The fallout from the sexual predator scandals continues – as it should – but it has also given voice to what I characterize as an assault on masculinity. Gillian Flynn writing in Time Magazine in a piece entitled “On Men” wrote “They (men) hate us … They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.” She goes on to say, “Threats to women abound. We are underrepresented everywhere, underpaid by everyone and underestimated all over. We are not the People; we are subjects of the Patriarchy.” Faith Salie, also writing in Time magazine, indicated her pleasure that her husband did not call their new born son “buddy” or “little man” rather referring to him as “Hi, sweet pea.” Salie stated that she wants to raise a sweet son so that he will not become an angry man.
If these two women who were given the platform of a major mainstream magazine to voice their opinions on gender truly represent the thinking of a majority of women men are clearly under siege. To begin with, they ignore the data that demonstrates how young women and girls are doing a heck of a lot better than their male counterparts. More women than men are entering college. Women now make up a majority of law students and almost equal the number of men accepted to medical school. Boys are far more likely to drop out of high school, commit crimes and generally underperform academically compared to girls. It certainly appears that the era of patriarchy is quickly evaporating for boys and millennials.
The quote that men see women as a form of livestock is particularly confusing and raises a myriad of questions regarding the way men and women relate to each other. Being attractive to the opposite sex is a biological imperative embedded in our DNA. Women and men are instinctively seeking the partner that will perpetuate their genes and protect their offspring. Isn’t that the reason why women wear perfume, use make up and consciously choose clothing that is most flattering? Despite the first generation feminists who burned their bras and forsook cosmetics the beauty and lingerie industries have continued to thrive. Men, in addition to desiring to be physically attractive also strive to compete both financially and athletically in order to demonstrate their superiority as potential mates. I recognize that we are not entirely driven by evolutionary imperatives but we are foolish if we discount the power of our biology.
The real question is how do men and women negotiate their instinct driven sexuality in the workplace? I will avoid simplistic solutions such as turning men into Salie’s sweet peas or wholesome condemnation of men as mere predators. To begin with, there is no shortage of exposure to sexually infused imagery in popular culture. Scantily clad twerking dancers and cheer leaders, string bikinis and Victoria Secret bra ads on prime time television all highlight women as sex objects. Women willingly participate in the process and keep plastic surgeons wealthy. Although some feminists advocate women asking men out on dates, I think in most cases it is still the male who responds to what is perceived as flirtation which leads to initiating a request for a date or romantic encounter. These are just some of the realities that exist between men and women as they relate to each other.
It should also be noted that power discrepancies at work are not just gender based. Men often have to put up with demands of overbearing bosses in order to advance their careers. Unwanted golf outings, boring dinners and laughing at bad jokes are just a few examples of what men have to tolerate in order to succeed. Granted, having to have sex with a boss is far more onerous but we can’t discount the fact that power relationships at work exist for both sexes.
My conclusion is that harsh rhetoric and wholesale condemnation of men will only lead to more confusion and a lack of understanding of how to behave appropriately in the workplace. I feel that in closing I must clearly state that sexual harassment and abuse as defined by law (see earlier blogs for definition) are entirely unacceptable and should hold individuals who are offenders accountable. The core issue is recognizing how men and women relate to each other and re-negotiating how we manage our biological differences that enhances the value of both men and women.