The Gorilla Theory of Men

One of the great tragedies of our age is that serious discussion of men and women is more often a discussion of men vs. women. The sexes must be eternally at war, it seems. There is no gain for the one without loss for the other.

We've heard much of this in recent years. Women have made astonishing gains of late by nearly every measurable standard of academic achievement, employment and income.

They should be applauded.

Instead, their accomplishments are often mentioned merely to incite fear and resentment among men, as the definitive sign of culture-wide decline. This is because American men are not at their best today. They drop out of school more, go to college less, complete fewer graduate degrees, earn lower grades and take jobs that are less meaningful to them--if they take jobs at all--than do their female counterparts.

Even when not compared to women, men seem in free fall. American men eat too much, work too little, take little notice of their children, play far too many video games and waste huge portions of their lives drooling over unclothed, digitally-delivered women they will never know. There are statistics confirming it all, we are told.

It is all likely true. And, it is nearly all fixable. More on this to come.

What blind us to the cure are dogmatic academic theories about how men have been made obsolete by the very world they have created. Few have expressed this absurdity as absurdly as Rachel Burger in her Forbes Op/Ed "The American Economy, Not Feminism, is What's 'Ruining' Masculinity."

Ms. Burger portrays men as not unlike frustrated gorillas who, having no rival simians to kill or unconquered jungles to roam, now sit confused and whimpering in cages of their own making while clutching their bananas and wondering how it all went wrong.

Consider: "Traditional jobs for men, jobs that require heavy manual labor, are being replaced," Ms. Burger instructs. "If men want to pursue their roles as providers and achievers, they're going to have to woman up...Instead of continuing to live in the man's world-the world of brute force and physicality-men must shift into the women's world-the world of sensitivity and service."

There are even the horrifying assurances that in the future, "boys must learn to express themselves" because 'The Internet economy requires social intelligence."

If only men had learned to read! If only they could resist bludgeoning each other with stegosaurus bones!

Ms. Burger portrays modern men as meat without meaning, as muscle without mandate. Faced with the demands of an information society, men must become women to survive. This is not merely implied: "Men must become more like women if they want to be able to continue fulfilling their more masculine roles as earners and providers."

Theories like these are part of the problem, particularly when men believe them. If an inescapable force of history--the unstoppable ascendancy of a digital age, for example--makes men obsolete and condemns them to perpetual adolescence, addiction and asininity, then there is no escape. Men become, in this view, helpless victims of history and find themselves without value in a world that requires thought and emotion. The result? Just as there are no gorillas working at Northrop Grumman today, soon there will be no men working for Apple--if Ms. Burger is right.

She isn't. The problem for modern American men is not merely physical, not just a matter of having no wilderness to tame. The problem is sickness of soul and an absence of character.
We are plagued by cowardly, absentee fathers, not by absence of manual labor. We are devastated by addiction-ridden juveniles in adult bodies, not by Twitter. We suffer from men passionate only for women gyrating on a pole, not from men in need of "expressing themselves."

A recent CNN crawler tells the tale: "Son drowns while father plays video games."
These words could easily be the epitaph over a generation of men were it not for the good news: men might not be able to halt the spread of a digital economy but they can change their character. They can right themselves. They can become attentive fathers, devoted husbands. They can turn from the pole and the booze-fest. They can innovate, master skills and make themselves as productive as any generation of American men.

Ms. Burger is right about one matter: The feminist movement has taken nothing from men, nor is it responsible for their plight. Men are diminished only by what they have willingly surrendered. They must recover themselves, and nothing about this recovery need come at the expense of women, feminist or not. Instead, it may well bring us closer to a genuinely great society, one in which the tug of war between genders ends and both offer their best with the benefit of the next generation in mind.