Where Have All the Good Men Gone? Ask the Women, Too.
What also makes pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor’s degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends. Still, for these women, one key question won’t go away: Where have the good men gone?
Once upon a time, there was a war on women, by women, and women lost. This war was called radical feminism, and today we inhabit the wasteland of a post-feminist nightmare. It is a world where manhood is not valued by many and fatherhood is absentee. So men are not men, and women are confused that men, having no models for how to behave, cannot tell the difference between attractive womanhood and common sluttery, or the difference between honorable manliness and unrelenting braggodocio.
Where have all the good men gone? The answer is: they have been snatched up, held onto, eradicated from the marketplace, because they are so few in number. And there will be fewer still, barring a backlash of some kind.
Feminism, properly understood, is not about the granting of power but rather its negation. We no longer teach girls that they control the future, even if men think they control the present, and in so doing concede to men power they once only thought they had–the power to muck about, do nothing, and still find a woman with relative ease later in life after the fun stops.
I remember the first time a woman swore at me, in Manhattan, for holding a door for her according to my Southern instincts, an indictment of old-fashioned manners in a compressed Bronx vowel. It was a jarring moment, and I have never forgotten it. I haven’t stopped holding doors open, but I’ve noticed others have. Men are all overgrown boys, after all (myself most definitely included)–it’s experience in life, the lessons we take from our mistakes and our triumphs, that makes us men. And if no lessons are taken, well, then you end up as Gronk, who has never wanted for female attention. James Taranto, notes that statistically, women are attracted to men who resemble their unique view of power. For today’s woman, Gronk does.
Women now hold on to a ridiculous concept of what they ought to expect of a man. Consider the models described in this Atlantic piece, which sounds more like a job description for a rather dull internship than a thriving and prosperous marital partnership.
Mr. Q executes whatever tiny tasks you assign, without argument—he accepts a stack of envelopes and addresses them, picks up the dry cleaning before noon, is on call for 24/7 emergency carpooling, and, best of all, when handed a grocery list, returns with—get this—that grocery list’s exact items (“not Tropicana carton orange juice but fresh-squeezed Naked Orange Mango”).
If that’s all you want, you’ll get even less. Turn relationships into the equivalent of a work-study course, and you’ll get the same level of fulfillment from them.
If you believe, as I do, that people respond to models, incentives, and the marketplace, this is not very surprising. The dark side of feminism was creating a relationship environment that put relatively little if any qualifications on any man before you take him to bed, and even less after. If young men are ever going to stop treating women like objects and instead like creatures of value, then women have to stop behaving like objects and stop confusing a wicked strut with life-affirming power. That ship has long since sailed.
Lena Dunham’s genius is in recognizing this truth, though she’s hardly the first. I think of Dunham as her generation’s Rachel Wetzsteon, a tragic figure and a brilliant poet, who anticipated much about the movement of the sexes toward this modern collapse. Here is an excerpt from “Love and Work”:
There is an inner motor known as lust
that makes a man of learning walk a mile
to gratify his raging senses, while
the woman he can talk to gathers dust.
A chilling vision of the years ahead
invades my thoughts, and widens like a stain:
a barren dance card and a teeming brain,
a crowded bookcase and an empty bed…
What if I compromised? I’d stay up late
to hone my elocutionary skills,
and at the crack of dawn I’d swallow pills
to calm my temper and control my weight,
but I just can’t. Romantics, so far gone
they think their loves live for wisdom, woo
by growing wiser; when I think of you
I find the nearest lamp and turn it on.
Wetzsteon’s heroic romantic woman doesn’t dumb herself down for the boys or take the pills to get skinny. But she knows this means her dance card may empty. Men may never know that she’s a wonder to talk to–there are women about who are more easy going and less complex. We should expect more of men–we should expect them to know how to tie a tie, change the oil, build a fire, say a prayer, and slap a puck–but not just men. We should expect women to reclaim control of the future, to understand that actions have consequences, and that unless men learn otherwise, they will seek after the lowest common denominator.
So: where have all the good men gone? The women ask the question justifiably. But they should ask it of other women, not just of men.
Editor’s note: This piece is part of a symposium in which a variety of writers and thinkers weigh in on the question: “Can men be men again?” See earlier takes by Emily Esfahani Smith, Mark Judge, Ryan Duffy, Mark Tapson, R. J. Moeller, a second post by Emily Esfahani Smith, Abby Schachter, and Anthony Dent. All of the posts are compiled here.