Men on Strike: Fathers, Family, Frank Talk and First Things

Two weeks ago at First Things, I wondered what it would be like if Rep Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) had her way and women ruled the world.

This week I’m continuing on the theme of men and women and families and faith:

Family illiteracy, [author Mary Eberstadt] says, “breeds religious illiteracy.”

In turn, increasing our scriptural literacy is one way for Christian communities to help their members understand and form families. Eberstadt’s book…has, in tandem with Helen Smith’s Men on Strike, reignited my admiration for the under-appreciated, underutilized Book of Tobit, which we are currently reading at daily Mass, and which is all about family, and the hope and healing that is drawn from the God-driven life force of familial love.

The book opens with the narrator, Tobit, describing his brief exile from Nineveh and then his blindness, which makes him feel so unmanned that he hectors his wife until a strain on his marriage leaves him woe-begotten enough to wish for death.

I hope you’ll go over to First Things, as much to read the whole thing as to read the first comment which is an eye-opener, but I also hope you’ll check out these two books by Eberstadt and Smith — two writers coming from very different places — and read them together, because experienced in that way they’re like a sacred-and-secular-one-two-punch to the social solar plexus.

As important as both books are (and you really must read Kathryn Jean Lopez’ interview with Eberstadt), I want to especially focus on Men on Strike:Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters because if the deconstruction and devaluation of the family is to be resisted, then that resistance must include — perhaps must begin with — a renewed understanding and appreciation for men, masculinity (and even manliness) as elements and beings crucial to the continuance of a working, balanced, sane and humane society.

We have reached a point where not only Maureen Dowd but a few men, themselves, are beginning to argue that they’re unnecessary, but entertaining little things. Women are taking the lead in academia; they are the majority of grad students and med students, and approaching parity in law school. Increasingly, they are the household breadwinners, too — they’re even the distractors of terrorists, in certain situations — while the men…well…where are the men?

As the mother of two sons grown into good men (and the grateful wife of an exceptionally kind, smart and able fellow) I have long-admired Dr. Helen Smith and her determination to defend men in the midst of “useless men stupid dads” narratives that have become so commonplace throughout media that it’s hard to believe it’s not intentional.

The casual bashing of men has become so kneejerk that even as she sympathetically notes the trouble they’re in Kathleen Parker can’t resist going for the cheap condescension that tries to be cute but ultimately makes the point for her and undermines her defense:

My argument that men should be saved is that, despite certain imperfections, men are fundamentally good and are sort of pleasant to have around. Most women still like to fall in love with them; all children want a father no matter how often we try to persuade ourselves otherwise. If we continue to impose low expectations and negative messaging on men and boys, future women won’t have much to choose from.

We are nearly there.

Beyond citing empirical studies, research and news studies, in Men on Strike, Smith, a forensic psychologist, argues that “men are not defective girls” and she does what none of the pundits or number-crunching social researchers are bothering to do: she is talking to men and offering them a platform to both express frustration and provide an answer as to where all the men have gone, and why they seem to be…

On Strike from College:

It comes down to one observation. Men must live a double life on campus. To succeed, men must believe on thing, but act like they believe another. Manliness wants to compete, to win, to boast, to glory, even to fail honorably against the best. This is disallowed to men on campus. Winners are picked, not discovered. It was clear to me, the winners would almost always be females and occasionally males who lived the double life. I left.
– “Jeff”

On Strike from Marriage:

It is said that men can’t handle intimacy. That’s not it at all. It is sadness that men can’t handle and they fear that intimacy will take them there.
– “Jack”

Problem is [most of the guys I talk to] tell me that [marriage] is one of the worst mistakes that they ever made. Some tell me not to marry American women, that they are all feminist at heart. One married guy told me that I could get the same effect by selling my house, giving all my money away and having someone castrate me. This is really starting to unnerve me, and the more I learn about the legal bias against men, I’m beginning to back off marriage.”
– “Anonymous”

On Strike from Society:

I used to coach girls’ soccer with my fiancee (now wife). I stopped because one of the girls (all of 8 years old) said: “I don’t have to listen to you. I can get you in trouble just by telling people you touched me.”

Now that I have a child of my own, I have no idea how I’m going to be involved when he wants to do sports or other activities. I already got looks on the playground the year I was a stay-at-home dad and carting him around with me, all the time.
– “NV”

There was no sadder scene to a movie than in Juno, when married guy Jason Bateman realized that in his entire huge house, he had only a large closet to keep all the stuff he loved. That bit me like a punch in the face.
– “Playstead”

It must be acknowledged that in Juno, Bateman’s character was a bit of a man-child who ultimately chose to remain one rather than become a parent, and that both Juno’s father and the father of her baby were well-developed, responsible and (for their respective ages) mature men who were valued, but I take this fellow’s point. In many homes we see an over-represent the women living in them, in terms of decorating and the “stuff” that is around, while the men’s interests are relegated to a room or a “man-cave” basement, out-of-sight and inoffensive to more “elegant” sensibilities.

Men on Strike is something for which the mothers of sons, and the socially-interested, should be grateful because it is an argument for men, made by a woman and offering men a chance to speak out without risk of ridicule or retribution. We need to hear what our men are saying — and we need to address the fact that in our determination to remedy the social disparity of the past, we have overcorrected to the point where one female lawyer tells Smith, “I am a masculine woman but I still need someone who is more masculine than me.”

Smith responds, “Our society tells men they are worthless perverts who reek of male priliege while simultaneously castrating them should they act in a manly manner, and now women are upset because men are becoming feminized? You reap what you sow.”

Almost all social or self-remedies can extend into over-correction. In my own book, Strange Gods, I write of a childhood focus on the pendulum of a grandfather clock as it swung back and forth:

I was fascinated by that hovering nanosecond of suspension at either end, that moment when the brass circle had swung as far left as it could go and had no option but to swing back to the right. There it would reach its culmination and throw left again. This constant state of flux was necessary in order to get an accurate reading of the time. . . . Eternal suspension at the extremes or dead center — all either can promise is distortions of reality. True balance, then, requires some regulated give-and-take if it is to be productive, and if its productivity is meant to be authentic.”

If the social movements and policies that have brought us to this point were ever authentic in their stated intentions to raise and honor the dignity of all, it may be time for the pendulum to swing back from over-correction. We need our men.

Related:
An Interview with Helen Smith
It’s time to stop treating dads like idiots
What My Father Taught Me
The War on Boys and Anti-Gun Hysteria
Fathers are not Fungible
A father’s pain on losing a child
A Manly Apology
Where Your Mind Goes, So Will Your Life
Fanatics are usually oblivious
Deliberately disenfranchising fathers
Passivity to the Slaughter

Father/Son Image courtesy of shutterstock.com

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • ManWithPlan

    Nice review.

    Even if women only decide to stand up for men for completely selfish reasons, that’s better than nothing. But Kathleen Parker (and others in her camp) still have yet to notice that women don’t seem much interested in good men even if he is standing right in front of her and saying “Hi!”

    Why settle for a responsible and caring man, when the hunky, masculine ex-con with a motorcycle and a trust fund is waiting around the corner to sweep her off her feet?

  • tedseeber

    Very good, but priliege should be privilege. Oh, and you forgot that 1970s feminist complaint, hammered into the heads of men and boys my age, that men cause all the wars, all the pollution, and all the rapes in the world, and are thus irredeemably useless and evil.

  • eric

    As an employed, financially-secure, educated (two degrees), sense of humor, nice personality, big caring-hearted (many friends will attest to the last three) male who loves wine, cooking, reading but yet still likes to watch the occasional sporting event and has some flaws (need to exercise more :-)) but no criminal past or emotional baggage, I have chosen to remove myself from the dating pool. After years of dating self-absorbed, selfish, boring, complaining women I have no desire left to attempt any type of relationship. I am happy and content 99% of the time without it…I have plenty of friends male and female to socialize with but I would not consider extending an invitation to any of my female friends for anything “more” relationship-wise. Many of my male friends are choosing or have chosen to do the same. We are just fed-up and have given up.

  • ManWithPlan

    Right there with you brother. I’m educated, world traveler, have a great job, funny, interesting, and people consider me good-looking. I will never marry or enter a committed relationship with a woman. Time for women to be strong and independent all on their lonesome now.

  • Kristen inDallas

    To be totally blunt — because many of those “responsible and caring” single men are simply projecting an image of being responsible and caring because that’s what their feminist studies professor told them they were supposed to be. In my experience, they can take off and break her heart just as fast as a jerk. And unlike a jerk, they’ll also let her take off and break their hearts when she gets fatigued of making the relationship work. So yeah sweet guys>jerks for making you feel good about yourself short term. But when a woman looks for her life-long mate, she knows she’s not perfect, she knows she *shouldn’t* feel good about herself everyday, she wants to grow, she needs to be pushed and most importantly she needs to know that the man she’s betting everything on is more tenacious than he is sensitive.
    Anyway, this is just 2 cents from the peanut gallery, but I’m hoping to be helpfully honest. Chicks don’t necesarily dig bad boys, but they do usually gravitate towards genuineness, and a few will naturally gravitate toward genuine jerks. A genuinely good guy will accept that it’s just one particular girl, preferring one particular jerk, that she has her own thoughts and her own reasons and move on. A self-proffessed (but not very genuine) “good guy” will assume that any other guy with any flaw at all is inferior and therefore a jerk, that all women prefer jerks, that women don’t know what’s good for them and are clearly stupid and/or callous. (hint – these are not very nice things to be thinking about women or the men they date).
    My advice, be the best version of yourself you can be, but don’t ever fall for the idea that anyone is 100% a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” Be good, do good, but if you find yourself needing to tell a girl that your are good, well that’s about as big a red flag in the dating world as the folks that say they’re “sick of everyone else’s drama”

  • ManWithPlan

    Where did I say anything about a feminist-indoctrinated “Nice Guy?” I said, a good, caring, and responsible guy. Quite interesting how much crap YOU project onto these men.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I never got it either. I married a divorced single dad who didn’t have a college education at the time (he earned his welding certification after we married). I often felt like many women I went to college with or worked with afterward had conflicting views of what they wanted: A sexy “exciting” guy who would sweep them off their feet and give them an element of risk or danger, but who could be tamed (or converted). The whole “Twilight” phenomenon exemplifies this with the dangerous, risky man who is so devoted to his one woman he will “tame” himself. It sets up an impossible expectation, and women set themselves up for heartache.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Sorry my mistake. Just trying to help. Have a man and am quite happy with him. Tell him often he is “just the right amount of jealous” if that makes any sense at all. I just feel bad when I see guys like you and Eric giving up on an entire gender of human beings simply because you don’t understand the preferences of some. If I’m projecting on you I appologize, but I saw the hunky ex-con on a motorcycle comment, and I felt the need to stand up for all the hunks, ex-cons and dudes with motorcycles who might also be good human beings worthy of love. We all have good and bad traits, the best we can do is be our best and hope to find someone who’ll love us anyway.

  • Billiamo

    Some of the most articulate and effective voices speaking against feminist misandry are . . . women. Here’s one — Karen Straughan, from Canada.

  • George

    The blame for this problem is at least 50/50 here, and I think it is unfair to blame the current state of American men entirely on the feminization of culture.

    Bateman’s character in Juno is reprehensible, and is an good example that there are two sides to this story. Our popular culture holds up an ideal for manhood, that is actually “man-child-hood.”

    It might be true that there is less societal respect for true “manliness,” but it is also true that our culture does not encourage men not to grow up. In fact, society portrays “true men” as guys dressed in sports jerseys, drinking crappy beer, playing video games in their basement with their equally immature male friends. Society tells men that they are supposed eat unhealthy food, drive big cars, be completely subject to their physical desires, and have the sexual priorities of a hormone-drowned 15 year old.

    The educated and cultured sections of our society are right to reject that model of “manhood” and I don’t blame them for doing so.

    Take college education for instance. There is nothing inherently feminine about a good college education. In fact, there are as many masculine aspects to education as there are feminine. What a “good” college education has no room for, is man-child-ness. You have to want to read, not play video games all night. You have to be motivated by long term goals, not short term desires. All things that our society teaches are not priorities for a man.

    The issue here is not feminization of culture (at least not entirely) but also a idiotic and childish view of what is and is not masculine.

  • A Man

    Winning is having one’s “man cave” in the living room.

  • GinaRD

    Interesting. I’ve gone out with lots of employed, educated, nice guys in a quest to find a genuinely good man. I have decent hygiene, I ask them about themselves and show interest in what they say, I treat them with respect, I thank them for the dates, and I respond to their e-mails and calls in a timely fashion. Most of them go out with me once and then drop all contact.

    So should I conclude from this that men are only interested in bad girls, and that I need to turn myself into Sandy at the end of “Grease”?

  • Micha_Elyi

    I know what you mean, tedseeber, about that feminist complaining that began in the 1970s in earnest and has neither died down nor gone away.

    And Ms. Scalia neglected much, much earlier books by Warren Farrell and Jack Kammer.

    The feminist infection runs deep in America. I hear man-bashing from pulpits both in churches and on Christian radio. For example, when a preacher (or Catholic priest) preaches about marriage problems they always (ain’t heard an exception yet!) paint a picture that blames the man. This is despite the facts that most marriage breakups are instigated by the female, most psychological abuse in marriages is due to the female, and the female is the aggressor in at least 50% of domestic violence.

    As one contrarian woman wrote years ago in Christianity Today, disrespect for men and fathers diminishes our understanding of God as Father. Alas, few other women understand.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Wish I could go on strike. I could use a week off to myself and catch up on all my reading. I’ll just let the wife do it all, take care of the kid, earn a salary so we could pay the mortgage, on top of all the house work, since that’s what women want. :))))


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