Andrew Klavan has a video up suggesting that we celebrate International Men’s Day, because men, like women, have also been responsible for a few things that make the world a better place:
In America, it used to be that boys were boys and girls were girls, except for a handful of boys and girls who didn’t conform to the norm. Boys were at the top of the heap; girls had a carefully carved out, limited sphere of influence and opportunities; and sexually non-conforming people were ignored or abused, depending on both their ability to blend in and their community’s ability to cope with their differences. Both women and sexually non-conforming people were routinely denied equal treatment under the law.
The women’s lib and gay rights movements were originally sold as a way to ensure that women and gays (and, eventually, the whole LGBTQ spectrum) received equal treatment under the law. That was originally understood to mean equal access to education, employment opportunities, and house; equal pay for equal work; and freedom from overt, violent discriminatory practices — and that was it.
Since then, equal treatment under the law has become a picayune, limited goal. Instead, the Left is using gender and sexuality as a way to remake society entirely in opposition to heterosexual males, the ones who created Western society in the first place.
The latest push to remake society is the effort either to ban the word “bossy” or to turn it into an undiluted positive when the word is applied to girls. This, of course, ignores the reality of bossy little girls.
Girls are bossy, something that comes about because they model themselves on their mothers. Despite decades of Leftist marriage, gender, and sexuality rejiggering, for most children, Mom is the Big Boss in the house. (Indeed, considering the soaring number of single moms, she’s the only boss in the house.) The vast majority of little girls identify with mommy. That’s a fact that no gender theory will ever change. So if Mommy is bossy — as she has to be in order to run a household with children — then a little girl’s logical assumption is that, to be a grown woman in training, she too must be bossy.
And what about the claim that we’re all wrong to say it’s obnoxious when girls are bossy? I couldn’t disagree more. It’s incredibly obnoxious when girls are bossy. What’s appropriate coming from a grown woman with responsibilities is profoundly irritating whether a 4-year-old lisps orders to her friends, a 10-year-old hollers imprecations at her brother, her a 15-year-old, in a strident whine, tells her parents what she wants them to do. It’s obnoxious not because the 4, 10, and 15-year-old are female, but because they haven’t yet earned the right to boss anyone around. The issue is age, not sex.
Even as the Leftist/Progressive/Democrat establishment seeks to make it so that every girl’s fecal matter is perceived as perfumed, the relentless attacks on boys never end. Fortunately for me (’cause I’m lazy), I don’t have to go into detail on this topic because Matt Walsh has already done so, saying what I would say, only doing it better.
So let me just skip ahead to a discussion of the Left’s latest attack on America’s last bastion of masculinity: the military. The military used to be the place where you sent your boys to become men. Now? I don’t know. The military is still overwhelmingly male, but the Obama administration, even though it cannot change the numbers, is doing its best to change its manly ethos.
Gays can openly serve now, which puts a great deal of pressure on young men. While the Left will freely acknowledge that women shouldn’t have to shower with men who view them in a sexually predatory fashion, and that women in the military are at risk of becoming victims of violent sexual attacks from predatory men, the Left refuses to acknowledge that gay men can be equally predatory to other men. (And lesbian women are often predators to other women.) Under the new paradigm, shying away from showering with an aggressive gay man or lesbian woman isn’t logical self-preservation and respect for ones own sexual integrity; it is, instead, homophobic and the people holding such views must be re-educated and/or destroyed. It’s an interesting social experiment, but a disastrous burden to place on an institution that has as its primary task combat training and preparation to fight off enemies of unspeakable savagery.
Placing women in combat is also a de-masculinizing effort (yes, it’s a neologism) on the Obama administration’s part. Training standards will have to be lowered because it’s the extraordinarily rare woman who can compete head-on physically with men. Men are bigger and stronger. They have stronger bones and joints. Their skin is tougher and has fewer nerves, meaning it’s less sensitive to pain. They get less breathless. They can pee standing up or into old water bottles, and they don’t have periods or get pregnant. They are vulnerable to rape (see the above paragraph), but less vulnerable, especially because cultures other than America subscribe to the Red Army’s approach to despoiling conquered women.
The only way women can compete equally with men is to lower the standards for men. This means that young men will not be challenging themselves as much. To the extent many join the military because men need challenges, the military becomes less attractive. Additionally, young men aren’t fools. They know that women will create physical and emotional drags on a combat unit. Only in the Ivory Tower, surrounded by theory, would people think that women with their different biology are identical to men for all purposes, including combat.
Having turned the military into a Progressive experiment for gays and women, now what do we do? We bring transsexuals into the military. Although the number of transsexuals in the military will of necessity be small (there aren’t that many around), I suspect the transsexual-infused military will be a different animal from what it currently is. Libby, one of my wonderful commenters, found this interesting tidbit about transsexuals:
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention report on suicide attempts among transgender and non-gender conforming adults (Jan.2014) found that the while rate for suicide attempts in the general US adult population is about 4.6%, in transgender people, the rate is 41% (46% for trans men).
transsexuals are deeply, deeply unhappy people, who wear their own bodies like a painfully ill-fitting outfit. I feel nothing but compassion for their anguish (an anguish that gender reassignment may do nothing to help). Having said that, I am appalled that our president somehow thinks that the military will be the group therapy environment these troubled souls need. He is using America’s front line defense against a dangerous world to normalize that which, statistically and biologically speaking, isn’t normal.*
There is nothing closer to who and what we are than are gender and sexual orientation. A wise friend of mine thinks that Islam’s entire beef with the Western world is the fact that, as Westernism creeps into Muslim communities, women fight to leave the harem, the burqa, and the hijab. All other insults to the religion are tolerable, except for the one that shakes up the relative values between men and women under Islam.
The Left understands this, but it heads in an opposite direction from Islam. Rather than attacking women and gays to gain control over culture, it attacks heterosexual males. This is why, beginning when they’re just little children, America’s males are systematically demeaned and insulted. They are also deprived of opportunities to express their masculinity in positive ways and, instead, are reduced to expressing it through computer games, random violence, and perpetual dorm-style sloth and slobbery. If you want to see the end of a sustained Leftist attack on men, you need only look to the American black community, where men have been rendered useless. The government fulfills all the functions women need (shelter, food, health care, and child care), leaving the men responsible only for spread sperm. No wonder, then, that black men have developed a culture focused on the size of their weapons (both of which, ironically, are tucked in the pants): guns and penises.
*No, I’m not saying people on the LGBTQ spectrum are “perverts” or “sickos,” or that they should be ridiculed, humiliated, discriminated against, hanged, beaten, imprisoned, or anything else. I don’t believe that.
What I do believe is that love and physical desire are a combination of mind, biology, and culture, and that, when it comes to consensual adult relationships, it’s my business to stay out of it. When I look at people, I judge them on values other than their sex partners, values such as individual freedom versus government control, stable relationships versus promiscuity, hard work versus parasitism, kindness versus cruelty, etc.. I do, however, reserve the right to look down upon people if their choice of sex partner is their only value.
So, rather than sit in judgment on LGBTQs, what I’m trying to say is that non-heterosexual orientations are statistical anomalies and that it is impossible to build a culture around a biological statistical anomaly. It won’t stick.
Peter Beinart is in agony, because he’s a terrible father. Why is he such a terrible father? Because he allows his son to watch pro football with him. By doing so, says Beinart, he lends his imprimatur to something that’s really no different from a Roman gladiator contest, with the loser gladiator executed or eaten by lions at the end:
Last Saturday night, he [Beinart’s 8-year-old son] proudly dug out a long-unused Patriots jersey and joined me on the couch late into the night as the Patriots dispatched the Indianapolis Colts.
It was wonderful. And it made me a little sick.
It made me sick because I could see the game through his eyes. And it wasn’t pretty. My son, unfamiliar with the NFL’s pieties, assumed that hurting the other team’s players was the goal. To his untutored eye, the violence that guilt-ridden fans like myself decry was a feature, not a bug. He didn’t cheer the injuries; he’s too sweet for that. But despite my insistence to the contrary, I suspect the message he took from the experience was: The only thing you need to know about the large man writhing in agony on the screen is whether he’s on our team.
Mr. Beinart, if the takeaway lesson from football that you’re teaching your son is “let’s cheer when men get hurt,” the problem isn’t with the game, it’s with you. You are indeed a failure as a father because you, with all your fine words and liberal anguish, were completely incapable of teaching your son the good lessons that football — especially pro-football — teaches.
Thankfully, I’m not you. After having watched six hours of football yesterday, I had a very different takeaway message for my adolescent son: You can learn a lot from these guys. The reason I enjoy watching the game is because there’s something thrilling about men giving 110% to what they’re doing. I never watch an NFL game and think, “Gee, that quarterback is slacking off.” Or “That tight end’s doing nothing out there.” Anybody can be taught technique, but it’s up to each individual to bring passion, self-discipline, drive, energy, and courage to whatever he does. Those guys who make it to the NFL — and especially the guys who make it to the playoffs — are the best of the best, not just at the sport of football, but at the art of being a man.
Watch a pro game, not for the game aspect, but in a more abstract way, just seeing the men as bodies in motion. Every man on the field gives his all. These guys use their bodies as missiles, battering rams, walls, whatever. They are the quintessence of dedicated manliness without weapons. It’s hard on the body (although the media is making up numbers as it goes about the risks associated with the game) so these guys are appropriately well-compensated. That’s okay. It’s a known risk that they willingly take for a tangible financial reward.
In an increasingly feminized world, pro football is one of the last bastions of unabashed manliness. In classrooms all over America, boys are forced to sit still and read books about their feelings (where once they were at least allowed to read stories of war and heroism and adventure). In school yards all over America, girls and boys — but especially boys — are told not to compete, not to run, not to throw, not to hit . . . heck, not to engage in any of the familiar rituals (at all times, in all cultures) that young boys do as they move toward manliness. Rather than celebrating and cultivating manly virtues (bravery, loyalty, honor, strength), we routinely tell boys that, unless they imitate girls, they are without virtue. Their natural instincts are defined as fundamentally bad.
And then there’s football. I’m always amazed and impressed when I see a player run, spin, and leap, eluding attackers and, quite often, still running with at least one person attached to his leg. My lizard brain is telling me, “If this guy was my mate, and I was being chased by anything from an enraged mammoth, to a Nazi, to a Taliban, this is the guy who would be there for me. Pajama Boy would be screaming and weeping and begging for mercy, but this football player would lay his life down for me . . . after first inflicting some serious injury on the other guy (or mammoth).”
Yes, these guys can be as violent off the field as they are on. The fact, though, that their violent acts make headlines tells us that, for most of them, they can turn off the violence just fine. After all, these incidents make news because their rare, not because they’re ordinary. In any event, I suspect that their random acts of violence have more to do with their upbringing than their football career.
Men should be allowed to be men. I’d much rather have my guy get his instincts out in the culturally-sanctioned, structured environment of the football field, rather than spending his day pretending to be Pajama Boy, only to come home frustrated and angry. For better or worse, we humans are animals. The healthiest society is that which gives a controlled outlet for our animal instincts, than one that forces people to deny entirely that those instincts exist.
Apparently the newest metrosexual statement is for men to wear high heels. The claim is that it’s a “power statement” because you tower over others.
I beg to differ. Heels mess with your balance and your ability to walk forward. I discovered this as a young lawyer. My opponent (male) and I moved to our tables before judge. He, wearing flat shoes, strode forward; I, wearing fashionable 2.5 inch heels, wobbled and minced. Rather than radiating power, I radiated helplessness. Sure I looked sexy, but I also looked useless.
Historically, only physically useless men have worn heels. (Think of the French aristocracy, which had the power of money, but was as effete as they came.) This is one more horrible step in the de-masculinization of Western culture.
Several people, knowing my fondness for the Navy (think Navy League), sent me links to a Wall Street Journal article that Lt. Cmdr. Greitens, a Navy SEAL, wrote about what goes into making a Navy SEAL. Of course, it’s not just the training; it’s the man behind the training. No man who is afraid of ultimate responsibility, extreme hard work, painfully uncomfortable physical conditions, and pushing his own limits to their furthest boundaries will even think of becoming a SEAL. When one considers the demands of being a SEAL, I’m surprised that there are even 2,500 men qualified as active duty SEALs. Given the nature and habits of so many of the men I know here in the suburbs, I would have put the number closer to, say, 12.
The suburban men I know are nice men — really nice men. They’re bright men. They’re highly educated men (often Ivy League). They’re multi-credentialed men. They’re high-earning men. And aside from bringing home the bacon, many (not all, but many) of them aren’t good for much else. Between the people they pay to do tasks (the gardeners) and their over-achieving wives, they don’t do much that is traditionally manly (other, of course, than the wage thing, which is not to be sneezed at).
Although this is certainly not true for all the households I know, in a large number of them, the wives do everything but earn money (and some earn money too). These women not only do the traditional female tasks, such as children, cooking, shopping, cleaning and laundry, they also do the traditionally male tasks, such as garbage, gardening, clearing the table after dinner (when I grew up, the men did that as a courtesy to their wives), plumbing, small home repairs, etc. The women gripe about the never-ending tasks, but they also take a certain pride in their ability to get, not just a few things, but everything done.
One can easily blame women’s lib for the “vanishing male” phenomenon. After all, the men around me grew up in the 1970s, when they were told that women could bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and still be pistols in the bedroom. (I don’t think Madison Avenue appreciated quite how tired those women were after bringing home and bacon, frying it up, and giving birth to and raising a few children.) You remember this classic commercial, don’t you?
Women’s lib emasculated men!
I don’t think it’s quite that simple, though. I think these men — the men who have abdicated the roles that for a few decades belonged to suburban men — enjoy what I call auto-emasculation. Sure, they’re a bit less manly than their daddies, or the working class stiffs a few towns over, but on the other hand they’ve got so much less to do. Since they’re not hauling the garbage, they can go to the gym. Since the gardener is mowing the lawn (which is how my daddy kept his muscles in shape), they can watch that extra couple of hours of TV every weekend. And really, it’s nice to have a competent wife, so that you don’t have to do anything around the house. Even if you end up looking helpless around the kids, the trade-off is a good one: more couch time.
I didn’t read the SEAL article. I started to. Really. I did. But it’s about manly men, and I sorely feel the lack of them in my world. I understand that these manly men can be tough to be around, since they’re not in touch with their warmer emotions, they’re pretty scarred by some of their experiences, and they’re not around a lot. I grew up the daughter of one of those manly men, and it presented its own difficulties. Still, as the French say, Viva la difference! Many of my female suburban compatriots thought they were marrying real man, and found that they’d ended up marrying someone who, once he achieved the suburbs, decided that he’d filled his lifetime manly quota, and could pass the baton to someone else.
Cross-posted at Right Wing News
The big “conservatives are evil” exhibit of the moment is conservative protests over at Fox about a J. Crew advertisement in which a mom happily paints her five year old son’s toenails pink. I think it’s worth adding here that the boy clearly hasn’t had a haircut in a while. In other words, if the ad didn’t identify him as a boy, he would be sexless — neither boy nor girl, just sexually content neutral.
The ad itself is pretty darn innocuous, but it is symptomatic of something much bigger: pop culture efforts to emasculate men. No matter where you look, men and boys are reviled, both specifically and in the abstract.
At colleges, women are told that their male peers are rapists. At elementary schools, boys are medicated into submission. In classrooms, the old “boy’s life” adventures that saw the heroic 10 year old save the fair maiden from Nazis, dragons, aliens, etc., have been replaced by books that focus on feelings, nothing more than feelings. On girls t-shirts, anti-boy slogans blossom (“Boys have feelings too. But who cares?”). On playgrounds, school and otherwise, rough and competitive play is banned because someone might get hurt. On TV shows, men are useless buffoons, ill-informed and ineffectual. At universities, men are vanishing, in part, I’m sure, because the hyperfeminist environment is boring and hostile. (And in part, because they are so medicated and bored in K-12 that they make bad grades and are anxious to leave the academic environment.) The military, that bastion of manhood, is reviled as an institution that creates brutish baby-killers.
Compared to all this overt and subliminal hostility to men, a picture of a five year old boy being “girled up” by his mom is minimal, but it’s still another straw being stacked on to the male camel’s back. One of these days, that back will break, and American men will be retired to stables where we can harvest their semen. (Yeah, that’s a reductio ad absurdum statement, but I do feel that men are being marginalized to the point at which they’re useful only for their reproductive capacities.)
Male virtues should be celebrated. Boys are energetic, aggressive, loyal and analytical. That energy can be irritating, that aggression can be dangerous, that loyalty can be foolish, and the analysis can be emotionally distant.
By the same reckoning, though, that energy can be an enormously powerful force for good, that aggression can be channeled to protect the weak and helpless, that loyalty is a tremendous tie that binds and another force for good, and that analytical ability is what prevents society from lapsing into completely helpless navel-gazing. We need our men and boys. We need their skills, abilities and instincts. Rather than pinking them down, we should be polishing them up, not brutishly, but constructively.
So yes, I don’t like that J. Crew ad, not because it shows a silly and tender mommy/son moment, but because it’s yet another attempt to erase the male in our society.
Cross-posted at Right Wing News
As you all know, over the years I’ve been fascinated by male and female roles in America. As the mother of a very manly little 10 year old, I take male role models in this culture very seriously. I’ve therefore noticed (and commented upon) the way in which our society consigns boys to perpetual adolescence. Just walk down the streets, and you’ll see teen girls dressed like hookers (tight, skimpy clothes) and teen boys dressed like babies (backwards hats, falling down pants, unlaced shoes).
Hollywood is an important part of the way in which American man are infantilized. I’ve written about this subject twice at American Thinker. In one article, I looked at two movies with two very different messages about men: Brokeback Mountain and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In the other, written during the primaries, I looked at manliness in pop culture generally and in the primaries specifically.
If you’ll pardon me quoting myself, in my article from the primaries, I looked back on movie males during Hollywood’s golden era and compared them to our current crop of stars:
Any analysis of American pop culture has to start in Hollywood. If we enter the Wayback Machine, we can see that, before and during World War II, Hollywood’s male stars were grown-ups (at least on the screen). There was nothing immature or adolescent in the screen presence of such great stars as Clark Gable, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Cotten, Joel McCrea, or Walter Pidgeon, to name but a few. These were men’s men, with strong faces and deep voices.
When the war started, the most boyish of Hollywood’s hot stars, Jimmy Stewart, ditched Hollywood entirely to serve in the war himself, which he did with extraordinary distinction. Mickey Rooney, another boyish actor, also did his bit. Nor were these two alone in abandoning the world of pretend war on the silver screen in order actually to participate in the real war. Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, William Holden, Gene Autry, Robert Montgomery, David Niven, and a host of others enlisted. (Ronald Reagan did too, but a hearing problem, combined with the military’s pressing need for morale boosting films, kept him on the home front, something that dogged him politically in later years.)
Today’s Hollywood stars, even when they take on testosterone packed action roles, never seem to rise above boyishness. Go ahead – take a look at modern such screen luminaries as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom, or Ben Affleck. All of them are distinguished by their chipmunk cheeks and teen heartthrob attractiveness. The same holds true for the older, post-adolescent actors. Whether you’re watching an increasingly wrinkled, although still quite charming, Hugh Grant; Tom Cruise with his shark-like grin; or a goofy Adam Sandler, they all get by playing men who, for the bulk of any given movie, can barely seem to grow up. Even George Clooney, who boasts old-fashioned silver hair and a gravely voice, shies away from emotionally adult roles, both on and off the screen. With this type of competition, it’s small surprise that Daniel Craig has proven to be such a popular James Bond. While his physical attractions elude me, there’s no doubt that he’s the first craggy-cheeked man to play James Bond since Sean Connery made the role.
I’m not the only one paying attention to this trend. At Pajamas Media, Andrew Klavan has also noticed the perpetual state of immaturity that characterizes guys in way too many movies:
The guys are all children whose manhood consists exclusively in hell-raising. The women are either fun-loving party girls or grim, death-of-pleasure wife/mommies who seem ever ready to take their little menchildren by the ears and force them to wash the dishes while they stand by wagging their fingers. These dames remind me of a wonderful line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night about “the American woman, aroused” whose “clean-sweeping irrational temper… had broken the moral back of a race and made a nursery out of a continent.”
A lot of critics get all huffy about this depiction of the sexes – read the silly little fellow who wrote the review in the New York Times by way of example. The standard line seems to be to blame it all on childish filmmakers pandering to adolescent audiences. But you know what? I suspect a lot of it is simple realism. More and more often I meet young guys just like this: overgrown kids who are their grim wives’ poodles. They sheepishly talk about getting a “pink pass,” or a “kitchen pass,” before they can leave the house. They can’t do this or that because their wives don’t like it. They “share” household and child-rearing tasks equally – which isn’t really equal at all because they don’t care about a clean house or a well-reared child anywhere near as much as their wives do. In short, each one seems set to spend his life taking orders from a perpetually dissatisfied Mrs. who sounds to me – forgive me but just speaking in all honesty – like a bloody shrike. Who can blame these poor shnooks if they go out and get drunk or laid or just plain divorced?
It’s easy just to pass this off as meaningless pop culture, but there’s something deeper going on. Our culture is becoming feminized. Women now make up the majority of college graduates, and one could easily call this recession the “men’s recession,” since they’re the ones who have been hardest hit. That hit will resonate in the home. While Mom is still going out and earning a living, Dad sits there, unemployed and unemployable.
I’m not sure what can be done about this problem. I’m certainly not advocating a return to some troglodyte time of brutal cave men and repressed women. We don’t need to live as they do in Saudi Arabia. But the pendulum has swung to far and it would be good for American society if it stopped swinging so wildly in the feminine directing and started trending back to a happy-ish medium.
Almost exactly a year ago, I did a post I entitled Manly men, Girly men and Peter Pan. In it, I tried, ineffectively, I admit, to figure out America’s cultural trends regarding men. There’s the manly trend, exemplified by the Marines and much admired in certain romance novel genres; the Peter Pan trend, which sees boys remaining in perpetual adolescence, something manifest in the infantile clothes young man wear, with the falling down pants, backwards caps and unlaced shoes; and lastly, there are the girly men, who claim to be heterosexual, but who are so feminized a new word has been created for them: metrosexuals.
As for me, I like manly men, although I can tolerate a few metrosexual touches, such as remembering to put the toilet seat down or helping to tidy up after dinner. Perhaps another way of saying that is to say that I like manly men with good manners.
Because of my preference for men, I’m not much of a fan of modern movie stars, all of whom I find too boyish to be attractive. I got over my boyish star phase when I was 11 and had a mad crush on David Cassidy. Then, when I was 12, I read Gone With The Wind
Think about it: if you’ve been lusting after Clark Gable for your entire life, what’s the likelihood that, as an adult, you’re suddenly going to switch gears and find attractive a little weenie like Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom or Leonardo DiCaprio. Although all are nice to look at and DiCaprio is, I think, a real actor, they simply don’t exist in the same testosterone universe, and that’s true no matter how much the latter try to buff themselves up. Gable was a man, the others are mere boys.
I’ve always thought that the boy phenomenon in Hollywood originated with James Dean, although it didn’t become the only game in town until the 1990s. (There were leading men before the 1990s; now there seem to be only leading boys.) However, I’ve run into another theory, this one cropping up in Jeanine Basinger’s completely enjoyable book The Star Machine
The first and most pressing need for the [studio] machine [when the War started] was to find new male stars. Hollywood immediately set to work to develop other stars to replace the actors who had gone to war. The top priority for what the machine wanted in a man was simple: one who was available. That was going to be older men, star look-alikes, foreigners who had escaped to America, guys who were 4-F, or young and boyish-looking fellas. Some male movie stars had legitimate deferments from combat. John Wayne was thirty-five years old in 1942, and this put him at the ceiling for draftibility (the cutoff was age thirty-five). He was also a married man with four underage dependents. Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire were over forty. William Powell was forty-nine, Bogart was forty-two, and Tracy was forty-one. These men did their part, but they were too old to be drafted into active service. New movies to star those who stayed behind were immediately put into the works. Handsome men with accents — and in a war story an accent was an asset — were groomed: Philip Dorn, Helmut Dantine, Paul Henreid, Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Arturo de Cordova. When Gable enlisted [a manly man thing to do], all the studios created Gable look-alike: John Hodiak, Lee Bowman, John Carroll, James Craig. But the main fodder of the star machine as World War II hit the studios in the pocketbook was the last group — the young, boy-next-door type. The all-American man was about to become a 4-F kid.
After the boys of World War II, the “leading man” would never be the same. The teen idol was born with the retooling of American manhood into a younger, thinner, more sensitive-looking guy. The effect of World War II on shaping the “new hero” as a “sensitive” male has never been fully explored. [Here Basinger adds this footnote, with her own emphasis: We’ve still got him. He’s basically taken over: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt (who has since transferred himself into the “man” category by muscling up and buzzcutting his hair), Orlando Bloom. Once the “boy star” emerged, he would not go away.] *** When the men went to war, the boys took over. (pp. 467-468.)
Isn’t it ironic that the most manly war in modern American history should leave as its legacy the “boy-ification” of American culture?
Back in December 2004, I wrote a post over at my old blog site about how difficult life is in the 21st Century for June Cleaver. Since Blogger posts, after a certain period of time, lose all formatting, I’ll reprint it here, in an easy to read format:
I’ve been looking around at friends’ marriages, and wondering what makes some happy and some unhappy. And I keep thinking of Ward and June Cleaver, who have always typified for me the classic American division of male/female roles in a “married with children” relationship. She maintains the house; he pays the bills. They are polite to each other. She is the first line of defense for matters involving the children, but he is the final word, and all defer to him.
One could argue that, at least from the woman’s point of view, it’s a dreadful division, since she works hard, but he holds ultimate power. What’s weird, though, is that the couples I know who have returned to a Ward and June life-style have very happy marriages. Each knows his or her area of responsibility within the relationship, and that seems to take away from, rather than to add to, stress.
The other happy couples I know are those where they’ve truly mixed-and-matched the Ward and June roles. That is, both work, but both share equally in household management. Each seems to respect the other and there is a health give-and-take for responsibility. I know only two couples who have achieved this, so it seems to be a real rarity, at least in my circles.
The most angry marriages are those where the man clings to the Ward role, but expects his wife to be both June (household manager) and Ward (breadwinner). These are the households where the woman holds a full- or part-time job, and is also the primary caregiver for the children (when they’re not in school), as well as the chief shopper, cook, laundress, and house cleaner. Sadly, this is also the dominant model in my community, and I think it goes a long way to explaining the very resentful women I know.
The problem I’m observing is nothing new. Fifteen years ago, Arlie Hochschild wrote a book called The Second Shift, which examined relationships in which both man and woman work. I haven’t read the book since its publication, but my memory is that the women who carried the heaviest load were the yuppie wives whose husbands paid lip-service to an “equal” relationship in the marriage — a dynamic that precisely describes the married couples in my world.
What Hochschild discovered is that those husbands — even while claiming that, just as their wives added the Ward role to their June role, they too added the June role to their Ward role — were creating an elaborate fiction themselves. Their “equal” role in the house amounted to toting out the garbage once a week, or picking up the occasional milk. Those who laid claim to all responsibilities outside the house’s walls (that is, yard work), essentially mowed the lawn weekly. Meanwhile, their wives, who also held paying jobs, were handling shopping, cooking, cleaning, childcare, and all other miscellaneous stuff.
Ironically, those husbands who were most likely to provide real help around the house were the old-fashioned men who bitterly resented the economic necessity that forced their wives into the workplace. It was they who placed the most value on their wives’ work, and were therefore most likely to recognize the women’s sacrifice in leaving the home for the workplace. “Modern men,” with their views of equality, seemed to see traditional women’s work as valueless and were unwilling to sully their hands with it.
It’s interesting that, 15 years after I read that book as an unencumbered single, I look around my world and see that the book could just as easily have been written today, ’cause nothing’s changed. Apparently Ward and June were on to something….
It turns out Arlie Hochschild’s 18 year old conclusions and my three year old observations are still right on the money. More and more research is showing that, while men still enjoy a Ward Cleaver level of “life is good” satisfaction, augmented by more gadgets and better health than Ward could ever imagine, women are increasingly unhappy because of the burdens their Ward and June expectations impose on them:
Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.
Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.
Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.
These trends are reminiscent of the idea of “the second shift,” the name of a 1989 book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, arguing that modern women effectively had to hold down two jobs. The first shift was at the office, and the second at home.
But researchers who have looked at time-use data say the second-shift theory misses an important detail. Women are not actually working more than they were 30 or 40 years ago. They are instead doing different kinds of work. They’re spending more time on paid work and less on cleaning and cooking.
What has changed — and what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends — is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did (including helping their aging parents). They can’t possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short.
Mr. Krueger’s data, for instance, shows that the average time devoted to dusting has fallen significantly in recent decades. There haven’t been any dust-related technological breakthroughs, so houses are probably just dirtier than they used to be. I imagine that the new American dustiness affects women’s happiness more than men’s.
For women, it seems to be damned if you don’t have the choices and damned if you do. Either way, the to-do list is too long, and the rewards for effort are too small.
To toot my own horn, I am a very competent person. I’m not overwhelmingly good at any one thing, but I can do most things fairly well. My kids get to see this competence in action. I do a lot of my legal work from home, so they see me in professional mode. I also do all of the household stuff: I cook, clean, do laundry, maintain the pool, help with homework, run the carpools, volunteer at their schools and extracurricular activities, and am still knowledgeable enough to have an answer to most of their questions.
Mr. Bookworm is also a very competent person, a competence he brings to bear on his professional life. In fact, I’d go even further and say that he is extremely good at what he does, and is very respected by his colleagues for his work. On the home front, however, he embraces incompetence, a tactic I think he purposefully employs to avoid any type of house work. “I don’t know how to clear the table. You do it.” “I don’t know how to put leftovers in the fridge. You do it.” “I don’t know where the dishes go. You empty the dishwasher.” “I can’t fold this. You do it.” And I do it because he works extremely hard, because I work out of the home anyway, and because, if I push him into doing whatever “it” is, he does it so badly I have to do it again anyway. When the children were young, this helplessness infuriated me, because I really could have used the help. Now that the kids are older, and I’m less exhausted, I’m perfectly capable of doing everything without him, so his inability (whether real or feigned) to help around the house doesn’t bother me at all.
It did occur to me, though, that Mr. Bookworm is making a mistake by using incompetence to avoid helping out around the house. As a I noted at the start of this post, not only am I a competent person, but my kids get to see me being competent. The same can’t be said for Mr. Bookworm and the kids. They do not see him at the office, where he is incredibly good at what he does and holds a position of power and respect. Instead, they only see him at home, flapping his hands ineffectually and complaining bitterly when asked to recover something from the fridge or tidy something up. In other words, the Dad they see is someone helpless.
Nor can Mr. Bookworm fall back on larger cultural paradigms to elevate his status in the children’s eyes. It’s true that, in the pre-feminist era, men didn’t help out at home either. Back then, though, the dominant culture conspired to present men as powerful, effective, knowledgeable beings. Whether the kids were watching The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or Ozzie and Harriet, they were given to understand that, in the world outside the home, father was a very important man, too important to spend his time at home engaged in frivolous domestic tasks. That cultural cushion doesn’t exist anymore. In pop culture Dad is, as often as not, an idiot, frequently put in his place by his hip, clever children or much put-upon wife. We don’t let our kids watch these demeaning (to parents) shows, but their ethos is the air, and the kids hear about them from other children.
As it is, I regularly try my best to make sure that my children understand that Daddy has an important job, and that he works long and hard for them. I remind them that, although I contribute to the family economically, it his mostly his labor and time that enable us to live the quality suburban lifestyle we enjoy. That’s very abstract, though. They hear it, but what they see is a Daddy who does nothing — and in this way distinguishes himself even from the other neighborhood Dads, many of whom enjoy cooking, gardening, or other more visible domestic activities.
So Dads, if you think you’re being clever avoiding household work by relying on domestic incompetence, think again. As a short term strategy to increase your down time, it may be a good thing, but as a long term strategy, you may be harming yourselves irreparably in your children’s eyes.
(By the way, I only just had this insight, and am working on a tactful way to bring it to Mr. Bookworm’s attention. He adores the children and I think that, not only will it distress him once he realizes the path he’s taken, he may also act to change his approach to the very small number of domestic tasks I sometimes request of him.)