Yesterday, I posted a brief review of Dr Helen Smith’s new book, Men on Strike. After reading the book, I had a few questions for Dr. Smith about some of the points she raised and she was gracious enough to bear with me on my first real interview. So let’s jump right in and see what she has to say.
RH: You mention that the incentives have changed for marriage. What were the classical incentives for marriage? What needs could men meet only though marriage? How has that changed over the last few decades?
HS: Men used to get respect and be seen as grown up for getting married. They had more legal rights open to them, but perhaps they went too far. Coverture in the 19th century was a legal doctrine whereby in marriage, a women’s legal rights were subsumed by those of her husband. Now, whatever rights a man holds are now held in the woman’s hands. In today’s marriage, a man has few legal rights. They get custody of the kids only about 10% of the time. Child support laws are very strict and may eat up a very large portion of his salary. Men have also seen a decline of space in marriage. Forget coming home to sit in the comfy chair in the main area of the house. Dad now goes to the basement while mom and kids enjoy the rest of the home.
RH: Your argument is that men are dropping out based on a rational appraisal of current conditions and incentives. Are Men on Strike or were we fired? And does it make a difference?
HS: I think both phenomena are happening. Men are going on strike because the legal and psychological barriers for marriage, college and even work life are so much higher and the rewards so much lower. At the same time, women are using the government as husband and no longer need to be married or with a man. Men are unneeded and drop out of the pool altogether. Some however, simply realize that it is too hard to compete—women are highly educated and have such high expectations of men that men opt out.
RH: Please expand on this. What did women formerly get from a husband that they now get from the government?
RH: And does this imply that, since the government has assumed the traditional role of husband, that women are now dependent on government in the same way they used to be dependent on husbands?
HS: Yes, of course women are more dependent on government, that’s why they vote for Democrats who hand out the goodies to women.
RH: Men are by nature stronger and more aggressive than women. We developed cultural behaviors to reassure women that they were not in danger from a particular man who followed those behaviors, i.e. manners/chivalry. If White Knights are bad, then what can men use to replace chivalry to put women at ease?
HS: Why is it an average man’s job to “put women at ease” any more than it is the average woman’s job to reassure a man that she will not charge him falsely with sexual assault or take his kids away or commit paternity fraud against him? Once women start doing that, maybe men can consider how to “put them at ease.” Our society is all about making women feel good. Men’s needs are low or non-existent. Maybe we need to re-evaluate how we treat the average man in this country.
RH: Why is it a man’s job to “put women at ease?” In my opinion, the short answer is biology. As a group, men are stronger than women. Anytime there is a power imbalance, the weaker party will have some fear of the stronger. By their actions, the stronger party will either confirm that fear, or assuage it. When I symbolically use my strength in service of a woman, i.e. opening a door for her, I am neither demonstrating my subservience nor commenting on her weakness. Instead I am providing cultural cues that I will not use my strength against her.
HS: Well, then women can display their generosity to men in the same way.
RH: I do agree that in the areas where women have more power than men, our culture needs to develop similar cues so that women can signal their good intentions as well.
RH: You cite a statistic that shows that far more men commit suicide than women as a demonstration of the stress men are under. However far more women attempt suicide than men. Do women face more stress or do they handle it worse?
HS: Women, in some sense, are doing so as a cry for help and a way to solve the stress that they have. Women who try to commit suicide are more likely to get help for mental health issues. If men have stress, no one cares and they are more adamant about ending it. Rather than a cry for help, it is a way to end the hopelessness they feel. I have treated many depressed men in my career and they benefit from good treatment. That said, they are reluctant to go the mental health “experts” who focus so much on women that they don’t know who to trust.
RH: In Atlas Shrugged, the men who ‘went Galt’ did not just drop out of society and sit around doing nothing. They continued to work, invent, and achieve, only it was solely for the benefit of themselves and their allies. Going Galt indicates an agenda that goes beyond hiding in a basement playing video games. What are men doing that indicates they are truly going Galt, or is that a mischaracterization? Is prepping/survivalism a form of going Galt?
HS: Men are continuing to do things for themselves. They may have hobbies or activities that are of benefit to themselves or others. They may support themselves with a small business, collect things, read, and yes, engage in survivalism. They are using their skills to their full advantage many times. And video games are a form of skill learning. It can keep the brain sharp, bring a psychological feeling of mastery and control and sharpen cognitive skills so quit dissing video games.
RH: I don’t diss video games at all, unless they begin to take up a disproportionate amount of time. In fact, I use problem solving games like Sudoku, Go, and others for the exact purpose you mentioned, sharpening skills and keeping my mind alert and focused. However, if gaming is practice/training, then what are gamers practicing/training for? Is it possible that the ‘psychological feeling of mastery and control’ is an element missing from their lives, one they can only find in gaming? If so, does that make gaming an escape from the real world?
HS: Yes, perhaps escape is good. Rather than feeling powerless and frustrated, one can feel powerful and have mastery over something. Why does anyone do yoga, to prepare for what? Health? Isn’t one’s mental health important? I agree that playing too many video games all the time might be negative but so is feeling that society is against you, or that you cannot live up to what women or the society wants.
So, what are your thoughts? Are men just acting like spoiled little boys, or are they reacting rationally to a society that seems not value them as people?