October 13th, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
AT THE CENTER OF ALL SOCIETIES sits the family, and when family culture drastically and irreversibly changes, the whole civilization is impacted.
Our politics, economy, relationships and character are going to be different based on the major family shift now occurring.
What could cause such an all-encompassing change? What exactly is happening right now that is altering our societal future?
The answer is: The shift to a matriarchal society.
And whether this actually happens in full or we are simply witnessing a slight move in this direction, the consequences are momentous.
In short, this boils down to four major trends that are remaking our society:
- The rise of matriarchal society
- The decreasing popularity of marriage
- The growing confusion about manhood
- The opportunity for masculine nurture
The Rise of Matriarchal Society
The Great Recession is touted by many as having brought the end of male dominance in our culture, and of ushering in a new era of matriarchal supremacy.
As Don Peck writes in The Atlantic:
“The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults….It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities….Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture and the character of our society for years come…
“[J]oblessness corrodes marriages, and makes divorce much more likely down the road. According to W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the gender imbalance of the job losses in this recession is particularly noteworthy, and—combined with the depth and duration of the job crisis—poses ‘a profound challenge to marriage’…
“‘We could be headed in a direction where, among elites, marriage and family are conventional, but for substantial portions of society, life is more matriarchal,’ says Wilcox. The marginalization of working-class men in family life has far-reaching consequences.
“Marriage plays an important role in civilizing men. They work harder, longer, more strategically. They spend less time in bars and more time in church, less with friends and more with kin. And they’re happier and healthier.”
Women are now the majority of the paid workforce for the first time in history, the majority of managers are now women, and significantly more women than men now get degrees.
“For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?”
As Hanna Rosin outlined in a an article on “the unprecedented role reversal now under way—and its vast cultural consequences,” couples at fertility clinics are now requesting more girls than boys, three quarters of the jobs lost in the Great Recession were lost by men, many college women now assume that they will earn the paycheck while their husbands stay home and mind the kids, and women now earn 60 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“What if the economics of the new era are better suited to women? Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you….Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.
“The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominately male….
“The economic and cultural power shift from men to women would be hugely significant even if it never extended beyond working-class America. But women are also starting to dominate middle management, and a surprising number of professional careers as well.”
Of the top 15 careers projected to grow in the decade ahead, says Rosin, only two—janitor and computer engineer—are filled by a male majority. And the trend is not limited to the United States: both China and India boast similar indicators.
College statistics show “with absolute clarity that in the coming decades the middle class will be dominated by women.”
The Decreasing Popularity of Marriage
At the same time, and certainly not unrelated, many women are finding marriage less attractive.
Sandra Tsing Loh writes that:
“for women, obsession with real estate is replacing obsession with love and marriage….Whatever the emotional need, we women can engineer the solution. But such continual resculpting may be irksome if the vessel of our current and future happiness is an actual male….
“So what if, in comparison with Jane Austen’s time, when the heroine’s journey was necessarily Girl Meets Boy, Girl Marries Boy, Girl Gets Pemberley, 200 years later our plots are Woman Buys Pemberley, Pemberley Needs Remodeling, Woman Hires Handsome, Soulful, Single Architect to Find Perfect Farmhouse Sink but After Whirlwind Affair Boots Him Out Anyway Because She Hates His Choice of Carpeting…?
“Whether you wish to chant ‘Our houses, our selves’ or ‘We have houses, hear us roar,’ for us women, home is where the heart is.”
Loh suggests that “middle-aged female readers’ tastes,” at least, “are shifting away from the marriage plot.”
She cites such current female classics as Committed by woman’s icon Elizabeth Gilbert, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House by Meghan Daum, and Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes.
About The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (which the New York Times Book Review called “an update of Sense and Sensibility”), Loh said that it is
“less about who ends up with the men than who ends up with the real estate….
“As the years grind on, Sheldon [‘bald and in bow ties’] will only continue to physically collapse, as opposed to a house, whose luster just improves with age. A 100-year-old farm house? Make it 200! Even 300! Original hardware! Wide-plank floors! And what’s more fun than falling madly in love with a piece of real estate?”
Quoting Meghan Daum:
“Moving, like chocolate and sunshine, stirs up many of the same chemicals you ostensibly produce when you’re in love. At least it does for me. Like a new lover, a new house opens a floodgate of anticipation and trepidation and terrifying expectations fused with dreamy distractions. It’s all encompassing and crazy making. You can’t concentrate at work…”
And about Hayes’s book:
“I am raptly studying the New York Times piece on lefty stay-at-home mothers in Berkeley who raise their own chickens. In a house with no cable…the only entertainment we have is reading….Evenings go by so slowly, I’m already halfway through my every-four-years read of Anna Karenina…
“I’m intrigued by the stay-at-home-mom chicken-slaughtering because on my rickety nightstand (flea market—$8!) is my new bible, Shanon Hayes’s Radical Homemakers. Sure, it has some of the usual tropes one would expect from a crunchy-granola rebel seeking to live off the land: Hayes’s daughters have lyrically daunting names like Saoirse and Ula; there is copious homeschooling; there are hushed-voice, enigmatic, and unironic biographical descriptions like ‘She raises and forages most of her food in the heart of the city’ (Chicago). More timid souls might balk at maybe limiting their diet to venison, figs, and prickly pear cactus; melting beef tallow for soap….And yet, I find myself dog-earing page after page, exclaiming ‘Aha!’ and circling passages….
“What a heady brand of feminism—self reliance in the home is a path to more authentic macro-freedom; freedom from government, freedom from corporations, freedom from a soul-diminishing economy! Like early American rebels who freed themselves from dependence on the British by pairing turkey not with imported jam but with locally grown cranberry sauce, we, too, can start a revolution in the kitchen!”
A much more direct new feminism, according to Rosin, comes from leaders like Iceland’s female Prime Minister who campaigned by promising to put an end to “the age of testosterone.”
And many women are simply foregoing marriage. Says Rosin:
“In 1970, 84 percent of women ages 33 to 44 were married; now 60 percent are….[T]he most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are setting the terms—and setting them too high for the men around them to reach.”
In all of this, men are often seen as dull, stulted, unimaginative and unable to cope with change, while women are seen as naturally innovative, able, creative, adaptive and ready to deal with and overcome anything.
When challenges come, men are expected to mope, but the women assess the situation, develop solutions, and then muster resources and support to turn challenges into triumphs.
In this new worldview, the stereotypes are significant: men are naturally needy and dependent while women are bright, engaged and full of initiative.
Why would women even want to marry in such an environment? Many college women, according to Rosin, see men as “the new ball and chain.”
Growing Confusion about Manhood
President Obama said in his 2008 Father’s Day Speech that fathers are critical to the foundations of the family:
“They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and men who constantly push us toward it.”
Kids who are raised without fathers are five times more likely to commit crime or live in poverty and nine times as likely to drop out of school. But these statistics are all in debate, and no clear conclusions are accepted by the researchers.
In fact, as the author of Parenting, Inc., Pamela Paul, put it,
“The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution. The good news is, we’ve gotten used to him.”
Such tepid support for the role of fathers is becoming the norm. As Don Peck wrote:
“In Identity Economics, the economists George Akerloff and Rachel Kranton find that among married couples, men who aren’t working at all, despite their free time, do only 37 percent of the housework, on average. And some men, apparently in an effort to guard their masculinity, actually do less housework after becoming unemployed.
“Many working women struggle with the idea of partners who aren’t breadwinners. ‘We’ve got this image of Archie Bunker sitting at home, grumbling and acting out,’ says Kathryn Edin, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and an expert on family life….It may sound harsh, but in general, [Wilcox] says, ‘if men can’t make a contribution financially, they don’t have much to offer.’
“Two-thirds of all divorces are legally initiated by women. Wilcox believes that over the next few years, we may see a long wave of divorces, washing no small number of discarded and dispirited men back into single adulthood.
“Among couples without college degrees, says Edin, marriage has become an ‘increasingly fragile’ institution. In many low-income communities, she fears it is being supplanted as a social norm by single motherhood and revolving-door relationships. As a rule, fewer people marry during recession, and this one has been no exception.”
More people are putting off marriage and just deciding not to marry.
One result of all this is that more communities are filled with unmarried, unemployed, underemployed, increasingly less educated, frustrated and unproductive males.
Even among educated men who are married and employed, there is increasing confusion about the ideal and proper role of men.
Few men are willing to voice a strong opinion about the roles of men and women any more, though it is a frequent topic among women.
Even those men who do share an opinion most often begin or end, or both, with a disclaimer along the lines of, “but what do I know? I’m just a man, after all.”
We are at an interesting place in gender relations in America. Hanna Rosin wrote:
“Throughout the ‘90s, various authors and researchers agonized over why boys seemed to be failing at every level of education, from elementary school on up, and identified various culprits: a misguided feminism that treated normal boys as incipient harassers (Christina Hoff Sommers); different brain chemistry (Michael Gurian); a demanding, verbally focused curriculum that ignored boy’s interests (Richard Whitmire).
“But again, it’s not all that clear that boys have become more dysfunctional—or have changed in any way. What’s clear is that schools, like the economy, now value the self-control, focus, and verbal aptitude that seem to come more easily to young girls.”
I have suggested for many years that girls are a couple of years ahead of boys and that we do much harm by pushing boys into academics too early.
In fact, until they have a love of learning (which comes early) and then a love of studying (which usually comes to boys shortly after puberty), requiring them to do a lot of typical school work is often very destructive to their long-term education.
By establishing grade levels by age, rather than as phases that come to different children at their own pace, society often labels boys as “dumb,” “not smart,” “less gifted,” and “behind,” when in fact they just aren’t yet ready to meet some arbitrary standard called a grade level.
Some boys, and some girls, may develop more slowly than the “established norm,” but they are still fully capable of superb performance when they are allowed to move at their own pace.
Unfortunately, this flies in the face of the “expert” wisdom and is largely discounted by most.
One suggested solution by those currently dealing with this trend of “underperforming” boys is to create gender-oriented tests instead of standard exams. This strikes me as sad and frustrating, since I have been promoting personalized, oral exams instead of standardized tests for years.
Another proposal is to allow boys to walk around during class in order to get out their nervous attention and allow them to concentrate like girls or older students.
Again, I have taught for nearly two decades that younger children aren’t quite ready for the academic environment we have forced them to endure.
Some experts want to establish all-boys classrooms and even all-boys school, and to focus on the needs of boys instead of requiring them to fit into standard classrooms.
I agree with Rosin:
“It is fabulous to see girls and young women poised for success in the years ahead. But allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future.”
Unfortunately, the pro-men and pro-boy movements that are now happening are either discounted by many as too religious, too extreme, or too angry and anti-women.
In short, the only thing which really seems to work in raising boys toward ideal manhood, regardless of what the experts are saying, is the intimate and ongoing example of fathers, grandfathers, uncles and other key male role models.
This reality, in fact, is one of those amazing coincidences that can only be called either inspiration or serendipity.
The current crisis is offering an opportunity for men to develop their nurturing side.
Before you discount this, consider that men are as naturally prone to nurture as they are to provide.
Thousands of years of the Nomadic, Agrarian and Industrial Ages have conditioned hundreds of generations of men to find success through work.
And the long era of comparative peace and prosperity since 1945 have tended to make them feel entitled to plentiful jobs, extra cash, vacations, and leisure time, and numerous other opportunities—often with minimal effort.
The Great Recession has challenged these assumptions, requiring a new type of individual with two sets of character traits and skills:
- First, extremely high levels of initiative, resiliency, ingenuity, and tenacity.
- Second, much higher than traditional levels of cooperation, communication, unselfishness about who gets rewards and credit, and teamwork.
Today’s generation of men and women are capable of the first list of needed traits and changes, but many men struggle to compete with women on the second list.
Indeed, for much of history it was man’s lack of these very “weaknesses” that made him independent, self-assured, bold, assertive, ambitious, and what has been called simply, “manly,” “Roman,” and “tough.”
When boys are taught, “be a man,” “don’t cry like a sissy,” and men are told to “cowboy up,” it often means precisely not to be the cooperative, communicative, depend-on-others types.
“Stop talking and just do it.” “Who cares what others say or do, just do what you want.”
Men still laugh at Tim Allen’s grunts as the essence of male communication, and even in team athletics boys are taught to stand out and rise above the crowd.
What used to be the unwritten rules of “male dominance” are now actually seen as inability to excel in the vital second list of characteristics (communication, cooperation, unselfishness).
While of course this generalization is overcome by a number of individuals, it remains a reality for many.
Wise fathers, grandfathers and role models will help teach boys and men that there is much more to manhood than the wartime and gang-related values.
Indeed, the lessons taught from fathers to sons by generations of hunters, farmers and entrepreneurs differ greatly from those idealized by warriors, politicians and corporate raiders.
The first group idealizes cooperation, communication, and progress whereas the second prefers competition, dominance and victory.
In the Industrial Age, the “Organization Man” became the ideal for males—detached, admired, cash-carrying, benefitting from a lot of leisure time, and considered in charge of his family and its members.
The Industrial Man was the provider and the boss. At work he was an employee, a servant, but at home he was the center of the universe. He too often tended to treat his wife and children like employees and act like the boss he resented at work.
With a life experience built on succeeding as an employee, he didn’t know another way of acting.
His wife was either an employee, the boss, or perhaps a fellow worker in competition for advancement, attention and rewards.
His marriage was most often seen as a contract, where both sides were expected to perform their agreed upon roles, rather than a covenant where he would give his all in sacrifice and longsuffering regardless of what the other side did.
His relationships with neighbors and his nation took on this same contractual perspective.
He voted like an employee, for what he wanted—rather than for what the nation truly needed like a farmer or owner protecting the land or the organization he raised from scratch.
Today some men are lamenting (often quietly) the loss of this concept, while at the same time the need for a new male ideal is vital.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the masculine ideal was often the best nurturer. It takes nurturing, not detached management, to grow a farm, build a business from the ground up, and raise children into adults.
The necessary attention to detail is legendary. Indeed, in the Agrarian Age the iconic man’s occupation and business was Husbandry.
Providing was part of their role, but it was a secondary natural outgrowth of nurturing children like a small business in its infancy, encouraging and husbanding plants and coaxing them to grow and flourish into a farm in full bloom.
As Wendell Berry put it:
“…a man who is in the traditional sense a good farmer is husbandman and husband, the begetter and conserver of the earth’s bounty, but he is also midwife and motherer. He is a nurturer of life. His work is domestic. He is bound to the household.
“But let ‘progress’ take such a man and transform him…sever him from the household, make…‘uneconomical’ his impulse to conserve and to nurture…’ and not only will much of his incentive to be a good husband end, but his attachment to the land, to his nation, and to his wife and children, who are, after all, not particularly economical.
“Then, send his children away to school during the day, thus severing the wife from both husband and children, and she will naturally follow him to work looking for connection and meaning.
“Our homes are left abandoned and barren across the nation—father, mother and children are all elsewhere, seeking love and acceptance and nurturing.”
Then the economy tanks, the era of the male provider-warrior ends, and man stands wondering if he has any importance.
As women take more than half of the new jobs in the market, they too begin to wonder if man is needed.
Here comes the miracle.
Like a wildfire burning a forest and opening the seeds for the growth of new trees and vast swaths of new woodlands, men look around, try to see any value in their lives, and find, hopefully, inevitably, their inner nurturer.
If this sounds effeminate, you still don’t realize how much the world has changed.
This transition is not simple, and we fight it with the zeal of the government battling the most threatening forest fires.
The experts and activists may call it “A New Era of Matriarchy,” “The End of Men,” “The Failed Marriage Plot,” “The Victory of Feminism,” or “a Matriarchal Society,” but all of these miss the most central point.
After generations of an economy driving men further and further away from their nurturing selves, of making them more and more the provider-manager-disconnected-careerist or confused-noncommittal-freewheeler-playboy, something drastic is required to reawaken a generation of husbandmen.
A generation of husbandmen could improve the world like perhaps nothing else. Indeed this is the highest ideal of manhood promoted by feminism and its opponents alike.
And if unemployment and economic struggles are what it takes to bring about this change, it is certainly worth it.
Of course, making this change will be neither immediate, easy nor sure. There will be ups and downs, and individuals may reject the whole thing.
But the change is here, women and men are empowered, and our society is poised to take a great step toward an ideal world.
Speaking as a man, I am both overwhelmed and intrigued by the prospects.
This is about much more than just seeing the proverbial silver lining in economic struggles. We literally have the chance to become better as men, women, and people.
The debate about gender that has raged my entire life can finally be answered. We don’t need to worry so much about what men or women should be or who is ahead.
We have reached a point where all the incentive is simply for men to be better men. If each of us, male and female, see things this way and simply set out to be better, just imagine the potential.
I am so glad my daughters live in a world of such opportunity—both in and out of the home. And I am equally thrilled that my sons will build their lives in a world where the whole man—nurturer as well as provider—is emerging as the ideal.
I am more enthused than ever about the potential for all our children to be equally yoked and fully happy in their marriages.
I don’t believe that the era of marriage, family happiness, or the high point for men or women is over. In contrast, I have never been more optimistic about the future of family.
If we are entering an era where both women and men more broadly improve themselves, the future of the home is indeed bright—and the impact on the rest of the world is inevitable.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.