Over the last century, women have become a more dynamic and dominant force in the workplace, higher education, and politics. In a few short weeks more women will become United States senators than at any time in the nation’s history. Women are earning more degrees than men at every level of education, and now have legal recourse against employers with discriminatory pay practices. It is incredibly unlikely that Barack Obama would have won the 2012 presidential election if single women had not voted for him by such a large margin. White men may still hold the vast majority of power when it comes to business, wealth, and government positions, but America is no longer exclusively a white man’s world.
Unsurprisingly, some people are upset about this.
Take Ross Douthat for instance. In a New York Times op-ed entitled ‘More Babies, Please‘, Douthat praises the US’s “resilient” fertility rates in the face of modernity, conveniently ignoring that half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned and actually cost the American taxpayers $11 billion every year. Keep in mind, that figure only includes money spent on various social programs that low-income families rely on to survive, not the lost wages and career stagnation that women face after bearing children. Douthat claims that America’s falling fertility rates will make it even more difficult to compete with China and India for jobs, even when economists agree that an inadequate public education system and the reluctance of business owners to offer competitive wages for qualified workers are far greater concerns.
Douthat nobly devotes two paragraphs out of thirteen some solutions to encourage women to start having more babies – a “family friendly tax code” (whatever that means) and reducing the cost of college for future generations – before glossing over the root causes and systemic flaws that have led to this alleged fertility crisis. There are legitimate reasons that many American women – this author included – decide against raising a family. Nowhere in his piece does Douthat address the lack of affordable medical care, the massive pay gap that arises when women decide to have children, or the absence of mandated paid maternity leave that sets the US apart from every other Western nation. Instead, Douthat attributes the falling fertility rate to “late-modern exhaustion” and “a culture of decadence,” and accuses women of “embrac[ing] the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.”
It is not entirely amusing to read a man who will never bear nor birth children pontificate on the decadence of choosing not to have children and refer to expelling a full human from one’s loins as a “basic sacrifice.” Sadly, this desperate attempt at shaming women for being individuals with hopes and dreams outside of their wombs is fairly common. Even as more women than ever before become the primary breadwinners of their households, parenting is still regarded as a woman’s role in society rather than a man’s. Women in relationships with men still report doing significantly more housework than their partners despite working full time jobs outside the home. On top of this, only one-third of fathers with working wives identified as “regular caregivers” for their children in the most recent US census. And as professional women do have children, the gap between their pay and that of their male counterparts increases from $.12 to $.45. If Mr. Douthat is looking for sacrifice in the name of the family unit, perhaps it would be a better use of his time direct his ire at coupled men rather than working women and single mothers.
But according to recently published opinion pieces, women aren’t simply responsible for the future worker shortage and collapse of Social Security; they’re also responsible for everything that is wrong with men. So says Suzanne Venker in a FOX News article that outraged hardworking women, progressive men, and Stephen Colbert alike.
In the absurdly titled ‘War on Men,’ Venker postulates that men no longer want to get married because “women aren’t women anymore.” What this is explained to mean is that women are competitive, educated, and less willing to subscribe to the idea that they or their work is inferior to their male counterparts. As Venker claims, “[T]he so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.”
If Venker hadn’t denied her third sentence with her first, I would get the impression that the rise of women is threatening men, what with the undermining of their self-sufficience and all. And quite honestly, stagnant wages and the skyrocketing cost of higher education has probably put a greater dent in everyone’s American dream of self-sufficiency than ambitious women. Apparently critiques of capitalism and a case for ethical business practices aren’t quite as sexy as blaming women for everything.
Venker also floats an exasperating double standard: men are justified in not wanting to marry women because women are angry and defensive, and simultaneously men are justified in being angry and defensive at the changing role of women in society. When it comes to griping about institutional disadvantages, a good rule of thumb is that the member of the group who is marginalized has a better case for their anger than the person who is privileged. Women are fed up with being penalized professionally for having children while men see a professional boost from fatherhood. White men are fed up with – what, exactly? The winning lottery ticket they drew from birth not being worth as much as it was in 1950? As Lindy West points out over at Jezebel, “[It's] not that white men aren’t in charge anymore – they are, and they will probably always be a dominant political bloc – but there’s a sense that they’re no longer entitled to win just for playing.”
Let’s be clear: no longer getting an institutionalized advantage isn’t a “war on men” or a “culture of decadence”. White men having to compete with more women and people of color than ever before isn’t a “war on white men,” it’s progress, and it’s equality. Men no longer being able to expect women to take on childbearing and rearing as their solemn and sole duty isn’t modern women being spoiled, it’s what happens when women are recognized as individuals beyond their sex. This seething discontent that bubbles up when historically disadvantaged groups making gains towards equality is nothing new. This is the same attitude of entitlement to the status quo that kept women out of voting booths until 1920. These were the same arguments that white suffragettes and former abolitionists gave against allowing black men to vote. This is the same pattern that prompted Strom Thurmond to take to the Senate floor and issue the longest filibuster in history against the Civil Rights Act.
This is the same attitude that prompted Marc Lepine to murder fourteen women engineers at École Polytechnique Massacre 23 years ago today. Lepine, armed with a rifle and a hunting knife, walked into a mechanical engineering classroom, and separated the women and men to opposite sides of the room. He then declared that he was fighting feminists – who he blamed in his suicide note for ruining his life – and shot all nine women. Six were killed. During the rampage, Lepine killed eight more women, bringing the death toll to fourteen. In addition to those murders, ten women and four men were injured before Lepine turned the gun on himself.
This none too distant tragedy is not one that permeates the American consciousness, despite taking place only an hour from the US border. And while it may be tempting to write off this outburst of violence as an isolated incident perpetuated by a disturbed individual, Lepine didn’t come up with this narrative on his own. Rush Limbaugh equates feminists with nazis and blames them for literally shrinking men’s penises. The New York Times and FOX News alike lament about the loss of traditional gender roles. Republicans in the US House of Representatives continue to drag their feet on passing the Violence Against Women Act. Outside of medical complications, homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women in the US. There is a serious problem with the way we address the roles of men and women in the so-called modern world. Let’s spend this year’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women addressing the culture of violence and discrimination against women instead of perpetuating it.
This article is respectfully dedicated to the memories and families of: