Yes, Jennifer, men still matter

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL

It's been a mean summer for men.

The recent economic downturn, dubbed a "he-cession" because three-fourths of the 8 million jobs lost belonged to men, has shown few signs of reversal. Enrollment patterns for the coming fall look poised to continue the decade-long trend of women outpacing men in the quest for college degrees. The Atlantic, commenting on such shifts, recently featured a cover story on "The End of Men" arguing that "our modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women."

Echoing the men-are-obsolete theme was a study published in June in Pediatrics, which claimed that teenagers raised by lesbian couples are better-adjusted than those raised by mothers and fathers. Despite the study's flaws – it focused on only a small cohort of self-selected lesbians and its conclusions about their children were based on the mothers' own reports – the "men don't matter" message picked up still more steam.

Meanwhile, Hollywood happily chimed in with a spate of summer movies – "The Back-Up Plan," "The Kids Are All Right" and "The Switch" – featuring heroines who choose sperm donors instead of husbands to fulfill their dreams of motherhood. The feel-good films depict dads as little more than sweet, buffoonish bonuses in the lives of children and their mothers, their presence often causing more problems than it solves. As "Switch" star Jennifer Aniston quipped while promoting her film, "Women are realizing more and more that you don't have to settle, they don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child."

So where does all of this leave men? For those who aspire to be more than perpetual adolescents, sperm donors or walking paychecks, the answer is unclear. So is the meaning of masculinity in a self-consciously unisex age when the very idea of a masculine or feminine nature is controversial and millions of boys are coming of age without ever having learned from a father what it means to be a man.

Our pop culture, with its cartoonish images of manhood, offers little help. Hollywood equates masculinity alternately with brutish violence and adolescent boorishness, leaving young men two choices for role models. They can imitate either the vicious, womanizing, sociopathic anti-heroes that populate action movies or the beer-swilling, porn-ogling, Nintendo-playing Peter Pans that crowd romantic comedies. More genuine masculine heroes – the kind who use their strength, penchant for risk-taking and capacity for sacrifice to advance a cause greater than their own self-interest – are tougher to find.

The same goes for our civic conversations about the social roles of men. On the one hand, our post-feminist society urges men to get involved in the lives of their children, show more sensitivity to the needs of women at home and work and recognize the unique perspective and gifts of women – worthy goals all.

More genuine masculine heroes – the kind who use their strength, penchant for risk-taking and capacity for sacrifice to advance a cause greater than their own self-interest – are tougher to find.

Yet we give men no right to veto the abortions of their unborn children, we celebrate the right of women to intentionally form fatherless families, and we regard with suspicion even the most benign attempts by men to find male-only fellowship outside the occasional bachelor party or baseball game.

The result: bizarre scenes such as the one that unfolded when a Promise Keeper rally came to downtown over a decade ago. Feminists protested the all-male event as a patriarchal plot, apparently more threatened by a stadium full of men pledging to honor their marriage vows than by the scores of men outside that stadium who never considered marrying their children's mothers in the first place.

History and experience have taught women to fear the dominance of men. But we also should fear men's marginalization, particularly in the lives of our children. Just as the cause of women's equality is not advanced when women deny our feminine distinctiveness in the workplace, neither is it served when we denigrate the unique strengths that men bring to family life.

Men and women need each other because, not in spite, of our differences. In an age that prides itself on celebrating diversity, that's a counterintuitive truth that deserves to make a comeback.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Colleen Carroll Campbell. "Yes, Jennifer, men still matter." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (August 19, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.

THE AUTHOR

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and former presidential speechwriter. Author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell writes a weekly op-ed column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, blogs on religion and politics for The New York Times and The Washington Post, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television and radio show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network. Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell




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