Rob Cribb | The Toronto Star | November 25, 2011
We might as well begin with this verbal smart bomb: “Men today are developmentally and psychologically 50 years behind women.”
It’s the kind of rhetorical flourish easily dismissed as man-bashing hyperbole.
Thing is, give or take a decade, there’s a persuasive case to support the case for modern male developmental delay reaching into half-life territory.
The allegation leveller is Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Are The Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power.
More to the point, he is chair of a U.S. commission of 34 experts, scholars and practitioners proposing the creation of a White House Council on Boys and Men.
Their pitch to U.S. President Barack Obama is still under consideration.
But the argument is intriguing.
Boys and men in the U.S. and most Western countries have reached a state of “crisis” in a range of key social areas.
Among the U.S. data cited by Farrell and his commission:
- Boys lag behind girls in nearly every subject, especially reading and writing
- A third of boys are raised in father-absent homes
- Male health has deteriorated from living only one year less than females in 1920 to five years less today
- Emotionally, boys’ suicide rates soar between 13 and 20 leap from roughly equal to that of girls’ to five times higher.
Bottom line: We bros are free falling.
“This is no abstract issue,” concludes a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Learning last month. “Ultimately, it could lead to a country in which millions of young men live with their parents and work lousy jobs with few or no benefits, and in which a class of highly educated, professionally engaged women is expected to support underemployed husbands.”
Consider the cultural expression of this phenomenon already evident in Hollywood films such as Knocked Up, She’s Out of My League and Failure to Launch.
Consider further the characterization of men in contemporary sitcoms, a world in which dim-witted, overweight buffoons spend their days debating porn and superhero powers in the shadows of empowered, hot, competent women who shake their heads and hand over allowances.
The resulting laugh track is brought to you courtesy of male emasculation.
Our dimming professional and education prospects are further weighed down by emotionally stunted personal development stemming from what Farrell calls (get ready for this) fewer choices for men than women today.
“Women are far more focused on fulfilment and doing what they want,” he says. “They have more choices about how they want to express that responsibility.”
The lives of a couple at a certain level of economic comfort are vastly different, he argues.
For upper middleclass Western women, life is a more spiritual journey filled with creative endeavours or full-time parenthood, says Farrell.
For evidence, check out the gender breakdown at the neighbourhood yoga studio or painting class at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Their life choices include working, parenting or a combination of the two.
This is the respectable life path for most men: work full time.
“And if you’re upper middleclass, add in overtime or a second job,” says Farrell. “The man today has not been encouraged to explore as many dimensions and avenues psychologically as a woman.”
This male fulfilment deficit is an unintended byproduct of the feminist movement of which Farrell was an important male architect. As a board member of the National Organization of Women in the 1970s, he was a vocal male feminist voice behind the revolution.
In retrospect, he sees blind spots.
“We emphasized increasing women’s rights and opened up enormous opportunities for women and I applaud that,” he says. “But what I feel now is that we shouldn’t have had a women’s movement that demonized men and undervalued the family.”
Problem is, we’re figuring this out now, in the wake of what may go down in history as a lost generation of men. And with the breaking of the chain, what lies ahead?
An antiquated belief in male power holds fast even now, says Farrell. And it is obscuring a very real threat to male progress.
“This is the first time in history that our sons are having less education than their fathers did.”
It’s an astounding thought in the age of knowledge-based economies and unprecedented technological advancement.
But are you hearing anyone talking about it at the Tims? The very utterance of concern for male social inequities — however objectively true and real they might be — goes over like a fart in church.
And so, in the end, we get the beaten-down contemporary male condition we deserve.
Exorcised of our inner Don Drapers, we are the new Peter Pans: sophomoric, flighty and fumbling around ham-fisted, with Wendy, the everywoman, way out of our league.
Nobody — whatever their gender — can want this.