Point-Counterpoint: The War on Men
By now you’ve probably heard about the tizzy over Suzanne Venker’s article “The War on Men." In it, the anti-feminist speaker and author of a new book called “How to Find A Husband”! (exclamation point mine) argues that the reason men don’t want to get married and are generally miserable is because of feminists. Fortunately, we have Aimee Whetstine and Lisen Stromberg, to weigh in on the controversy with their opposing views. Recently, they chewed over the issue on their thoughtful joint blog, Finding (Un) Common Ground. After reading what they have to say, they'd love to have you join the debate.
Talk about an uproar. Recently, Suzanne Venker, the niece of anti-feminist Phyllis Schafly, wrote an article on Fox News’s website called, “The War on Men.” Since then, the blogosphere, twittersphere, and just about every feminist in the country has been up in arms. The article, they say, is “insulting to women” and a “waste of time.” “Don’t bother reading it” is the general consensus.
How wrong they are.
Venker sees a recent Pew study reporting Millennial men don’t want to marry as a sign that the dearth of “marriageable men” is the fault of the women’s movement. She says women’s changing roles over the past few decades have pushed “men off of their pedestals.”
The result? “After decades of browbeating the American male, men are tired,” Venker writes. And not just tired, they are “pissed off.” Men are refusing to get married because, “women aren’t women anymore.”
It’s true. The gender straight-jacket that confined women to the limiting roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper, has been burst open. Women can now aspire to a myriad of complex and meaningful roles and have greater opportunities than ever before. You can’t have missed the headlines announcing women now make up the majority of college students, are increasingly the primary breadwinners, and that the end of men is nigh. The era of women as subservient to men is long over and, today, confusion reigns.
Venker’s article, and the 209,000 readers who “liked” it, reveal a deep anxiety over the changes currently being played out in society. The reality, as we know, is women have been changing for decades. Even before the The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, we have been resisting the limitations of the old notion of femininity. It is only now, finally, that society as a whole sees that the era of masculine predominance is coming to an end.
And many are afraid. If women have broadened the definition of what it means to be female, where does that leave men? Venker, and those like her, argue for a return to the days of old when patriarchy made everything more clear. Men were in charge and women did all the work (You could argue not much has changed so why all the complaining, but I digress).
Venker is wrong in that we feminists aren’t waging a war on men, we are waging a war on patriarchy. The gender straight-jacket required by patriarchy, the one that limited women for so long, is as confining to men. It was confining in 1963 when the second wave feminist movement and it is even more so now.
Provider. Soldier. Athlete. Aggressor.
These are the roles and characteristics that define masculinity even in the current “post-feminist” 21st century. And yet, we are seeing more and more men becoming stay-at-home dads and in careers that are traditionally considered female centric (eg: nurse, teacher, administrative assistant). We are also seeing more and more men claim their connection to their children (mothers aren’t the only ones who want flex-time) and even crying (Did you see POTUS thank his staff?). This is just the beginning of the changing nature of manhood, the kind that will benefit us all.
Our challenge as women is to not fall backwards ourselves, but to pull everyone forward with us. We need to support men as they push their own boundaries both professionally and personally. Compassion should be our stead.
We must model leadership for the 21st century, the kind that allows all humans to reach their full potential. It is only when men are given the support and encouragement to find their fullest expression of self, that true equality will be achieved. In the meantime, you’ll still find me fighting the good ole fight; it’s one war I believe in.
Suzanne Venker's recent article "The War on Men" sparked an uproar among feminists. But Venker's ideas and upcoming book How to Choose a Husband (And Make Peace with Marriage) come as no surprise to me. Nor am I surprised by the responses Venker received for suggesting women's angry attitudes, fueled by militant feminism, contribute to the trend of young men rejecting marriage.
Venker references stats from the Pew Research Center that show, among other things, an increase in the percentage of women ages 18 to 34 who say marriage is one of their highest priorities and a simultaneous decrease in the percentage of men ages 18 to 34 espousing that value. This is a significant change since 1997 when young men and women were statistically equal on this measure. The result? A shortage of "marriageable men."
How strange that feminists should find the concept of a "war on men" untenable when they so readily accept a "war on women." I was in college in 1991 when Susan Faludi's book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women was published. Have you seen this book? It's five inches thick. I carried the first edition around like a Bible and poured over every incident of resistance against women's liberation Faludi reported.
It was around that same time I caused a stir in my creative writing class. I'd written a poem describing an observation about weddings: all the single women reach for the bouquet when it's thrown. No matter what we might say about love and men and marriage, no matter what other paths we might choose, the truth comes out when those flowers are tossed. We all want love. We all reach for it.
An older classmate glared from across the writing circle. She lit into me about how not all women want to get married. Marriage is oppressive. Fish and a bicycle. ERA. The Feminine Mystique. I sat quietly through her tirade and thought to myself, "Okay, but given the choice, who doesn't want a loving marriage? Deep down, most of us want to catch that bouquet!"
Eight years after Backlash, Faludi published Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, arguing men are also in the cultural crosshairs. Then in 2008, Beyoncé confirmed my suspicions about marriage with her song Single Ladies. Its fast and furious chorus demands nothing short of a proposal: "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it."
Now the Pew Research Center presents hard data. Women still want to get married. Men used to, but these days not so much. Maybe Venker is on to something. Ladies, maybe we're scaring men away or at the very least sending them mixed messages.
Turn on the television or go to the movies and you'll see "marriageable men" portrayed as either bumbling idiots or deplorable villains. Read columnists like Maureen Dowd rail against the "white male patriarchy" as if the past 40 years never happened. Walk through Target like I did this past summer and read the words emblazoned on little girls' t-shirts. Lines like "My Skills Make Boys Run" ooze cattiness, yet we expect these boys to someday meet our daughters at the marriage altar. Why would young men commit to marriage when the culture says women don't even like them very much?
Besides, sisters are doing it for themselves. According to Pew, women make up almost half the workforce and more women hold college degrees than men. The New York Times reports more than half of births to American women younger than age 30 occur outside marriage, with the glaring exception of college educated women who most often marry before having children. The NYT calls this difference a "new class divide" where marriage is a luxury afforded to the more educated. Sadly, a third of families headed by single mothers are in poverty, and they are four times more likely than married-couple families to be poor. That doesn't sound like progress to me; that sounds like fallout from years of trashing the traditional family structure that protected many women and children across the socioeconomic spectrum.
You don't have to be a feminist to believe women (and men) should be respected in real life and in the media. They should be free to pursue their education, dreams, and talents. They should be able to vote, own property, raise their children as they see fit, and leave abusive relationships. They should be paid equally for the same work. Yes, we still have to close the gap on that last one, but change is happening. According to Pew, among young workers ages 16 to 34 women’s earnings are now more than 90% of men’s.
Just as Venker recognizes a subculture of men who say they will never marry because "women aren't women anymore," I fear there is a subculture of women who will never quit fighting "the man." The war has no end for them, regardless of how many victories are won. But women conquering oppression by oppressing men isn't a solution. Many women (and men) want to be married. We are tired of fighting. We want equality, however we know equal doesn't necessarily mean same—and that's okay. There's a lot of give and take between women and men, especially in healthy marriages. As Venker might say, it's time we make peace with that.