A Vindication of the Rights of Men

SAVE THE MALES: WHY MEN MATTER
AND WOMEN SHOULD CARE

By Kathleen Parker
Random House, 215 pages, $26

In Save the Males, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker defends that least likely of underdogs: the American Man. Parodied in pop culture, disenfranchised by the family courts, emasculated by Lamaze class and forced to endure crazy, empowered women "rhapsodizing about their vaginas and swooning over their inner goddesses," men today are raised in a culture that has turned against them, claims Ms. Parker.

Of course, she’s not the first to ride to the rescue: Susan Faludi’s Stiffed (2000) covered much of the same terrain—men’s broken psyches—without blaming it all on feminism. Ms. Parker’s book, though, is mostly about women. (Is it a coincidence that "Save the Males" was the rallying cry of the Citadel cadets who sought to preclude Shannon Faulkner from enrolling in 1994?)

Many of Ms. Parker’s points about our culture’s widely accepted hostility toward men are compelling. Men do grow up seeing themselves portrayed in movies and sitcoms as "dolts, bullies, brutes, deadbeats, rapists, sexual predators, and wife beaters" rather than competent heads of households, as they were in Leave It to Beaver. And maybe they do attend schools that cater to girls’ learning styles and—gasp!—teach a feminist-revisionist’s version of history: "Martha Washington was a great woman to be sure, but she did not, in fact, lead the American Revolution. George did," writes Ms. Parker. "We have to try to deal with that." Boys are taught, by virtue of innovations such as the now-defunct "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," that they "are unfairly privileged by virtue of their maleness, and they will be punished for it."

In making the world female-friendly, she insists, we’ve made it masculine-unfriendly. And why, when women reflexively blame men for "all of life’s ills," are we surprised when they live up to our low expectations? (She cites Sex and the City as an example. Ouch?)

Hilariously, she seems to think that by killing off real manliness, we’ve imperiled ourselves, that the rise of the metrosexual ("perfumed ponies") has left women vulnerable. "In the dangerous world in which we live, it might be nice to have a few guys around who aren’t trying to juggle pedicures and highlights," she warns.

But her argument is not at all risible when it touches family life. Women’s "liberation" from traditional gender roles has often forcefully expelled men from theirs, particularly in the home, where the marginalization of the father has been an inevitable byproduct of our stilted custody laws and the culture’s glorification of single motherhood: 24 million American kids now live in fatherless homes, versus eight million in 1960. A "dubious achievement," to be sure. It’s hard to argue that this hasn’t wreaked havoc with our children. (And of course, while we grant fathers no equality under the law, we continue to insist they do the dishes and videotape Junior’s head obtruding from the birth canal.)

Ms. Parker just wants us to give men a break. And so we should. But unfortunately, she aims to provoke: This is the same woman who questioned Barack Obama’s status as a "full-blooded American" in a May column, noting that "there’s a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations of sacrifice." When she’s trying to be funny, she often employs the same slander and hyperbole she deplores when it’s directed at men.

The second half of Save the Males devolves into a diatribe about today’s slutty post-feminists. (Yawn.) She accuses Vagina Monologues auteur Eve Ensler of brainwashing her entire gender: "We’re all victims now, vaginas on the plain seeking out other vaginas with which to hold hands and gaze unlongingly into the silky night of a manless moon." By the end of Ms. Parker’s book, you may have decided that it’s women who need saving—which she herself acknowledges.

But most of us are not celebrity "hos" or devotees of Eve Ensler, nor are we "haunted" by the thought that a woman may enjoy keeping house. ("Better, presumably, that she should come home exhausted from work, toting Chinese takeout and sending the kids off to instant message their porn buddies while she pours a glass of wine and looks for the child support check," spits Ms. Parker.)

Are we really facing a future wherein our misguided struggle for "equality" leads us to impregnate men via politically driven science? Are we all shrews or exhibitionists, alienating and emasculating our husbands and suitors with our male-bashing and narcissism and keeping them from their children?

No.

Might it be good to acknowledge that fathers are important and adjust divorce and custody laws to reflect that? To recognize and accept that men and women have intractable differences? To stop teaching girls that it’s O.K. to mock boys? (It’s a bad habit we don’t seem to kick.)

Maybe, yes.

Meredith Bryan is a reporter at The Observer. She can be reached at mbryan@observer.com. A Vindication of the Rights of Men