Susan Faludi, author of a new book titled "Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man," writes that "As men struggle to free themselves from their crisis, their task is not, in the end, to figure out how to be masculine - rather, their masculinity lies in figuring out how to be human." Having engaged in the search for "deep masculinity" for the past few years and seen the mythopoetic men's movement, The Promise Keepers, and the two major marches lose steam and fail to make a significant impact on the "crisis," I believe her advice is worthy of consideration.
The crisis she sees is a result of men having lost a useful role in public life; a way of earning a decent living; and, respectful treatment in the culture. She notes that men have lost their sense of worth because of absent fathers, a changing job market, and our consumer culture. The crisis she sees has resulted in the anger and confusion that has led to "men gunning down enemies in family court, employee parking lots, McDonald's restaurants, a Colorado schoolhouse, and most notoriously, a federal office building." She also notes that depressive disorders and male suicides continue to soar.
The term "stiffed" that she chose for her title refers to three things: "the working stiff; the ways guys have been cheated by society; and, the fact that men are supposed to be stiff - that they have to show their armed self to the world all the time." According to Faludi's anecdotal research, men believed the world was made for them, and they now feel disenfranchised. The wife, the dog, and the barbeque are no longer sure things, if they ever really were. Feminists might simply point to the crisis as being a result of their efforts and the decrease in men's abilty to dominate and control, but Faludi's experiences point in other directions.
Are we men losing our compass in the world? Are the traditional male codes less honored? Is the old belief in the male's pre-eminence being challenged? Yes, yes, and yes. Are men somehow being betrayed by a society that doesn't care about them? That notion suggests that there's some kind of enemy to confront.
Unlike the feminist movement, where "the oppressive patriarchy" was defined as the opponent, the enemy here is much less well-defined, if one outside of ourselves exists at all. Even thinking in terms of an enemy who has "betrayed" the promises men held as sacred could lead to a "victim" mentality, and does not feel helpful to me. What may be useful, on the other hand, is considering the main reasons Faludi believes men are struggling.
Our absentee fathers and their fathers have been hard at work forging the money culture. Our nation and its leaders always seem highly concerned with how "The Economy" is doing above all else. When things are going well, we are able to easily forgive any transgressions our politicians may have committed, for example. But "The Economy" is not any kind of real society to which we can feel connected. The truth is that the corporate world has created a nation of small cogs where it is virtually impossible to see any direct links between the tasks most of us perform and their social utility. The focus has been continuously moving in the direction of "making money" at the expense of social contribution or even basic loyalty. Corporations move plants "off shore" and lay large numbers of employess off with little remorse. Sports stars leave their teams at the drop of a hat "for the money."
Without having had fathers present to guide us into manhood, and without any sense that what we do day-to-day has meaning, it's no wonder many of us feel confused or even angry. Faludi suggests men have less and less sense of performing a vital role in society.
Where once we lived in a society in which men participated in being useful in public life, Faludi notes that "now we are in a society where men play mostly decorative or consumer roles ... where masculinity is something to drape over the body ... that it is to be displayed." She posits that we are living in a culture that runs on image. How you look matters more than ever.
Faludi quotes a woman who noted that "men are hysterical about their hair these days." Male cosmetic surgery and the use of steroids, or even viagra, is soaring. The most coveted images revolve around youth and attractiveness, money and aggression. She notes that men are moving in the direction of many women at mid-century who relied on image to define their worth. She states, "At the close of this century men find themselves in an unfamiliar world where male worth is measured only by participation in a celebrity-driven consumer culture and awarded by lady luck.
It should be fairly easy to discount some of Faludi's assertions, since she chose to simplify a very complex topic, while lumping all men together. Certainly her readers will take issue with certain statements that don't ring true for all of us. Whether or not men have been betrayed, she makes a strong case that we all need to take a look at how to be more human. For single-gender groups stalled in better defining their gender attributes, and for those who are already looking beyond single-gender work toward bringing men and women together, or who are looking for a unifying cause, Faludi's thoughts may be a welcome catalyst.