If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct — unless we rush down that ominous Brave New World path where women clone themselves by parthenogenesis, as famously do Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks and pit vipers.
A peevish, grudging rancor against men has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second- and third-wave feminism. Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment. Ideologue professors at our leading universities indoctrinate impressionable undergraduates with carelessly fact-free theories alleging that gender is an arbitrary, oppressive fiction with no basis in biology.
Is it any wonder that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life? When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments. And without strong men as models to either embrace or (for dissident lesbians) to resist, women will never attain a centered and profound sense of themselves as women.
From my long observation, which predates the sexual revolution, this remains a serious problem afflicting Anglo-American society, with its Puritan residue. In France, Italy, Spain, Latin America and Brazil, in contrast, many ambitious professional women seem to have found a formula for asserting power and authority in the workplace while still projecting sexual allure and even glamour. This is the true feminine mystique, which cannot be taught but flows from an instinctive recognition of sexual differences. In today’s punitive atmosphere of sentimental propaganda about gender, the sexual imagination has understandably fled into the alternate world of online pornography, where the rude but exhilarating forces of primitive nature rollick unconstrained by religious or feminist moralism.
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It was always the proper mission of feminism to attack and reconstruct the ossified social practices that had led to wide-ranging discrimination against women. But surely it was and is possible for a progressive reform movement to achieve that without stereotyping, belittling or demonizing men. History must be seen clearly and fairly: obstructive traditions arose not from men’s hatred or enslavement of women but from the natural division of labor that had developed over thousands of years during the agrarian period and that once immensely benefited and protected women, permitting them to remain at the hearth to care for helpless infants and children. Over the past century, it was labor-saving appliances, invented by men and spread by capitalism, that liberated women from daily drudgery.
What is troubling in too many books and articles by feminist journalists in the U.S. is, despite their putative leftism, an implicit privileging of bourgeois values and culture. The particular focused, clerical and managerial skills of the upper-middle-class elite are presented as the highest desideratum, the ultimate evolutionary point of humanity. Yes, there has been a gradual transition from an industrial to a service-sector economy in which women, who generally prefer a safe, clean, quiet work environment thrive.
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But the triumphalism among some — like Hanna Rosin in her book, The End of Men, about women’s gains — seems startlingly premature. For instance, Rosin says of the sagging fortunes of today’s working-class couples that they and we had “reached the end of a hundred thousand years of human history and the beginning of a new era, and there was no going back.” This sweeping appeal to history somehow overlooks history’s far darker lessons about the cyclic rise and fall of civilizations, which as they become more complex and interconnected also become more vulnerable to collapse. The earth is littered with the ruins of empires that believed they were eternal.
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. Indeed, men are absolutely indispensable right now, invisible as it is to most feminists, who seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscape for housing developments. It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings, and it is men who do the hair-raising work of insetting and sealing the finely tempered plate-glass windows of skyscrapers 50 stories tall.
Every day along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, one can watch the passage of vast oil tankers and towering cargo ships arriving from all over the world. These stately colossi are loaded, steered and off-loaded by men. The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!
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Paglia’s opening statement at the Munk Debate, “Resolved: Men Are Obsolete,” held in Toronto