Camille Paglia’s perennial skewering of feminism is now so near tradition it deserves its own greeting card. This year, in her article entitled, “It’s a man’s world and it always will be,” Paglia argues that men have and always will be the shapers of society while women have and always will play only a supporting role. She even claims men are responsible for women’s liberation—assigning them near full credit because they invented “labor-saving devices” that “liberated women from daily drudgery.” While bestowing this honor, she makes no peep about the likes of Margaret Sanger or the well-known “women’s movement” and their role in saving women from the daily drudgery of, say, unintended pregnancy. While neither is delightful, when wagering on which women needed more freedom from—unchecked pregnancy or manual dish cleaning—my money is on Sanger.
Paglia claims that feminism is set on “stereotyping, belittling or demonizing men.” Yet the research on men suggest their lives have improved immeasurably as a result of feminism. By all appearances, feminism has been the lead designer of the modern man who is not only the product of feminism but arguably the greatest beneficiary of it, too.
Women’s ascent into the workplace has not diminished men but has freed up space in the family for a more involved father—a position more fulfilling than any at the office. A two-decade length study conducted by the University of Michigan found that children’s time with their fathers increased significantly only in families in which the mother works outside the home. With women sharing a larger stake in providing economically for the family, men have stepped up their investment in nurturing. Generation X and millennial Dads are the most involved generations of fathers in history and they report being much happier as a result of it.
Studies show that if offered a promotion or more flextime to spend with the family, most men chose family. A study of more than 1,110 working fathers revealed that the desire for more “family time” is widespread, with 82% of full-time working men saying they would choose this. With women’s near-equal presence in the workplace today, men no longer have to shoulder the full economic burden of supporting the family. As a result, they have more career freedom and can pursue dreams and leave stifling work environments.
Today, men relish having wives, women colleagues, women friends and daughters who are true intellectual equals. They are less concerned with surrounding themselves with women who are “projecting sexual allure and even glamor,” areas Paglia suggests women should focus their energies on to get ahead. Indeed, ambition, success and earning power seem to be the most alluring features men look for in women today. A recent study found a whopping 76 percent of men said having a partner without a job was out of the question, while 45 percent said they wanted a woman who earned a serious amount of money. This is a quantified phenomenon too; the Brookings Institution discovered marriage rates are rising for top female earners and declining for women in lower earning brackets.
Success, equality, ambition and independence are the qualities men find most attractive in women these days. Men’s choices fly in the face of Paglia’s trippy predictions like this one: “After the next inevitable apocalypse, men will be desperately needed again! Oh, sure, there will be the odd gun-toting Amazonian survivalist gal, who can rustle game out of the bush and feed her flock, but most women and children will be expecting men to scrounge for food and water and to defend the home turf.” Men today want to marry, breed with, hire and raise that Amazonian survivalist gal—suggesting she’s not that odd at all.
And last, but certainly not least, one of the most transformative freedoms we can thank women for is sex without unwanted consequences. The modern man enjoys an active sex life with multiple partners before marriage and after. Marriage is not determined by unintended pregnancy or the rush to have sex as it most often was in the ’50s. Men embark on a much more leisurely path to marriage; settling in with a more thoughtfully chosen partner much later in life as a result of the campaigns women have waged and won. Sex in marriage is also more fun, fulfilling and less fraught with life-altering risks. It’s also worth mentioning that family planning is a cornerstone of the critical work of stabilizing nations in the developing world. So, thank you to women for coming up with a solution for that, too.
Paglia wants the reader to accept that men and women are different and that men have skills more practical for the past, our present and the future; they are the construction workers, the road builders. Basically, her argument is that they can lift heavy things. It seems this is the most demeaning of characterizations. Feminism has long been charged with pitting women against men, a verse Paglia seems to sing today as a solo. In fact, it’s she—most exemplified in her piece—who stokes the coals of resentment between the sexes. But the facts, and our daily lives, prove that men’s and women’s freedom is intertwined. Our differences are less pronounced and more compatible than in the days in which women were indentured servants and men were strangers acting as authoritarians when home. Men today are what feminism has always pined for and worked toward—and the happy surprise is that men wouldn’t want to go back either.
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Cristina Page is author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex.