The provocative title caught my attention, but while reading I kept hunting for explanations about why men are declining. Why do women out-compete men in the workplace? His book is a fairly well documented term paper chronicling this problem from different angles (popular media, voting patterns, college attendance, etc) but he doesn't explain WHY men are declining and I will try shortly.
He notes the growing consumer power of women who realize "we just don't need men anymore". Women are learning to be financially independent. There are signs everywhere of the rise of women and the fall of men. In the last presidential election, as we're all aware, a woman candidate narrowly missed a shot at the top job. Powerful female executives seem to be more prevalent.
In my view, the pattern of male decline is one part of a much broader set of issues. The decline of men is not THE problem but only one problem wrapped up with many others, some of which are larger and thornier (e.g. decline of democracy, breakdown of citizenship, fallout from technological change). Marriage, itself, is on the decline, as individualism and personal choice undermine the shared sacrifice necessary to make marriages work. Birth control and abortion rights have undermined the classic marriage bargain of exchanging sex for a commitment. This was a kind of glue that encouraged both men (wanting sex) and women (wanting status and children) to marry. But today sex is possible without commitment, and women can achieve status without men. And competitive pressures have made it mandatory for all adults today to work, and this has brought women of all ages into a highly competitive workplace. There is terrific freedom for individuals but at the expense of families which are struggling.
So the prospect of marrying, seen through the eyes of a single woman considering tying the knot, is much less attractive today than in the 1920s or 1950s. Marrying doesn't mean an increase in status as before, but it often means downgrading her lifestyle as well as ending a chance for a variety of future sexual partners, and settling for a less robust lifestyle particularly if babies come along. Child rearing expense = $250K before college, according to a Wall Street Journal report a while back. So, why marry? Many single women opt out.
Generally I agree with the author when chronicling statistics pointing to a trend of downward mobility for men. The evidence is considerable. And I agree with another reviewer who criticized Mr. Garcia for insisting men become more like women, but I lack alternative strategies here.
But why do men have trouble competing with women in a typical Fortune 500 company? I have a working theory drawn partly from personal experience as well as extensive reading. I think men have a natural drive which equates competing and work with physical force and aggressiveness. For men, competing is scaled-down fist-fighting -- it's physical, intense, rough and tumble. In an all-male company, there would be no problem -- men would jostle for the top posts, kid each other, joust and achieve hierarchies of respect based on skill and smarts and physical presence. And there are long traditions of aggressive rivalry from our genetic past, from hunting, fighting in a war, building commercial enterprises.
But when women become colleagues and competitors too, there is a powerful shut-down mechanism at work -- because men have been conditioned over centuries NOT to hurt women, NOT to physically attack them. So this new situation is confusing. Should we all-out compete or play gentle? With women in the mix, the game is NO LONGER physical and fierce and fun but dwindles into a boring tea party. And the natural male impulse to punch, kick, out-compete runs smack dab into this powerful countervailing impulse to protect women, and the result is male shut-down.
I loved after school touch football with my buddies until a girl showed up one day wanting to play. Instantly the game was downgraded into something less fun. Playing rough and possibly hurting this girl was out of the question -- there are strong drives within all men to protect women, to be gentle, and men who hurt women have in the past been shunned, punished, killed. So we tried to play for a little while with this girl but our hearts weren't in this game. Luckily she left; but in the corporate world, women don't leave. And I think to varying extents this same problem is repeated in board rooms, in businesses, in newsrooms, on college campuses -- women seem to be everywhere, and men want to drop out.
I sometimes imagine a world where marriage worked for most people, although my cynical side suggests there has never been such a place. But wasn't there a time when each sex had it's own turf -- men in the work world, women in the home world? Each sex dominated its world, understood its rules. They separated during the day (and separating added an element of mystery) and rejoined at night. Clearly, this has broken down, and in many ways, there is much more freedom than in the past -- freedom to get out of a bad marriage, to find personal happiness, but the breakdown in the structure sometimes makes it harder to find love and form families.
There's a huge loss of respect when both sexes compete as equals in a company. Women see men are vulnerable, imperfect, flawed creatures not much different from them. They have to look at men this way to have a competitive edge. Any mystery has vanished. As a result, mens' status has dropped from breadwinner to co-competitor. It's a big plunge into nothingness, and I think men as a sex have collectively lost prestige. Women don't send signals-of-respect to men as much as before since much of this respect has evaporated -- and when men don't get these signals, there's no sense flirting, risking rejection. We retreat to our caves where our manhood and self-image are affirmed in video games or drugs or World War II reruns. Working for a female boss can be the ultimate downer, for she's somebody you can't punch if you're angry, but who can criticize you, judge you, fire you -- in such a situation, many men decide it's time to leave the firm. And women are much more adept at reading people emotionally -- their steady conversation is a competitive edge helping them to get inside peoples' minds -- but men are not genetically predisposed to respond appropriately to this amount of conversation. Men need a new mindset -- some way to keep competing while disregarding the negative signals. Many seek out professions where men still have an edge (lawyers, handymen, firefighters). It's tough today.
American men seeking marriage but having trouble connecting with independent-minded American women should consider dating foreign women, particularly from cultures which value marriage and families. Fly to the Philippines, for example, and stay there a month or two. Philippine women are beautiful, smart, like American men, value families, send the right signals, and will make you forget quickly any uppity high-maintenance arrogant American women you've had bad luck to bump elbows with.
Overall, a semi-competent book with an intriguing title that chronicles an important problem but which doesn't dig deep enough into the psychology of male-female relations underlying this problem. And it's wrapped up with bigger problems that need further exploration.
Thomas W. Sulcer
author of "Dating and mating in the twenty tens"
(google title + Sulcer)