Men aren’t growing up. This isn’t breaking news. Christina Hoff Sommers has written on male decline for 15 years. Helen Smith and Kay Hymowitz have books on the subject, “Men on Strike” and “Manning Up,” respectively. Hanna Rosin managed to get a book and a ton of sensational publicity calling this trend “The End of Men.”
It also isn’t news that it’s primarily women who are analyzing the decline of men. Sure, there are blogs and articles by men on the subject, “Vanity Fair” had an article, “Men Evolving Badly,” covering a few in 2008, but the books by women get the buzz. Curiously, women seem more concerned about men than the men themselves do, or at least more interested in what women have to say about men’s decline. At the Munk Debate inspired and joined by Rosin, that men seemed unmotivated to talk about their plight featured prominently and was used as evidence of their decline.
I suspect an effort by women, albeit an unrealized one, to reassure ourselves though repetition. Women are growing; men are shrinking. Repeat until irrefutable.
Adding to the groaning genre of gloomy male prophecies, in December Hymowitz published an article about fatherless boys. The article is a worthy read, but in it she called men “irrational.” That judgment requires assumptions about what is rational, an insightful point James Taranto made in response.
What is rational? The conventional wisdom has adopted the attainment of advanced degrees and the professional success and economic independence that have historically followed, which in turn become precursors to adulthood, as the rational ideal. Keeping with women’s dominance of the narrative, it should not surprise us that this standard defines “rational” as the things women do well.
But this standard contains a questionable assumption, one women may not see because they do not want to. Cast a critical eye to the connection between advanced degrees and economic independence and suddenly women look less like successful leaders than blind followers who are about to lose many of the gains they have made to this point. And men are on the cusp of a revival.
The Advanced Degree Economy Is Not Limitless
Born out of the post war technology boom and well fed by government subsidizing university education, first for GIs and later for everyone else, the higher education economy dovetailed with the Second Wave’s call to escape the drudgery of household labor, and women have professionally flourished in it.
Innovation simultaneously freed women from the burdens of full-time domestic labor and provided white collar office jobs to pay for their new college degrees. That is, the Second Wave caught an economic wave, similar to the shift from agrarian to urban labor in the Industrial Revolution.
But now the advanced degree economy is slowing. It is not ending but is rewarding formal higher education at a slower pace. There are only so many lawyers, MBA’s, and PR executives we will need. The slow down is well underway. From “How the College Bubble Will Pop” by Richard Vedder and Christopher Denhart:
A study I conducted with my colleague Jonathan Robe, the 2013 Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, found explosive growth in the number of college graduates taking relatively unskilled jobs. We now have more college graduates working in retail than soldiers in the U.S. Army, and more janitors with bachelor’s degrees than chemists. In 1970, less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. Four decades later, more than 15% do.
Many of today’s “rational” high school graduates are writing checks for degrees that they won’t be able to cash. That women do this better than men isn’t a fact to boast about. That women continue to congratulate themselves for doing this better than men suggests that they are not aware of the logical implications of the changing economy.
Modern women imagine themselves as leaders, innovators. They do not see that women are cautiously choosing the paths of the currently successful without studying history and, therefore, are failing to recognize the fleeting circumstances that made that success widespread. The showcased successes of 40- and 50-something women are not materializing for the young. If young women continue to uncritically pursue formal higher education, then many will be faced with paying off college debt by tamping espresso or relying on an economic match for marriage.
The economic independence women are so proud of, so protective of, will slip out of reach for many of our daughters. Not the elites, of course, their daughters will be able to pay for the prestigious degrees to occupy the dwindling number of MBA positions. As usual, it will be middle class, minority, and immigrant daughters who will bear the unintended consequences of the conventional wisdom.
Men Are In Position To Take Advantage Of Economic Changes
Which brings us to the supposedly irrational men. What if part of their opting out is a tacit, perhaps unconscious, recognition of the slowing advanced degree economy? What if some of them aren’t flocking to universities or sticking it out if they attend because they don’t want take on debt to gain the credentials for a nonexistent job? If instead they take up carpentry then other than the condescension of women (which men figure they will get anyway), they are positioned well–much like women were in the ’60s when their surge into higher education coincided with an increasing supply of compatible jobs.
Camille Paglia has hammered home in two recent articles — “It’s a Man’s World and Always Will Be” and “Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues” — that feminists have been too quick to pronounce the irrelevance of men. Specifically, she notes that a physical threat to the West, a not unthinkable possibility in a world full of terrorist threats and rogue nuclear regimes, would immediately render men very necessary. Undoubtedly, we will realize that we need men again, but it may not require violence to prove Paglia right. Economics will suffice.
The higher education bubble will (or has) burst, and women who relied upon school success will be hardest hit. For unlike men, women do not see and, if they did, would not likely adapt to a skilled labor economy.
The Second Wave taught us to resist labor of all sorts, domestic, skilled, or manual. For women to labor outside of childbirth (and sometimes even that) is to submit to patriarchal oppression. Just regaining respectability for the creative labors of cooking and sewing drew disapproval, and even then this “new domesticity” barely clears acceptable because it can be explained primarily as avenues for personal choice and expression, not service.
But men can easily adapt to a demand for skilled labor. They aren’t labor adverse, quite the contrary, and they don’t have any intellectual appearances to keep up. Whether intentionally evading the advanced degree racket or just on strike from contemporary expectations, a man could work creatively with his hands, start earning and saving without a weighty debt load, fill an anemic market from the decades of distain for skilled labor, and pursue his own advanced education outside the confines of the PC academy. (“Don’t Go to Art School if You Want to Learn to Paint” is obviously about an artist, but the caution could apply broadly.) These men’s growing wages for high demand work might eventually earn belated respect and pursuit from from women.
In 20 years we might look back and judge men’s behavior rational, even prescient.
I anticipate some future bitterness that the men didn’t really plan their coming renaissance but fell into it, as if the universe was biased for them, as if Nature had some balance that She insisted on keeping. But women’s blind faith to feminist gospel will be responsible for the bitterness.
Women have spent 50 years fighting a patriarchy that was not nearly so limiting as domestic work and childbearing prior to medical and technical innovation since World War II. We’ve been playing ‘anything men can do we can do better’ when we could have, should have, been using the freedom the technology boom gave to us to achieve greater success together.
Because it is the us vs. them that is irrational. Truly rational behavior from the sexes lies in complement and cooperation. If we refuse that truth, then the old days of women’s dependence on men, they will return.