A feminist theologian explains the problem with men

A feminist theologian explains the problem with men March 14, 2012

Rosemary Ruether on the Problem with Men

Not very long ago I posted some musing here about a possible reason why our prisons are so crowded with men and why we now have an over abundance of drifting young men with no apparent purpose in life other than to swagger and act macho or disappear into a wasted existence of playing video games. My suggestion was that especially young men, probably from early adolescence on, need to feel respected and either act out in anti-social ways or fade away into a virtually invisible, endless childhood of playing games. Evidences of the problem abound; even women scholars are paying attention, much of it focusing on men’s failures to man up in a society now forever changed by feminism. Very few of these articles and books say anything about boys and the roots of the contemporary male crisis. My thesis is that boys, for whatever reason, feel the need to be respected but look into the future very unsure about the value society places now on being a man.

Sidebar: It’s true that, overall, “men” (as an aggregate) make more than “women” (as an aggregate). But in this series of posts I’m not talking about who makes more money. That’s an important issue and needs to be addressed by both government and industry. I have some theories about why that’s still the case, in spite of the huge strides women have made, but income isn’t what I’m talking about when I say that society places a lower value on men than women. What I’m talking about is something much less tangible. I’m talking about overall approval. It’s a disposition rather than something quantifiable. But it can be measured in certain ways including, for example, that women’s health is promoted by government and non-profit groups without any corresponding emphasis on men’s health. Also, the rate of male high school dropouts is much higher than female and the ratio of women to men earning degrees is much higher for women. Also anyone who watches television can’t help but see the disparate values placed on women and men. Women are generally portrayed as strong, competent, capable and independent. Men are generally portrayed as deeply flawed, either sinister or silly, insecure and or overly macho.

In my quest to make sense of this phenomenon (the “male crisis” referred to in the first paragraph above) I have been reading a lot of feminist literature. One feminist hypothesis that has interested me is that posed by Rosemary Ruether, based on research by Peggy Reeves Sanday (Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality), in Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. (I don’t want to get distracted here by discussions of Ruether’s theology or ecofeminism, etc. I want to stick to this one point of hers. So please keep your comments to it.)

The background is Ruether’s quest to understand patriarchy which is (usually) male dominance over women and subjugation of women. When she wrote this in about 1990 or 1992 the male crisis was not yet even on the horizon. She doesn’t address it. However, I think her theory about the cause of patriarchy may be helpful in understanding the growing male crisis in Western societies. The basic question she addresses is why men feel the need to be dominant and even aggressive toward women. What are the roots of patriarchy? An interesting sentence that sets the stage for her hypothesis is “…we need to learn the lessons of the weaknesses of the matricentric core of human society that made it vulnerable to patriarchy.” (171) She criticizes “female-identified” feminisms such as Mary Daly’s that negate males as fellow human beings. Ruether is not interested in reversing patriarchy and having women dominate men. She is interested in building a society of true equals.

Her suggestion is that the “core” of human society is matricentric (not matriarchal) because women have always tended to be the primary care givers of children—both male and female. That’s what makes the core of society, even under patriarchy, matricentric. The problem is, she says, that “The matricentric core of human society remains, even under male hierarchies, and continually reproduces the insecure, resentful male, who emancipates himself from his mother by negation of women.” (169) Sanday’s research revealed the prevalence of male resentment of women in societies that have not successfully balanced matricentricity with adult male cultural roles. (169)

According to Ruether, based on Sanday’s worldwide research into diverse cultures, there is a psychosocial weakness inherent in matricentricity. Here is its pathos: “its difficulty in drawing in the contributions of the grown male without either conceding to this male a dominating role over women, or else producing a demoralized male deeply resentful of women. The root of the problem lies in the extension of the female childbearing and suckling functions into making the mother the dominant parent. … While the female role is built into the process of life-reproduction…the male role has to be constructed socially. Societies that fail to develop an adequately affirmative role for men, one that gives men prestige parallel to that of women but prevents their assuming aggressive dominance over women, risk developing the resentful male, who defines his masculinity in hostile negation of women.” (167)

Sanday’s research showed that “societies that have achieved gender parity…were societies that either had elaborately structured mutual acknowledgment of male and female prestige and power, where women conceded power roles to men…or else societies of considerable gender-role fluidity.” (167) Both Sanday and Ruether make clear that by “conceded power roles to men” they do not mean allowed men to dominate women. I take it that this means acknowledging men as equal with women in terms of value to the family unit and therefore to society. According to Ruether, based on Sanday’s research, male domination of women, patriarchy, occurs because men feel insecure about their worth and need to secure their worth by domination.

Now, take that problem into a culture where men also feel insecure because of some inability to gain economic power. “Adult male prestige, denied as economic prowess, is acted out through sexual and physical domination of women. The unemployed son or husband, demoralized by the dominant patriarchal and hierarchical society, disdains to help with housework and childcare lest he compromise his ‘masculinity’ thereby.” (170). “Prestige” is another word for respect. My thesis has been that in today’s culture, many young men have given up hope of having the prestige they feel they need often due to the mother being the primary parent and their perception that society favors women over men.

What’s so fascinating is that Ruether, building on Sanday’s research, traces the roots of patriarchy, which she considers original sin, back to matricentricity and its weaknesses and societies’ failures to counter those weaknesses. Notice Ruether’s explanation of the birth and rise of patriarchy as a “fall”:

In gatherer and early gardening societies, built on the matricentric core of the human family, women often had real power and prestige, when food-gathering and agriculture also meant female control of resources. Such societies achieved real gender parity of power when they constructed ways of drawing in the adult male contribution to work and parenting, conceding to him real and symbolic spheres of prestige and power, while limiting male aggression. But the conditions of such societies began to break down as the agricultural revolution moved toward more crowded urban societies about five thousand years ago, and only remnants still exist today. (170)

In a somewhat surprising, maybe even shocking, admission, Ruether, a leading feminist, says that “this matricentric pattern [of primitive societies and of families in general] is itself the breeding ground of male resentment and violence, rooted in male strategies of exploitative subversion of women’s power….” (171)

Now, it would be totally wrong to interpret Ruether as suggesting that the blame for patriarchy lies with women. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is arguing, however, that matricentricity is the “original position” of human society because only women can give birth and suckle and, generally speaking, in most societies, women have been the primary nurturers of children. And there’s nothing wrong with that UNLESS some mechanism isn’t found to balance matricentricity with male prestige and power. When men become resentful, which happens when they feel hopeless about prestige and power, patriarchy is the result. (Remember, “matricentricity” is not “matriarchy”—the opposite of patriarchy. Both would be hierarchical patterns of relationships. Ruether is against all hierarchy as dominating power over. Matricentricity is in itself a good thing. But it contains a hidden weakness that leads to patriarchy unless that weakness is acknowledged and corrected. The way to do that is for matricentricity to yield to young men prestige and power, not dominating power over. I think of “prestige and power” as social acknowledgement of worth and value.)

Ruether’s proposal is not a “return to a Neolithic matricentric village as the basis of gender parity.” (171) She doesn’t think that’s possible. So what is possible? What might begin to dissolve patriarchy by addressing the needs (especially male insecurity) that lead to it? She says “We need to structure new forms of gender parity.” (171) How? “This must begin by changing a pattern that goes back to the beginnings of hominid development and even earlier; that is, the social construction of the primacy of maternal gestation into the primacy of early childhood nurture and domestic labor by women. Men and women must share fully the parenting of children from birth and the domestic work associated with daily life.” (171)

In case you’re not yet shocked, listen to this by Ruether: “One must look at all the hierarchies of exploitation and control that emanate out of the family pattern of female mothering and domestic labor.” (172) Her proposal is radical. “A genuine change in the pattern of parenting must be understood, not as a slight adjustment toward males ‘helping’ females with childcare, but a fundamental reconstruction of the primary roots of culture, transforming gender imaging of child-parent relations and the movement into adulthood for both males and females. This implies a reconstruction of the relation of the domestic core of society to the larger society.” (171-172)

Now, how does Ruether’s view support my own? It seems to me that the root cause of the present male malaise is resentment arising from the perception that males are viewed by society as, at their core, inferior to females. One education expert noted (in Newsweek’s “The Boy Crisis” cover story (January 30, 2006) that in today’s public schools boys tend to be treated as “defective girls.” Boys and young men cannot help but pick up the not-very-subtle messages in the media that boys and men are fundamentally flawed. Many young men were raised solely by women with no male role models other than sports celebrities or rock stars. Most companies give women six weeks to six months off for maternity leave; most give fathers no time off when their child is born. There’s a whole complex of problems that are almost too subtle for most people to notice, but they go deep into social psychology. The feminist movement has done wonderful things for women, but it has had the (mostly) unintended consequence of making young men feel insecure about themselves. The result goes two directions—either toward acting out in anti-social ways or toward retreat from the pursuit of prestige and power into game playing.


Browse Our Archives



TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Joe Canner

    Fascinating! Based on your penultimate paragraph it sounds like the solution would be for women to go to work part-time after weaning and for men to cut back on their hours at that same point so that both can contribute to child-rearing equally. Anything lest drastic would be window dressing or, as you put it: a “slight adjustment.”

  • Overall, a very good post. However, a major flaw comes at the beginning when you describe patriarchy, “…which is (usually) male dominance over women and subjugation of women.” You have described secular patriarchy as practiced by lost men. Biblical or Christian patriarchy holds no desire to dominate or subjugate women (wives and daughters) but instead seeks to love and serve them and work for their highest ideals. Men die at much higher rates than women in work and in war. Christian, biblical men practice the servant leadership that Jesus practiced and serve in their homes and in their marriages by honoring their wives and daughters. This type of Christian masculinity / biblical manhood, exemplified by Jesus’ in the manner in which he always raised the status of women, is the opposite of secular patriarchy and should not be lumped together into the same camp.

    • rogereolson

      Are you suggesting that all of the patriarchies she criticizes are secular? I think I see it, as she does, in lots of religious settings.

      • I’m suggesting that patriarchy is not monolithic. I also have a quibble with your broad definition of patriarchy as “subjugation and male dominance of women.”

        • rogereolson

          It is one definition of “patriarchy.” Look it up. The other one implies it.

          • Paul

            I assume you hold there are positive forms of feminism, i.e. healthy feminism, as well as unhealthy forms of feminism. There are positive forms of patriarchy and negative examples.

          • rogereolson

            I think both have become problematic terms. For me, “feminism” is a good term outside of academic circles where it usually suggests something more radical than I’m comfortable with. For me, “patriarchy” is not a good term because virtually everywhere it suggests male domination of females.

    • John Inglis

      I don’t see it as the opposite of secular patriarchy at all. It is the same in its power structure, the only differences being that (1) the so-called biblical form locates the basis of the power structure not in social structures but in the very nature of creation–like the divine right of kings, and (2) in its ideal form it is not selfish. The secular form may or may not be selfish, but it works on the same power structure. However, the secular form does not claim divine sanction and so is open to criticism and change.

    • From what I can see, this form of patriarchy may not subjugate women, but it asks and expects women to voluntarily, willingly and “cheerfully” subjugate themselves, and tells them they are in rebellion against God and the Bible if they do not. So though what is called “Biblical” patriarchy may use a different word than “subjugate,” it seems to me that the difference is more one of procedure than of substance.

    • traveller

      Many who claim Christian patriarchy (but often are loathe to use that word) actually practice egalitarianism in their marriage and dress it up with the rhetoric of so-called Biblical patriarchy. For the most part those who truly practice patriarchy in a Christian context do so in ways that do not look different from secular patriarchy, again except for the rhetoric as Mr. Pettit uses.

      I would also note that, in my view the concept of “servant leadership” is not derived from Jesus or the Bible but from the secular world of business. The word was coined by a former IBM executive name Robert Greenleaf in the 1960’s. It does not begin to appear in Christian writings until the 1990’s when the corporate model of leadership began to really grow among churches. Indeed, I would suggest that Jesus was a servant, not a leader, at least not in any way commonly thought of today. Again, leadership by definition means one person taking charge and creating a vision and making decisions. Not only is this not servanthood it is also not what God intended between women and men in marriage, the family or the church. The Bible seems to more clearly delineate a partnership between women and men in all matters of life.

      • Paul

        If Jesus was anything he was a servant leader. His entire identity was wrapped up in being a leading servant. Jesus said: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) Servanthood is an attitude. It is also the mark of a healthy leader. Jesus Christ as described in Philippians 2:6,7: “…so, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Why do you feel the need to uncouple “serving” from “leading?”

        • traveller

          Read the verses you quoted and it is clear. Nowhere does the Bible indicate the incarnate Jesus is a leader. He is always a servant full stop. Indeed, I would suggest that leader and servant are contradictory terms.

        • traveller

          Much agreement as you question “servant/leadership.” Can’t seem to find “servant/leadership” in my antiquated KJV. And… In Mat 23:10, Jesus instructs His Disciples, NOT to be called “Leader.” And NONE did. For you have “ONE” Leader – Christ.

          King James Version –
          Neither be ye called masters:
          for “ONE” is your Master, even Christ.

          New American Standard Bible
          Do not be called leaders;
          for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.

          The Interlinear Bible –
          Nor be called leaders,
          for “ONE” is your leader the Christ.

          Phillips Modern English –
          you must not let people call you leaders,
          you have only “ONE” leader, Christ.

          Today’s English Version –
          nor should you be called leader.
          your “ONE” and only leader is the Messiah.

          Jesus told *His Disciples* NOT to be called *leaders*
          And NONE did.

          Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
          Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, servants of Jesus Christ,
          Col 4:12 Epaphras, one of you, a servant of Christ,
          Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
          Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
          2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

          **His Disciples** all called themselves **Servants.**
          None called themselves “Leaders.” None? None.
          None called themselves “Servant-Leader.” None.

          If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders” – And someone calls them self a “leader” or thinks they are a “leader;”

          Are they a “Disciple of Christ?”

          Why isn’t what Jesus said important? 😉

          And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
          them also I must bring, they shall *hear MY voice;*
          and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
          John 10:16

          One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One Leader

          {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    • If “Christian” patriarchy “work for [wives and daughters] highest ideals, it is extremely flawed at its purpose.
      I have read story after story of women who used to understand life from the Christian patriarchy angle, tiring themselves out by being submissive to unreasonable demands, often from men who thought they(the men) were loving and selfless, but who simply did not know what it is like to live day in and out pregnant, nursing, and homeschooling. Who make – with the best intentions – serious mistakes in their children’s educational choices, leaving them very much unprepared for the real world if plan A (Get married to a man who will protect you) don’t work out. Stories which leave all of a woman’s gifts and talents – as varied as that of a man- unused and undeveloped. Fathers who arrogantly believe they know better than their daughter who she should marry – but he does not.
      Oh, and the “Biblical” foundations of it is almost all proof-texting, too. http://tenetsofbiblicalpatriarchy.blogspot.com/

  • This is interesting. And really, this is what women who have embraced the Christian patriarchal backlash against feminism are looking for: men who will, as they put it, “step up and take leadership in the home.” As an egalitarian, I agree– with the caveat that the leadership I’m hoping to encourage men to take is a joint leadership with their wives, to lead their homes and families as equal partners in a joint venture, each leading in his or her areas of strength.

    If men can understand their importance as fathers, and the unique perspective they bring as men to marriage, without subordinating or disparaging the female, then we will see real healing and health in our families.

    • rogereolson

      Agreed. But it’s not likely to happen as long as the secular media keeps putting men down as either silly or sinister.

      • John Inglis

        Interestingly, cop shows do not portray men as silly or sinister (the male cops are not silly, but equally competent with woment; criminals are both men and women). However, there are now more cop shows with female leads than there ever were, and it is my impression that female leads outnumber male leads.

        • rogereolson

          I always have the impression, though, that the male characters are more deeply flawed with lots of psychological hangups or parenting troubles than the female characters. Lately, however, I have noticed a tendency on cop shows for women district attorneys to be very mean and aggressive.

      • Yes, this is a problem, but Christians should not accept every message the secular media puts across either. What I’m saying is that even if the larger society continues to have this problem, Christians can be different– and they do not have to embrace patriarchal gender roles as their only Christian option.

        • rogereolson

          Of course, I totally agree. Unfortunately, all too often, conservative Christian churches go in two opposite directions at the same time: only men can hold offices (e.g., deacon, elder, lead pastor) but women do most of the work. Maybe we should reverse that for a while?

  • Im going to brag on my church now. They gave me a month off when my first child was born, and permission to have a very fluid schedule for the months following.

    This allowe me to participate in midnight/2am feedings (yeah, we bottle fed), and many other areas early on. I can’t begin to tell you what a blessing this was. we also had the grand-mothers there for the first 2-3 weeks, which was an immense help.

    The second time around, with a better understanding of things, I took 1/2 days the first month, and the fluid schedule for the rest of the time. Mainly because the grand-mothers came back, and I was going stir crazy during the day. I was still the main person responsible for night-time feedings and colic-moments. I got to hold my children LOTS! Even the colic moments were a blessing, because I was able to hold my child close, sing to him/them, and bring comfort. I wouldn’t trade those hours between 2-5am for anything now. Actually, I miss them.

    Now, if only other businesses/churches in our society would act upon the belief that fatherhood is actually important.

    Tim

    • rogereolson

      May your tribe increase! (I mean men who share all the child care with their wives!)

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Watch virtually all commercials on TV depicting young men. Invariably they are depicted as immature, goofy, pratfalling ding-a-lings. Rosemary Ruether has hit the nail on the head with this issue. Manhood (and womanhood) is more than just being able to manifest the genetic physical evidence. It’s also psychological and spiritual and can only be generated by rolemodels who are themselves altogether together. Our society is emotionally sick. Let us hope it is not terminal.

  • Agreed, this is very thought provoking.

    Strangely, her work made me think of the recent movie, “Mars Needs Moms.” If you have seen it, then you know that behind a fun kids movie is similarly “radical” idea: What Mars REALLY needed was dads. Their matriarchal society was no walk utopia.

  • earl simmons

    Perhaps the old idea of making God the head of the household would solve many of these problems. Oops was He a male or female?

  • “While the female role is built into the process of life-reproduction…the male role has to be constructed socially.”

    Is Paul in Ephesians 5 he saying something similar? A pregnant female BY NATURE AND DESIGN lays down life, nourishes and cherishes another “as her own body”. Look at what Paul tells husbands:

    “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—” Eph 5:28-29

    That very much resembles the experience of pregnancy and nursing!

  • Have you ever read any of the books by Pentecostal writer J. Lee Grady? In his book ’10 Lies that Men Believe’ he presents the case for gender equality in the home and in the church.

    I’ve just started looking more into devotional writing for men by Catholic writer Richard Roh who also approaches a holistic approach to masculinity that is not macho or patriarchical.

    • rogereolson

      I have not read Grady. I have read some things by Richard Rohr. I a little leery of some of his approaches that sound New Age-ish to me. But he also has some very good ideas–such as that every culture should have a “coming of age” ritual for young men.

  • John C. Gardner

    Sadly, responsible men are fewer in number. I believe the sinister ads in the media where men are portrayed as assinine idiots are a major factor. I also believe that the decline in the number of well educated men is a factor(interestingly, it would be considered a major crisis if the number of women had declined from roughly 50% in college thirty or so years ago to close to 40% today which is what happened to males in college). We need to remember Galatians 3:21.

  • These are great thoughts and insights into human development, male/female relations, and feminism in general.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see much here that explains why teenagers and young adults are checking out of the rat-race. I don’t think teenagers are saying, “Women get maternity leave”, and so feel ambivalent toward the success they can attain in society as men. Most of the examples and illustrations in this article go far beyond what your average teenager will be aware of.

    Is it indicative of systemic attitudes in our society? Perhaps. But I wonder if men aren’t becoming wary of institutions and women begin filling that gap? I wonder if employers are finding that the public would prefer to be served by a woman at service oriented businesses, and that leaves men discriminated against in the service sector (a very large sector). Is the desire for a woman to serve a patriarcal impulse that is working against men?

    These are just a collection of ad hoc thoughts, but I think my insights as a 28 year old might be helpful. I for one NEVER felt inferior to women growing up; in fact quite the oposite resulted from my upbringing. I was definitely made to feel that I would never be hired into certain work environments because of my sex though.

    • rogereolson

      I think you’re supporting my thesis. There are increasing numbers of jobs that will go only to women. And men are usually laid off first. I don’t think the reasons young men “check out” are conscious. This is a social psychological problem having to do with a shift in society’s valuation of males. One evidence is that now more couples would prefer to have girls than boys and adoptions favor girls over boys. I have to think it has something to do with the media and how males are portrayed there. I remember one of those vignettes on “What Would You Do?” (part of the 20/20 franchise on network TV). A young, attractive female actress was sent to a gas station with a gasoline can to go from customer to customer asking for help in buying a little gas to get her car started (which was stalled somewhere down the street). Everyone was glad to help her out by buying her some gas. They sent a nice looking young man to the same gas station with the same empty gas can with the same story. Only the men would buy him gas. None of the women would. When the host asked a female social psychologist why the disparity she blamed it on the male. He wasn’t being forward enough; he was too hesitant in the way he asked for help. I thought that was an absurd answer. It was obvious to me and my wife that it was because the women feared the young man. Their body language revealed it. I think the mass media is increasingly portraying males and females in a dualistic manner with females as basically good (with a few exceptions) and males as basically bad (with a few exceptions).

      • Well, certainly the women feared the young man. We have been taught that there’s a rapist around every corner– and unfortunately there’s some truth in that. You never know who could be a rapist. And the responsibility for preventing rape lies squarely on the shoulders of women. We are the ones taught what precautions to take– and one of them is not interacting with strange men at gas stations.

        If a woman is raped, a lot of times she is scrutinized to see what she did wrong– what rule she broke– whether it’s dressing too sexy, going to the wrong place, or talking to the wrong people.

        We need to change the way we educate about rape. In high school and college, both boys and girls need to be taught that this is a social problem, not a women’s problem. Boys need to be taught to treat jokes about rape the way they already treat jokes about race. Maybe once changes like these are made, women can afford to stop seeing all men as potential rapists.

        • rogereolson

          But is there any other group of people we are allowed to view that way–as all potential perpetrators of the acts of the worst of them? I don’t think so. And I think it’s extremely unfair to think of all men as potential rapists. That’s not to say women shouldn’t take precautions. Of course. But in the TV scenario I described, it was broad daylight and very public. There were people all around. A rape was not going to happen there. And yet the women all spurned the young man’s approach for help. What I’m saying is that this attitude that all men are potential rapists is sinking into society’s consciousness to the point of having very deleterious affects on boys and young men who are not potential rapists (they would never think of doing that to any female). I agree with you, however, about our need to educate everyone about rape as a social problem. And I have always encouraged my wife and daughters to exercise caution and be prepared to protect themselves (have the cell phone in hand with speed dial to the police, etc.) when in any territory that might be dangerous. I have never let my wife go out to a store at night alone. I always drop whatever I’m doing and go with her and always have. It just makes sense. But we shouldn’t project the image of potential rapist onto every man we see.

      • “I think the mass media is increasingly portraying males and females in a dualistic manner with females as basically good (with a few exceptions) and males as basically bad (with a few exceptions).”

        Agreed

      • Originally the reason why certain jobs were only held by women is that once women started filling them, men stopped wanting to do them, thinking of them as “women’s jobs.” Employers would then view with suspicion a man who would be willing to apply for a “women’s job.” Nowadays everyone expects a secretary/office assistant to be female, because of this. The stigma may be slowly fading, but employment trends are going to take some time to respond to that.

        Of course, there are still large sectors of jobs that are still filled vastly by men, and women who try to enter them feel out of place and “frozen out.” This includes things like electricians, welders, loggers, repair technicians. And these jobs traditionally pay far more than the jobs held by mostly women. In fact, studies have shown that as soon as a career field begins to be entered by mostly women, the standard pay for those jobs drops.

        The problems men are experiencing are largely caused by the old roots of patriarchy which are still deeply sunk into our culture. As we strive for a more equal society, this is causing the pendulum to swing the other way. I do not deny that this is being detrimental to men, and we need to figure out ways to counter it.

        The reason for the portrayal of white men in our commercials and other media is that people respond well to humor– but the only group still thought of as fair game for jokes is that of white males. This is largely brought about by a desire on the part of the media to not be seen as racist or sexist. It’s only thought appropriate to direct humor towards those perceived as having power. But you may notice that it is only white men that are portrayed as idiots. Black men in commercials are usually wise, authoritative spokesmen.

        As equalization continues, this media disparity should die out. I’m not really sure what to do for our young boys in the meantime, except educate them about the reasons this is happening, and find ways to affirm and encourage them anyway.

        In the meantime, we still have a long way to go as far as women are concerned.

        • rogereolson

          Agreed. One way to help the boys would be for school districts to actively recruit male teachers. Every time I see an advertisement inviting people to become teachers it features a woman or women. Also, I saw a huge article in the Chronicle of Higher Education talking about efforts to get women into careers like engineering that lack women. A woman involved in that effort was quoted as saying (paraphrasing now) “These professions will be better off with more women in them.” Okay. But if that’s the reason for the effort, why not also put effort into getting men into social work and public education (below college/university)? I never see such efforts. And here is my point: I think the general attitude of society now is that, no, these professions would not be better off with more men in them. Why is that?

      • That is an interesting example of bias within the media. However, I find it hard to believe that the media caused the phenomena the man experienced in trying to buy gas for his car.

        I think it is a far more likely explanation that the woman was being helped because of her perceived weakness within a patriarchal society, and the young man was not helped because of the potential threat he posed to the women. Perhaps the media plays more of a factor in demonizing young-men as prone to violence and crime?

        I guess my main argument would be that what we are experiencing as men are the effects of de-industrialization, and the rise of the service industry and culture. Service jobs are for the under-educated and have a preference for women. Thus, under-educated men find it difficult to find work. They end up at home, playing video games.

        Most men make a go of it to try to become athletes, rock stars and actors; or some other sexy occupation. When they don’t win that lottery, they try to sell-out and get that job in a factory or some other stable, long-term menial labor. Where is that at?

        • rogereolson

          I think you have put your finger on one contributing factor to the male crisis in today’s society. Somehow our educational system needs to better prepare young men for the changing work environment. But I still believe that, increasingly, employers are leaning toward hiring women over men because of the stigma of being male which is the perception that males are morally inferior to females in the broadest sense (honesty, productivity, collaborativeness, etc.). I can’t help but think the feminist movement has had that effect. For all the good it has done for women it has had the (mostly) unintended consequence of stigmatizing males as inferior in every way except perhaps physical prowess (which the media is now doing its best to change).

          • EricMichaelSay

            I agree Mr Olson, and I think you’ve put your finger on how the media could influence authority structures. I do see how women are marketed as being more collaborative (something I don’t see as an absolute truth, just a reverse stereotype), and men are seen as potential troublemakers. I’ve even seen it assumed that men are entrepreneurial, and would be more likely to quit or be bored at certain jobs.

            I appreciate you starting dialog beyond the lame articles and non-insights of the NYT booksellers and news pundits.

  • Josh

    I’m not so sure that video games are at odds with seeking respect. Single player games may be more a form of escapism, allowing young men to enter a world where they are the hero (or, increasingly an option in modern games, the villain) and their actions are always praised or at least noticed. In multiplayer games, young men can gain respect amongst other players by being good at the game. It’s not NECESSARILY merely a descent back into childhood; it is perhaps a differently misdirected search for respect from the macho option.

    • rogereolson

      Good point. I agree. But my main point still stands. One reason so many young men spent most of their time playing video games instead of going out and seeking productive work and relationships is because they feel hopeless about being heroes in the eyes of a society that sends them messages that only women can be true heroes now. (I realize that’s an overstatement, an exaggeration, but I mean it as hyperbole to point to a tendency, a trajectory of society’s imaging of men.)

  • LanceSmith

    Your analysis seems like a back-handed realization of the male crisis.

    A few key points:

    * I’m not sure how you are distinguishing between a matricentric and a matriarchy. They are both by definition giving women privilege over men and therefore they are both non-egalitarian.

    * A fundamental flaw of her (and your?) whole thesis is the lack of realization that violence has continued to FALL consistently since this supposed matricentric period. In fact, by every measure, the last 100+ years have been less violent then the 100 years before and which were less violent then the 100 yeas before….and so on. Violence has consistently fallen during the entirety of human existence. So if one accepts the existence of a patriarchy, then according to your theory, the rise of patriarchy actually ushered in a less violent world….which should be a good thing.

    As for your thesis, while I accept and agree that we need to do something as a society to improve the state of masculinity, I believe that if we start from the premise that the male and masculinity is/are somehow broken, then we won’t see much improvement. What I see in your analysis is more male-blaming. Masculinity has successfully created, maintained, and expanded civilization. That is no small feat, and it wasn’t done out of respect for the male…it was done because men and women agreed that this civilizing activity was worth undertaking.

    Ultimately, what feminists don’t seem to understand is that now that we have reached equal opportunity for both men and women, the answer is not more gender-based programs (either pro-male or pro-female) but completely, 100% egalitarian programs that refuse to differentiate between either men or women and instead look at the individual.

    • rogereolson

      Wow. Have you ever misunderstood me!

  • EAB

    Regarding your last comment about the women fearing the young man, I believe you are correct. But it would be interesting to find out how many women were afraid of him because of past personal experience as opposed to negative portrayals of men in the media. I have personally experienced being approached by a man at the gas station, requesting I buy him some gas. In that case, I was startled by him and afraid. But, I also have had enough negative experiences with men, that I am usually at least cautious–and sometimes very nervous–when approached by a man in a public place.

    • rogereolson

      Good point. But with what other entire class of people (who can’t help what they are) are we so suspicious because we’ve had bad experiences with some?

      • Amanda B.

        It seems to me that there is a difference between inherent suspicion of men (sexism) and recognition of one’s own vulnerability (reality). Even leaving aside the stats that most adult perpetrators of sexual violence are men, the truth is that most adult victims of sexual violence are women. So while I’ll gladly acknowledge that no given man is any more prone to being violent than any given woman is, my being a woman *does* puts me at a heightened risk of being victimized. When I fear for my own safety in an uncomfortable exchange with a man who is a stranger, there are two things that are at play: 1) I don’t know what he is going to do; 2) if he were to try something, I would have no way to escape or effectively fight back. I am assessing my own vulnerability just as much as–if not more–than I am his potential aggression (which I have far less ability to gauge).

        It’s the same reason I keep a careful eye on cars if I am crossing a street. More than 99% of drivers would never dream of mowing down a pedestrian, and would take great pains to avoid doing so. But if I am unfortunate enough to find the one driver who doesn’t see me because they are eating a burger and checking their reflection while talking on their cell phone, I am dead. It’s not that I think all drivers are irresponsible idiots; I just don’t know that this one isn’t. And I am positive that my squishy human body will lose in a 35mph collision with two thousand pounds of machinery. When the stakes are as high as my life, I’m going to think twice before trusting any driver to not run over me.

        Continuing the analogy, I’ll worry most at crossing at a badly-marked crosswalk, less at a stoplight, and least of all if a police officer or crossing guard is directing me through. This is why my demeanor towards a man stranded on the side of the road will change significantly depending whether or not I am alone. I don’t have any increased suspicion of the guy one way or the other, but my own vulnerability can be significantly changed. I’m most vulnerable if alone, less if there are people around, but least of all if I have a guy friend or two actively with me.

        I am well aware that most men would show at least basic respect to a woman they meet alone, and a majority of those would even be downright polite. But I am always measuring my own vulnerability in case I meet the one-off dangerous guy. It’s not a dim reflection on men in general, but on our society, and the fact that lots of sexual violence does still happen in it, and that I am a particular target of said violence. I have no choice but to be cautious.

        And for what it’s worth, I am also cautious about interacting with strange women when I’m alone. The only reason the level of danger is less is because I am more able to hold my own if something were to go sour.

        I don’t want to nit-pick, but I feel like this is a very important line to hold in discussions of equality. I wholeheartedly agree that men should not be penalized for their gender, but I think we have to be careful and not penalize women for the reality they currently live in, either.

        • rogereolson

          And I absolutely agree. As I said, I never let my wife go to a store or mall or any public place alone after dark. I always drop whatever I’m doing and go with her. My objection is not to anything you wrote there but to the all too common tendency these days to project the negativity of some men onto all males. I can honestly say that I have never been a “potential rapist,” nor have the vast majority of men. And yet that phrase has stigmatized males in our society. I think it’s one thing to say to a female to view all men as potential rapists when they are in a very vulnerable situation (e.g., alone at night) and it is another thing to throw that epithet at men in general as some feminists have done. I very much understand and sympathize with the female’s plight in our society. Nobody should have to be afraid. But I think the media and some authors (both women and men) have promoted an idea that men are morally inferior, either silly or sinister, and at best defective females. The situation is becoming rapidly reversed to where in some contexts (e.g., public education and health) males are literally not objects of concern at all.

          • Amanda B.

            Ah, understood. Thank you for clarifying.

  • mjay

    Wow, sexist bigotry masquerading as religious argument.
    Why am I not surprised?

    • rogereolson

      But what makes you say that? Where is the sexist bigotry in what Ruether wrote? Or in what I wrote? Explain.

      • mjay

        Upon rereading your piece, I stand corrected. It is so rare to see a paragraph not bashing men, that I fell prey to my conditioning.

        Freedom of will is a freedom within a framework of possibilities. Men and boys no longer have those possibilities in American society.

  • Tombaba

    I think you are on to something here. I would suggest that you read Warren Farrell’s “The Myth of Male Power” and also David Geary’s “Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences.”

    The important message of both books is that males are built to be disposable and this of course determines our treatment of them. We have evolved that disposability biologically and socially over thousands of years and it plays out in our lives on a daily basis. Talking about patriarchy often makes me cringe because most think of it as something that only impacts women. On the contrary, those most impacted by what you might call patriarchy are MEN. It is men who have died by the millions in wars for millennia, it is men who die in dangerous jobs, men who sacrifice their relationships with loved ones in order to pay for the costs of their family, men who compete for leadership positions that are geared to serve women and children and use the blood and bones of men to drive the engine. Those men in power are so un-representative of men in general it is laughable but what we hear so often is that men have all the power! This is truly moronic for anyone who scratches even the surface of our culture.

    Lately, over the last 50 years we have had pep rallies gallore for women and girls and at the same time blamed and disdained our men. Most people go along with this bigotry without blinking. It’s easy to go along since men are seen as disposable. Let’s hope more and more people awaken to this. Our men and boys deserve better.

    • rogereolson

      Very strongly expressed, but I tend to agree.

  • Buck Swamp

    Now, it would be totally wrong to interpret Ruether as suggesting that the blame for patriarchy lies with women. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    But of course. In modern Christian theology nothing is ever the woman’s fault. This is why men have turned away from Christianity by the droves. As a result, Christianity no longer has much influence in the west.

    • rogereolson

      Or could it be that in most churches women do most of the work so everything is designed to appeal more to women than men (what would happen if the women left?) which alienates many men so they drop out?

    • My experience is that everything is still the woman’s fault in most Christian churches and marriages. The men are leaving the church because the church is too “feminized,” which has to be the women’s fault, because men wouldn’t “feminize” the church on their own. If a man is not being a good husband, it’s because the woman isn’t submissive enough. If there’s anything wrong with the children, it’s that she’s not a good mother. If she stays home full time, she’s “overprotective.” If she goes out to work, she’s “neglectful.” Men are supposed to be the leaders, but if they fall down in their leadership, it’s because of “the feminists,” or even “the femi-nazies.”

      I’m not sure where your experience of Christianity is coming from Buck, because what I see usually is that women get none of the authority to help fix anything, but most of the blame for whatever’s wrong.

  • Mark Neil

    I find it rather telling that, to look for the reason for men dropping out of society, and evidence to support your theory of how the loss of respect for males may have played a part in that, you turn to feminist writings… feminism, the very source of a great deal of the male blaming and shaming found within our society. And worst, in doing so, you rely on the patriarchy theory (and it is only that, a feminist THEORY) that accuses men of subjugating women, and all the negatives that implies, and the disrespect it incurs, to effectively make the claim that men are dropping out of society because they are resentful for the very treatment you yourself further within this article. Ever consider for a moment, that the rather hateful assertion that the gender dynamics of early man, the gender dynamics identified by patriarchy theory, aren’t about dominance and control over women, but about a reasonable division of labor and an exchange of responsibilities and rewards? That maybe, all the blame and shame heaped on men via patriarchy theory is very much an example of what’s causing resentment among men? That being told their gender has a need to dominate and subjugate women (specifically) (while not actually feeling that need themselves), might make those men resentful towards the people calling him hateful, misogynistic and a host of other unflattering names? Imagine for a moment, that feminist patriarchy theory wasn’t true, that the assertions it makes about masculinity and male ego, actually went against what the vast majority of men feel and do… now, how much damage would promoting this hateful idea of men (as found in patriarchy theory), promoting laws and policies in virtually every aspect of society, and using it to deny men a fair shake in many realms (including family courts and in defense against false allegations of rape/abuse)… how much damage would this cause?

    • rogereolson

      The reason I wrote about Ruether was precisely because she is a feminist. What she wrote would not be taken seriously if anyone else (but a feminist) wrote it. Like her, I think patriarchy has been harmful to men, too. I agree that projecting the characteristics associated with patriarchy onto all men (or denying that women, too, can have them) is wrong. In my opinion, patriarchy isn’t just about men; it’s about the impulse to dominate and control others using power. Not all men do that or even want to do that. I don’t think feminists like Ruether really think so, but they do sometimes seem to demonize men because of the actions of some men.

  • Since you published this, we have had some family discussions attempting to analyze the male crisis. Of my 3 married children, all of the wives are higher earners. The latest Time magazine pins this on the advent of the Pill 50 years ago. As the mother of 8 children, this makes sense to me. I did not have the energy to be a big earner when I was pregnant and nursing for 16 years.

    Some of the ideas which we came up with in the brainstorming are:

    -helicopter parents of small families who don’t allow children to fail or take care of their own problems which creates a kind of entitlement attitude in grown children (this from the 23 yod who was a college dorm resident asst and had parents calling her over roommate disputes)
    -in all of the 23 yo’s growing up years, every child got a trophy no matter what their performance–> entitlement to have self esteem always polished regardless of performance
    -the 11 yos and my husband think it is a lack of fatherly discipline. For example, when our 19 yos dropped out of college due to a gaming addiction, my husband told him he needs to pony up $100 a week for room and board or move. As a mother, I had flashbacks to his babyhood and was not able to be so firm (although I was grateful that my husband was).
    -my own observation coming out of a very traditional wife submit, husband rule paradigm is that our daughters’ extreme academic success was a kind of “rebellion” against constant put-downs from their theological environment. They proved wrong the idea that girls are stupid (ie “easily deceived”) and worthless apart from “male leadership”.

  • Elaine

    This seems more like a white male “problem” than a male problem in general. Black males have been dealing with the so-called “deficiency” problem for most of modern American history. Being seen as “unmanly” is a fear that has propelled some men to deny manhood even to other men as a way of proving the un-provable – that one is fully manly. Slaves were seen as dependent, helpless men, incapable of defending their women and children and therefore less than “manly.” Native Americans were characterized, as foolish and naïve children. By the end of the 1800’s European immigrants were added to the list, especially Irish and Italians who were characterized as too emotional and passionate. And the list goes on. When people are driven by fear, they do things that grace would never allow them to do.

    Jesus taught us to find our identity in Him. That so many Christians continue to feel that they have something else to prove is sad.

  • traveller

    Much agreement as you question “servant/leadership.” Can’t seem to find “servant/leadership” in my antiquated KJV. And… In Mat 23:10, Jesus instructs His Disciples, NOT to be called “Leader.” And NONE did. For you have “ONE” Leader – Christ.

    King James Version –
    Neither be ye called masters:
    for “ONE” is your Master, even Christ.

    New American Standard Bible
    Do not be called leaders;
    for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.

    The Interlinear Bible –
    Nor be called leaders,
    for “ONE” is your leader the Christ.

    Phillips Modern English –
    you must not let people call you leaders,
    you have only “ONE” leader, Christ.

    Today’s English Version –
    nor should you be called leader.
    your “ONE” and only leader is the Messiah.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    **His Disciples** all called themselves **Servants.**
    None called themselves “Leaders.” None? None.
    None called themselves “Servant-Leader.” None.

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders” – And someone calls them self a “leader” or thinks they are a “leader;”

    Are they a “Disciple of Christ?”

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? 😉

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, they shall *hear MY voice;*
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  • just

    Finally a feminist that admits that feminism has harmed men,boys and society. You are the first Feminist I have come across that even remotely owns up to the damage feminism has done. All my life I have heard feminist tell me as a boy and now as a man how I am to blame for every thing, How violent I am. How I am only valuable when I sacrifice my life to protect a woman. I don’tplay video games. I am not good with house work and it is not because of any resentment I have It is because my mother did not allow me to be part of the housework. My chores as a boy involved chopping wood, tending to our animals and any job that involved getting dirty and sweating a lot. It is my feeling that most men that are poor with house work also have their mothers to blame.

    • rogereolson

      Well, it’s never too late to learn! 🙂 How hard is pushing a vacuum cleaner? Still, I agree that too much blame is heaped on men in general. Not all men are equally guilty for oppressing women and those who have done no such thing shouldn’t be made to suffer for the sins of others.

  • Helen

    I thought this was a really insightful article overall but I do have to disagree on a few things. First of all, I’m 17 and it has been my experience in life that I do not feel like society deems women more valuable than men. I completely understand how men and boys may feel underrepresented and lash out because of that, because there is an extreme amount more attention paid to women’s health and maternity leave, etc. However, as a woman, I also see how women are portrayed alongside men in entertainment. Even when you have “strong” female characters, they almost always are either scantily clad, are all talk, end up needing the man’s help a lot despite her not wanting it, etc. I rarely see female models in ads or magazines that are sophisticated unless I look for something like Talbots : / The way women get degraded in the music the play on the radio no less. I’m tired of listening to things that only refer to me as a bitch or a hoe or a slut or to go strip on a poll or make some money. I’m freaking tired of it!!!!! The boys at school walk around like gods and people treat them that way. Acting all macho, degrading the girls and the girls take it because they see that;s the way women should be. I get called a lesbian by the guys and the girls, MAINLY THE GUYS because I stand up for myself when people are making degrading remarks or treating someone poorly. I even stick up for guys who get picked on for not being degrading towards women and half the time they don’t appreciate being stood up for! I understand because it makes boys feel weak to be helped by a girl. GET OVER YOURSELF!!!! how do you think I FEEL?????

    “You throw/run/scream/hit like girl”
    Lose to a girl: you suck! Win to a girl: So what? She was a girl.
    Almost all media entertainment is from a male’s perspective. They call it the “male gaze” look t up. I’m over it.
    When those 10 guys in texas raped that 11 year old girl? The responses in the article from residents of the town: “Think about the young men. They will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.” “The real question is what could make these young men commit a crime like this.” “Reports say the girl (11!) dressed far older than her age.”
    All over the world women suffer purely for being women. Only in first world nations are women actually getting an abundance of attention paid to things like their health. This simply means we need to step up our attention we pay to men’s health. Simple as that. But don’t worry. Men are always the preference. Has anyone really forgotten that? A female doing somehting that is male is fine. A Male doing something that is female is degrading. That right there is saying women are less than men otherwise it would not be degrading to do/be something thought of as feminine.

    it has really made me feel like shit for a lot of my life. It seems like only women will cry out about the degradation of females but both females and males will cry out about the degradation of males. However, I hear women put down way more. Rape jokes are so common at my school but I always read these articles saying rape culture is just feminists scamming and that the real problem is how men are treated : / I just don’t get it.

    Raising a child more like a male than a female is healthier for the child. What does that tell you? Raising a child as a female largely entails teaching it to be dependent and shallow. An insecure, image-obsessed girl who thinks being as frail as possible is the ideal feminine look. Boys from the start are taught how to defend themselves, how to fix stuff to get themselves out of unexpected situations, they are given toys which are more mechanical, more complex. Their toys are scientific, mathematic, focus on building and strategy. The only stuff I got were dolls that wet themselves and you had to feed them and change them, easy bake ovens, play kitchens, I got a toy shopping cart once. I had toy mirrors and make up kits. The only things I had that were educational were computer learning games and they were always male characters. So what does that tell you.

    I’m not saying men should be ignored, not at all. I’m saying that we haven’t even begun to address the CURRENT issue of the state of women and we’re already shoving them aside to be appalled at how men aren’t the main focus anymore.

    Last week when my social studies teacher asked the class if we were ready for a female president, 4 people raised their hand. If he had said, “black, mexican, jewish, etc.” way more people would have raised their hand. Women are still seen as incompetent and more child-like than men. Men are still trusted over women. It seems like the feelings of men is all that matters. No one ever addresses how it must feel to be a woman in the midst of this crisis about how men have to deal with being on the same level as a lowly female. There are injustices towards men too. They all need to be addressed. But people are shoving women way too far to the side in this whole thing. You have a very underdeveloped generation of women YET AGAIN, WORLD! FIX IT THIS TIME.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for this perspective. On the other hand, high school boys have told me that all you have to do to pass a course in high school is “look pretty and show up.” So much is a matter of perspective in all this. When I watch television I see women portrayed as strong, confident, smart while men are almost always portrayed as stupid or sinister. And you seem to overlook the fact that the majority of college and university degrees are given to women. There’s some truth to the movie line “girls go to college; boys go to jail.” Increasingly that’s what is happening in our society.