In a comment below last Thursday’s post on the myth of male inflexibility, SamSeaborn wrote:
…mating, at least in the early stages, is dominated by female choice, and women do have a tendency to prefer doers, not feelers as partners. Sure masculinity and feminity are ever-adjusting, but the problem at this point is, it seems to me, that masculinity is squeezed between an expanding concept of feminity (the best man for the job may be the woman) and the reality on the ground that forces most men to compete more intensely for the fewer places in the sun because, put in overly simplified terms, it’s those men most women seem to be interested in. I’m not saying men have no power in sexual negotiations, but those who have tend to be the ones who are in scarce supply, and that’s those who managed to get through the fiercer competition.
Again, I’m all *for* changing that, but I don’t see female CEOs being interested in male kindergarten teachers. This is the crux of the problem, and feminism isn’t really offering any advice.
He got a number of replies, of which La Lubu’s was both typical and cogent:
Where I come from, teaching and nursing do not take a man out of the “wanted pool” it’s the polar opposite. Those are considered decent jobs. Are female CEOs (yeah, there sure are a lot of those) dating those men? No. But are women of the same social class dating and/or marrying them? Hell, yes. People — men and women both — date within their social class. Men of high socioeconomic status might recreationally fuck a woman of lower status, but they sure the hell don’ marry them (or even introduce them to their country-club friends).
Who do you know, in your life, that has rejected a man with a decent paying but below six-figure job because of his earning power? If you don’t have any anecdata, what statistical evidence can you show me that states this? I have never seen that ever. I see the opposite: heterosexual men who hold those jobs that you (as a male) regard as unmasculine, are almost always married. Evidently, women have a different measure of what constitutes masculinity. We don’t really give a hot damn who is King of the Mountain.
The argument that SamSeaborn advances is basically this one: “Men don’t like wearing the straitjacket of masculinity, true. But women want us to. In fact, the only way we get laid is when we engage in stereotypical male behavior. Therefore, it’s women’s fault that we’re suffering from the constraints of manhood, and women have only themselves to blame that they cannot find the male partners they claim to want. If women would only change their sexual decision-making, then men would behave better. But as long as women reward hyper-masculine asshole-dom with sex, then men have no incentive to change.”
I hear this argument frequently from anti-feminists of both sexes.
Stay with me for a second: I’m old enough to have gone to elementary school when they still showed movies in class: proper films, the sort that came on reels. Students fought for the privilege to “thread the projector”, a term that will be meaningless to anyone under thirty. And many of the films I remember best came from Disney’s “True Life Adventures” series. These had been filmed in the 1950s, but they didn’t seem dated in mid-1970s classrooms. I remember film after film exploring the wonder of mating. Everything was G-rated, of course, but the basic idea was obvious: males in the animal kingdom do all that they can to put on impressive displays in order to attract a female. The latter had all the power when it came to sex selection. Reading Sam’s comment, I can’t help but wonder if his sexual worldview owes more to Disney nature films than to 21st century human reality.
I hear from a great many young men the familiar complaint that “girls just want bad boys”. There are lots of reasons why we socialize young women to want disaffected, hostile, and brooding young men. Mostly it has to do with the “my love can change him” notion I wrote about in this post. It’s a phenomenon of the very young, however; relatively few adult women continue to buy into the delusion that they have the capacity to love a violent and unreliable man into compassionate responsibility. The point is, a great many young men oversell the “good girls only want bad boys” trope because they sense the obvious benefit: if they then themselves mistreat women, they are not doing it out of any defect in their natures, but out of a rational strategy for improving their mating odds. It is women themselves who have made these rules, these boys and young men say (often with sincerity); we fellas just have to adapt as best we can. It’s yet another corollary to the myth of male weakness: bad male behavior gets cunningly reframed as an evolutionary adaptation demanded by women, and the blame for everything falls nicely once again on the shoulders and hearts and libidos of the be-uterused.
Sam is talking about the grown-up version of this. In a world which is still in some sense a jungle, he argues, even the most well-educated and successful woman wants a man who can take care of her. This may be more likely to mean “make lots of money” than “beat up creepers who ogle me”, but it’s still the lament that women’s hearts and sex drives don’t really match up with feminist politics. Though all of the evidence suggests that more men don’t seek out nurturing professions because of a combination of socialization and fear of ridicule by other men, many anti-feminists suggest that women’s refusal to take male nurses or kindergarten teachers seriously as potential mates is the primary force driving men away. When real-life women like La Lubu and Mythago and the others in the comment thread suggest that this is just so much pap, their experiences and desires are dismissed as anecdotes that are entirely unrepresentative of the mass of “real women” about whom the likes of SamS apparently know so much.
It is axiomatic that heterosexual men and women regularly misunderstand what the other sex wants. These misunderstandings are reinforced by a media that hypes absurd caricatures of masculinity and femininity, leading young boys to imagine that without an eight-pack on their tummies, they are destined for lonely celibacy — and leading girls to believe that all young men insist on being partnered with those who have bodies like Khloe Kardashian’s. These misperceptions are excusable in adolescents, less so in adults a decade or two (or three, or four) removed from puberty. Too many men and women assume that their acquaintances of the other sex are lying when they say things that deviate from culturally-imposed expectations. So when a man hears a woman say, “No, I really do want a partner who will be an equal rather than a non-communicative workaholic”, he may tell himself, “Bullshit. She’s just saying that. I know what women really want.” This “knowledge” is often rooted in random anecdote, or his own imagination, or some slick purveyor of misogyny masquerading as common sense like Tom Leykis or Laura Schlessinger. (To be fair, many women have a hard time believing that male weakness really is a myth rather than a biological reality. When a man says to his partner, “Honey, I only want you”, she may have been so conditioned to believe in the impossibility of male fidelity that she too thinks her own quiet “bullshit.”)
To the extent that men really are being “left behind” in the new economic and educational paradigm, it is because of the inability of so many men to slip the surly bonds of traditional masculinity. The problem isn’t female teachers who “don’t understand boys”, the problem isn’t “feminism”, and the problem isn’t the imagined disconnect between heterosexual women’s politics and their libidos. The problem is a hopelessly constrained vision of what it means to be a man, a vision largely created and maintained and passed on by men. Fathers and brothers and peers; rappers and ballers and professional pugilists; these are the all-too-faithful perpetuators of the myth that women will only accept “sturdy oaks” who “give ‘em hell” and never, ever, display grief or vulnerability.
Individual men suffer from what is, in the end, a collective masculine crime; we are, to paraphrase an old AA saying, the architects of our own adversity. The relentless attempt to shift the blame to women’s irrationality or inconsistency cannot long obscure that hard and heartbreaking truth.