If you want a window on young American males of today, a 24-hour dose of guy-themed TV ads could be a painfully instructive guide: scruffy, selfish, clueless, and gauche. Homo Sapiens (the iens is silent).
True, these are just actors, doing advertisers’ bidding. But it’s a safe guess that Madison Ave knows its audience well, and, in some perverse way, that audience sees itself in TV’s mirror. No advertiser would dare tell its target he’s a zhlub unless that image sparked some dim self-recognition, even pride.
Do you think for a minute that advertisers could get away with portraying women the way they do the gender for whom a meaningful relationship is a Bud Light, and a long-term commitment an extended warranty on a Dodge Ram? Even when they’re gyrating with the guys on a rum-soaked dance floor, the sirens are manifestly in charge.
Why the extraordinary difference between these images?
Some of it is the hard reality of men’s and women’s diverging fortunes. Look at education, where males are falling further and further behind females in participation and attainment. Women outnumber men in college, and more of them earn advanced degrees. Some colleges, desperate to maintain gender balance, have no option but to give male applicants an affirmative action edge.
Some of it is politics. Not politics as unfair or partisan, but as power and influence. Women’s real (and potential) power and influence mean $$$, which are pheromones for advertising $$$. TV advertisers are simply saying to women (as to men), We know where you’re headed and we can help get you there. Hop in — gals in front, guys in back.
What’s behind these developments? One key factor is that women’s qualities are a better fit for America of the early 21st century than are men’s.
Women are more socially perceptive and sensitive than men. If this is a psycho-physiological child-bearing and nurturing thing, there may not be much guys can do about it short of reading more Jane Austen and less Jack London.
Even more ominous for guys, advances in reproductive engineering could further marginalize them if women decided that a test-tube, though not particularly sexy, was a more reliable partnering option. (Your father left before you were born. His name was Onan. He was in the seed business.)
Women are also more verbal than guys, and it starts early. It’s not just that girls talk more than boys, they talk more about people and relationships. You may call it gossip, but I call it expanding social vocabulary and developing syntactical sophistication (all right, it’s gossip). On the other hand, the very nature of pistons and downfield blocking may limit the range of male discourse.
These things matter. When cod had to be hauled in by hand and the West won on horseback, the strong, silent type prevailed. Now? Muscle power is down, and technical and social skills are up. Technical skills demand qualities of imagination, abstraction, precision that women have just as much as men. These skills, by themselves, mean nothing if they aren’t joined with the kind of subtlety, social insight, and persuasive power that engages others in producing things or ideas, reaching decisions, and delivering quality. Advantage women.
As a personal experiment, consider whom you’d rather have as your doctor, a man or a woman? Anyone who gets an M.D. — male or female — must be highly skilled. But a woman is more likely to have the bedside manner to persuade even the most macho guy to drop ‘em and bend over, if not happily at least willingly, and, in the end, without regret.
This is not an anti-feminist rant. American women have earned their advances by fighting for them. I’m proud of the bright, strong women in my family. But a society of strong women and weak men can’t be healthy, happy, or prosperous.
There’s no easy remedy for this situation, but (to use a guy metaphor), it can never hurt to study the game tape of yesterday’s loss and figure out, not just what we did wrong, but what the other team did right. If it means throwing like a girl, then, goddamit, swallow your stupid male pride and throw like a girl!