The fi-man-cial crisis

Is the recession really robbing men of their masculinity?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published February 26, 2009 11:19AM (EST)

Remember that New York Times article about Dating a Banker Anonymous, the "support group" for pampered princesses who could no longer rely on their Wall Street beneficiaries? It was, as suspected, a hoax presumably meant to satirize money-minded women (or perhaps the nasty stereotypes directed at single cosmopolitan ladies), according to a semi-retraction published Wednesday. And, on the very same day, the Washington Post reported on men who are encountering a dating drought now that the financial crisis has sucked dry their well of money -- because how else could they possibly woo women. A cultural narrative has taken hold: The recession is robbing men of their manhood, and so are women.

The Post's Tara Bahrampour reports, "From investment bankers to real estate developers to construction workers, no job means no buying rounds of $15 martinis for a pretty woman and her girlfriend." Without that steep toll, the gatekeeper simply will not let him pass; he's stuck in No Woman Land. She continues: "The market crash has had a particular impact on young adults who developed their dating skills in fat times, the twentysomethings who spent lavishly to show that they could afford the finer things" -- like pretty ladies.

We're introduced to Niko Papademitriou, a 27-year-old laid-off investment banker who recently had to move in with his mom. His girlfriend worries about his ability to provide for her like they had planned, and he's had to put off buying her an engagement ring. "It comes back to this whole manhood thing," says Papademitriou. "Like, can you be the provider, not just for yourself but for others?" He adds: "Inadequacy. I can't harp on that word enough. I just feel inadequate."

Well, according to the Post, you are, at least in women's eyes. Natalie Huddleston, a 27-year-old law firm marketer, says, "I feel bad for the guys who don't have jobs." But that doesn't mean she'll actually date them: "I guess I'm kind of traditional. So if a guy can't really take you out or doesn't have the money or the state of mind to take girls out, then it's not going to go anywhere." This is true "even in this post-feminist age," says Bahrampour.

Inadequate. That word brings to mind the Slate article I wrote about Tuesday, which looked at how many women are now having to assume the role of breadwinner and speculated that their depressed, unemployed husbands are meanwhile sitting at home like slobs, watching TV, sleeping in, "staring into their coffee dregs" and failing to wash the dishes or take care of the kids. And that story reminded me of a New York Times trend piece about laid-off Wall Street men who have had to temporarily become stay-at-home dads -- and are failing! Miserably! They aren't vacuuming the floors or taking care of the kids, and all they do is finger the TV remote all day. It isn't just that women resent their husbands for no longer being the provider, the Times informed us, but that many are actually considering divorcing these failed males. While declaring clueless and emasculated stay-at-home dads a sign of the increasing flexibility of gender roles, it managed to only underscore just how rigid they actually are.

I said it when I wrote about the Times piece and I'll say it again: "I guess we're supposed to unquestioningly buy this as a legitimate trend" -- based only on the cherry-picked stories of some atypical Americans -- "and it would be so easy to do, since it caters to our stereotype of the absent father and slobbish male." Or, in the case of this recent Post article, it reinforces our club-wielding, beast-slaying caveman vision of masculinity -- even as men fail to fill that role. No surprise there: Masculinity is typically reinforced by pointing out its absence.

So often, these bizarre cultural skits about males' masculine failings -- take the "boy crisis," the "failure to launch" epidemic or even dudes' alleged impotence in response to this generation of "loose chicks" -- also implicitly indict women. The thinking goes: None of this would be happening if women weren't remixing gender roles. (Do I detect a hint of Freudian castration anxiety?) At the same time, we're paradoxically reminded that women are still the same shallow, money-grubbing creatures they always were.

Ah, the familiarity of times gone by -- doesn't it just make you feel  so warm and cozy inside during this time of crisis and change?

Tracy Clark-Flory

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