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Why Men Matter

Recent articles have painted a devastating picture of the current state of America's men, from their earning potential to their downright relevance.
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I don't envy men these days. For the first time in our nation's history, a uterus may be perceived as more valuable than a penis. Recent articles have painted a devastating picture of the current state of America's men, from their earning potential to their downright relevance.

The Great Recession has pushed a once-solid economic landscape right out from under millions of working- and middle-class men, leaving them jobless. The imploding economy has smacked men significantly harder than women, eliminating typically male-dominated jobs like manufacturing and construction. Three-quarters of all jobs lost have been lost by men.

The news only gets worse. Guys are also losing significant ground in education. Women now earn 60 percent of all master's degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees and 42 percent of all MBA degrees. But most worrisome is that a whopping 60 percent of all college graduates are women. Where are the men?

While working mothers still earn less than working fathers, in big cities, young, single, childless women earn 8 percent more than their male peers. That's right. Two generations after "Mad Men" Peggy Olson would be making more than Ken Cosgrove. Undereducated and underemployed, men do take the lead in other areas -- violence, crime, substance abuse and suicide. It's no wonder that the media has picked up on a disturbing theme: men seem to be on a perplexing downward spiral.

Is the very core of American manhood at risk?

Newsweek's September 27 cover story "Man Up" concludes that masculinity needs to be reworked. It's time to shuck outdated models of manliness. This, I think, is a good thing. The economic reality with more women today in the labor force than men means that the old school notions of family responsibility and parental duties should be shifting as well. And they are.

Flexibility at work is no longer just a woman's issue. According to a study published last year in the Harvard Business Review, recent college graduates of both sexes see flexible work arrangements as a top priority. Now our legislators need to catch up. Around the world, paid paternity leave is not only offered but nearly mandated. In Sweden, couples lose a month of their 390-day paid leave unless the father takes time off too. Shockingly, the United States is the only industrialized country without federally mandated paid maternity leave. So the fact that we're flirting with paid leave for dads to bond with their babies is almost revolutionary -- and apparently is drumming up significant support. According to the Newsweek article, programs are underway in New Jersey, Washington and California to offer partially paid paternity leave.

So perhaps the ailing economy has created the perfect storm for the modern man to undergo a machismo makeover. But at the end of the day, what do women really want in a man?
Look to the surveys and articles in women's magazines and we'll find the schizophrenic conflict.

Women still want their men fierce in the bedroom and the boardroom. But we also want them emotionally available and slightly vulnerable. They should be able to change a flat tire and a dirty diaper. We want them to make money and make the world a better place. We want them not only home for dinner and but home making dinner with us. Women want men to fully share in the responsibilities of parenthood, but that doesn't mean moms want the dads at home full time. Women don't want to bring home the bacon solo. Perhaps this is why the number of stay-at-home dads still hovers at around 3 percent.

Interestingly, the new round of doom and gloom articles like Atlantic Magazine's "The End of Men," also paint a sunny picture for women. As men are flailing, women are thriving.

But it depends where you look. The lowest income communities in America have become virtual matriarchies nearly devoid of men. Single women are raising children and struggling to make ends meet. The number of fatherless kids in America has nearly tripled since 1960.

If you want to see an extreme identity shift happening to the American macho male, look no further than Newark, New Jersey. The men in Newark's Fathers Now program are redefining themselves and embracing their role as parents. Gang banging is out, pushing strollers is in. The eight-week program takes ex-cons and tries to make them into better fathers to keep them from going back to prison. The program is part of Mayor Booker's progressive anti-crime measures to lower the recidivism rate in the city of Newark and turn these guys into modern family men.

The bottom line is that we women need our men. Moms and kids all benefit when a guy has a good job, comes home for dinner and voluntarily does the dishes.