Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: Men on Strike

Some time ago I mentioned that I'd be receiving a review copy of the book Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters, by Helen Smith (who was nice enough to come by and leave a comment hoping I enjoy the book). I then mentioned it again in reaction to a notable example of male-bashing that exemplifies the sort of thing that the book decries.

The book is now publicly available, and I see in my (never huge) traffic stats that some people have been searching here for more information, so I'll throw in my two cents. I should note that what I read is a galley copy of the book, which is what the publisher Encounter Books sent me. In my experience, galley review copies usually contain the exact same text as the final version, though there are cases where some last-minute editing has been done. I'll assume this book didn't morph into something different.

The book's basic arguments are: (1) many men are avoiding marriage, fatherhood and responsibility more broadly (this is presented more as a premise than a conclusion); (2) they are doing so not because they are immature slackers but because they perceive, correctly, that law and culture have developed strong anti-male biases; (3) men should "fight back," i.e. be more assertive and activist in countering such biases in various ways, by demanding better personal treatment, lobbying for new laws, etc.; and (4) "going Galt" (consciously boycotting marriage and other involvements) has some merit.

My own experience has been that getting married and becoming a father (both during my 40s) were the best things I ever did. Also, I am not aware of any discrimination I have experienced in the workplace or during my education on account of being male. (Being a co-worker of an ex-girlfriend for some time was awkward, though.) So I am not the target audience of this book. I am not, however, inclined to dismiss the concerns Dr. Smith raises. Men being treated badly in divorce court is not an unheard-of phenomenon, even if I would like to know more about how pervasive it is; and the casual assumption that men are nitwits is an unfortunate pop-culture staple, even if one notices that dumb blondes and other female stereotypes are not hard to find either.

Still, this book would have benefitted from more statistics to buttress its anecdotes. At one point, after discussing a few interviews of students she did, Dr. Helen asks: "Do the experiences of these four men represent the norm for young men arriving on campus?" Reading this, I readied myself for some survey data, but instead the next sentence is: "I decided that the best person to answer this question was Christina Hoff Sommers." What follows is an email interview in which Sommers offers her impressionistic account of what college is like for guys. Excerpt:
Few classes are mandatory except freshman writing seminars. Unless the student is well-organized (and what boy is?) he will be too late for the reasonable course offerings and end up in a class where he has to read chick victims lit like the Joy Luck Club or Girl Interrrupted. A nightmare for many boys.
Me: Stop kvetching. Also, isn't that bit about boys being disorganized a stereotype? Now let's move to an anecdote in the book about a genuinely serious matter. As quoted from a website called Parent Dish, a man writes:
I used to coach girl's soccer with my fiancee (now wife). I stopped because one of the girls (all of 8 years old) said:
"I don't have to listen to you. I can get you in trouble just by telling people you touched me."
The man goes on to complain that as a stay-at-home dad he gets "odd looks on the playground," and he laments that such knee-jerk suspicion could prevent him from being involved in sport and activities now that he has a child of his own.

But, instead of passively withdrawing in the face of the 8-year-old's threat, what if he had brought it up with school authorities and her parents? He would've been taking a risk of being falsely accused, but that risk was there in any event. In fact, quitting might have made the false accusation more credible. "Going Galt" isn't all it's cracked up to be, if it means retreating into your own bitterness.

There is much to like in Men on Strike. Dr. Helen's goal seems to be to get men and women to practice mutual respect and consideration. I hope its readers focus on that positive aspect.


Anonymous said...

I think marriage and family are probably the best things you could possibly have in life. Having said that, will I ever get married and have kids? No way. Too risky. Divorce rate is too high. Married households are now in the minority. The rate of increase in female perpetrated crime continues to skyrocket. Jobs are scarce. A large percentage of well educated women don't want kids or want them late in life. There are fatherless kids all over the place. One slip up with a woman and your life could be ruined.

I'm one of the many on strike, which is wise considering the potential consequences and all that I might come up against in today's legal and economic climate. I'm well educated, have a great career, my own home, yada...yada...yada. No way am I betting all that on the flip of a coin. I can't even fathom how families with children handle divorce. Must be the most soul crushing things in live for all involved.

This is an ‘early an age as they can handle it' must read for all males. This book needs to be the start of a male studies course in college. Can you imagine the outcry from those of the feminist persuasion if this were to happen? Can you imagine the protests? Can you imagine the look on some faces if the shoe were to be put on the other foot?

The other day, a friend of mine told me that his girlfriend dialed 911 during an argument. I was rendered speechless. A chill ran down my spine. It is painfully simple to ruin someone's life with a phone call these days.

Kenneth Silber said...

Thanks for the comment. I gather some considerable number of men have a motivation such as yours:

Can you imagine the look on some faces if the shoe were to be put on the other foot?

That doesn't appeal to me. A men's studies program that takes a free-floating view of women as the enemy strikes me as no better than a women's studies program that does same to men.

Anonymous said...

"...strikes me as no better than a women's studies program that does same to men."

Yeah...yeah...yeah. But the looks on their faces! Polaroid moment!