Are men necessary? In 2005, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who authored a book by that title, said no. Women are soaring to new heights in education and the workplace -- and men are intimidated by this success, she argued. And who needs them anyway when modern technology created the sperm bank? In Dowd's world, men might be headed toward practical extinction.
"Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care" is Kathleen Parker's sharp and witty criticism of the American male-bashing culture, where boys are thought of as bad and girls are lauded as good. Parker rails against women like Dowd who perpetuate this misandry that has seeped into media, schools and family life.
Never heard of misandry? It's the idea that men are inferior to women, but it's not commonly used. While many of us know the word misogyny -- the hatred of women -- few dare to argue that men might not get a fair shake.
Parker asks readers to take a second look: Teenaged girls wear T-shirts that read "Stupid Factory: Where Boys Are Made" and sitcoms like "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Simpsons" are driven by plots of husbandly stupidity and wives saving the day. When we embrace the stereotype that men are mamma's boys, invalids and bumblers, we're falling into a dangerous trap: We're emasculating the men we profess to love.
What happened? When did we stop thinking of men as strong providers and decide they were stupid and unnecessary? Parker describes this "trivialization of the father" as "feminism's collateral damage," arguing that father knows best went out of fashion with poodle skirts. In an era of blurred gender roles, "as we devalue the strong masculine type, we reward the feminized male." Parker quips that we've taken "the apron-men and the power-women and turned them into cultural icons of virtue and courage."
The "Sex and the City" generation of women expects little from men, Parker argues, and men have acted accordingly: "Random hookups," and no-commitment relationships create a culture where "men have been delivered from the expectation that they behave honorably" and in turn, "females hurt by men's lack of attention react in ways that ensure further alienation," pushing men out of family life and diminishing their contributions to society.
Even more pressing, Parker asks "Where did daddy go?" Today, a third of all American children sleep in a home where their father doesn't: A generation of fathers has been marginalized from family life by divorce laws that favor mothers and a culture that celebrates single motherhood, Parker claims.
Men aren't blameless in Parker's social critique. Men age 18 to 35, she says, are "perpetual adolescents who see no point in growing up," spending hours each day playing video games and watching mindless TV. But a society that demands little and expects less of men risks "cultural suicide."
Gender equality is the goal, yet Parker worries that we've tipped the balance past the point of equanimity. "There's no such thing as a 'woman's issue' or a 'man's issue,' " she concludes. "Popular wisdom teaches that nature abhors a vacuum. So do children, so do families. In fatherless, male-bashing America, we might figure something needs tweaking." We need men who aren't confused about their responsibilities to family and country, she argues.
Saving the males it turns out means saving the females -- and our children.
Christine B. Whelan is a visiting assistant professor of Sociology at the University of Iowa and the author of "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women."
Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care