Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Cowardly Lions?

Sorry for the absenteeism lately. Been working about 12+ hours a day for a couple weeks getting ready for a big event next weekend. I hope to be back here more regularly after that.

There is a great piece in the Washington Post this morning by Michael Gurion. In it he talks of the diminishing presence of young men at college campuses throughout the country. How women have overtaken men, not only in numbers on college campuses, but also in terms of academic success at all levels; getting better grades, having fewer discipline issues, and generally attaining higher levels of eduction.

Some consider this a triumph of the women's movement--which in many regards it is. Women (and girls) succeeding can and should only be seen as movement towards a better quality of life for everyone.

Women succeeding is certainly a great thing. Men failing is not a great thing, and anyone who believes it to be is in for a very unpleasant future.

One of the goals of the women's movement was to make it acceptable for women to develop an identity for themselves outside of the their nuclear family; to alter the way the world judged and percieved them. This has fundamentally altered the way men and women interact and deal with each other--in many ways for the better.

There has been, I think, an unintended consequence. Men have seen the world change around them, and seen women's roles as expanding, but there hasn't been an equivalent expansion (until recently) of what socially acceptable roles for men are. Add to this the simultaneous proliferation of children being raised without fathers or father-figures, the surge in gangs across the country over the past 25 years, the impact of globalization on low-skill and low-wage jobs, and the declining presence of social organizations like church-groups or bowling leagues (for lack of a better example) and men are left to grapple with significant challenges to their traditional identities without the same degree of social connection they have had in the past.

I think of men of my grandparents' generation. A man's identity was based in a few places: his work, his church, his family, his neighborhood. One of my grandfathers worked at a meat-packing plant in a blue-collar suburb of St. Paul for much of his life. Later he worked as a warehouse manager. Both of these jobs were low-skill, but neither was low wage. He certainly didn't get rich, but with my grandmother also working, they usually had enough. He was active in his church, and was active in many community groups.

He was paid enough for his work that he was able to feel pride in what he did. Many will view this as a silly "feel good" issue, part of some hippy-based ideology that people have to feel good about what they do. It's more significant than that. Men often derive a large part of their identity from the work they do--and how that work is percieved by others. In our society, much of how we believe work to be percieved is based on pay. If a man believes his work is not valued, he is less likely to believe he has something to contribute. As Gurion points out, men without college degrees are more likely to join the marriage-pool late, or not at all. I believe much of that to be related to the fact that if men don't feel they are being valued, they'll feel they have little to offer. Especially with men-women dynamics changing, a man that earns less than a woman (especially significantly less) will feel he has little to offer her, and will be less willing to marry. Further, a feeling of inadequacy can cause a lot of mental/emotional stress. This isn't good for society generally. (This is my own train of logic here, so any corroboration or contradiction would be appreciated).

It's been a while since I've written, so I'm overreaching here and losing the thread, but I guess I'm trying to say something has to happen soon to help develop a sense of identity and purpose for young men, or we're going to end up with a generation of under-educated, under-motivated, over-entitled young men (and I went to high school and college with many guys like this). Then we're going to have a much larger and longer-term problem to sort out. What people often forget (or overlook) is that there is an element of a lion in most men: we want to be big an powerful and catered to. And when we don't get what we want, we play video games or rob liquor stores.

UPDATE: After I wrote this, I checked out my friend Delobius's blog. As usual, the people I know are better at saying what I'm getting at than I am. Here's what he had to say about being in Iraq, and why he'd go back.

"The last, and probably least important on a day-to-day basis when you're there, is participation in something larger than yourself. When you're there, it's often just daily drudgery, trying to get to the next day so you're one day closer to leaving; but in retrospect, even a support troop like myself can feel pride at being a part of the greatest army of the greatest nation on Earth, and for having a small impact on the country of Iraq - hopefully for the better."


alektra said...

Sadly, that just shows how much we undervalue everything women did prior to the latest feminist movement. Raising children, being emotional support and being a good partner are all worthwhile and positive parts of life. Work is so minimally-important for so many of those well-educated women you talked about that many are becoming stay-at-home moms...

Genya said...

Interesting analysis...but until I see the upper echelons of government and the judicial system integrated with women, I don't think we've come very far. It's one thing to bring home the bacon, but it sure hurts when white males over the age of 50 still make all the rules. How do you figure that?

Kerri said...

Do you think maybe part of it is that women are encouraged more - pushed harder by both mentors and parents - to go to college, get educated because they need to in order to succeed? There is pressure to not have to "depend on a man" which can be both productive as far as instilling healthy independence and counterproductive as far as hampering one's ability to compromise in male/female relationships. For men, however, the pressure to "not depend on a woman" is more implied than spoken and, post highschool, they may feel less pressured to work hard, have a "career" since they haven't been inundated with the pressure to do this. I definitely see the potential consequences that you're talking about, and maybe what's needed is a men's movement. Go to college, boyz! Get your PhD! Get your asses in gear! Just thoughts. Good to hear from you!

Emily said...

"a generation of under-educated, under-motivated, over-entitled young men (and I went to high school and college with many guys like this)"

yeah, i think i've dated most of them. it's such a pleasure to see a guy talking about this issue. the problem, as i see it, is hugely influenced by all the fatherless families. john, it's nice to know there's a few good men out there... you'll have to kick the others into gear, huh?

best, em