I like men, always have. I like the way they think, I like the way they look, I even sometimes like the way they smell. I'm one of "those" women who always had more male friends than female. Not because I dislike women, but because I always felt more comfortable around men, and it's always been easier for me to connect deeply with them.
A couple of years ago, I noticed something that I now realize had been happening for some time. In popular media, particularly sit-coms, popular movies, and television ads, men were largely portrayed either as criminals and abusers, bumbling clods, idiots, or children that the long-suffering wife had to coddle along with her other kids. I also noticed that most of the women I knew in relationships with men spent a lot of time — I mean a LOT of time — in conversation denigrating their male partners. Conversations with women regularly consisted of eye-rolling when men came up in conversation and, eventually, that line of talk would end with the flat statement, often delivered with a sigh: "Men!" I also noticed that women in relationships often seem to think it perfectly fine to openly and publicly shame their male partners, mock them, tease them, nag at them, or otherwise show their power over the men, in behavior that would be considered abusive if the man had been behaving that way towards the woman.
Even more recently, I started seeing articles about how more women than men are earning higher degrees and how more and more women are on track to out-earn their male partners. Around me, I see more women as bosses (in my company, most of the managers are women, as are a majority of the employees), and more women with a general sense of personal power and strength. In the arts, most up-and-coming writers these days seem to be young (or not-so-young women). Though none of this negates the realities that men are still largely in power positions in politics, finance, medicine, religion and other influential sectors, I don't think anyone can argue that the "traditional" gender power balance is shifting. And today, I read this blog about a book I hadn't yet heard of, Hanna Rosin's The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.
What's going on?
Personally, I think the publishers of Rosin's book titled it that way in an attempt to create sales through controversy. In my readings of review of the book, it doesn't sound like she's actually sounding the death knell of men, only of male roles as we have known them. This, to me, doesn't seem particularly problematic. Men's roles, as far as I can tell, have not been particularly kind to men, emphasizing as they have financial and procreative success over happiness or fulfillment. The more troubling trend, in my eyes, is the general sense in this culture that it's perfectly fine to denigrate men, trash talk them, and consider them, at least socially, emotionally and psychologically, if not financially and physically, second-class citizens.
I've even spoken to male friends who have insisted that men are "dumb babies" and "stupid," labels that I suspect most women would eagerly agree with.
But I don't. In fact, I think this tendency to bash men — indeed, to create a culture where it's perfectly acceptable to talk about men as if they are imbeciles — is dangerous, demoralizing, and unhealthy for the boys growing up in such a toxic environment.
Think about it: women have fought for decades to be treated with the respect that we have now, largely though far from universally, earned. Generally speaking, it's no longer acceptable to publicly discuss women as if they are pieces of meat or less intelligent than men. Ask any woman if she'd let such a comment slide if her male partner or a male colleague or friend were to call women "dumb bitches." But it's perfectly acceptable to call men names or to subtly imply that they are socially and emotionally retarded. I, for one, think this is a sad trend and it needs to stop.
The truth — a truth which should be obvious to any thinking person — is that women and men are different, and that men are as intelligent as, if differently intelligent than, women. Yes, men often have a less nuanced understanding of interpersonal relationships. but not always. Similarly, women often don't have as nuanced an understanding as men do of the workings of the internal combustion engine. But not always.
The men I know are all intelligent, wise, thinking people, active in their communities, struggling with issues of living a good and useful life. I can think of no men I know who fit the stereotype of the dumb, lazy, sports-obsessed, junk-food-eating, non-child-support-paying waste of breath. But this is considered a perfectly acceptable male stereotype.
When I was in college minoring in Women's Studies, we studied how culture used language to subtly put women in their places — assuming 'he' to be the universal gender pronoun, for instance, and using the names of female sexual organs as insults (a practice which is still going strong today, I might add). In today's culture, where it's starting to be more acceptable to denigrate men than it is to denigrate women, I urge all of us to be more aware of how we speak of and treat men, especially in the presence of boys, who after all are absorbing these attitudes:
Give the men in your lives the benefit of the doubt rather than chalking up all upsetting behaviors to the fact that they're "just men."
Men: don't belittle your own gender by calling yourselves names like "stupid." Many of the smartest people I know are men. If you don't respect yourselves, why should women?
Women: treat your male partners with the same respect you expect from them. Don't nag them, tease them, insult them, or poke at them in public. Learn some Non-Violent Communication and use it.
Gender roles are shifting. Women are feeling their power, which is a wonderful thing. Clearly, we still have a long way to go. I'll be happy when we live in a world where a female politician isn't judged, first and foremost, on her looks and fashion sense. But the fact that gender roles are shifting and that women are starting to feel their oats doesn't have to negatively effect men. In fact, it can be the start of something new and wonderful: a society based on actual gender equality. But we need to be very careful not to transfer the old "us vs. them" attitude that has always existed in male-female relations. Now, with women coming into their own, we have the exciting opportunity to get past that old animosity and nourish male-female relationships of all types.
As one bumper sticker put it: "Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with It." (attributed to George Carlin). Both men and women are here to stay. Let's act like we value each other.