For Irish readers this is all about paid-up membership of the Vincent Browne/Fintan O’Toole club in The Irish Times. For anyone else it is also a terrific insight into what may be the number one malaise of our contemporary culture. It is currently online on Spiked-online.com.
As the shifting status of men and women plays itself out across society, it is all too easy to attribute men’s changing fortunes to some natural defect of masculinity, as if economic stagnation and decline was a natural phenomenon, like a comet hitting the earth and sealing the fate of the dinosaurs. It is equally tempting to believe that women are prospering because they are better suited to today’s conditions. Neither case is true. The tragedy is that no one benefits from the end of men and all that it implies: not men, not women and not society. What appears to be an equalising of men and women’s status is really the degradation of the human potential of both.
For men, it’s not merely that they no longer personify authority; their masculinity itself has become inherently problematic. It is blamed for everything from rape and violence to the lack of development in Africa. At best masculinity is said to make men too inflexible, at worst it creates dangerous emotional automatons cut off from themselves and one another, prone to see women as objects and predisposed toward sexual violence. Masculinity is increasingly regarded as something young boys must be educated out of: they must be taught not to rape.
By contrast, women are deemed inherently vulnerable. They are always at risk, be it of date rape by men who use alcohol as a weapon, or of developing an eating disorder brought on by images in fashion magazines.
These caricatures of men and women destroy the basis for equal partnership and mutual cooperation. When men are seen as useless or dangerous and women are thought likely to be undermined by men’s privilege, is it any wonder that marriage, the institution though which a life-long partnership between men and women took place, has become more trouble than it’s worth?