Save the males! A new book says society is biased AGAINST men. Ridiculous? Hardly, says Amanda Platell of the Daily Mail.
Every once in a while, a book not so much lands on your desk as lobs itself like a hand grenade, exploding preconceived wisdoms and shattering the bones of the status quo. Save The Males is such a book.
It is the fiercest and most fearless defence of men, fatherhood and ultimately the family I have read in many years.
American author Kathleen Parker's courageous thesis is that initially, through extreme feminism, then via its craven implementation into society, women have demonised men and trivialised their contribution, especially to family life.
I say courageous because, in the eyes of many women and of the liberal establishment, suggesting men have had a rough deal is nothing short of heresy.
Parker should be burnt at the stake, they cry. But isn't it ironic that only a woman could make such a plea for men?
She argues: 'As long as men feel marginalised by the women whose favour and approval they seek, as long as they are alienated from their children and treated as criminals by family courts, as long as they are disrespected by a culture that no longer values masculinity tied to honour, as long as boys are bereft of strong fathers and our young men and women wage sexual war, then we risk cultural suicide.'
It's enough to set a feminist's hair on end. Parker argues that in trying to make the world fairer for women, an adjustment most agree was vital, we have made it unfair for men. In our attempt to honour women, we have dishonoured men.
By bending over backwards to make single mothers feel good about themselves, by diminishing the role of fathers, by elevating women as the superior parents, we have gone a considerable way to destroying one of the basic tenets of a successful society - family life.
Apart from the effects of this seismic social shift on society, it is also grossly unfair. Can you imagine a world where men demanded women be more like them - dress like them, act like them, even look like them. Because that is effectively what our post-feminist society has done, but with the genders switched.
The traditional male values, what Parker almost poetically calls 'masculinity tied to honour', are now seen as nothing more than a direct assault on women.
Unless men are like us, the thinking goes, they insult us and threaten our existence: hence the feminisation of men, or as we so disingenuously describe it, getting in touch with your feminine side.
Thus Hybrid Man was born. An acceptable male model now is more likely to be of the David Beckham variety, wearing more make-up than the missus, hairless, perfumed, varnished, emasculated by his bossy wife and perhaps fond of wearing her undies.
Good dads, loving husbands, supportive male role models, they're few and far between even in the fictional world of TV.
But in the real world it wasn't enough that we demanded they be more like us, we superior human beings. We had to traduce men as well, treating them in almost all forms of popular culture as useless, ineffectual, even comic characters, or as violent, cheating and untrustworthy.
And so Sitcom Man was born. Parker challenges us to try to think of a wholesome, reliable role model in myriad 'dads' created on TV or in movies. Fathers are always portrayed as incompetent or inconsequential, mindless or mean, comic or cruel. If you relentlessly portrayed any ethnic or minority group in such a biased way, you'd be pilloried on air.
Parker cites many reasons for the dereliction of men. First, there has been the institutionalisation of motherhood at the expense of fatherhood.
'We seem to accept that children shouldn't be raised without mothers, but we regard the contributions of fathers as optional,' Parker says.
Just last week, Nicola Brewer, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: 'Fathers are being marginalised to the extent of simply "seasoning" in their children's upbringing.'
And the state reinforces the 'Mum best, Dad dodgy' myth. 'The family courts effectively make fathers a slave to the state, his wages become state property, his time with his children is determined by a family court judge, and he faces jail if for whatever reason he fails to pay his child support on time.'
Family courts in America increasingly approve of 'virtual parenting', which means Mum can take the kids and live wherever she likes and Dad can do it long distance, via the phone or internet.
'Thanks to divorce, unwed motherhood, and policies that unfairly penalise and marginalise fathers, 30-40 per cent of all American children sleep in a home where their father doesn't,' she writes.
Parker believes that perhaps the biggest blow to men's roles in families has come with the explosion and normalisation of single motherhood.
'By elevating single motherhood from an unfortunate consequence of poor planning to a sophisticated act of self-fulfilment, we've helped to fashion a world not just in which fathers are scarce, but in which men are superfluous,' she says.
It's enough to set a feminist's hair on end
Single professional women shopping for donor sperm on the internet has become the equivalent of buying designer shoes online. The number of babies born to unmarried mothers aged between 30 and 44 increased by a staggering 17 per cent from 1999 to 2003.
In short, slowly but surely, men are being made obsolete as society embraces single motherhood as the equivalent of the nuclear family for fear of not offending the sisterhood.
And so, hey presto, the marginalisation of men marches on.
And if the child is born of a normal sexual encounter, the consequences for men can be equally dire, as they have no rights, only duties.
'If a woman gets pregnant she can abort - even without her husband's consent. If she chooses to have the child, she gets a baby and the man gets an invoice.
'Inarguably, a man should support his offspring, but by the same logic, shouldn't he have a say in whether his child is born or aborted?'
The number of children living in fatherless homes has tripled since 1960, from eight million to 24 million in the U.S.. So it comes as no surprise that 21st-century man feels isolated and increasingly obsolete.
'At the same time that men have been ridiculed in the public sphere, the importance of fatherhood has been diminished, along with other traditionally male roles of father, protector and provider, which are incredibly viewed as regressive manifestations of an outmoded patriarchy,' Parker writes.
She also examines the feminisation of education. There is overwhelming evidence now that boys' and girls' brains are wired differently, but over 20 years both in America and in the UK we have made learning harder for boys and more suitable for girls. The result, Parker says, is that the gap between young men's and women's academic achievements is widening.
In 2005, 133 women graduated from college in the U.S. for every 100 men. By the end of this decade that gap is expected to be 142 females for every 100 males.
And as ever the poorest and most deprived are the hardest hit. Among African Americans, the figures are far worse. Twice as many women as men graduate. Parker blames the achievement gap on the absence of fathers.
What is especially refreshing is that Parker's quest to Save The Males is not just about fairness to men. We need to do it, she says, not only 'because we love our sons but because we love our daughters'.
And because she believes, as many of us do, that the best building block for a stable and peaceful society is the traditional nuclear family.
'Part of our nation's strength has always been a function of its families. Restoring the family is critical to our survival in these untidy and dangerous times.' So, too, is 'respecting men and the important contribution they make to children's lives and society'.
Fathers are always portrayed as incompetent
Parker writes almost poetically about the ultimate beauty of men's innate character. When she looks at her own father and fathers around her, she concludes that being a dad is, in fact, the manliest thing a man can do.
It encourages responsibility, sacrifice and the ability to put others before yourself - all essential qualities to a functioning society, let alone a home.
'When we take away a man's central purpose in life and marginalise him from society's most important institution (the family), we strip him of his manhood.'
And it's not all we strip away, as studies have discovered here. We reduce a child's chance of a successful and happy life.
'Growing up without a father is the most reliable indicator of poverty and all the familiar social pathologies affecting children, including drug abuse, truancy, delinquency and sexual promiscuity. Yet some feminists and other progressives still insist that men are non-essential.'
The powerful argument Parker constructs is that unless we wake up, and wake up quickly, to the importance of men in family life, society as we know it is doomed. In the creation of a more femalefriendly world, we have unwittingly created a culture hostile to men, not in the workplace, but the most important place, the home.
How refreshingly honest, how devoid of political correctness or feminist dogma for a woman to argue for and ultimately celebrate the necessity and the goodness of men.
She rightly warns of the dangers to our society of a world without manliness. It's all very well for the armed forces to affect an equality between men and women, she says, but when the chips are down and a child or a society needs rescuing, it will not fall on the shoulders of our womenfolk.
And in an increasingly hostile world, we will need our men and we'll need them to be men, to display unashamedly the sheer physical strength and courage that even after a century of feminist intervention still dwarfs women's.
'In the coming years, we will need men who are not confused about their responsibilities to family and country.
'We need boys who have acquired the virtues of honour, courage, valour and loyalty. We need women willing to let men be men - and boys be boys.'
And we will need women like Kathleen Parker with the courage to fight for men. Saving the males, she argues, will also save women and children as we all 'stand to benefit from a society in which men feel respected and thus responsible'.
By engaging men's nobility and recognising their unique talents, we all benefit. And the process could start with us just being a bit nicer to them.
'It wouldn't hurt to fix a guy a burger now and then without the woman acting as though she's just established democracy in the Sunni Triangle.'
Chastened, I'm off to buy some burgers and a few buns.
• Save The Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care by Kathleen Parker, published by Random House