As men struggle to keep up, some women pose the question: who needs them?

2012-02-28 00:00

THINGS are going badly for men — again. In Germany, an article published in Zeitmagazin has created a furore because the author, a woman, described the 30-year-old men in her age group as Schmerzensmänner. By this she meant the men are childish, oversensitive, self-centred and so focused on “finding themselves” that they haven’t got a clue about relating to women. In short: men aren’t guys anymore — they’re needy softies.

The article unleashed a flood of letters, and comments from readers hit the blogosphere big time. They even inspired one male to present his side of things, and ask for understanding. The heated discussion made one thing very clear: men are increasingly being seen as a problem.

Lists of criticism include such items as never grow up, refuse to accept responsibility, don’t help enough around the house, emotionally stunted, mama's boys and overly dependent. Even sociologists and researchers are sounding alarm bells, saying the main problem is the lack of role models. The Berlusconis, Schettinos [Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship] and Schwarzeneggers of the world aren’t exactly helping the situation, so it’s no wonder, say the experts, that there is no such thing as a new, modern man.


While women are advancing with giant strides, men appear to be falling behind. In school, boys need a lot more help than girls to get through; although, interestingly, successful female pupils still tend to be credited for their hard work and discipline rather than talent or intelligence. What’s even more interesting is that the reaction of many boys to girls being better at school is that good grades are girly and uncool — the feminine being perceived as inferior and thus not worthwhile.

Another theory has it that since there are more female than male teachers, their way of teaching is more adapted to girls, so the boys are getting the short end of the straw. The lack of male teachers also means that boys are missing vital role models at school. This argument has been going around as tirelessly as a prayer wheel for years, without getting any truer through repetition. Studies in Germany and Switzerland have shown that children learn how to read better with women teachers and that, overall, female teachers are more competent than their male counterparts.

“In Germany, the male teachers in primary schools are not among the very best,” the Swiss paper NZZ am Sonntag quoted a researcher at the Berlin-based Social Science Research Centre (WZB) as saying. Anton Strittmatter of the Swiss Teachers’ Association says: “Among primary school teachers in their 40s and 50s, there are more brilliant women than men.”

So aside from the argument about women teachers doing boys a disservice, the question also poses itself: why do there need to be male role models in the classroom? What’s Dad doing, for example?

Whatever side of the issue one may be on, the figures speak for themselves: in 2011, 57,6% of all high school graduates were girls; the percentage of women registered at institutions of higher learning was 55,3%; and women walked away with 62,1% of the university degrees.

Consequences of the dominance of females in education can already be seen in the United States. The disparity in salaries for the under-30 age group is disappearing as women start to be paid as much or more than men. According to a national study conducted in 2010, in 147 of the 150 largest U.S. cities, women earned on average eight percent more than men of the same age. Topping the list were Memphis and Atlanta, where the figure was 20%, followed by New York City with 17%, San Diego with 15%, and Los Angeles with 12%.

What the study also showed is that women have a slight lead in holding well-paid top positions, although the ones who did tended to be unmarried and childless. In the U.S., too, having a family is often a hindrance to professional advancement for women.

The situation in the U.S. caused Time Magazine to pose the worried question as to whether colleges should introduce a quota for men so they aren’t left entirely on the shelf. The same question is getting asked in Europe. At a recent info-evening for students who would be attending a cantonal high school in Zurich, one of the (male) teachers, in a private aside, said he thought that measures to support boys academically had become necessary.


At first glance, this development is, of course, positive for women. But there is a flip side: unlike men who are often happy to have relationships with less-accomplished women, women don’t tend to like less-accomplished men. They want the men in their lives to be at the same level as they are or higher. Highly educated women are more often childless and partnerless than their less well-educated sisters. Should women lower their standards?

Renowned sociologist Eva Illouz says no. Her advice to women is not to make the desire for children dependent on a man, i.e. not to give up having children just because there is no viable candidate for partner or fatherhood on the horizon. She goes so far as to say that, except for conceiving, women shouldn’t even plan for a man in their lives and would do better to explore alternative family models, for example several mothers living together. Under this scenario, men risk becoming superfluous.

In the U.S., the scenario is already a frequent reality, particularly among Afro-American women. In his book Is Marriage for White People?, Stanford law professor Richard Banks argues that the black population is often a barometer for social developments. Afro-American mothers have for a long time tended to be unmarried more frequently than white American mothers.

Women remaining single — something that was considered pathological in the sixties — has now made considerable inroads in Western societies. Today, across Europe, 37% of mothers are unmarried and 66% of Afro-American children grow up without the presence of a father. Mothers and children may not always choose this, but it’s a rising trend.

Sociologists ascertain that what is basically happening is that black women tend more to a new model of the family than to the standard formula. They have children and then live with their own mothers, who look after the children while the daughter goes to work. The fathers of the children don’t even figure as extras in the script. As providers, they are thoroughly dispensable since women tend to have the better education.

Banks’s analysis would point to the Afro-American model becoming pan-European. For the present, it’s not a wide reality, but the attitude and outlook are already widely present. At a recent panel discussion of single moms, two women acknowledged that, although they didn’t like to say it out loud, their lives were a lot easier now that there were no men around.

Society tends to pity such women. It shouldn’t. Even when they shared their lives with men, these women found themselves handling all the household responsibilities and going to work. They had no choice, in other words, but to do everything anyway, so in the end the preferred to be autonomous. Whiny Schmerzensmänner may be a problem, but the real dimensions of the man problem are a lot bigger.

— TAGES-ANZEIGER/Worldcrunch.

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