Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Male call

The cultural decline of men is a problem for us all

Issue: "Beyond the body count," Nov. 5, 2011

"Most of us [men] were raised by women," reflects the iconic Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club. "I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need." Around the time that he was born, a significant number of women were deciding that men weren't the answer-which led to large numbers of Tyler's generation being brought up without fathers. And that leads to the oft-remarked phenomenon of the couch-potato man-child, thumbs twitching over his PlayStation. It's a disturbing trend, especially to social observers like William Bennett.

Bennett's latest book, patterned on his classic Book of Virtues, is titled The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood. It's obviously intended as a guide to pre-men, a selection of instructional and inspirational passages. "Why Men Are in Trouble," an opinion piece for CNN, explains why he wrote it: "For the first time in history, women are better-educated, more ambitious and arguably more successful than men. ... We celebrate the ascension of women but what will we do about what appears to be the very real decline of the other sex?"

Maybe it's not a total decline; in some cases, young men are simply taking longer to mature. I know several who dragged their feet after high school, drifting through jobs or college majors, but finally snapped into a responsible mode after marrying. The average age for marriage is five to seven years later than it was 50 years ago, but is not dissimilar from other periods in history. The real problem is that (a) too many men aren't marrying at all, but they are (b) fathering children, who (c) grow up with no understanding of either (a) or (b), thus perpetuating the cycle.

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Who's to blame? Feminism is an obvious target, with its ideal of the independent woman who doesn't need to be taken care of. Also single mothers who capitulate to their sons, girlfriends who don't insist on marriage before sex, and young men themselves, who find plenty of excuses to feed their slacker tendencies. Bennett cites "a culture which is agnostic about what it wants men to be." His book sets out to correct that agnosticism with a "clear and achievable notion of manhood." He would surely agree, though, that with no father or mentor to offer a book to a restless boy, the boy is more likely to plug himself into the latest electronic distraction. (And girls outpace boys in reading skills by 16 percentage points, anyway).

The root of the problem, like so much else, goes back to the Garden. The man neglected his leadership role, allowing the woman to make a bad decision, which broke their bond with God and set their relationship at odds. Mutual dependence ever since-men for protecting, women for domesticating-held a rough approximation of the creation order together by force. Until now, that is. Now we're dependent on the grid instead of each other. Anyone can fake independence, as long as the infrastructure holds up and the checks keep coming.

But even though we're not so obviously dependent, men and women are still connected. What God joins together is impossible to sever totally. Men need high expectations, worthy goals, respect. Women need security, approval, love. Each needs what the other can give, but if we refuse to support each other with our positives, we'll drag each other down with our negatives. If men and women don't mutually pledge their strengths, they will default to their weaknesses. The harder a woman pushes, the faster a man retreats. The more a man forfeits, the more a woman takes on. He gets lazy, she gets bitter. He turns violent, she becomes passive.

Fight Club ends with a symbolic collapse of civilization, but an actual collapse of civilization is not out of the question. Some men (especially Christian men) are waking up to their responsibility. May God wake up more and more. It's not just their wives and sons and daughters who need them; we all do.

Email: jcheaney@worldmag.com

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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