Instapundit has a link to an article on his wife’s book Men On Strike in a paper in Bermuda. Together Instapundit and Dr. Helen are doing an incredible job of promoting conversations neither conservatives nor liberals want to have*. However, as I’ve mentioned before I disagree with Dr. Helen on her characterization of men’s response to feminism. She describes it as a strike, and I see the response as something more ominous. I don’t think men are making purely logical cost/benefit calculations and deciding not to marry; this would make sense if it were happening, but I don’t think it is what we are witnessing. I think what we are starting to see is a culture changing in a delayed response to the message we have spent decades sending men.
Something else struck me when reading the article from Bermuda along with the comments; framing the problem as one of “fairness” is an ineffective argument to conservatives and men in general, and it also sets us up to move in the wrong direction to find a solution.
Why the fairness argument fails with conservatives and men in general.
We don’t tend to have much sympathy for men who complain about unfair treatment. Whether you think we should have more sympathy or not is a separate question. The reality is this is true. Dr. Helen is quite extraordinary in her ability to empathize with men, but most of the audience we need to sway isn’t like her in this regard. This is especially true for conservatives, who strongly believe that noble masculinity involves sacrifice, and that fairness is for women, not men. You can see this with Tucker Carlson’s flippant response to Dr. Helen when she explains that men have no rights in marriage, and that marriage has been turned into a legal mechanism for women to steal from men**:
Well that’s all true, I mean I agree with that completely. But it still doesn’t absolve men of the responsibility to stop complaining about how the cards are against them and man up and become men– because you don’t become a man until you assume responsibility.
Dr. Helen appears truly astounded by Carlson’s lack of empathy in the video, but while Carlson is extreme in his flippancy his basic gut reaction isn’t unusual for either men or conservatives. I don’t know that Carlson is in a position to be convinced away from his stance that the problem is weak men screwing feminism up, but at least some conservatives will be willing to listen.
For the conservatives who will listen, a much more effective argument is to point out that men are motivated by respect. The reason we see men moving away from marriage is the role of husband, especially the role of married father, has gone from an honored role to one seen with great contempt. This contempt isn’t limited to the feminists who envied men’s status. This would be bad enough, but the contempt is actually worse among conservatives. We don’t notice this because disrespecting honorable men is now so commonplace that it feels normal. But if you look for it, you can see it all around you. Father’s Day is a day set aside to honor fathers, but pastors have instead turned it into a day to tear down fathers in front of their wives and children. Christian movies are now more contemptuous of married men, especially married fathers, than secular movies are. This same contempt for husbands is at the root of the rush to discredit Saeed Abedini while he languished in an Iranian prison, as well as the move by pastors to usurp the role of headship from the husbands in their congregation.
For those conservatives who will listen, the most effective response is to point out that we are getting the kind of men we demonstrate that we want. We withhold honor from honorable men yet at the same time whine that men are hearing the unmistakable message we are sending. Undermining, ridiculing, and casting aside husbands and fathers isn’t unfair, it is a sign of profound disrespect. The men we respect instead are the sexy bad boys who can best navigate our post marriage sexual marketplace. Conservatives, especially conservative men, who don’t like the change this has wrought in our culture need to man up and stop complaining, and get about the hard work of showing respect to the respectable and honoring the honorable. This isn’t as pleasant and easy as posturing as the only real man in the room, nor is it as gratifying for most as supplicating to women. But as men we often need to do difficult, risky, and unpleasant things, and for our time especially we need to find the courage and conviction to do this.
The wrong definition of the problem leads to the wrong solution.
The other problem with framing this as a matter of fairness is this naturally leads to an attempt to fix the family structure we have selected to replace marriage. Fairness means more egalitarian divorce, child support laws, and custody arrangements. It means replacing marriage with something more fair than the system we have already replaced marriage with. This isn’t what we need to do. What we need to do is restore marriage, not come up with a more palatable way to destroy families.
*Dr. Helen’s framing does seem to be the most effective way to start the conversation in the media. It would be difficult to overstate what she has accomplished in this regard, and either way she is making the case as she sees it. With this said, even for those who fundamentally see this as an issue of fairness, I think they will find it more effective when specifically addressing conservatives to focus on what we honor and respect as a society and the logical results we should expect from these messages.