Monday, 30 May 2011

Good men, raw deal

In my travels through the opinionated world of gender issue discussions, I often find myself feeling like a lone voice of female sanity in a wilderness of willful delusion. This delusion can take forms so elaborate and obtuse in nature, I can only wonder at the mental energy it takes to painstakingly invent convoluted theories and rationalizations for the sole purpose of not having to look at a simple and obvious truth.

It is this pathological need to circumnavigate the truth when truth interferes with belief that led feminist academia--when presented with solid evidence that women in abusive relationships are more likely to hit first than not--to apply bizarre and groundless contexts to women's potential for violence. Contexts such as, "Women hit first because they're defusing his rage before it reaches homicidal proportions," or, "Hitting first is a battered woman's way of asserting some control over her husband's abuse." That learned men and women would disregard the actual research subjects' far simpler and saner interpretations of their own violence--that sometimes women can be assholes and sometimes assholes hit people--says something about the human mind's ability to erect screens of ideology between its beliefs and reality.

My boyfriend is fond of telling me that no matter what people do, the most cynical interpretation of their actions is almost always correct.

I'm a bit of a cynic myself, but I prefer to believe that it is the simplest interpretation that is the correct one most of the time.

Which brings me to Kay Hymowitz and her recent WSJ piece, "Where Have the Good Men Gone?" From the top of the article, Ms. Hymowitz sneers at the readership, a modern day Xena, only without the sex appeal of long, flowing hair and a leather bustier, as she presents her perspective on a new demographic of males in North America: The Guy. Used to be, she claims, there were boys and there were men, so where have all these "guys" come from, why are they here, and why are they refusing to grow all the way up, settle down, and become husbands and fathers?

She presents rationalization after theory after speculation as to who these "guys" are, and what they hope to gain by paying their own bills, hanging with their buddies in their bachelor pads, drinking beer, hooking up and playing Xbox.

Part of the problem, she says, is the modern focus on education. Only recently--since the 1980s--has an education translated to drastic increase in earning potential for almost anyone. A higher education increases the likelihood of putting off "serious adult business" like marriage and kids until school is done, student loans are paid, and that earning potential has offset the required educational investment.

Yet at the same time, she lauds women's ability to finish school and get serious about adulthood--start wanting marriage and kids--much sooner than young men. So if women are growing up despite putting years into post-secondary degrees--which is a much more novel circumstance, in the timeline of recent history, for women than for men--why do guys choose to stagnate in a post-adolescent, not-quite-adult purgatory?

She also claims the nature of the labor market has changed our primary and secondary roles as human beings. We've moved into a phase of history where we define ourselves by our careers more than ever before. Where before we were man/woman, husband/wife, father/mother first and our careers served those roles, career now comes first, and the rest of it...well, what's the hurry? "For today's pre-adults, "what you do" is almost synonymous with "who you are," and starting a family is seldom part of the picture," she says.

So why is it that women, even those with exciting and fulfilling careers, don't seem to have any difficulty contemplating the whole "family thing", and putting energy into seeking it out, while men linger in that limbo between boyhood and manhood in ever greater numbers, disappointing legions of young women who are ready to settle down?

It's a shift in society starting in the mid-20th century, Hymowitz continues, when American teenagers started going to high schools rather than factories and fields. Adolescence arose as a distinct demographic during this period (apparently, we used to turn from children into adults overnight, once our odometers turned over and we embarked on working life). Between longer stints in school, and the influences of popular culture and modern marketing (Friends, Axe body spray, beer commercials, Seinfeld) that aim to keep young men and women spending money on cool shit rather than on diapers and college funds for the yung'uns, it is no wonder, she claims, that young men are confused about their roles in life. While mom and dad might be pushing you to settle the fuck down and get serious and start a damn family already, the changing culture is telling you to stay single, engage in sarcastic and witty repartee in half hour increments, drink beer, and slather yourself with cheap cologne in hope of attracting a hook-up. And these poor, pathetic not-quite-men have been doing it for so long, they've lost sight of the "real and admirable" goal of marriage and family...they get so busy and are having so much fun, they just kind of forget about adulthood.

But if men's roles have changed since the "settle down and start a family" days of the 1950s, women's have REALLY changed--no longer is wifehood and motherhood their primary and best option. They have careers, independence, freedoms that their grandmothers never had...so why are only men having a hard time with this whole growing up business? She then goes on to characterize a last-ditch, reactionary abandonment of family life by women, or an embracing of single motherhood via sperm donation, as rational, reasonable and viable alternatives for today's woman.

She finishes her article on a flourish of cynical misandry:

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway.There's nothing they have to do.
They might as well just have another beer.

The one thing she does not do, however, is examine in any way women's roles in this debacle, or the drastic and terrifying changes in the nature of marriage and husband-and-fatherhood since the first half of the 20th century. Nope. Not relevant. If men aren't making a mad dash to the altar, there must be something wrong with men, and if there's something wrong with men then it's something worth complaining about and beating over the heads of men.

Huh? I wasted ten minutes of my life--ten minutes I will never get back--reading an article on the reluctance of men to marry that doesn't examine modern marriage AT ALL.

Okay, Ms. Hymowitz, I'm here to set you straight. You listening? You focused? Okay, here goes:

Society has changed, and marriage has changed with it. It has always been a cost/benefit enterprise, and as the base unit for society throughout most of civilized history, the costs and benefits to both parties were relatively equal. This is simply not the case anymore.

From the dawn of monogamous marriage--the lifetime version of human prehistory's "pair bond"-- the institution has been a transactional contract. The terms have always been as follows: a woman provides a man with exclusive rights to her reproductive equipment and in exchange, he provides her with resources. For life.

You won't find these terms expressed in any marriage vows (religious or secular) or written into a marriage license, but the implicit social contract of marriage has always been thus. If you doubt, ask yourself why promiscuity might have suffered a gender double standard since the dawn of time, and ask yourself why a married woman choosing not to earn income outside the home is considered very differently--even now--than a man doing the same thing. Back in the day, the only social sin as vile as being an adulterous woman was being a deadbeat husband/father, because adultery in women and refusal to provide in men were violations of their respective obligations within the implicit contract of marriage. 

Moreover, up until not too long ago, sexual activity outside of marriage was socially unconscionable. For a man to get regular sex through socially acceptable channels (no pun intended), he had to be married. Within marriage, he had a right to sexual relations with his wife, and she had a duty to provide him with sex. That at the time there was no such crime as spousal rape was less a reflection of women's oppression than an acknowledgment of sex as "part of the deal" women were signing up for when they entered into marriage.

And for both men and women, the consequences of divorce were prohibitive--a man who divorced his wife may have retained custody of his children, but he was vilified as a selfish man with no honor who'd abandoned his responsibility to his family and deprived his children of a mother. For a woman, divorcing her husband was not only socially stigmatized, it could destroy her financially and lose her her children. When one entered into the contract, one was expected to honor it until death. Full stop.

To today's young men and women, marriage looks *very* different than it did way back when. These are young people who were raised in an era of divorce. If their own parents weren't divorced, their friend's parents were. It's impossible to be unaware of the transient nature of what used to be a lifelong commitment--even now that statistics on the escalating divorce rate are no longer shocking enough to be fodder for newspaper articles and CNN soundbites, we have reality staring us right in the face. 

So if the majority of marriages end in a messy divorce, the more relevant question Ms. Hymowitz might be asking, if she had the analytical skills to do so, would be why are today's women--even career women--still aching to get hitched?

Setting aside the emotional value of companionship and intimacy, the pooling of two incomes into one household means greater earning potential, greater disposable income and greater spending power. If she's lucky, it means twice as many people cleaning the bathroom, sorting socks and vacuuming the front hall. It means a bigger down payment on a nicer house. And for women who want children, it means not having to provide 100% of the resources and 100% of the care for those children. Other than in extreme cases, two parents are always better than one.

From a woman's perspective, marriage still provides significant benefits over single life--in fact, marriage as an enterprise has only improved for women since the 1950s. A woman now has the right to say no to sex with her husband. If he's abusive, she has an entire public-sector industry itching to help her. If a woman decides she doesn't want to be married to that jerk who doesn't help with the dishes, has mommy issues and leaves his dirty socks lying all over the place, well, she doesn't have to be. She won't be stigmatized, she won't be financially destroyed and she won't lose her children.

For guys, the picture looks very different, even--perhaps especially--for those who want children. 

If stigmatization of divorce has gone out the window, there is now no social stigma attached to sex outside of marriage (or even commitment) for men or women, either. The phrase "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" is even more applicable now than it was back in the day. Moreover, if a guy's been paying attention to his friend's experiences at all, he'll realize that he's likely to get less sex after he commits than before, once his woman is feeling secure in the relationship and like he won't leave her if he doesn't get what he wants half the time. He's chosen her, he's committed, she no longer has to worry about the competition offering him a better deal. And she has every right under the law to say no.

And while the financial and emotional benefits of marriage can be much the same for men as for women, it is when the marriage ends that things get hairy. Although women are as likely to have grown up experiencing divorce firsthand or indirectly through their acquaintances, they will relate to the situations of wives and mothers. Women who were children of divorce likely lived with their mothers. Their mothers benefited from a family court system predisposed to keep children with mothers. Their mothers were often financially okay because of income equalization payments in the form of child support and alimony. Their mothers did not miss out on milestones, special events in their lives, and the joys of raising them. Their mothers often were able to remain living in the marital home, minimizing the disruption to their lives. Their mothers likely qualified for subsidized legal assistance in dealing with child support or alimony, and there were agencies set up specifically to ensure she received her court ordered child support and alimony payments. And the majority of the time, it was their mothers who'd initiated the divorce.

If today's women relate to the experiences of their mothers and their friend's mothers with respect to divorce, who are these despicable, immature guys identifying with, I wonder? Guys who were the children of divorce most likely did not live with their fathers--if they were very lucky, their fathers were granted generous access 2-4 weekends per month, and if they were not, they may have gone years without seeing their children. Upon divorce, their fathers were almost always forced from the marital home, and for most, their standard of living--including their digs--took a major hit. Their fathers were dealing with a family court system predisposed to deny them custody, and where the best most men could hope for was scheduled "access" to their children. Their fathers often financially struggled as they were forced to contribute financially to two households instead of one, and to maintain a domicile suitable for their children's visits so access would not be cut off. Their fathers often missed out on enormous chunks of their lives--soccer games, birthday parties, and prom nights. If mom moved to another state, it was dad's responsibility to pay the travel costs involved in visitation--while simultaneously making alimony and child support payments and contributing a share of "extraordinary expenses"--forcing many fathers to choose between living up to their financial obligations and seeing their children. Their fathers did not qualify for legal aid and other subsidies in negotiating child support and access, and there were no agencies set up to help them exercise their court-ordered access to their children. If dad got laid off, he'd better get another good job and fast, because until very recently he was required to maintain the standard of living that existed during the marriage--his financial obligations did not diminish due to changed financial circumstances the way they would were he still married. And the majority of the time, it was not their fathers who'd initiated the divorce.

Do you see the difference now, Ms. Hymowitz?

The problem with marriage is not that it is no longer seen as a lifelong commitment. The problem is that it is seen as a temporary enterprise for women with respect to their responsibilities to their husbands, but a lifelong commitment with respect to men's responsibilities to their wives. And the primary benefit of marriage for men--sex and parenthood--are no longer the exclusive privilege of those who marry.

In other words, the implicit social contract--exclusive access to a woman's reproductive equipment in exchange for a man's resources--is no longer what marriage is. Within marriage, women do not have to live up to their side of the age-old bargain--wives have every right to say no to sex--while for men, their part remains in place, enforced by law, *even after the marriage ends*. When you consider that men can get sex without marriage, and even get children without marriage--and that their rights and responsibilities to their children are often considered the same whether the child was the product of a one-night stand or the product of a decade-long marriage--well....you see the problem now?

For women, marriage is all benefit and zero risk, and that's why women are whining about men's reluctance to tie the knot. But for men, it's the other way around--no guaranteed benefit, and the kind of risk an adrenaline junkie would eschew.

A woman cannot get the benefits of marriage she's after without being married (either legally or common law). She can't get the benefit of his resources in the same way as if she was living with him, or of his assistance in raising her children.

A man can get all the benefits of marriage he's after without being married. He can get sex. He can get companionship and intimacy. He can father children. All without marriage, or even commitment.

But if he marries, he faces a 33% chance that his wife will leave him. If she does, his rights and responsibilities with respect to his children are often comparable to what they would be were those children conceived in casual hook-ups. He can and often does lose a portion of his assets to his wife (allocation of assets are generally not 50/50 when children are involved), and his financial responsibilities to his wife, in the form of a percentage of his income, can continue indefinitely, regardless of whether she is self-supporting, and regardless of the relative contributions each of them made towards the marital property and community assets.

If he doesn't marry or live common law with a woman, however, his house will remain his own, his liquid assets will remain his own, he will have comparable rights and responsibilities in regard to his children as he would had he married, and he won't owe his ex a living for the rest of her life. If she stops having sex with him or he decides he doesn't much like her, he can leave and not be penalized by the court. If she leaves him, his social and sexual value will remain much more intact with regard to attracting new sexual partners--he'll still have the social status that men derive from material success. If he falls in love with someone new, and even trusts her enough to move in with her, her income will not be used as a means of extracting more alimony from him. He will have no obligation to the mother of his children based on a few years of marriage where she might or might not have regularly lived up to her side of the agreement--his only obligation will be to his children, as it should be.

Do you still think it's immaturity keeping guys from settling down and getting hitched, Ms. Hymowitz? Really?

And my advice to women, to improve this terrible and untenable situation? Two things:

1) save yourselves until marriage. Because men won't buy the cow if they can get the milk for free. But it won't work unless all of you do it.

2) lobby for reforms with respect to the rights of fathers in family courts. Because even if men can't get the milk for free, they're too smart to buy a cow whose milk has a 33% chance of ruining his life. Men have become lactose intolerant, and for good reason.

Until one or both of these suggestions is widely adopted, men with any intelligence will find their Xboxes, buddies, beer and casual hook-ups to be the more rational choice.

9 comments:

  1. Pretty good analysis of an article that's quite old at this point. I'm sure I've seen your points made elsewhere, but your writeup is unusually concise.

    The media is largely responsible for the imbalance between the sexes. Men are without good mentors and role models, and women are propped up beyond reason. With these imbalances in place, ideas like "father's rights" are either alien or a joke to too much of the population. These imbalances will whither as television dies in the coming years.

    Marriage should be redefined somehow. The only reason it should remain is that it's an effective characterization of a long-term relationship + children. It's proven that having two parents improves childhood for children. Unfortunately, the political left points this out when discussing homosexual marriage, but ignores it when it comes to heterosexual marriage.

    What /exactly/ do you mean when you say women should "save" themselves until marriage?

    ReplyDelete
  2. "What /exactly/ do you mean when you say women should "save" themselves until marriage?"

    Men are leery of marriage for good reason, and even if they can't articulate those reasons--if they're simply a visceral, subconscious, commitment-phobic reaction--they're still leery. The only way I can see women being able to bully today's men to start making the same choices as yesterday's men, en masse, is by returning to sexually unliberated days.

    I do believe that if the only viable option for most men to get sex was to be married, many more of them would do so. But again, all women would have to work together to make this happen. On an individual basis, it would never work, because an individual woman who saves herself for marriage--especially when marriage is viewed as peril by men--will only lead to her being forever alone. All women would have to stop giving single men sex.

    Marriage really is outmoded as far as what the terms now are. Though I do agree with you that kids will almost always do best in a two-parent household.

    And as far as gay marriage goes, the more power to them. I don't think they would have the same fears wrt to divorce, because they're much more likely to be treated equally by the family court system. No gender bias if both parties are the same gender, right?

    But yes, I find the emphasis on gay marriage as being good for children, while simultaneously propping up and lauding single mothers (who are almost always single by choice), and condemning fathers as "disinterested" when more often they could be characterized as "banished by the ex"...it's hypocritical. As hypocritical as having huge legal/government mechanisms in place for enforcing extraction of child and spousal support--at no cost to mothers--but none at all for enforcing fathers' court-ordered access to their kids.

    And yes, the article is not new. But the sentiment remains among young women today--that men don't want to get married because they're somehow defective, rather than that marriage itself is what has become defective. It's tunnel vision, but what do you expect from a culture that encourages narcissism to the degree ours does--especially in women.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice website! Very interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi. just reading through the blog, I find myself agreeing with a lot of your sober analyses and point of view. I really hated the part about "saving yourself for marriage" though. First because , as you said , "it won't work unless all of us do it " , which is basically just "it won't work" (one woman can satisfy the sexual urges of dozens of men). Why bother with a tactic that is so heavily skewered against it succeeding ? Secondly because it's such an incredible price to pay just to ensure the survival of the nuclear family. What ? Go back to the Good Ol Days of total sexual repression ? I'd rather be a PUA and never complain about feminism or women or my feelings (in their presence)for the rest of my life than support that ridiculous idea. What the hell, hero ? Did u think that one through ?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi jacksambuck,

    The return to female chastity was presented as an absurdity that I didn't present quite absurdly enough for the absurdity to come across. Personally, I don't think all women would have to do it--just more than 60%--and the value of marriage would improve. But no, I don't believe it's ever going to happen, at least, not as a combined strategy on the part of women.

    It might, however, if we continue to lag behind developing nations with more stable family values and higher birth rates, and whose GDP growth is outpacing ours. Solid families motivate men to contribute to economic and technical progress. Lucky for us (sort of), our biggest current and future competitors (Japan, India, China) are becoming feminized as well, so I'm not so much scared of being annexed by those cultures, but worried about a simple collapse of the system due to general unsustainability as more men walk away.

    In short, I was joking and it fell flat. :/

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mmmmm. You are still advocating "virgins till marriage" as a last resort. Even THEN, i think men have nothing to gain from that rule(I personnally would feel very bad that my wife didn't enjoy the same freedoms i did, so much that i would strongly try to avoid marrying one in every situation).
    I can't really relate to your fears of being "overtaken" by China(although it will eventually happen due to sheer population). The US will simply shrink to the importance of Gemany or France(today) while enjoying peace and wealth in a European Union-style of World Government. Noone needs to get poorer so that others get richer, and war is not coming.
    But I'm straying. Maybe it was a good joke :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. That was a good read. I read it twice. Coming from a "guy" who prefers to have his information delivered(TV) instead of going to pick it up(reading), that is quite a compliment. How could I walk away from an opening paragraph like that. I can see me in conversation passing off some this as my own, like "exclusive access to a woman's reproductive equipment in exchange for a man's resources--is no longer what marriage is". Spot on.
    Lucky for me those concepts already existed in my mind. I never tried articulating them before. The first half of my life was defined by divorce, Mom and 5 sisters. A self proclaimed "not very well adjusted person", I think my odds of divorce would have been much higher than 33%. When i read self-help books it tells me to take stock in my life and one of the first things I think of is "well at least I don't have child support and alimony payments" I am starting to ramble, to much coffee, I am going to go read some of your other stuff. It better be as good :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I particularly love it when people I know try to shame me for being single and over 30. I have a job (have been working (skill labour) since I was 16), have a reasonable amount of savings (if I found a woman who had the same assets as me we could buy a house today), and later this year I'll own my car.

    But that's not good enough. Or I get the hint that it's BECAUSE I have all these things that I get shamed. If I'm not actively paying to improve a woman's life or in a huge amount of debt (I've been told 'when I was your age I already had a mortgage), or basically anything other than a indentured wallet, shame shame shame!

    Just a little rant.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very Good article on all points presented. Having just discovered your blog I have read only a few of them. I hope your other posts will be as informing and educational? I also like to add that I have watched a few of your videos on YOUTUBE and found those also informing and educational. So in ending, thanks again and may God bless...

    ReplyDelete

Commenting policy:

All comments are welcome here. I refuse to censor points of view that differ from my own.

I recognize that I may be challenging the deep-seated beliefs of some people, and perhaps stirring up emotions in others. However, I would ask:

- if you care to respond to anything that I have said, please do not simply link to or quote some statistic. Do not simply regurgitate things you have been told are true. Think about what I am saying. Respond with an argument. Offer something from your personal observations, and explain to me how you feel your statistic is connected to your experience.

- If you wish to be part of a discussion, try not to dismiss what I or a another commenter says out of hand. Yes, that means that some lines of thought or ideologies may not stand up to scrutiny (perhaps even my own).

- Remember, ad hominem attacks diminish everyone involved. If you want to criticize anything, do so passionately and directly - but debate is about attacking ideas, not people.

Have at you!