Helen Smith's recent Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream -- and Why It Matters would seem to be written with people like me in mind.  I don't know whether I'm on strike or avoiding the toxic environment of contemporary "relationships" or have discovered by experience that I'm too redneck for the intellectual types, too prep for the redneck types, and too intellectual for sailors, or if my ambitions, particularly in earlier years, just got in the way.  I do know that I've been working on a pretty serious man-cave.

Book Review No. 21 suggests, though, that Men on Strike does little to uncover the why of the boycott, if, in fact, such a boycott exists.  It concludes with some useful advice on understanding the law (particularly family law) and understanding your legal rights: this section, however, could exist independently of the case for such a strike that appears in the preceding chapters.

I confess to a predisposition to accept the case, it being a long-held position of mine that the supposed new freedoms beginning in the late Sixties and codified in the Seventies went horribly wrong.  And I've quoted, favorably, an editorial opinion from the Badger Herald in 1987 about precisely how destructive those freedoms became.
Today the only victors in the sexual revolution are those men and women who are good-looking and clever enough to enjoy multiple partners with a minimum of emotional and financial commitment. The dowdy and the not-so-clever (or not-so-unscrupulous) are used by the well-endowed and find loneliness and frustration where, in a previous generation, they would probably have been able to start families.
There's a longer excerpt from that passage, with elaboration, here.  Part of the strike, as reported throughout the book, is the emergence of the pickup artist community, which might be an adaptation by men to the incentives of the sexual revolution, or it might be an evolutionarily unstable strategy (its adherents call it "game", after all) in which the scrupulous mimic the unscrupulous in such a way as to serve the women the same way the women have been serving them, which is to say, to pump and to dump.

But that's where it becomes important to do the social science.  There's some evidence that the collegiate hookup is less than ubiquitous.  To buttress a case for a male marriage strike based on female hypergamy, based on a bar scene in which 24 percent of the men are getting access to 76 percent of the women (page 25) is to infer from incomplete information.  Is the same power rule at work in a Unitarian congregation or at a mega-church (two simple ways to impound educational and class differences in ceteris paribus?)  Perhaps the bar scene is not a pleasant place for anyone: hasn't that been one of the selling points for the various, often extremely differentiated, computer matching and dating services?  Something may have gone wrong, but absent solid evidence, the case is Not Proven.

Ms Smith alerts readers that her work is not intended as social science, and it relies heavily on anecdote.  That's how a lot of advocacy takes place, whether it's for more male-friendly family law -- heck, male-friendly workplaces, something that Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" recognized in 1975 -- or for more public spending on poor people, or for social ownership of the means of production.  But anecdote can only go so far.  Sooner or later, systematic and rigorously investigated empirical evidence will have its work to do.

What intrigues most, though, is the ease with which Men on Strike makes a case that forty years or so of "male chauvinist pig" rhetoric and situation comedies and affirmative action in the schools has internalized the stereotype.  There's nothing new about that argument: here's a pop-culture reference, a reference to an academic argument, an internet sociologists' guide to the logic.  I have to wonder, though, how many Pajamas Media readers who are quite happy with "sitcoms-destroy-initiative-in-men" arguments would reject out of hand the "establishment-sees-us-as-thugs" version of the argument that informed President Obama's recent comments about the profiling of young black men.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)


William Bruce said...

I suggest an addition to your observations, completely unoriginal on my part, which you have doubtless considered as well:

Being single is significantly more fun, interesting, fulfilling, socially acceptable, and economically prudent than it was in previous times. The "price" of marriage, relationships, etc. has indeed risen in some respects, but the price and quality of the alternatives are also more attractive (and not merely in inverse, tautological ways).

Stephen Karlson said...

Are you referring to the reduced influence of noodgie parents, relatives, co-workers pushing everybody onto the marriage track?

William Bruce said...

It would certainly be one of the reasons that I have in mind. When one stops to consider those reasons, it can be an overwhelming experience: They are manifold.

Moreover, I do not think it inconsistent to worry about declining marriage rates among certain classes while asserting that far too many of the relevant class members have married, and continue to marry, for the wrong reasons.

William Bruce said...

Speak of the devil...

Sometimes it is remarkable, how all of these issues hang together!