by Masha Rifkin
The perennial refrain is getting louder all the time: “Where have all the good men gone?”
Media outlets brim with stories of “men in decline.” While women surge into the ranks of the college educated, the employed, and the breadwinners, men are dwindling in all these categories. Theories for this trend abound. The Left claims women have benefited from the transition from a manufacturing to a service economy, while men have failed to adapt. The Right blames the follow-on effects of radical feminism and the sexual revolution. But in her new book Men on Strike Helen Smith offers a much simpler answer: men are simply making rational choices to opt out of institutions and social expectations that no longer serve their best interests.
Smith, a PhD psychologist specializing in men’s issues, argues that society has grown so hostile toward men, both culturally and legally, that men are “going Galt.” They’re boycotting a society that not only fails to reward but also punishes them, simply for the unfortunate fact that they possess a Y chromosome.
Smith begins with the question of marriage and relationships. She argues that incentives for marriage have changed over the past few decades, and that now men face high risks if they choose to marry. Should a marriage fall apart, divorce courts tend to favor women (who, incidentally, initiate the majority of divorces). Current policies surrounding divorce and child custody are suited to times past, when women mostly stayed at home to raise children and depended on men financially. While social realities have changed, the laws have yet to catch up. Some states still mandate permanent alimony, which can indebt a man to a woman to whom he was married for only a short time, even if there are no children and she can fully support herself.
Men face even worse straits when children enter into the picture, Smith writes. When it comes to paternity and reproductive rights, men and women are on very uneven playing fields. Courts almost exclusively favor the mother in custody decisions and force men to pay child support, she writes, regardless of “whether [the mother] used false information or made false statements to the man concerning birth control,” often even in cases where the man is not the biological father. Thousands of men are paying for children who aren’t theirs, a condition Smith calls “de facto slavery.”
If men are increasingly wary of marriage, it would follow that they’re less concerned with making themselves marriageable. Perhaps it’s not unrelated, then, that men are also opting out of college education in droves. Smith notes that women will make up 60 percent of college grads in the near future. Some of this has to do with education losing its appeal for men. Boys and girls learn differently, Smith says, and the style that most engages men—activity and competition—has been phased out in favor of a model geared more toward discussion and cooperation, which tends to better suit women. Federal Title IX legislation also inhibits colleges from attracting male students by opening new men’s sports programs, and the law doesn’t account for the fact that male students might be inherently more interested in sports than their female counterparts.
But perhaps more important are the ways the tone on college campuses is changing. Men are now increasingly depicted as villains, intrinsically given to aggression and assault. Colleges, she writes, “have now become privileged finishing schools for girls. Except rather than learning manners, they teach women that men are the enemy and are treated as such on campus.” Smith outlines newly defined campus policies and sexual harassment laws (encouraged by the Obama Administration and the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights) that essentially pave the way for false “convictions” in kangaroo courts. Campus tribunals now require one of the lowest standards of evidence, the “preponderance of evidence” standard, to secure a conviction. In other words, a tribunal needs to show that the alleged perpetrator “more likely than not” committed the crime, by 50.1 percent. And legally accepted procedures of discovery and evidence also no longer apply. Even hearsay can be considered legitimate evidence in these modern-day star chambers.
No wonder, then, that many men are making the rational choice, whether consciously or not, to avoid or exit this hostile, sexist environment (and one with mediocre educational appeal to boot).
Perhaps Smith’s most intriguing evidence of hostility toward men is what she refers to as the decline of “male space.” Men are no longer among their own in the workforce, and male clubs, which used to be prevalent, were largely strangled in 1987 when the Supreme Court ruled that states and cities can ban sex discrimination by business-oriented private clubs. Women-only groups would never feel the same judicial censure. And now, Smith writes, in law and in certain social spheres men are discouraged or denied if they seek to form all-male groups. Men have no place to gather together, to bond, and to celebrate their gender as women do. This has led to their increased isolation, which Smith sees as a form of abuse. She writes: “When a partner isolates their [sic] spouse from friends, associates, and public places it’s called domestic abuse. When it’s done to an entire gender, it’s called feminism.”
Smith asserts that this book is not an academic study. Rather it is a treatise, a call to action. She draws from hundreds of conversations with patients and men on the street, and thousands more emails and conversations on her blog, to take a reading of the male pulse and the fledgling “men’s rights” movement. Men on Strike doesn’t offer Smith’s personally mined statistics, but it does invite the reader into the often carefully guarded world of what men are really thinking. And it also provides an overview of the societal, legal, and cultural obstacles that have led them to the choices that we as a society increasingly bemoan.
This is a must-read for men struggling to navigate through today’s world, and for women eager to discover why “good men” are hard to find.
Buy Men on Strike online here.
Read Via Meadia‘s interview with Dr. Helen Smith here.