It’s a fairly odd thing to realize, especially since no one bothered to tell the people who service my student loans. But I keep hearing about my non-existence, so it must be true.
And, yeah, it’s awkward. I mean, it’s not as awkward as Mark Twain reading premature accounts of his own demise, mostly because all those people who tell me I don’t exist don’t mean it personally. They’re not saying, “You, Geds, do not exist.” What they’re saying is, “People who are like you do not exist.” And I’m okay with that because those people have never actually met me. As such, I do not give a rat’s ass that they don’t think I exist.
The truly uncomfortable thing about this at the end of the day is that I’m pretty sure that the upshot is that I end up writing a blog post about how I don’t exist every couple months. So I actually have a historical record of my own non existence. I can search for it on Google if I want to do so.
The latest indication that I don’t exist came in the form of an article in The Atlantic. It follows the same basic pattern of all such articles. It starts with a story of long-lost love that was turned down due to a desire for independence. It then moves on to a celebration of feminism to establish the writer’s bona fides as a woman who is all about the empowerment of women. Then we get to a lament that while all the women were learning to grow and achieve and be independent all the men decided to, um, not come along for the ride, I guess. At that point I closed my browser window in disgust.
Let’s get something out of the way right now: I am a 30 year-old, college educated, white male in America. My personal income is higher than the average household income of my nation. I’m not part of the 1%* by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m in pretty damn good shape. My story of being in good shape positively oozes privilege. My privilege, however, is not unexamined. This is why I refer to myself as a feminist, based on my stupidly simple understanding that women are people, too.
I add that disclaimer in because I’m probably about to say a large number of things that will potentially piss people off. I am totally okay with that.
The only way an article like the one I’m referencing can possibly exist is if the writer of the article is coming from a position of delusion or cognitive dissonance. That’s it, full stop. All of these articles that revolve around the question of, “Where have all the real men gone?” can only exist in a world that is carefully insulated from the facts of the case. It’s founded on a simple notion that, basically, women can and should change how they do things but men are not allowed to change under any circumstances. It’s also founded on the notion that men are “falling behind,” even though the only actual statistics where that’s true at the moment are in college attendance and the number of Americans laid off during this atrocious economy that has disproportionately hit sectors of the economy where men traditionally hold a much higher percentage of the positions.
Basically, this says, “Things are bad for men right now, therefore things will always be bad for men.” This is stupid. A woman writing an article with that premise will be applauded only by MRAs and MRA apologists. I’m pretty sure that, ironically enough, that means that said woman writing said article is giving herself an engraved invitation to a party only attended by the sort of men she said she wants to avoid.
In reality, the “problem” is that women are closing the gap. They’ve been behind men for a long-ass time and we’ve become accustomed to the notion that women should be where they are. We’ve built our mythologies and constructed our gender politics around that notion. Men are supposed to be the breadwinners. Men are supposed to be the leaders. Men are supposed to be the heads of the household. Men are supposed to be the vice presidents and women are supposed to be their secretaries.
Now some women are vice presidents and some men are secretaries. Women making it to the halls of power get celebrated. Men forced to ignore the indignity of being mere secretaries get pitied. See how that works?
In, say, 1956 a woman could proudly say that her husband had just been promoted to Vice President In Charge Of Whatever The Fuck. Her husband could mention that his wife worked down in the typing pool at a law firm or something with no loss of face. Even better, he could point out that his wife stayed at home and raised the children, because that was how the world worked.
Now if a woman gets promoted to Vice President In Charge Of Whatever The Fuck, we say, “Here’s a sign that things are good for women.” If VP lady introduces her husband as a guy who does data entry then he’s undoubtedly failed at something. God help him if he stays home to raise the kids or because he can’t find a job.
This, I think, is the core of the problem. Yes, things are bad for men right now, in that men are in the worst shape in history if compared to women in absolute terms. They’ve been disproportionately hit by the recession. There are fewer men in college and grad school than women. The solution to that is pretty simple, actually. I see two steps:
1. More men need to go to college.
2. We need to stop making a distinction between “men’s work” and “women’s work.”
The reason that more men lost their jobs in the recession is because the recession hit traditionally male-dominated industry harder than traditionally female-dominated industry. Fewer men want to be nurses because there’s a stigma associated with being a male nurse. But fewer nurses lost their jobs than auto workers. If more men were nurses, then it stands to reason that fewer men would have gotten laid off.
This gives us the opportunity to consider the implications of the inverse. Say that nurses were disproportionately laid off and auto workers got to keep their jobs. Who wants to bet we wouldn’t see a single article about the crisis of womanhood? I’ll give an over/under of six articles, period, on how horrible it is that women aren’t moving out of their parents’ house and sitting around playing video games in the mass media. Who wants to take the over? Anybody?
Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “What’s wrong with men?” Maybe it should be, “What’s wrong with the story we’re telling ourselves?” But that’s a much harder article to write. It’s also a much harder article to sell.
Meanwhile, the thing that fascinates me about the article that pissed me off today is that the author, Kate Bolick, answers her own damn question. Repeatedly. The question, for those who don’t feel like reading, basically boils down to, “Why am I not married?” Everything else in the article is an attempt to extrapolate data from anecdote and, basically, to make it seem like she’s not whining. This is the very first paragraph in the article:
IN 2001, WHEN I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behavior, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.
She then goes on to say two things. First, Allan was subjectively and objectively fantastic. Second, they’re still friends and Allan is now married.
The rest of the article is commentary. Whiny commentary dressed up as statistics, but it’s commentary nonetheless. Just in case anyone (including one Kate Bolick) totally missed what I’m driving at:
KATE BOLICK COULD BE MARRIED TO ALLAN RIGHT NOW. As such, the answer to her question of, “Why am I not married?” is, “It’s your own damn fault, that’s why.”
Basically, all of the self-justification boils down to, “I spent my twenties and early thirties finding myself and figuring out my career and becoming the wonderful person I am today. Now I wanna get married and there aren’t any men for me to marry who meet my standards. They’re all losers or creepy douchebags. Well, except for the ones who I met who were nice but who just, y’know, weren’t for me.”
Basically, this article exists because one Kate Bolick doesn’t actually listen to herself when she talks. I suppose there’s less profit in that than writing an article and having it published in The Atlantic, though. So, y’know, she’s got that goin’ for her.
The answer to the question, “Where are all the good men?” is, “They’re out there.” See, the great guy who wanted to get married ten years ago found someone who also wanted to get married and they, y’know, got married. Did the author make the right or wrong choice in 2001? How the hell should I know? I don’t know her. I don’t know Allan. It’s also absolutely impossible to predict an alternate reality. It might have been great. They also might have been hit by a bus leaving the church on their wedding day. Or, hell, maybe Allan would eventually have figured out that Kate was whiny and self-absorbed and dumped her ass. Who knows?
There’s another option, too. You know how you decided to spend the last ten years bettering yourself and shit? Well what, precisely, were all the men supposed to be doing during that time, sitting around and waiting for you to grace them with your romantic attentions? Why do you get to be the center of the romantic universe? Maybe they’re all in class, studying for their MBA. Or maybe they’re at work, focusing on their careers. Maybe they’ve decided that they don’t actually want to get married, since ten years ago they were hearing that everyone needed to go find themselves and shit and what they found was fulfillment in career, education, or hobby.
Or, hell, maybe there are a bunch of Allans out there who got dumped by their girlfriend of three years at 28, then were subjected to a whole shitload of dates where they felt they were supposed to have brought their resumes and gave up. Or maybe they found that the marriage-minded women at 28 were crazy and desperate and they decided that marrying wasn’t an option.
Or maybe there are a bunch of great guys out there who want to get married, but sure as shit don’t want to marry Kate Bolick. She seems kinda whiny, judgmental, and uptight, after all.
One of the great fallacies of dating is the old saw, “There’s someone for everyone.” This tends to go hand in hand with the notion of The One. These then get wrapped up in fairy tale notions of love at first sight and happily ever after and all that jazz. It’s simply not true.
Not long after I moved back to Chicago I went on a couple dates with someone. She was great on paper: accomplished, capable, intelligent, all that stuff. She was also pretty in to me. This was unfortunate, since I just plain didn’t feel the same way.
This was awkward, since I had no idea how to handle such a situation. There simply was no space in my universe for someone who was interested in me, in whom I was not interested, but who was not a nutjob. So I handled it awkwardly, but eventually found myself going back and trying to say what I should have said, which was basically, “You’re really good people, but I just wasn’t feeling it and you deserve better than that.”
Maybe that was the wrong move. Maybe I’ll be looking back 10 years from now and saying, “Why didn’t I try harder to give that a shot?” In a vacuum the odds of that happening are extremely low. It was just a couple dates, after all, and if I’m even thinking about it in ten years that will probably seem pretty obsessive. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I meet absolutely no one I even want to go on a second date with in the next decade. Would it make any sense at all to look back on the late summer of 2011 and say, “Shit, I missed my only chance?”
No. It makes no sense to think that, since I made my decision based on the facts at hand. I made the best decision I could have and, quite frankly, I believe it was the right decision.
When it gets right down to it, the big change over the last few years is that people don’t need to et married. Since we don’t need to get married, some people decide not to get married. Some want to just play the field. Some want to hold out until they meet the perfect person and find that happily ever after. Some decide to opt out of the program for a while or altogether while they focus on other stuff that’s more important to them.
This is only a problem if people decide it’s a problem. The “crisis” isn’t that men as a gender are failing. It’s that the world is changing and humans suck at change. So we latch on to something, anything, and say, “See! This is the problem! We need to do something about it!” Identifying a problem and complaining about it is cathartic. It’s also distracting. So if the underlying question is, “Why am I not married yet?” and the answer is, “Because men suck, that’s why,” then the person asking the question doesn’t actually have to do anything or learn anything.
In the interests of full disclosure: the top two positions at my current company are occupied by women. The company is small enough that both of them know who I am in spite of the fact that I’m pretty far down on the org chart. This is not the first company I’ve worked for with a female CEO/President. In my time in corporate America I have directly reported to eight women and four men. Of that group I’ve liked working for all the men and six of the women and have thought that all ten individuals had strengths and weaknesses that had nothing to do with whether or not we shared a gender.
I re-wrote that sentence four different times.
On related not, I’m currently reading a book about the media. This morning I found it necessary to bookmark a page because a chunk of the text struck me:
“Their methods are so hidden and their ignorance so dense that they have no conception of law to restrain them,” the World thundered against midwives. “Most can hardly sign their own names.” But another anxiety shadowed the genuine concern over their scattershot training: namely, that it was women taking business away from men. Even as the World was pursuing midwives, it was running the headline WOMEN FARM, MEN COOK – a story noting that “The New Woman” was moving in to traditionally male jobs in farming and manufacturing, while more men were taking domestic employment. Hearst’s Journal, though generally sympathetic to women’s labor, still ran headlines such as SHE’S PRETTY, EVEN IF SHE IS A LAWYER.
The book? The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars. To the uninitiated, the “century” in question was the 19th. The “Hearst” mentioned in the quoted paragraph was THE Hearst: William Randolph Hearst. The more things change, as they say…^
We actually had a mutual acquaintance in one of my co-workers, which was something I figured out entirely on accident. Once I pointed that out she introduced herself to my co-worker. After that my co-worker and I had a couple of odd conversations which suddenly made sense when I realized, “Oh, [co-worker] is trying to sell me on [person I’d dated].” So I took that as an indication that I was correct in my overall assessment that she was good people.
There’s an interesting nuance here. We have the cliché, “It’s not you, it’s me,” of which the, “You’re too good for me,” is a common subset. Everyone knows that both things are, at best, cop outs. At worst they’re outright lies.
However, in this specific case it sounded like I was pulling one of those. I wasn’t. Instead of, “You’re too good for me, I just don’t deserve someone like you,” it was, “You deserve someone who both appreciates you as a person and isn’t basically indifferent to all the dating/falling in love/whatever aspect of things.” Because, yeah, she was in to me, but is it really a kindness to pretend to care about her in that way just to avoid, um, hurting her feelings, I guess? No. That’s stupid. So, at the very least, I’ve learned how to handle that situation if it comes up again. Have no fear, non-crazy single women of Chicagoland. I am now fully capable of breaking things off with you in non-self-defeatingly idiotic ways.
With my track record, though, that’s not exactly a non-zero possibility.
This phraseology implies that she had no agency in this decision. I want to say that she did, but in a very real way she had no control over how I thought or felt about her. Granting her agency in my decision-making process, then, would have had one of two results: either she would have said, “You’re just not that in to me and we should break this off,” or, “You’re just not that in to me, now. Give it more time.”
The problem is that there was a point where she tried the, “You’ve just moved back, you’ve got a lot on your mind, you might just not be ready. I’m willing to wait.”
I remembered saying similar things to Her and attempting to insert myself as an agent in her decision-making process. That did not end well.
^Interesting post script: when I went to go get a link to the book I saw it only had 3.5 stars on the B&N site. That seemed low. The book is actually quite enjoyable and I'm thinking of writing a post or three on it and everything. So I scrolled down to see what was up. It turns out that it has a bunch of 1 star ratings because B&N pushed free samples of the book to Nook users. The lesson, as always: don't blindly trust starred internet reviews, since people give things 1 or 5 stars for really fuck-stupid reasons sometimes.
*EDIT: Original version said I'm not part of the 99%. Oops. I went double-negative on myself or something. Thanks, jessa.