boys are violent, girls are nurturing. Anyone who spends time with little children will notice that at best, that’s only partly true. As a group, the boys do seem rougher and the girls gentler — but invariably, on close examination, a healthy minority of the boys are more tender than an equally noticeable minority of the girls. It’s not a binary, it’s a spectrum — and on that continuum between ultra-masculine and ultra-feminine, little kids are scattered at virtually every point. Furthermore, Tuesday’s rough-houser can be Wednesday’s little nurturer.

Biology isn’t destiny, but it isn’t irrelevant either. Rather, it’s one factor among many that goes into making children who they are. The Egalia pre-school seems committed to allowing children to find themselves without being forced too soon into rigid gender roles. That’s healthy and good. Continue reading

Gripping the sword, embracing the lover: SNL spoofs the masculine double bind and the myth of male inflexibility

Chloe sends me a link to this Saturday Night Live skit that ran last weekend. With Helen Mirren as special guest star, the cast cleverly spoofs our cultural confusion about masculinity. Two comedians take on the roles of Hugh Jackman and Gerard Butler — actors who have shown a penchant to oscillate between playing romantic, sensitive leading men and hyper-macho heroes. They pound their chests and sing Broadway numbers before welcoming Mirren, who plays Jule Andrews — and promptly becomes genuinely homicidal.

I don’t watch Saturday Night Live often, but this was one of the funnier and more pointed skits I’ve seen in a long time.

The SNL short points at two key problems in our contemporary representations of masculinity. Popular culture is deeply ambivalent about men who break free of traditional gender roles: romantic comedies celebrate men who can be sensitive and insightful, witty and artistic while action films feature cartoonish exaggerations of swaggering manliness. In the case of actors like Jackman and Butler, the two genres in which they are most famous for working grow ever further apart: the action movies feature greater savagery (and less depth) than ever; the romantic comedies show us heterosexual male protagonists who are increasingly comfortable with their “feminine” side. The SNL skit riffs on the absurdity of that ever-widening gap, lampooning our own confusion about what it is that we expect men to be.

At the same time, the skit plays on a darker myth, the one that says that men can’t emotionally multi-task. Men can either be violent, protective, macho brutes — or they can be intuitive, kind, and charming. But to expect them to integrate aspects of both traditional masculinity and traditional femininity is a massive overask, or so the myth of male inflexibility has us believe. Of course, in real life, not many people expect a man to be both a Spartan general and a tender aficionado of musical theater. All that most of us would like to see is men who are capable of both compassion and decisiveness. What we’re missing are images of men whose emotional dexterity and flexibility is as great as women’s. Those men do exist, of course. We just see them so rarely.

Chloe asked me for my thoughts on the skit at almost exactly the same moment that I got an email from a student of mine who wanted to share a line from a Japanese anime comic (or film, I’m not sure; one of my readers can fill me in.). One character says to another:

“Unless I grip the sword, I can not protect you. While gripping the sword I can not embrace you.” Isn’t that another perfect encapsulation of the double bind of masculinity, my student wondered. Continue reading

The fathers were wrong: a response to Kathleen Parker about Walter Cronkite

I have little love for Kathleen Parker, author of Save the Males and the latest in a long line of conservative female pundits to sell books by suggesting that feminism has gone too far. But it would seem that there would be little to which to object in her piece yesterday paying tribute to the late Walter Cronkite. Clearly, what ended up in the Post was over or under-edited, as the piece jumps from a meditation on Cronkite’s comforting image to a discussion of whether or not his reporting on Vietnam ushered in an era of overt media bias. It’s a bit incoherent as printed, and was probably better as written.

But I don’t write much about the media. (As for Cronkite, I liked him, but ours was an ABC household; the favorite anchor of my childhood was Peter Reynolds, and I was always a big David Brinkley fan.) What I’m interested in is Parker’s reflection on Cronkite as a particular kind of male icon:

Our nostalgia for his passing isn’t only for the death of a familiar and mostly admired individual, but also for a certain kind of man — an iconic reminder of a time when fathers knew best and the media were on the home team.

He had the looks and voice of the sort of man one could trust for good directions. Nonthreatening and, it seemed, untempted by vanity, his prevailing affect was of seriousness and humility.

It is doubtless difficult in these post-metrosexual, celebrity-driven times to grasp the preference that Americans once held for people who weren’t “all that.” Male figures, also known nearly ubiquitously as “fathers,” were especially admired in those days for substance over style.

What’s so exasperating about Parker’s analysis is that she correlates Cronkite’s absence of vanity and consummate gravitas with his status as an icon of an era in which women were seen as frivolous and incapable of similar seriousness. Cronkite’s greatness lay in his professionalism, a quality entirely unrelated to his sex or to his absence of an intense curiosity about fashion. (Taking a wild guess, I’d say Kathleen Parker probably has an unhealthy and bizarre animus towards dear Anderson Cooper.) Cronkite, who mentored his successor Katie Couric (and was apparently far better disposed towards her than to Dan Rather) was by all accounts committed to greater inclusion for women in broadcast journalism; some have suggested that Cronkite’s behind-the-scenes influence led to Rather’s hasty departure and to the elevation of Couric to be the network’s first female anchor.

Cronkite’s bravest reporting, as Parker herself notes, came in his courageous willingness to expose our policy in Vietnam as disastrous; he had the guts to question the decisions that the “fathers” — presidents like Eisenhower and LBJ — had made in Southeast Asia. Rather than reinforcing the worshipful acquiescence to patriarchal authority that characterized so much of 1950s culture, Cronkite played a vital role in undermining that blind and unthinking trust that far too many Americans put in their national “father figures.” Vietnam showed Americans that fathers didn’t know best; Cronkite showed millions of Americans the truth about Vietnam, and in doing so, helped us to adopt a healthier skepticism towards paternal authority. For that, he deserves our gratitude.

Parker seems to suggest that substance and style are mutually exclusive, as if flair and grace are evidence of a reduced IQ. Of course, she casts “substance” as masculine, with the unwritten but unavoidable implication that “style” is feminine, lightweight, and unserious. Shorter Parker: “I miss my Daddy and my Mommy spent too much time shopping, so I wish I could find more men like my Papa, except that they’re now all shopping too. I feel unsafe.” But there was nothing particularly safe or virtuous about the rigid straitjacket of 1950s gender roles. Men were robbed of the chance not only to wear color, but of the chance to be vulnerable and open, complex and complete. Women were robbed of the chance to be ambitious, intellectually curious, and economically independent. We were half-people

What Parker and her ilk celebrate as a world of certainty, comfort, predictability and roles in harmony with “nature” was, for far more people than we realize, a world of spirit-crushing conformity and cruel repression. The end of the so-called “happy days” is to be celebrated rather than lamented, and to the extent that avuncular Walter Cronkite played a part in bringing those days to an end, he is to be honored as well.

A long post about dating, rejection, affirming and redirecting

The comment thread below this post from last Thursday is still active, and has taken a number of twists and turns. There’s been much discussion of the “seduction community”, lookism, privilege, and the difficulty in finding people to date. It’s been remarkably civil to boot. I think I’m gonna give out the “best comment thread of the year” award in December, and so far, this looks like the winner.

One comment jumped out at me, from “Eurosabra”, who wrote yesterday about the difficulty of meeting women:

…by the 50th sidewalk café, you’re feeling pretty tired and put-upon and wondering when you’re going to be seeing some of the mythical “female sexual agency” directed at you. So it’s a cart-horse problem, compounded by the fact that (at least in college) everyone is always constantly meeting people, it’s just that some people get…no results. And straight women’s means of showing interest are so indirect, because of that whole slut-shaming thing….

it really makes me feel like I have to put myself out there and hope, hope to be chosen, while initiating everything.

I’ve spent my share of time being quite tough on young men like Eurosabra, but having read enough of his comments, it’s clear that he’s not coming so much from a place of male entitlement as from a place of genuine hurt and disillusionment. And that hurt and disillusionment, that sense that meeting potential dates requires constant receptiveness to rejection, is widely felt among many men I know. Some lose all claim on sympathy with misogynistic tirades rooted in a sense of frustrated privilege. But others don’t claim that women are obligated to be attracted to them. They don’t secretly believe that they are God’s gifts to women. They’d just like to meet women with whom they could perhaps have a relationship, and the system for meeting potential dates seems so opaque, so difficult to understand, so set up to guarantee disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. No wonder some of these men retreat into pornography addiction, or turn to the slick purveyors of seduction techniques. No wonder that others just, well, get very sad and a bit cynical. Continue reading

Men, women, and our common capacity for all that is human

In the very first women’s studies course I took at Cal, more than two decades ago, the very first novel we read was Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous utopian fantasy, Herland. (Parenthetically, we live three blocks away from Gilman’s home in Pasadena, now a registered historic site.) The novel, published in 1915, tells the story of a country of women in which men have become entirely superfluous — and of the three men from “our” civilization who, thanks to a hot air balloon ride, stumble across the society. The three males represent three different visions of masculinity, with the poles represented by the violent, hyper-masculine Terry and the gentle, chivalrous Jeff. Jeff, we’re told from the start, has women on a pedestal — he thinks them incapable of wickedness (or much strength). Part of the fun of Gilman’s novel is the way in which she exposes the myths to which both Terry and Jeff cling.

I thought of Jeff’s character yesterday when I read the remark in the thread below this post which suggested:

Or, you can believe, as I think Hugo does, that women are some higher order of humanity. That if only we could free this half of humanity – the innocent half, the half that lacks Original Sin – from dependency on us broken souls that they will be like a light unto the Gentiles, and show us the way.

That’s Gilman’s Jeff, all right, but it’s not Hugo Schwyzer – or any other feminist, man or woman, with whom I’ve worked. In the tired compendium of anti-feminist bromides, there are a few classic slurs which re-emerge again and again: pro-feminist men are gay; lupine sexual predators in sheep’s clothing; filled with intense self-loathing; convinced of the innate superiority of women and the innate inferiority of men. The misogynists can’t go out the front door to come up with any new arguments, so they return to these again and again — and it’s the last of these to which I want to — briefly, I promise — respond this morning.

I do not believe for a second in the innate moral superiority of women over men. As someone committed to the sound principle that most of our beliefs about sex difference are rooted in cultural constructs rather than in immutable physiological truths, I take it for granted that both men and women are capable of kindness and cruelty, sexual aggression and passivity, courage and cowardice, homicidal rage and extraordinary empathy. One excellent feminist first principle is that there is no human emotional or intellectual capacity that does not belong in equal measure to both men and women. I’ve been a card-carrying member of the National Organization for Women and the National Women Studies Association for years — and I’ve yet to meet a colleague of either sex who expressed in public or in private a conviction that females were, on account of their biology, superior to men. Continue reading

The road out of serfdom: gender roles and social democracy

Charles Murray, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of the infamous “Bell Curve” study from a few years back, weighs in with this month’s load of good old-fashioned hooey: The Europe Syndrome and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism. Murray makes his living from an organization devoted to the defense of the indefensible: that unbridled American capitalism, married to conservative Protestant religious values, is the last best hope for humankind. He does his wealthy patrons proud in this essay and lecture, attacking the Obama Administration for its apparent zeal to remake the USA in the image of Western European-style social democracies.

Would that it were true; as fond as I am of our new lad in the White House, I doubt even he can move this country that far to the left in the short time he has been given. I’m certainly fond of Western European style social democracy; I hold an EU passport as well as an American one, and have close family scattered across half a dozen nations of that splendid continent. I’ve seen the strengths and weaknesses of the systems in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom in particular and have found much that is enviable. But I’m not a political scientist nor an economist, and will leave the arguments over the specifics of the welfare state to those better equipped to defend them.

There’s much that is risible in Murray’s defense of the American “free enterprise system”, but nothing so jaw-dropping as his thesis that working class males need weak public institutions in order to feel like, well, real men:

When the government takes the trouble out of being a spouse and parent, it doesn’t affect the sources of deep satisfaction for the CEO. Rather, it makes life difficult for the janitor. A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. Think of all the phrases we used to have for it: “He is a man who pulls his own weight.” “He’s a good provider.” If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing some theoretical outcome. I am describing American neighborhoods where, once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn’t.

To paraphrase a line from a fine old Guns n’ Roses song, “You’d better start sniffing your rank condescension, Chuck.” Murray, probably intentionally, is repeating one of the Great Lies of Masculinity: men — particularly working-class men — only feel useful and valued when the women in their lives are weak and dependent. In other words, Murray is peddling the myth that male responsibility is inextricably linked to female vulnerability. Provide a social safety net that permits women to survive on their own, that allows them to raise their children without the “good provision” of a hard-working man, and all sense of purpose magically vanishes from the lives of these lads, or so he argues. Continue reading

A preference for daughters?

My wife and I did not know the sex of our child before she was born. Letting the mystery be, and allowing ourselves to be surprised and delighted by either a boy or a girl was part of our plan from the beginning. Frankly, I’m proud of myself for not giving in to the overwhelming temptation to “find out” in advance; the fact that we kept the ultrasounds to the bare minimum helped. My standard answer to the ubiquitous question “So, what are you having?” became “We were really hoping for an eighth chinchilla, but the doctors tell us it’s a human”. Some folks laughed, and others looked confused, and a few — a very few — were genuinely offended by our lack of concern for the sex of our child.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t care that our daughter is a girl. It’s just that from the perspective of someone who sees a new life as miraculous — and who sees gender as largely a social construct — the idea that my child’s plumbing ought to be the most interesting aspect of her identity seems misplaced. Truth be told, I didn’t care one way or another whether we had a girl or a boy; we wanted, like all parents, a healthy child. Now that that child has been revealed to us as a female, we’re both thrilled to have a daughter. I’m over-the-moon about my baby girl, but no more so than I would be if we had had a son. And I’m utterly mystified by the prospect of anyone feeling otherwise.

My wife and I do talk about having more children. I’m one of four, and she is one of four, so there’s something about that number that has a certain amount of appeal. (This is not the post to debate family size and environmental responsibility, though I will post on that soon.) All things being equal, I’d like to have at least one child of each sex. I’ve spent so many years working with both young men and women; I’d like to have both male and female energy in my home. Good feminist that I am, I recognize that children of either biological sex can manifest both energies! But if I have a household filled with daughters, I will not be heartsick. One daughter is more than enough at the moment. (Parenthetically, again, I note that our girl was born just a couple of hours before those infamous octuplets came into the world about 20 miles away. A feeble attempt at upstaging, I say.)

In a related vein, Kittywampus put up this post on the day my daughter was born: “Reborn” Female? It starts out with a look at the phenomenon of ultra-realistic “newborn” dolls, and notes that the vast majority of those available are female. Kittywampus wonders whether we’re moving into a period of cultural preference for daughters in this country, and whether that is really such a good thing. Noting that at least in America and the industrialized west, we no longer have such an obsession with male heirs, she writes:

While I’m very glad for the shift in attitudes (not to mention the modern awareness that the father’s X or Y determines sex), I’m not at all convinced that a general preference for girls would be a real improvement. For one thing, reversing sexism wouldn’t end it. It would only flip the terms of the inequality. This is structurally the same as the question of whether matriarchy would be superior to patriarchy. As long as one group is lording it over another, it’s not fair or just … not that we’re in any danger of living in a matriarchal society, mind you!

For another thing I suspect that all kinds of rigid assumptions about girls are wrapped around the growing preference for them. Girls are thought to be easier to manage. They’re imagined to be more docile. How is this progress from the tired old stereotypes of female passivity?

Bold emphasis mine. Just in the past week, as folks have congratulated us upon our little girl, and begun to give us a stunning assortment of desperately cute little outfits, I’ve sensed this perception that “girls are easier”. Easier to shop for, easier to control, easier — perhaps — even to love. That’s not my perception, mind you; if I had a baby boy, I cannot imagine adoring him one iota less than I adore my precious daughter. But without being able to articulate exactly what I’m feeling, there does seem to be an “extra” outpouring of delight from many in our social circle that we’ve had a daughter. Recent births in my extended family seem equally balanced between boys and girls, so it’s not as if this is the first female born in a generation. It’s something else. Continue reading

The old “male responsibility requires female vulnerability” lie, take 197: a response to Kay Hymowitz

I wish I had more time to respond to this Kay Hymowitz piece: Love in the Time of Darwinism. (Cap tap to Rudy.)

Hymowitz is best known as author of Marriage and Caste in America, one of the less-unfortunate texts in the cottage industry of publications devoted to the notion that lifelong heterosexual union is all that stands between us and the apocalypse. Those who want government to abjure responsibility for providing protections for the vulnerable are always quick to see marriage as the panacea for a host of problems. In some sense, arguments about what marriage ought to be are indeed very close to the core of some of our biggest contemporary cultural debates. Four times married — and in this last one, happily so — count me in the corner of those who argue against the over-promotion of the institution!

In any case, in this article Hymowitz takes on the modern dating scene, which offers any commenter of any political persuasion much opportunity for lamentation. But Hymowitz is primarily worried about the impact on we men-folk, who are apparently overwhelmed and bewildered:

Today, though, there is no standard scenario for meeting and mating, or even relating. For one thing, men face a situation—and I’m not exaggerating here—new to human history. Never before have men wooed women who are, at least theoretically, their equals—socially, professionally, and sexually.

By the time men reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed. Small wonder if they initially assume that the women they meet are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex.

Oy. All of those women going to college and playing sports? They want husbands and babies and little fluffy puppies. But not money, independence, strong bodies, or that nasty sex stuff. And if they pretend they want money or orgasms, they are poor deluded dears who have bought into the lies promoted by… by… by women’s studies professors, of course.

In any event, Hymowitz catalogs the bad behavior of SYMs (single young men) and — this is strikingly original — lays the blame squarely on women.

Adding to the bitterness of many SYMs is the feeling that the entire culture is a you-go-girl cheering section. When our guy was a boy, the media prattled on about “girl power,” parents took their daughters to work, and a mysterious plague seemed to have killed off boys, at least white ones, from school textbooks. To this day, male-bashing is the lingua franca of situation comedies and advertising: take the dimwitted television dads from Homer Simpson to Ray Romano to Tim Allen, or the guy who starts a cooking fire to be put out by his multitasking wife, who is already ordering takeout. Further, it’s hard to overstate the distrust of young men who witnessed divorce up close and personal as they were growing up. Not only have they become understandably wary of till-death-do-us-part promises; they frequently suspect that women are highway robbers out to relieve men of their earnings, children, and deepest affections.

Bold emphasis mine. My head is starting to hurt. It’s Ray Romano’s fault? No, it’s all down to divorce — the kind where hard-working and reliable men get abandoned by flighty women who, with the help of a unjust legal system designed by the pantsuited and the predatory, steal everything from their husbands, who are (like all men, really) naive babes-in-the-woods. Wise young lads, these, to learn such important lessons! As the kids said in my day, gag me with a spoon. Continue reading