First, let me say I recognize this essay will not be read by the people I most want to influence. I am a woman in my fifties. Grew up as a feminist in the early 1970s. Argued frequently with my dad over the patriarchy of the Catholic Church. Struggled with the politics of privilege. Yet still believed if we kept talking, told our stories, fought for equality in the workplace, that women would -- could -- change the world. And we did, in many ways. But in so many ways things remain the same.
When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," it became clear how virulent the extreme right-wing attack has been on women over the past two decades. Sure, Limbaugh's a blow-hard. But his persistent bashing of women (when I was a newspaper columnist, some critics called me a "feminazi" -- thanks, Rush), has contributed to a pervasive belief among men -- particularly blue-collar and perhaps even middle-class men -- that women have taken something from them. And they are angry.They've lost jobs. According to the Pew Center:
These cyclical patterns since 1970 have played out in an era when women have generally been gaining jobs at a faster rate than men, in large part due to their transition from the home to the labor force. The labor force participation rate, which is the share of the working-age population that is working or looking for work, increased for women from 43.3 percent in 1970 to 59.9 percent in 2000. During that period, the labor force participation rate for men decreased from 79.7 percent in 1970 to 74.8 percent in 2000.
That has only been exacerbated during the recent recession.
Women have overtaken men at the collegiate level. According to a 2011 Pew Center report: "In 2010, a record 36 percent of women ages 25-29 had attained a bachelor's degree. This compares with 28 percent of men in the same age group. Until roughly 1990, young men had outpaced young women in educational attainment. Women surpassed men in 1992, and since that time the gap has continued to widen."
In the process, men have lost status in their families and communities. They say they've lost their sense of purpose. It's easy to blame women, who appear to be ascendant. After all, aren't women getting the good jobs, taking the graduate degrees, becoming self-sufficient? Who needs men?
I do. And not for the crude fact that sex would not be nearly as satisfying -- or fun -- without them. (Obviously I'm speaking as a heterosexual woman here.) Men are important in so many ways. As partners, they provide stabilization and support. As fathers, they encourage our children to reach for branches in the top of the tree, while we moms are pleading, Be Careful! Come down! They counterbalance our emotional and intuitive responses with logic and reason (for the most part; I realize I am generalizing here). And they often provide us, and our children, with a different perspective on life events. This is all good stuff.
After my husband of 28 years and I divorced, I worried how it would affect our teenage daughter. It was a tough time, but ultimately we all survived and thrived. My daughter's dad is just as involved and caring as he ever was. I know I can call him and ask for advice if I need it. And I appreciate his steadfastness and usually different and valid way of considering whatever situation we face.
There is something about the strength a man possesses, beyond my own, which is comforting. I worry that men generally feel as if they are not needed, that their strength and logic and reason don't matter to the other half. I want them to know they do. Men have taken a beating over the past few decades, and I admit to being part of that wave of women who declared we didn't need them. But you know what? I do need men. I need their difference perspectives. I need the security that comes with a man's warm embrace. I don't need a man to complete me, but I love the man who makes me feel whole. Perhaps we need to end the war on men. And women. In Rodney King's words, can we all just get along?