Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Salon - Are Men Necessary?


Mary Elizabeth Williams examines some recent and disturbing trends in women giving up on relationships with men as both partners in parent and as lovers. But she - thank god - doesn't think it's a good thing. Not all men are worthless and not all women are perfect, either.

I'm happy with her conclusion, but the mere fact that the question is being asked in mainstream media suggests just how far men have fallen in this culture. About all we seem to be good for, to some women (and some evolutionary psychologists) is depositing sperm. And there is some concern that we aren't very good at doing that, either.

Are men necessary?

That's the question one might wonder, given men's recent short shrift in the the press. First, on Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature by Emily Bazelton on single-by-choice mothers who "forgo romantic and sexual relationships for extended stretches." Shrugging off dating as an inevitable casualty of motherhood, the women instead rely on fellow solo moms for social and emotional (if not sexual) support. Not that the women seem to miss it much -- one woman refers to the men of her pre-motherhood life as "deadbeats," another considers the quest for a mate "like adding on a big mess to something that's comparatively stable." And, according to the author, all the women in the story expressed satisfaction with not having to share their parental authority with another person.

Perhaps they're sensing the bad vibes coming from their partnered friends -- witness the furor this week over Parenting.com's atomic screed "Mad at Dad," which Broadsheet writer Abigail Kramer previously discussed. In it, writer Martha Brockenbrough acknowledges she gets "furious" at her husband over his parenting style -- and finds she's far from alone. Reading through Brockenbrough's litany of women's complaints -- their spouses' devotion to their TiVos and video games, their inability to pull together a meal or get their kids in mittens -- one would have to wonder if no dad is better than that lump on the couch.

I don't for a second dismiss the choice of any working single mother to opt out of the dating scene. And I've got your back on the charge that a lot of dads phone it in. For what it's worth, I'm no apologist for nuclear families. I was raised without a father and managed to grow up reasonably sane and secure.

But I don't quite see how this notion of men as optional is good for any of us -- men or women, boys or girls. My kids have a dad who is flawed, forgetful and who, for the record, worships them and enriches their lives in a thousand ways I'd never have come up with on my own. Men -- friends, fathers and lovers -- aren't expendable. They're part of the world in which we raise our kids. Some of them are duds, but guess what? So are some of us, ladies. And isn't the notion of dismissing one gender as hopeless fuckups just a little ... sexist?


1 comment:

kate said...

. . . this very subject has been on my mind so much the past few years. i haven't dated in three years, and have found that as time goes on, i'm much less open to even going out on a date. i don't believe in the whole romantic template of soulmates that our culture seems to hold. but i did believe in marriage and partnership. but i had to stop, because it was just so dang exhausting to be in relationship.

i know there are good guys out there, guys who are awake, conscious, open minded and hearted, but in my experience, and almost without fail what i've seen in the relationships of my friends, is the female putting in way more time and effort and energy than the men. i see it constantly in my holistic practice - women simply burnt out, sick, from working FT, taking care of house and kids and extended family, and then tying themselves in knots to make themselves thin and sexy so that their menfolk don't leave them for twenty-five year old girls.

does this sound cynical? it must. but lennon's comment back in the 70s about woman being nigger of the world is still true. i see it every day. and in my own world, i've simply let it go, as it's too expensive, too exhausting to deal with a man on that level. i can either have a life where i turn my energy into reading and experiencing life and widening and deepening my consciousness, or i can spend my energy taking care of a man.

maybe reading about the new feminism seems harsh for you. but i can say from this end of it, it's about not allowing a kind of slavehood to swallow my energy, my time, my life.

it's why i never married. not just because of what i saw in the relationships of people around me, but what i saw with my own eyes what was expected of me in relationship, the sheer work and time and effort required, and the little i'd get in return, and the imbalance of it blew my mind. and after all these years i get: that just isn't the life for me. and so i let if go.

and in the meantime i see women who get chewed up and used up and spit out . . .

in grad school a class on family and community brought up the issue of equality in family roles between husband and wife. and we read studies on division of chores and such, and overwhelmingly it was something like both of them work FT, and on top of that, the husband put in 15 hours/wk in kids and home and family duties, the wife did >60. and the factoid that still stands out in my mind from a study of what they found sexy - for men it was lingerie and porn, and for women it was the husband cleaning the bathroom/taking out trash/ etc.

okay . . . gotta stop . . . i got all wound up didn't i bill? you seem like a pretty awake guy, pretty open . . . don't believe me or that study, start asking women (over the age of 30 or 35, because younger than that and they still have 'hope', still believe way too much in the fairytale) what the division of work is like in their relationships, if being with a man is more work than being single.