I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times called “The Men Feminists Left Behind” by Jill Filipovic (see here). You should read it in entirety, but here is a synopsis:
Women have evolved, men have not. While women have soared, men have remained stuck in the past. Donald Trump is representative of far too many men, and they are a threat to our country. Women cannot reach their full potential unless men change. If men feel left behind, disrespected, and ignored, they need to follow the example of women and move forward into a new and more flexible gender role.
A lot of what is says is well-taken tough love, but it does generalize too much. It paints all men as Dodo Birds, and all women by implication as enlightened beings. Certainly there are far too many men, largely Trump voters, who absolutely need to go extinct as quickly as possible for the good of all humanity. But huge numbers of men vehemently reject Trump and all he stands for.
Conversely, the author seems blind to the fact that far, far too many women support Trump the candidate and the hateful rhetoric he spews. Kellyanne Conway, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin and his army of female surrogates are not anomalies, but are examples of a disturbingly large number of female Trump supporters. These are hardly luminous beings of exemplary wisdom. Their support is particularly inexplicable and disturbing given how much of his rhetoric ought to be especially horrifying to women.
Here’s another thing. The author is correct that men do need to adjust. We had been driving in our station wagon together as families for many generations. The man driving, the woman knitting while occasionally checking the map for directions. Recently, the woman has demanded to drive and the man has had to relinquish the steering wheel. But he loved driving, doesn’t know how to knit, and is constitutionally and philosophically opposed to maps. So what does he do now? Maybe he sits in his passenger seat and reminisces about the good old days when he got to drive as he drinks lots of beer.
Back when I was in the Peace Corps, I used to walk by construction sites in my village. Each one was “manned” exclusively by female construction workers doing heavy labor. I knew full well that the corner bar was filled with men sitting around drinking. I was infuriated by this. It offended my sensibilities in every possible way. What was the matter with these lazy, good-for-nothing men? Unfortunately, my ire couldn’t have been more myopic. It turned out that, in a well-intentioned effort to encourage equal opportunity, the government provided generous incentives for these companies to hire women. Almost over night, that put men out of work with absolutely nothing to do, no prospects, no opportunities, and no self-respect.
I tell you this story to suggest to you that situations are seldom simple. Yes, women have made great strides and that is good. In fact, to the extent it is a competition, they have clearly won. Jill’s article could only be written by someone that has internalized the fact that women have won. They are on top now, if not in every measure, in every measure that portends future trends and prospects. She knows women are driving the train moving forward, and feels confident enough to warn men that they need to get on-board or get left behind.
Let’s be clear, there has been a strong element of competition here for a largely fixed pie. Women flocked into previously male jobs and these well-paying jobs have not doubled over this period, rather the number of these jobs has shrunk dramatically over this same period. So you do the math. To tell men in America that they simply need to “get with the program” is as naïve as my thinking that those African men simply need to “get out there and work.” It is as short-sighted and callous and indifferent as it is when we tell impoverished Blacks to simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or immigrants to stop just complaining and get to work, or displaced coal workers to just evolve.
These social upheavals, while good and necessary, do cause real pain. Major social transitions to create greater equity do cause localized inequity and in this case men have been the losers. When feminists like Jill ignore this and chide men into “just get over it,” they ignore the systemic and emotional challenges involved. It is not that simple or easy. Necessary, yes of course. Easy? No way. Men are not Neanderthals. They are actual people with feelings who are trying their best to adjust to real loss and change. Sometimes part of that adjustment includes clinging to the past or getting belligerent. But these things are normal stages of adjustment. Women have had generations to adapt and grow. Men need and deserve some time.
Despite the fact that men have been hit hard, they have adjusted a great deal. You seldom hear sexist language in most workplaces. Many men find that they are suddenly a minority in largely female workplaces and many report to women. Lots of men are thriving house-moms today.
So women, you deserve to celebrate but try not to gloat. Refrain from telling men they are Neanderthals or treating them that way. Try not to discount the unprecedented social barriers and challenges that men have been adapting to. Maybe try to give them some support and encouragement rather than getting impatient with them, demeaning them, and issuing Conservative-sounding “get on the train or get left behind” ultimatums.
And as you give your men the time and understanding they need to adjust, maybe you can work on evolving the many women who have adopted all the worst traits associated with the old school males you deride as Neanderthals. I, as do many males, desperately want to see female compassion and sensibilities provide real leadership to help to save this planet, not merely share equally with men in exploiting and plundering it.