Breaking news via Details magazine: Feminism is turning men into assholes. If this news sounds familiar, it should. Just last month, I wrote about reports on the recent emergence of "Darwinist dating" (translation: "survival of the asshole-iest") and, several months earlier, the "menaissance." The Details article, written by Simon Dumenco, uses one pseudonymous male as evidence that men are "snatching a bit of unapologetic selfhood -- manhood, damn it -- back from the clammy clutches of coupledom." (Where's a psychotherapist to unpack that last bit?)
This rebellion manifests in a number of ways: Cheating, "being disingenuously helpful" (e.g. "offering to do the grocery shopping to escape the house" -- read: wife -- "for a couple of hours"), drinking excessively to tune out the yapping woman in his life and "adopting a sort of passive-aggressive inertness" (e.g. pretending not to hear the baby cry). Illustrating these ideas are the article's accompanying visuals: Mr. Potato Head screwing Barbie, and offering dollar bills to a real woman towering over him in plastic stripper heels. It's not a very flattering portrait of males, all in all.
The alleged cause of all this passive-aggressive acting out is that our "postfeminist era" has left dudes feeling lost. They are asking themselves: "What does it mean to be a man anymore?" If they embrace traditional masculinity, they are considered cave dwellers; if they play the role of the modern, enlightened man, they are participating in "their own de-ballsing" by bowing to women's demands. Yet, inexplicably, the women asking for this masculine evolution are the same ones who drool over "Mad Men's" Don Draper, that hard-drinking philanderer who keeps his wife in the kitchen. What's up with that?
And that's just the start of women's contradictions: The combination of "all that 'girl power' stuff," on the one hand," and "dopey Sex and the City-style materialism," on the other, has allowed them to "be both ballsy and old-school girly." Dumenco provides an example: "To have the cool career and the fuck-me pumps." The "Darwinist dating" piece made a similar argument: Young men are without guidance on how to woo women who are, supposedly, their full equals, and are confused by female expectations that are sometimes feminist, sometimes retro -- but never with any predictability.
I agree that many men in their 20s and 30s are experiencing a crisis of masculinity. I see it in some of the young men that I know and love -- just like I see some of the young women that I know and love struggling over their own sexual identity. This has always been true to an extent, but gender roles have dramatically changed, and are continuing to change, and we haven't yet replaced those outmoded traditional rules for dating -- not to mention, being a man, or a woman.
It's hardly an issue of not receiving cultural instructions, though -- it's receiving conflicting messages about how to be a man or woman. All of the mixed messages that these angsty young men are reacting to are a result of the contradictions young women are trying to reconcile in their own lives; and the reverse is also true. Both sexes are caught in the tug-of-war of acting the part of the sexually liberated within a culture that isn't sexually liberated. How does one do that, exactly, without encountering myriad contradictions and confusions?
But there is a line beyond which my sympathies are entirely lost. That line is drawn when a man decides to take out his confused resentment on his wife, as the article's protagonist does -- by cheating, shirking parental responsibility, and just generally becoming a jerk. It's one thing to clumsily navigate relationships, while trying on different personas in the hope of finding a masculine identity that fits. It's another to entirely give up on finding that correct fit and passive aggressively taking it out on the opposite sex.
Feeling unmoored and lost at sea? Sing it brother, I hear you. But, blaming asshole behavior on feminist advancements? Nuh-uh. At some point you have to toss aside the protective posturing and the search for The New Rules, and just start acting like a human being who is still figuring it all out for himself. You'll be in good company.