To Man Up or Stand Down

Among the many emails I get that don’t support men’s rights or don’t support my take on them, a hefty number of them are from men who take issue with the idea of other men shedding traditional masculine expectations and going their own way.

The common theme among those emails is a short lecture on what men are supposed to do; replete with sonny-lemme-tell-ya-what-it-means-to-be-a-real-man instructions.  Most of them are written with enough swagger and brio to make John Wayne sport a proud, if grossly posthumous smile.

And curiously, many of the concordant emails I get from women totally miss the point.  I just read one from a woman who lauded my work against feminism because she lamented the loss of days when a man “knew how to treat a lady.”

Apparently she thought my objection to feminism was because it kept me off a white horse.  She assumed I am engaged in a fight to protect my right to sacrifice, like a real man.  A glaring misunderstanding, but she did provide an opportune segway for the correct question.

What if a man doesn’t want to?

(pause for effect)

When all is said and done, this is the question that speaks to the heart of a growing voice, not just in the world of Men‘s Rights Activists, but in the world of men collectively.  And it is the first of many questions that are sure to form tempests of debate and ire in the coming years.

Should men break with tradition? And in that should they quit expecting themselves to be the financers and custodial protectors of women’s lives?  Should they quit paying for dates?  Should they refuse assignment to the role of breadwinner?  Are men supposed to be congenital bodyguards, socially and biologically indentured in a world where women no longer need such protection?  Indeed, we now live in a world where it is men that increasingly need protection- from women, as is clear in family courts, the workplace, universities -think Duke- and frequently their own homes.

The answers to these questions, which are, like it or not, relevant now, require some intellectual scrutiny that won’t be found in myopic edicts like “Be a real man.” In fact, I’d argue that anyone issuing such proclamations needs to take a more lucid look at the world in which they live.

Women don’t have roles any more, except as they choose to take them on. Even then, they can change that role fluidly depending on whether they are vying for a promotion or sitting with a man in a restaurant when the dinner check arrives.  Feminists and flat tires are seldom in each others company, so women don’t really so much have roles as they have a choice as to which role benefits them at the moment.

Perhaps carte blanche for opportunism is a better way to put it.

It is the new, but no longer sparklingly new social doctrine of equality-plus.  Women now enjoy a range of options that men could not possibly dream of.  They have been granted equal and often preferential entrance into the realm of financial opportunity and independence while social mandates still leaves the door wide open for them to do what they have historically done, e.g., draw sustenance and enhanced lifestyle from the sweat and labor of men.

It’s the net result of feminist doctrine and men’s complicity in it; a paradigm not of parity, but of parasitism; a Kafkaesque realm for men where they are bludgeoned with messages of their uselessness to women, often while being bled dry by them.

This isn’t to cast men as victims of women.  All this is enabled, lock, stock and barrel, by men rigidly maintaining their traditional roles, giving women whatever they ask for by rote.  By practicing chivalry like a crack habit, and by excoriating other men for not doing same.

In fact, were it not for men engaging in this mindless form of collective patricide, feminism would have been deservedly quashed at least thirty years ago.  Real men would not have tolerated all this nonsense for a minute.

The catch-22 of this affair, however, is glaringly obvious.  The traditional mindset, previously more tempered by reason, has served as the foundation of stable families and adjusted children for countless generations.  It is indeed an area where expressions like the fabric of our society and backbone of our civilization are not just tired and overused metaphors, but spot on descriptions of reality.

That, in and of itself, might appear to be a sound reason for men to just shut up, shovel and sacrifice; to labor for what has worked in the past as though the last 40 years never happened.  But that is the problem. The last 40 years actually did happen.  That toothpaste is already out of the tube, and much more likely than not trying to squeeze it back in is a noble and pathetically fruitless task.

It is not that traditional roles can’t work.  They can for a waning few; those willing to find their way to each other though the modern morass of traditions in a world largely stripped of them.  But it is a gamble with Las Vegas odds and therefore should be a choice, and one that doesn’t include a license for risk takers to place a proscription on alternatives for those more survival minded.

As long as we deny men choices that women are allowed to take for granted, we will continue to see men marginalized and exploited.  As the New York Times just reported, it is possible that for the first time in history that in America women will surpass men in the workforce. And that right soon.

It is a picture consistent with men’s drastically decreasing presence in higher education and punctuated by their suffering the lions share of job losses in the bad economy.

And men are to continue to sacrifice for women and protect them? There are still plenty who say yes.  But then there are plenty who think Elvis is still alive.

When enough men find themselves paying for dinner with a gainfully employed woman with money from their unemployment checks, there will likely be a lot more men, at the very least, saying:

“Hey, wait a minute.”

That would be one giant step in the right direction.

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