Of Human Bonding

An Anthropologist's View

"Plant-eating Boys" and "Daddy Days"

"Plant-eating boys" and "daddy days."

Men and women are like two feet; we move together to get ahead. But two recent incidents have made me vividly aware of how we change direction in tandem.

In May I was in Tokyo on business and to my astonishment almost every journalist I met wanted to discuss the same thing: "plant eating boys." These are young men who fail to express the typical Japanese drive to rise in the corporate world. Instead they stay at home fiddling with
their computers, reading, watching movies or listening to music with a few like-minded friends; and although they often have a girlfriend, many dress in girlish ways. They are passive and feminine. They lack the carnivorous spirit of the organization man. And the journalists I spoke with feared the Japanese are getting soft; their youth have lost their vigor.

Then this week in Amsterdam, a journalist told me that when she tried to schedule an interview with a high ranking political figure, he declined, saying it was
"daddy day." The Dutch have a new program by which working fathers can take one day a week off from work to care for an infant under the age of one year: "daddy day."

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Are men turning soft? Hardly. I think both these trends are natural spin-offs of one of the most profound social trends in the past 10,000 years: women moving back into the work force. I say "back" into the work force because for millions of years women commuted to work to gather fruits and vegetables; they came home with much of the evening meal; the "double-income" family was the rule.

And as women reassume their ancestral economic roles, men are finally able to express some of their softer side. Susan Sontag once remarked, "What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine." As societies continue to loosen their standards regarding what is appropriate female and male behavior, I think we are going to realize we have not only underestimated women, but also men.

Helen Fisher is a Research Professor in the Dept. of Anthropology at Rutgers. She has written extensively on the biology, evolution, and cross-cultural expression of sexuality and romantic love.


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