Acceptable at a dance, invaluable in a shipwreck
A prayer for men
Reception to my last post was very mixed, as I expected. To some, I came across as callous; to others, privileged; to others, naïve. I suppose I am all of those things, at varying moments, but one of my big misses was not addressing the dire dating minefield. Young women felt upbraided by my goading: We are trying to settle down, old lady. But the men are a mess. It’s love in the ruins, post-sexual revolution, and I’m not sure we can ever go back.
“… I could see a bit of curdling in some of the men around me, too.
“They struggled to relate to women. They didn’t have enough friends. They lacked long-term goals. Some guys — including ones I once knew — just quietly disappeared, subsumed into video games and porn or sucked into the alt-right and the web of misogynistic communities known as the ‘manosphere.’”
Emba says we’ve always wrung our hands about men, but things are fairly grim out there:
“Worrying about the state of our men is an American tradition. But today’s problems are real and well documented. Deindustrialization, automation, free trade and peacetime have shifted the labor market dramatically, and not in men’s favor — the need for physical labor has declined, while soft skills and academic credentials are increasingly rewarded. Growing numbers of working-age men have detached from the labor market, with the biggest drop in employment among men ages 25 to 34. For those in a job, wages have stagnated everywhere except the top.
“Meanwhile, women are surging ahead in school and in the workplace, putting a further dent in the ‘provider’ model that has long been ingrained in our conception of masculinity. Men now receive about 74 bachelor’s degrees for every 100 awarded to women, and men account for more than 70 percent of the decline in college enrollment overall. In 2020, nearly half of women reported in a TD Ameritrade survey that they out-earn or make the same amount as their husbands or partners — a huge jump from fewer than 4 percent of women in 1960.”
What’s a fertile, educated, high-earning woman to do?
Encourage the dads and uncles and and grandfathers and elder men in your life to counsel the young men in theirs. Consider a man who seems to know the value of hard work and commitment but who may not have a graduate degree (gasp). Start going to a house of worship. Prioritize his character above his height, educational attainment, job title, and earning potential. Pray?? I really don’t know. Dating sounds like a genuine hellscape these days. I don’t have any real advice.
As the parents of sons, Guion and I are committed to the project of raising men who meet this definition, from Richard Reeves’s excellent book Of Boys and Men:
“J.F. Roxburgh, the first headmaster of Stowe School, a private boys’ school in England, described his goal as cultivating men who would be ‘acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck.’ He wanted men who could make the kind of sacrifices made by the awardees of the Carnegie Hero medals. Perhaps he had in mind the heroism of many men on the Titanic, which famously sank in 1912, with a survival rate of just 19% for the male passengers, compared to 75% for women. But the first half of Roxburgh’s formulation is even more important. Men who are ‘acceptable at a dance’ are those who have learned how to conduct themselves in company, how to treat women respectfully and as equals. They are, in short, mature.”
Hoping for much more of this for the women in my life who want good men. Hoping my sons rise to the occasion. Grateful for the men in my life who have already done so.
Our summer nanny quit on us three weeks early, with almost no notice, so we’re surviving by taking turns with childcare and working, with great thanks to our gracious employers and colleagues. Guion’s parents are also going to come help us for several days during the last week of August, praise the Lord.
It brings back lots of feelings of pandemic PTSD, this insane juggling of full-time work and full-time children, but we’ll make it. We are making it, I suppose I should say. We are all ready for bed at 8:00. We are enjoying the sweet moments at home with our demanding, blossoming, inquiring offspring.
The Candy House, Jennifer Egan
Selected Poems, Tomas Tranströmer
The Gift, Vladimir Nabokov