Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
There seems to be a growing consensus out there that the End of Men is upon us. That was the title of Hanna Rosin's article in The Atlantic magazine last July. Since then, we've learned from the Wall Street Journal that "Women Are Better Investors," from TIME magazine that "Women are Better at Everything" and then from last month's Esquire that all of this has left men, "Pissed off, on edge, and very, very tired."
If these articles are any indication, you'd think those of us of the more pitiable sex should simply donate to the nearest sperm bank and pack up shop. Now comes Kate Bolick's article "All The Single Ladies" in the The Atlantic's November issue.
Bolick's basic assertion is that, with the shifts in economic and professional power moving toward women and away from men, there has been a disruption in the "romantic market" and that traditional marriage is on its way out. The article then demeaningly groups men into "playboys (whose power is growing)" and "deadbeats (whose numbers are rising)."
In defense of all these articles, there is no shortage of facts to back up this "deterioration of the male condition" theory. Boys are now generally a year and a half behind girls in reading and writing. Boys are less committed to school and less likely to go to college. Girls read more books, outperform boys on tests, and more girls study abroad. More boys are suspended from school, are held back and drop out. More boys have ADHD, are involved in crime, alcohol and drugs.
When we grow up, things don't look much better. And the fact that post-industrial society negates most benefits of size and strength means that men are, more and more often, left out in the statistical cold.
But does the fact that men's societal power is on the wane mean that marrying down is inevitable for the 21st century woman? Yes, there was a time when men and women came together more out of necessity, to form a house, children, a farm; but if we still do, is it an outmoded holdover of lamentable ideals? Is economic interdependence the wholehearted explanation of why monogamy still survives at all?
Let me state two things without equivocation. First, that men and women have come together since the dawn of agriculture to raise crops and families isn't actually a knock on marriage. Second, and more importantly, if the waning of men as providers is turning women away from men, then maybe women should examine the reasons they're going to men in the first place.
Also, give us a break. Men have had a pretty good run. As Camille Paglia says, "Men created the world we live in and the luxuries we enjoy. ... Construction is a sublime male poetry." That what we have traditionally done isn't as prized anymore means most of us are a little sad. We put too much esteem into our jobs and we're either losing them or, if we're keeping them, they aren't going well.
As for how all of this affects our romantic prospects, I do sympathize with the disillusionment. More than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and a lot of the remaining don't seem terribly happy. Monogamy is a minefield, but that doesn't mean we have to deny that we want it.
Platitudes like, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" are charming, but the fact that most women don't actually believe it for the first few decades of their lives tell us what we need to know. If you're 40 and single and perfectly happy with it, I applaud you, but don't mistake your disillusionment for doctrine.
It's clear that in the 21st century, marriage has become more complicated than ever. Our modern era tries at it seem to fall into either a) flailing, or b) failing. Therefore, we do need to examine and endorse alternative family arrangements as much as possible in order to raise healthier, more stable kids. But if we're unsuccessful at monogamy, it means that we're still trying; we still want it. If we're unsuccessful as men, maybe it's the first step toward adapting to a new marketplace and getting better. Regardless, neither men nor love are ending anytime soon.