The Magazine

Daddies Dearest

A 'shrewd, witty' look at the men in our lives.

Jul 28, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 43 • By MYRNA BLYTH
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Save the Males

Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care

by Kathleen Parker

Random House, 240 pp., $26

While doing some research in preparation for writing this review of Kathleen Parker's shrewd and witty book, I came upon a promotion for "Save the Males multi-benefit moisturizer," a for-men-only "lotion with Carrot Protein and other natural activists [that] supports skin, so it stays healthy and hydrated. Chinese Wolfberry and Mangosteen Extract offer powerful antioxidant protection. And White Birch takes a firm stance against the formation of fine lines and wrinkles."

Obviously, the manufacturer of Save the Males knows there are enough men out there who care about Mangosteen Extract to cough up $32.50 for 2.5 fluid ounces of this high-priced grease. Still, one might wonder, as Kathleen Parker does, what has happened to men today that the firm stance they take is in favor of hydrating? And why, for goodness' sake, do women now want to go cheek-to-cheek with guys who are redolent of Chinese Wolfberry?

Parker, a respected syndicated columnist and occasional cultural provocateur, as well as a wife, mother of sons, and a daughter raised throughout much of her childhood by a single father, searches for answers to questions such as these as she analyzes the changing role of men in society today. She maintains that, during the past decades, the benefits of manliness, the importance of fatherhood, and even the energy and high spirits of young boys have all been drastically devalued. And who can really argue with that notion when a book entitled Are Men Necessary? written by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd climbed the bestseller list just last year, and was taken seriously.

As Parker writes in an opening salvo, "In the process of fashioning a more female-friendly world, we've created a culture that is hostile towards males, contemptuous of masculinity and cynical about the delightful differences that make men irresistible, especially when something goes bump in the night." She notes that, from the time boys go to school, those "delightful differences" too often are seen as problems rather than proclivities. Faced with female teachers who often admit that they don't like little boys who can't sit still the way little girls can and a girl-powered curriculum that emphasizes female achievement--in one schoolbook George Washington receives fewer than 50 lines of text while Marilyn Monroe receives more than 200--boys often end up not liking or doing well in the classroom.

"As we strived to make school girl-friendly to accommodate Ophelia," notes Parker, "we've bored Hamlet to distraction." Not surprisingly, many boys drop out, and of those who do graduate from high school, fewer go on to college. By 2012 women are expected to be awarded 60 percent of bachelor's degrees in America.

Popular culture has done its male-bashing part as well. There is TV's Sitcom Man, Homer Simpson on The Simpsons or Ray Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, the hapless father who never knows best and is always the easy butt of every family joke. In film and music, men and boys are often portrayed as bullies, brutes, or sexual predators. Haven't we been so primed by woman-as-victim Movies-of-the Week and Law & Order to believe that any young man could be a potential rapist? Certainly that was part of the reason the media, the college administration, and much of the public rushed to judgment when three white Duke lacrosse players were accused of raping an African-American stripper at a team party.

Writes Parker, "As the Duke case makes abundantly clear we don't hesitate to condemn males no matter the circumstances, no matter the credibility of the accuser, or the absence of evidence."

Perhaps Parker's greatest concern, however, is the diminished role of fathers in American family life. Nowadays, dads are often seen as clueless, uncaring, or irresponsible. Fathers who want to be involved in their children's lives can be marginalized by divorce laws and custody arrangements that always favor Mom.

"If once upon a time mothers were treated unfairly in a male-dominated culture, fathers today are the victims of what seems like a revenge manifesto," Parker writes. A stunning statistic: America leads the Western world in mothers-only families. Europeans may have a higher incident of out-of-wedlock births, but the majority of those are children born to unmarried but cohabitating couples.