Saturday, July 5, 2008

National columnist strives to 'Save the Males'

National columnist strives to 'Save the Males'
By Bill Thompson
The Post and Courier
Sunday, June 22, 2008

For the past 35 years, the denigration of men as loathsome beasts responsible for all the world's ills has held publishing, academe and much popular culture in its thrall. It has marked a radical swing of the cultural pendulum — from centuries of patriarchal dominance to a new era of ideological feminism.

Kathleen Parker has had enough.

The nationally syndicated columnist, who also happens to be a wife, mother and daughter, believes we have gone from one calcified extreme to another. Women, as well as men, are suffering the consequences. In "Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care" (Random House), she argues that men and boys are being wedged into a box that may produce just the sort of self-fulfilling prophesies that feminists decry.

"Tell a boy often enough that he's stupid, and he might try to prove you right," says Parker. "Tell men they're lousy long enough and they may not disappoint. You treat people the way you want them to be and help them become that person. If they're presumptively guilty of every bad thing or sin men ever committed, they may feel there's no point in trying. Smart parents tell their kids they're strong and smart and noble. But boys don't always hear that these days."

Parker also addresses the subjects of women in the military and how society has become hyper-sexualized at the expense of genuine human connection.

But it is examining the erosion of men's ancient role in the social contract that commands the principal emphasis.

"Part of man's traditional role is protecting women and children, and most men want to," she says. "But by banishing chivalry from the culture, we've also succeeded in ridding men of their sense of honor."

"Save the Males" is no ham-handed diatribe. There is as much warmth and wit in the book as there is sobriety. Parker, who began her journalism career in 1977 at the Charleston Evening Post, argues that it's not only past time to put to bed the more extreme feminist ideas, but the "commercially rewarding" (if counterproductive) pop-culture images as well.

"Absolutely. And I think some feminists feel the same way," says the Winterhaven, Fla., native, who divides her time between Camden and Washington, D.C.. "I was once a fire-breathing feminist, too. It wasn't until I gave birth to a boy that the scales fell from my eyes. This (male bashing) has had a very profound effect on the world we live in today. These negative sentiments became mainstream and then institutionalized. We can't escape them entirely because we live them.

"We are producing a culture not conducive to raising kids in healthy families. I wanted to show how it is affecting us."

A 1976 graduate of Florida State University with a Ph.D. in Spanish literature, Parker says women and children can benefit from a society only in which men feel respected and motivated to heed the better angels of their nature.

"I do try to make the argument that it isn't only about saving males. We have to train our young men to be good men. Women ultimately determine how men behave toward them. It's the way we're built. And it's a matter of channeling these male energies toward constructive behavior. Women like men, they really do. But I'm concerned about this 20-something generation of women who have been marinating in this sexually hostile, anti-male environment."

Parker's mother died when she was 3. As someone raised by a single father, she will brook no disparagement of single mothers who are doing a remarkable job of parenting. Yet elements of culture continue to venerate the iconic single mom raising children free of masculine "interference" as something preferable, which betrays a breathtaking naivete about the nature of human development.

"I was raised by my father as a single dad, and I have been a single mom. I know how hard the job is. But we do know the reality of this situation. The problem I have with this book is that I'm having to argue the obvious. Men and women bring different skills to parenting. There's not one piece of it that is dispensable. We need all of it.

"How does a boy become a man without a father to guide him? This hyper-masculine, pop-cultural image we see now is a reaction to a lack of a genuine father figure. Why we don't understand that is mind-boggling to me."

Book after book has been produced detailing how our educational system shortchanges or imperils girls. This, in a time when young women are fast becoming the majority on the nation's college campuses. Few, until recently, have explored the other side of that argument, that boys are increasingly at risk.

"We wanted to make the classroom more egalitarian, focusing more on girl triumphs to make girls feel better. But we can't do that to the exclusion of boys. As a young girl, I sought out books on women like Joan of Arc because there wasn't much going on in my history books that I could relate to. So while I applaud bringing in more things that girls can relate to, there needs to be a balance."

The question remains, how do we reclaim the "manly" man without also reclaiming some of his less desirable traits?

"Fathers are responsible for teaching those lessons to their boys. Women can only do so much. Boy behavior is not easily tolerated these days. But men know about that stuff. Women, for all our amazing talents, are not as good at it. We wouldn't need to tell anyone that women understand girls better than men do, so why do we need to say the same of men and boys?"

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