Saving Men, Saving Women, Saving Ourselves

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was welcome to see Camille Paglia’s good sense about the madness that has made us something of a somewhat ironically sexless society getting a lot of attention over the last few days. It reminded me of a good book and a good cause: Save the Males.

Kathleen Parker, who won a Pulitzer prize for her column-writing in 2010, has gotten a bad rap among some conservatives for a column (or more) or a line or two (too memorable) over the years, but it’s worth considering that she’s exactly what’s so attractive about Paglia: She is a straight shooter. You’re not going to agree with everything she says. But she’s honestly looking at the world from her experiences, and successes, and joys, and biases, and pain, and adding her insights — doing what commentators are paid to do, hopefully providing some clarity, some constructive nudge to someone along the way. She happens to do it with an entertaining style, too, that makes reading it fun, as well, and yes, especially if you happen to agree. But what truly makes Kathleen Parker an interesting columnist is the fact that she is not a movement conservative, but, wow, sometimes she totally gets what it is so many within it are trying to do and why. And that can open some doors and might even be a sign of success for a movement making sense to the wider world.

If you go back and read the interview she did with me here on National Review Online when her book, Save the Males, was published in 2008, you see what a breath of fresh air the book is — and it stands the test of time, unfortunately, as we face many of the same problems today, and on some fronts it’s only gotten worse. Along with the work of Christina Hoff Sommers, and books by Kate O’Beirne, Helen Smith, Mary Eberstadt, and others, in Save the Males, she shines a bright light on the damage radical feminism – and I’ll add secularism — has done to marriage and family life, and how we interact with one another, run schools, and make policies. From the interview:

LOPEZ: How are you not dishonoring the service of women in Iraq and Afghanistan right now by arguing women are different than men in the military?

PARKER: Well, by insisting that that’s not my intent. Women serving in war are my heroes. I just don’t want to see them — and the men who are with them — be sacrificed on the altar of misplaced feminist ambition. We’ve confused the ability to die with the ability to fight. Women have no place in combat for a variety of reasons — physical and psychological — but you’ll have to read the book to get the whole picture. The crux is that combat is not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It has a specific definition, which is to actively and aggressively engage the enemy with the expectation of physical contact. Putting women in that circumstance, mano-a-mano with enemy men, is counter-intuitive on its face. My argument is principally a feminist position: Women do not have an equal opportunity to survive.

LOPEZ: Is this a debate we can even have at a time of war?

PARKER: It’s not a comfortable debate, obviously. But only now are we in a position to ask these questions. No previous war has involved so many women so close to combat. I think we have a moral obligation to our men, our women, and to our society to question where we’re heading. What kind of culture do we want to deed to future generations? If trends continue, you can be sure that “choice” will soon become no-choice for women. If you insist that those women who want to go into combat ought to be able to based on some notion that the military involves “rights,” then some smart guy is going to ask why only women have that option. Once the combat exclusion for women is eliminated, then there will be no rational argument for excluding women from the draft should it ever be applied again. Drafting 18-year-old girls to do battle with grizzly men is a nightmare scenario, not the conscious act of a civilized nation.

Among the most important things, in my opinion, Parker points to in Save the Males is pornography. This is both a cause and effect thing. She said at the time:

Porn is causing big problems in relationships. Men increasingly aren’t interested in real women, who are viewed as bad dates. Women are increasingly hurt and intimidated by expectations they can’t meet and often don’t want to. Casual users of “tamer” stuff may not see the need to stop the flow of good feelings, but there’s cause for concern. The trend in porn is toward increasingly violent expressions of human intercourse, so to speak. The association of sex with violence and the extreme objectification of women can’t be helpful to men’s humanity.

(Hilary Towers has important observations on this front, too.)

To Save the Males, is to save ourselves. It’s a matter of stewardship. As Parker writes:

We owe it to the next generation to explain how we got trapped in this gladiatorial arena of sexual hostility and how, with self-awareness (and much good humor), we might extricate ourselves. The losers, if we fail, aren’t just men and women, but boys and girls, who, no matter how many ways we redesign the playground, manage to find each other under the jungle gym. Girls want boys’ attentions, and boys want girls’ approval. Thus it has ever been and, barring pranks in the petri dish, thus it shall remain.

Finally, this won’t be a rose-hued defense of the good ol’ days or a celebration of Stepford-style, June Cleaver exurbia moms. It is axiomatic in these knee-jerk times that any criticism of feminism means retrofitting women to the kitchen sink or birthing chair. Nonsense. We still live in a free country (for now), and everyone has the option of being sensible. But we’ve had a few decades of this shtick and have produced a new generation of children tattooed, pierced, angry, depressed, obese, anorexic, drugged, self-mutilating, whoring, pimping, failing. Children who, preferring the hum of a video game to human interaction, occasionally lash out in carnivals of violence, shooting teachers, classmates, and anyone else unlucky enough to intersect with their rage and rifle sights.

Popular wisdom teaches that nature abhors a vacuum. So do children, and so do families. In fatherless, male-bashing America, we might figure something needs tweaking.

Sure beats Robin Thicke twerking with Miley Cyrus. 

I see twentysomethings all the time who want something better, thanks be to God. But some of them, too, get stuck in the net of the culture and its stubborn insistence on Blurred Lines.

If we see this – and we do – we have a responsibility. And it’s a blessing that women are stepping up to the plate to say something. Rather than ask, Are Men Necessary?, as Maureen Dowd has, rather than give up on or remake family and marriage, how about building up men as men — and fathers — women as women – and mothers — and direct our lives toward children, toward the future?

In my syndicated column this week, I point to Pope Benedict XVI as the man of the year. Stepping away from power – who does that? Actual leadership rooted in the humble prayer of a man leading the examined life is an example for all, not just popes or priests. In it I recall a message he gave me while still pope, in the fall of 2012, which was first issued in 1965 and was and is literally meant for every woman throughout the world (or so the letter inviting me to Rome and the message itself said). It says, in part:

the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.

You women have always had as your lot the protection of the home, the love of beginnings and an understanding of cradles. You are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization. . . .

Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.

There is much to be done in 2014. The Catholic Church actually starts the new year honoring Mary, the Blessed Mother who has been under many of our Christmas trees these last weeks. Let’s all start with acknowledging that we need one another, women and men – build one another up, work together –treasuring our complementary gifts.

Like the message Paul VI first delivered, like Humane Vitae, Save the Males still speaks urgent sense. Giving any and all of these a read isn’t a bad way to start the year, especially if you’re a woman raising men, or who simply loves them. We’re losing them – literally – we’re losing sense. Let’s get on with the good work already. 

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