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.
A recent, chilling case that seems to prove Parker's observation that we have become the society where fathers hardly matter: the news report of 17 pregnant teenage girls, none older than 16, in a high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts. According to the high school's principal, one of the girls chose a "a twenty-four-year-old homeless man" to supply her with the necessary sperm. Obviously, she was not concerned with what kind of dad he would be, because the girls were planning to raise the children together. And though one might say that these immature and foolish teenagers were more influenced by last year's hit movie Juno than by any serious anti-male sentiments, even in that movie the seemingly tidy ending is when Juno, the teenage mother, hands her baby over to an older childless woman--but one who is about to divorce her hapless, immature husband and will raise the child alone.
Parker lays the blame for the marginalizing of males to the modern feminist movement, which began in the late 1960s and belittled men as much as it encouraged women to achieve. She does quite a job on some longtime feminist icons, especially those who focus on encouraging women to enthusiastically celebrate their sexuality, such as Eve Ensler, author of the spectacularly successful Vagina Monologues, and other "Vulva Sherpas" such as Dr. Betty Dobson, a sexologist "who teaches women how to pleasure themselves." Parker is at her funniest in this chapter, entitled "The Vagina Diatribes and the Sacred Clitorati," where she writes, "There is yet another sentence that makes no sense to men. Women have to be taught?"
She also complains that feminism's daughters and granddaughters--the Sex in the City hookup generation and their pre-puberty little sisters wearing "Future Porn Star" T-shirts--may have been encouraged to embrace their sexuality perhaps too enthusiastically, and to their detriment. Just think of those pregnant Gloucester teens. And, Parker notes, if one expects very little of young men in the way of responsibility or caring, that is exactly what young women get in return.
Yes, there are now lots of misunderstandings, blunders, and sexual harassment suits in the new war between the sexes. Parker writes:
Torpedoed by cultural messages that are relentlessly sexual, by pole-dancing moms and prostitots decked in baby hookerware, [men] are nevertheless expected to treat females as ladies. Except don't call them 'ladies' which is insultingly patriarchal. . . . The deal is basically this. Females can flaunt their foliage when, where, and how they choose, and you men have to be psychics to respond appropriately.
Throughout Save the Males, Parker is full of good sense and sympathy but, at the same time, is realistic about men the way only a wife and the mother of sons can be. She kept telling her family that they had better shape up or she simply couldn't keep writing this book. But she says she plowed ahead, not only because she wanted to save the males but because she is interested in saving females, too.
She believes our families and our country need men who have those old-fashioned virtues of honor and courage, and accept their responsibilities. For when we expect and allow men to be men, at the same time we greatly benefit women and children.
Myrna Blyth, former editor in chief of Ladies' Home Journal, is most recently the coauthor of How to Raise an American.