June 16 2013
This Sunday, one group of kids across the country will be giving their fathers ties, sports gear, homemade art, or some other tokens to express their appreciation on Father's Day. Unfortunately, there will be another group of kids for whom the holiday is a painful reminder that they don't have a relationship with their fathers.
Why do a growing portion of kids in America have no active father in their lives to celebrate this weekend?
According to Dr. Helen Smith in her new book, Men on Strike: Why Men are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream -- and Why it Matters, one reason is that society is stacking the deck against men, causing many to go "on strike" from traditional responsibilities. These men aren't just lazy, but instead are making choices based on incentives.
Smith writes, "Most men are not acting irresponsibly because they are immature or because they want to harm women; they are acting rationally in response to the lack of incentives today's society offers them to be responsible fathers, husbands and providers."
Smith argues that feminism has gone too far, creating a feminized world of female privilege, where men no longer are treated as equals. She cites examples of men opting out of college, marriage, and fatherhood.
Much of the popular literature today on men focuses on the lack of men growing up. In Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, Kay Hymowitz argues that a new period of extended adolescence has emerged in the 20s -- a "pre-adulthood" stage. An image of a 25-year-old guy in his parent's basement playing a video game quickly comes to mind.
Smith adds to the popular discussion on the status of men by highlighting the role society plays in determining where men are today. Take education. On some campuses, the ratio is already 60% female to 40% male. The University of Vermont in Burlington has so many women that it is often referred to as "Girlington." Interestingly, instead of celebrating the dominance of women on campus, when I visit campuses with an uneven ratio like this, a common complaint from young women is about the lack of men.
Why the tilted ratio? Smith points out ways in which our education system has changed into one that favors girls at the expense of boys, citing the work of Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men. For example, competition, like games of dodgeball, is out, and as a result, boys are often less engaged in their school experience. This lack of engagement can lead to less success at school early on, having consequences for the future education of these boys and even an impact on their earning potential. It is no surprise that more men are opting out of an education system in which they are less engaged. Instead of outrage at a system in which men are falling behind, we celebrate women's achievements and lament those few areas (like math and the hard sciences) where they haven't yet dominated men.
Smith's book is a reminder that life should not be a zero-sum game between men and women. She writes, "Our society has forgotten the wonder of men in its quest for retribution against men and boys who often weren't even alive when women were being discriminated against."
Too many children today could tell you about the wonder of men -- or at least the wish for a man in their lives. Besides just wanting a father in their lives, studies have shown that children without strong relationships with their fathers, for example, are at a higher risk of poverty and delinquency.
This Father's Day, we should remember to celebrate those dads who are working hard to help their kids -- and consider how to reform society to create an environment where more men are involved in their kid's lives.