Thursday, June 17, 2010

The End Of Men?

This month, The Atlantic featured an eye-catching cover with a wilting men's gender symbol proclaiming the article, "The End of Men." Being in a currently man-less stint, I was intrigued. Dating makes me just want to die, so was there some miraculous way that I could just...get around it?

Let's examine how our world has changed in favor of women in the last few decades:
- For every 2 men who get a college degree, 3 women do. Women now are earning 60% of all bachelor AND master's degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and 42% of all M.B.A.s.
- In the 1970s, biologist Ronald Ericsson found a way to determine and customize the sex of children. Since then, when Ericsson looked into the results of his technology in the '90s, he discovered couples were requesting more girls than boys. In some clinics, the ratio was 2 to 1, and a newer sperm selection method called MicroSort is seeing a request for girls that runs about 75%. Ericsson says of his surprising findings, "Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of 'em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything that men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way-- these females are going to leave us males in the dust."
- In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures economic and political power of women in 162 countries and found that the greater the power of women, the greater the country's economic success.
- Women own over 40% of the private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is their new status symbol as a successful female entrepreneur. (May we institute this fad in the U.S, please?)
- In 1950, about 1 in 20 men of prime working age wasn't working; today, the ratio is at 1 in 5, the highest ever recorded. This, in part, is due to our economic position-- the crash killed millions of man-dominated jobs, mostly of the working or blue-collar class. White collar economy values "raw intellectual horsepower," which men and women tend to have in equal amounts, while also requiring "communication skills and social intelligence," which according to many studies are areas in which women have a slight edge over their male counterparts.
- This leads to risk/benefit selection between the sexes. Leadership talents include being aggressive and competitive, which are swayed more toward men's natural dispositions. But psychological study research has painted a broader picture of what constitutes a good natural leader; in lab studies that simulate negotiations, men and women are equally assertive and competitive, but where men tend to assert themselves in a slightly controlling manner, women tend to take into account the rights of others, say psychologists Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, authors of the 2007 book "Through the Labyrinth." Researchers have also started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, leading them to wonder if because of their biological make-up, men are more likely to make reckless decisions. The picture that emerges from this research is completely counter-intuitive to the way we've thought of the genders for ages: men on the side of irrational and over-emotional, and women as cool and level-headed. Blame it on the testosterone?

So, do I think women still need men?

Yup. Without a doubt. I'll cash my 2 cents' in as saying "absolutely." There are some things that you just cannot or should not do by yourself. I can be as pro-feminism as they come, and yet I still acknowledge there are some things than men can do better than women, hence, the need for them-- coupled with our desire for them. (However, "drive better" is not one of those things.)

Granted, there are some things about men that we could stand to do without. As Joan Rivers said, "Do remember that men are like mattress salesmen-- they'll say anything to get you into their beds." Joan Rivers knows a thing or two. I just had the unfortunate luck to be shopping for both at the same time. In the end, the mattress salesmen ended up having the safer investment, even though the mattress itself took a week in coming (longer than any man I've ever been with,) and has yet to actually be assembled and used.

From a completely selfish and stilted side, I sleep with a body pillow named George because of the fact that I am so pitifully loathe to sleep alone, and need something to throw an arm or a leg to drape over and have something at my back in the night. A nice anecdote that further cements my thinking on this matter, George got his name because there was a time in my life in which my roommates couldn't keep the Men du Jour straight and threatened to fill a whole Costco-sized "Hello, My Name Is ______" name tag roll with "George" so they would never need to learn another Tom, Dick, or Harry Dick's name again, just to be inundated with another a week later. (For awhile, men were my kinda-slightly-more grown-up Pokemon-- I believed I had to catch them all without also catching the Hep. This is why I may be a little more prone to being soft on the cads that I seem to pick up-- a feeling of sluttish camaraderie at the same time you want to pull at your hair and moan, "Why do I do this to myself?!") Men may drive you crazy, but as my reluctance to sleep alone points out, there's just something about having one there that can calm the female beast.

But that objectifying of men leads to the belief that they're disposable, which they're not. First-generation college-educated white women-- that's me, right there-- constitute a new type of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare. What does that mean for me? True, marriage is not at the top of my list of desires and life-goals, but to see that fact there, so black and white and stark, makes me wonder about my chances, given the fact I might want to make it a chance.

Increasing numbers of women unable to find men with a similar education or income end up forgoing marriage. in 1970, 84% of women ages 30-44 were married; now only 60% are. Ashley Burress, a student body president at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, stated, "In 2012, I will be Dr. Burress. ...I would like to date, but I'm putting myself in a really small pool." One female senior in college supposedly remarked, "Guys are the new ball and chain."

It's not like men are going anywhere-- they're not. But finding ones who share your educational and emotional leanings is getting harder and harder. Think about the recent portrayals of men-- unemployed, romantically-challenged young dudes feature predominantly in Judd Apatow's films as perpetually adolescent. Noah Baumbach's charmless misanthrope of Greenberg has nearly zero chance of finding a woman who will tolerate, let alone love, him. "We call each other 'man,'" a line in Greenberg goes, "but it's a joke. It's like imitating other people." And where are we in a world when even the American male novelist has lost his mojo and can't even rely on sex as a way for his characters to assert their macho-ness?

That same macho-ness may be exactly what women still-- emotionally, if we don't need them financially or reproductively-- need men for. Though it may be terribly clich├ęd, there are some jars I can't open, some shelves I can reach, and some sore shoulders that are best massaged by someone else. Yes, I have a roommate who is more than capable of all of these things, and I have always been able to kill my own creepy, crawly spiders, but it's the gesture that remains. I am at my best and most charming and feminine and sweet when a man is around. I like that girl who comes out to play, because as the statistics above show, most days, I'm a power-wielding, income-earning, college-dominating, self-nurturing woman. Who, if I am entering a bracket of such low marriage expectations, is supposed to take care of me?

Women still, and will always, at least
want, if not need, a man in the picture. We keep dating and putting ourselves out there against the odds, because, at the end of the day, it's nice to go home to someone. It's nice to know that you have the ability to make a "What are you up to?" call. It's nice to have someone other than a down comforter or a body pillow keep you warm at night. At its most base, there are only so many solo-gasms you can have before it's just not fun anymore. And at its best, having a partner brings out a new side of you. The side that isn't a blossoming CEO by day, but the side of you that is still a girl who has needs and a desire for companionship and intimacy.


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