Transcript: A Culture increasingly Hostile to Men? A Conversation with Psychologist Helen SmithPosted: September 17, 2013
Mohler: This is Thinking in Public, [Download MP3] a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I’m Albert Mohler, your host and President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Helen Smith is a forensic psychologist, a well-known writer who has written for a variety of publications including the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee and Master’s Degrees from the New School for Social Research and The City University of New York. She’s a widely quoted commentator, a frequent spokesperson in the media, and she’s also a very active blogger. She’s also the author of a very important new book entitled Men on Strike: Why Men are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters.
Mohler Dr. Helen Smith, welcome to Thinking in Public.
Smith: Thank you so much for having me on.
Mohler: You know, this is a topic that you announce so clearly in the title of your book, and there’s an elegant simplicity and directness to that. But I’m going to ask you the same question I ask almost every author on this program: Why did you write this book?
Smith: Well, I wrote this book because there are a lot of books out there, and they are all about how men are not getting married or going to college or whatever. And there are books like The End of Men or Man Enough or Save the Males, they have a slightly negative tone because the basic message of these books are that men are acting immaturely. My point for writing the book was that men are acting rationally. That the rewards for men in the fields of marriage, education, career, and fatherhood are a lot less than they used to be, and the cost and dangers are higher. And so men are opting out. But I think it’s important because so many men around the country, and you’ve probably experienced this yourself, I think so many men are talking about marriage or relationships and they talk to each other sometimes, or they talk to themselves. And people can’t quite figure out why men don’t want to be engaged in these types of relationships as much anymore. And so I think the book is a good starting place to sort of understand what’s happening; what are the cultural and the societal reasons that men aren’t wanting to commit the way they used to.
Mohler: We’re going to talk about the three strikes that you say men have declared: a strike on marriage, a strike on education, especially higher education, and a strike on work in the larger engagement with society. But I find the most revolutionary part of your argument, the part that you just mentioned, moral ethicists, philosophers, sociologists, looking at why people behave the way they do deploys several theories. One of them is called as you would well know Rational Choice Theory. You’re the first person I know to apply Rational Choice Theory to this equation, and I think it’s very important. In other words you’re arguing that men in showing these different and new patterns of behavior are actually making what is in their own minds a rational choice.
Smith: Well, that’s just human behavior. But I think as a society we have to realize that the more of the behavior we reward – you get more of the behavior you reward and less of the behaviors that you punish. And we’re rewarding men being marriage material or providers or anything we’re rewarding that less and less and punishing it more. When you think about even marriage like fifty years ago man was sort of the head of the household or looked up to and treated with respect. And now married men are seen as less of a man by society, by the media, and in event even if he has kids instead of being Ward Cleaver he’s seen more as kind of an idiot, especially in the media and that sort of thing. I agree that I don’t know why we don’t think that men have rational choice and that somehow even other men tell men just to “man up” and go ahead and keep doing the things that society expects of them. But this question becomes: why should they? Why should they be involved in a system that’s so stacked against them? It doesn’t make any sense. We wouldn’t say that if it was about women. If women were getting a raw deal somehow we’d say, “Oh, well of course they’re not going to do that.” But with men we’re just like, “Well, you better man up and do whatever society expects of you even if you are getting as much out of the deal.”
Mohler: Well, to show how this works let’s go to that first issue you address which is the marriage strike. You quote Glenn Sacks and Diana Thompson who have written that American men are now subconsciously launching what they call a marriage strike.
Smith: Yes, and they say that it is mainly for reasons of family ___ because of the divorce issues. But actually I think it’s even more than that. I wrote a blog post over at the Huffington Post and it’s called “8 Reasons Straight Men Don’t Want To Get Married” and some of the things I looked at is that men, basically the summary of what I found just from talking to men and from getting men on my blog and from just the thousands of men I’ve talked to over the years in therapy that some of the things they say about getting married is: Number one reason they don’t’ want to get married is they’ll lose respect. They just feel like they don’t have the kind of respect, and I think going back to the culture I think we treat men in a way that says that they’re not important and that trickles down to the greater community. One of the things that James Macnamara, he is a communications professor in Sydney, Australia, and he did research and he found that 69% of mass media reporting and commentary on men was unfavorable. And that’s compared with 12% favorable and 19% neutral. And I think when you think about that, when you’re looking at it and saying almost 70% of the time when men are portrayed in the media they’re portrayed as a predator, a goofball, a deadbeat, and that just sends a very negative message about how men are to be treated. So I think this loss of respect is a big aspect of why men feel that they don’t want to be involved in marriage as often.
Mohler: You know, you correctly draw the attention to the fact that for most of human history, not just most of our recent American history, but from Adam and Eve we might say onward the mark of adulthood for most men has been marriage. And that’s just not happening. We’ll talk about some of those statistics in a moment. But in one particular set of sentences in your book I think you distill something that no one else has really gotten to in this way. You ask the question: What is it about our society that has made growing up seem so attractive to men? You answer: “Maybe there is no incentive to grow up anymore. It used to be that being a grown up, responsible man was rewarded with respect, power, and deference. Now you get much less of that if any at all.” I think that’s a very profound insight.
Smith: Yea, I just don’t think that there isn’t any incentive to grow up, and to grow up and to have a bad situation where you don’t have respect. In fact, men even say things like you know you lose out on sex. They’ve done studies that show that people who live together actually have more sex than married men. That doesn’t even make sense. And there’s really not much men can do about it in our culture because they’re told you need to do what your wife wants, you’re sort of on the out-skirts, or you’re not supposed to expect anything because we tell women today they’re so empowered and that whatever they want goes. So I think that really for a lot of men it makes them feel that a relationship just isn’t the best way to show that you’re grown up.
The other thing is that being a grown up today it’s not just men it’s women too, but I think our society there isn’t a reward. And even in the greater society when we look at what kinds of rewards we have, we don’t reward people for working. I mean look at what’s coming out today we find out that more and more people are leaving the work force. Now some of that is voluntary. But one of the fascinating things is that they found that fewer and fewer men are in the work force. And even before the recession started fewer men were in the work force. And one of the reasons Charles Murray in Coming Apart, the book he wrote, he found that more and more men are pursuing leisure activities. So men today people see them as not being grown up, and in a certain since because of rational choice and because they’re life is somewhat better if they spend their time doing leisure pursuits instead of being seen as the butt of jokes, being married to…And I know you wrote a book about this; I actually saw a post you did on your website a few years ago, talking about how young people don’t want to be married anymore. And one of the things a young man in your post said was he was seventeen years old and he said I’m always told that a wife will call you twenty times a day and she’ll bother you. And a lot of men it goes back to losing your freedom and also losing space. And I talk about that in the book, about losing male space, that when men get married now they’re sort of relegated down to the basement in what we call now this “man cave” and there’s a lot of decline of male space in our society. You know organizations even to some degree somewhat religion, but I think it’s more the Elks club or the old clubs that men used to belong to are seen as suspect. And men are not really allowed to get together and if they do get together everybody sort of says, well, they try to break that apart. So if men want to sort of get together with each other and talk in either the Boy Scouts, they’re always intruded upon in some way, whether that be women wanted to break into no all-men’s clubs, they don’t want men to have gyms of their own, and there are many laws in states that say that men can’t have these types of all-men or all-male situations where as women can. And I think that we’ve lost a lot. I think that men do need other men to talk to. In the past they used to talk to other men and they help themselves solve problems; if they had a problem in the relationship or they had a problem at home there was a men’s group they could go talk to.
Mohler: And even where it wasn’t perhaps as upfront as that I can give personal testimony to the fact that watching my father and uncles and the community of men alongside me as I grew up, and grandfathers and all the rest. And I had all of them I’m thankful to say. When it came to raising kids and all the rest they kind of held each other accountable without having to say that’s what they were doing.
Smith: Exactly, they did hold each other accountable. And at the same time there was some camaraderie there, and there was a place where a guy could go and he felt like there was somebody else that he could turn to. And now men are so isolated. And I think for men, I looked at a study lately they did, and they found that men are just as depressed as women; that men tend to have different ways of showing depression. They tend to become more angry or sullen or turn away. And I think in old times men used to have other men to talk to, and now men, especially if they’re married, are sort of isolated and all they have is the family who generally doesn’t see them as, they’re almost like an accessory in a certain way. And maybe they go down to their man cave. But I think having that whole group of guys who they could talk to and who they could be around, and like you said, hold accountable in some ways. Now what happens is the society holds them accountable but they don’t give them any privileges at the same time. When you look at it in a certain sense women have privileges but they aren’t held accountable. And that would be in a lot of different realms, like in the domestic realm especially if men get divorced, women basically get custody of the kids the majority of the time, around 80% of the time. Men tend to pay the majority of alimony, around 93%, actually I think it’s even higher than that, but men pay the alimony. And a lot of times they don’t even get the time with their kids. So men in relationships are held to a very high standard. So I think men today feel that if I make a mistake I’m going to pay for it the rest of my life. So a lot of men are just deciding I’m not going to do that.
Mohler: Very interesting. The suggestion that men have gone on a strike perhaps subconsciously or unconsciously so, a strike related to marriage and the workplace and education, the big question is not only the “what” has happened, but “why?” And that’s why a conversation like this gets us right where we need to think. You actually distill some things down into almost quintessential sentences, and, for instance, you write this: “The real reason many rational men do not marry is that the incentives have changed and growing up is no longer a reward but a punishment for men. So why do it?” I haven’t seen anyone actually encapsulate the issue quite so clearly. I do think it’s right. I think in the view of many, especially younger men, growing up is not so much a reward but a punishment; they lose something rather than gain something in their own minds.
Smith: Right, I think they do. And at the same time we see young men who are lost. A lot of young guys are lost. We have so many of these books about boys who fail or how the decline of men or whatever. And I think that what it is that men are opting out and they’re not really seeing the reason to so called grow up because grow up really means do what we want you to do and don’t ask any questions. And if you’re not being rewarded for something there is nothing there for you. People say well you can have a relationship and you’re getting companionship of a woman, but you can have that without marriage. And the marriage actually now today is a legal contract not through necessarily the church or anything but it’s through our government and our state laws that really put a bootstrap against men. And, for example, men pay the majority of child support in this country. And if they don’t pay child support which often can be very, very high, between that and sometimes alimony, men, if they don’t pay it, they can be put in jail. I recently had a post up on my blog talking about this very issue. There was an article where a man in New Jersey was making a million dollars a year. And he’s now lost his job. And because he can’t pay his wife and the kids $100,000 alimony he’s been in and out of jail now for over three years. So people think, oh this is just something that happens to some deadbeat dad, but it’s not. And at the same time this man said that when he talked about his case people would just say, “well you’re a wife beater.” But that’s what you get. Nobody cares about men. They don’t care about their struggles. They don’t care about their problems. And the one statistic that I point out in the book is that 38,000 people a year kill themselves in this country. And over 30,000 of those are men. And the thing is men, a lot of times, do get depressed in middle age and that’s when they’re going through some of these divorces and these situations that nobody really cares about. And men are much more final. They have a lot of anger and frustration and what they do they take their own life because they don’t want to turn to others, or usually it’s because nobody else will help them. And I think this is a really sad situation. And what’s sadder to me is that most people don’t care because they either don’t think about it, or they think because it’s men it doesn’t matter. It only matters if women and children hurt, not if a man does.
Mohler: And of course that’s kind of the back side of the equation here. And as many younger men, especially in a secular frame of mind, are looking at what you describe as a cost/benefit analysis I can see as your book makes very clear that for many of them the cost seem higher than the benefits in their analysis of not only marriage but of growing up. But of course marriage as important as that is, and we’ll get back to that in a moment, is only one of the issues you address in your book. And now to others we want to turn as well including the strike on education. You’re talking about the fact that men are striking from college.
Smith: Well, it’s almost like they just never make it there. I have a chapter in the book called “The College Strike.” And maybe that’s almost beyond what’s happening. Because what’s happening is men are just not making it into college. Right now it’s about 57% women, 43% men, and that’s growing where they think in the next ten years it could be as many as 60% women going to college. One of the reasons for that is younger men in the elementary school grades often having failing grades, they often don’t do well, a lot of boys can’t read or don’t do well in those areas. And they’re disconnected from schools because schools in some sense over the last forty to fifty years have become places that are much more suitable for girls than they are for boys. And we worry so much about what girls need and how we make that happen. Like if we see that girls are lagging behind in science we immediately say okay we have to do something; we have to find books that girls like to read; we have to find a way to teach girls that will make them want to go into science or make them want to understand math better. But we don’t look at boys and we don’t say okay these boys can’t read; what can we do? And a lot of boys are sitting in schools and they’re told to stay quite. We’ve taken away recess, and Christina Hoff Sommers talks about this in her book The War on Boys, she talks a lot about what young men are facing in this country and how we don’t have any competition in schools. We have done away with dodge ball, we’ve done away with recess, and boys are sort of left sitting there and being handed books written by Tony Morrison or other female writers that sometimes they really can’t connect to. The saddest thing to me is that I’ve talked to boys around the country and one of the things a 14 year old boy said to me was that he wanted to start a boy’s group in his school. And he said that not one male teacher or female teacher in his school in New York City was brave enough to help him start that club. But they just said you know we can’t do that because they didn’t want to have an all-boys club in the school, whereas there are a million all-girls clubs, a Latino club, there’s an African-American club, but they can’t have a boys’ club. And I talk about that some in the book about there was one southern school that did start a men’s law group in a law school. And they were able to successfully do that. So I talk to men in the book about how do you go about reclaiming some of that space. And some of that can be worked out, but some of it is some of the schools they just will not allow that type of thing.
Mohler: You quote Christina Hoff Sommers actually from an interview that you did with her in which she says this, “Young men are not going to whine about their predicament. They’re not going to organize workshops or support groups, thank goodness. Teenage boys are the one group of Americans who do not like to gather in circles and talk about grievances and misgivings. So what will they do? My guess is,” she says, “that vast numbers will just stop trying and withdraw. It would not be an organized strike. It would just happen. It is happening.” I think it is happening undeniably.
Smith: It absolutely is happening, and the thing is that nobody really does anything about it; nobody really mentions it because we’re only supposed to talk about women. And what is amazing to me is this book is so rare. To me it seems like there should be a million books about this. And one of the reasons, in the beginning of our interview you ask authors why did you write this book. And one of the reasons I did is I sat for years waiting for someone to write it. And I thought maybe a guy will write it. But unfortunately men really can’t even speak up on these issues because….
Mohler: It looks like special pleading.
Smith: Yea. It’s like men if they do speak up are called sexist, misogynists, they won’t be given a microphone, and so it seems unfortunate to me that a small book like mine even commands any media attention. What it should be, there should be tons of books like this, and we should be working towards making things equal for boys and girls in our schools and for men and women. It’s not a zero sum game. It isn’t that if women do better men do worse, if men do better women do worse. It’s how can we make a community and how can we have a culture where both are doing well, and that we do recognize, and I think one of the things especially in the secular world people want to believe there are no differences in men and women or boys and girls; everybody’s exactly the same, we learn the same way, we do the same things, we want the same things. But that’s not the case, and yet in the extremes there are outliers, there are girls who certainly are just as active as boys, and there are boys who are just as sensitive and everything as girls. If you just sort of look at it in general we have to understand that boys sometimes do learn differently than girls, men do need different things then women. And that that’s okay.
Mohler: Well, indeed. That’s one of the things that we note not only in school but in the larger society. But getting back to schools for a moment, you quote Sommers and also other authorities and offer your own thoughts. And basically if I could kind of paraphrase a section of your book here, you’re arguing that one of the agendas of education in terms of those who are running the schools, and not only say middle schools and high schools, but for that matter the colleges is to make males less masculine as what they think is a way of serving society.
Smith: Yes, and we even see that in the social sciences. And it really is disturbing. But all the social sciences most of the research that comes out we see that we’re always told that masculinity somehow is negative, that’s it’s bad, that you’ll get depressed, it’s sick, the testosterone needs to be stopped, it creates problems. We never see the wonderful things that it creates. I think we really need to stop and think about what we’re doing; we’re trying to decry masculinity; we’re trying to say that it’s something negative. And when you do that a lot of guys they pick up on that and they’re like, you know, if it’s that negative, if you think my masculinity is that negative, what we see is that a lot of especially young boys don’t, they’re told that what they are is such a bad thing that I think they just sort of turn inwards and they go to playing video games or they do other things that will give them this sort of sense of mastery and control. And I think that’s one thing that guys love about video games is you can get when the world is telling you that you’re no good or that being male is somehow wrong or negative or creates war and problems, then I think you sort of turn away and you look for other things that tell you that being masculine is good and that mastery is real and the ability to defend yourself and your country is positive. And I think that’s one of the reasons I think that young men and middle aged men like video games so much. But I agree that the schools do see masculinity as negative. And even in the colleges now, I talk in the book about the problem on campus with men being told they’re perverts, rapists; we see this due process where colleges were sent out a Dear Colleague letter by the Obama Administration telling them that they had to lower the preponderance of evidence against young men. And now everything has turned into sexual assault if a young man is found, if a woman accuses him of sexual assault all they have to do is a campus tribunal, a group of administrators, says, oh okay we think it’s 50% sure that you did it; not 90%, not 99% like we would have in a criminal trial. But we just think you did it and that young man can be thrown out of school, they can be disciplined, they might not be able to get a job. And people think that that’s rare, but it’s not that rare. There are many reports of false allegations against young men. And in my opinion, to take away young men’s due process in college is such a destructive thing to do. That is so un-American. The fact that there is no requirement that they be held to a higher standard is unbelievable. And I think young men are a lot of times afraid. They’re told from day one on campus that you are some type of pervert, you might rape a woman, young women are told “watch out”, carry this whistle with you. Watch out who you’re with, there’s date rape. Of course it’s good to warn young men and warn young women and let people know. But to accuse people without evidence is a terrible thing.
Mohler: Well, as an institutional president I got one of those letters from the Department of Education. And I was amazed by it because of the completely amoral context. It’s not as if anyone was really concerned about people here, but about protecting the ability to claim that everyone is concerned about all the right, politically-correct issues here. That’s not to deny that there are genuine problems that need to be addressed. But as you said denying due process is hardly a legitimate way of dealing with the problem.
Smith: No, but that’s the way because it’s men no one really cares. And that due process extends not only from colleges but it also extends to child support and other places where they call something a civil violation if you don’t pay your child support. But yet they can put a man in jail. And there have been reports, there was an MSNBC article talking about there are thousands of men in this country in jail every year for not paying child support. And a lot of those men are poor men who they are not appointed a lawyer because they don’t give you a lawyer even though you’re going to jail. If you cannot afford a lawyer they simply or they tell you don’t even require a lawyer even though they send you to jail for not paying child support payments. And a lot of those are poor men who have lost a job. I mean it’s pitiful. Or even there are types of men like high functioning men such as the one that I talked about in New Jersey where he was making a million dollars a year in some type of financial position and lost that job. That can happen. And then I talk in the book about there are usually two types of men. And some of them are what I call White Knights, and those are men who tend to want to protect women and they’re very chivalrous. And they might be lawmakers, for example Rick Scott who’s the governor in Florida, recently vetoed. There was a bill to reduce permanent alimony in Florida. But he wouldn’t go along with it because he said well there are women counting on this money. Well, somebody’s supposed to pay permanent alimony the rest of their lives even when they’re retired to somebody, money that might be beyond what they can even pay. And somehow this woman who was married for ten years is supposed to be supported in some standard of living that’s way beyond what anybody should even expect. It’s ludicrous. But that’s sort of an example of a White Knight type.
And then there is what I call the Uncle Tim’s who are sort of more liberal types who sort of go along with the agenda of feminism because if they want to get more women or they want women to like them, or they want to be liked themselves. It’s sort of a Bill Clinton type where it’s almost like a politician type who gets a lot of kudos for getting laws that he himself wouldn’t fall under, but you know sexual harassment laws and all types of unfair laws to men where they can easily be charged with any type of sexual harassment whether true, false, or nobody cares. And the thing is that I guess what bothers me is a lot of men do care about these issues. But I think that it will take many men caring about these issues and starting a grassroots organization to fight. And men are taught not to fight because men are so afraid. And I talk a lot about that in the book and in the last chapter talking about what can you do. I think that men, it’s a psychological barrier that men don’t know how to proceed with this because, yes, they can fight in wars and they can fight against each other, but they can’t fight against women. It’s too hard. It’s psychologically very hard on them.
Mohler: If you take whether it’s the educational context or the larger cultural context, not to mention where political correctness factors in in the larger society to try to advocate even for the fact that we have a problem with boys in school, that we have a problem with young men not being in college, that we have a problem with young men getting into adulthood, and all the rest. Everyone appears to be talking about this except where it matters in terms of the policy circles because they get no reward for taking on these issues.
Smith: Not it there no reward but there’s a back lash against you. You will be pretty much dishonored, disliked. So, you’re right, the reward is greater than that. And you have to say that the reward is the fairness. Where would any fairness be? I mean if we all felt this way then we would never change anything. We would never have gotten rid of slavery. We never would have gotten women’s rights. We never would have gotten many rights that we as American’s have. So I think you have to go beyond that and you have to say that the reward is the justice and doing the right thing; and the fact that we will be helping our brothers, or our fathers, or uncles, our children. I mean to leave boys; I mean the justice is we can’t leave young boys in schools to suffer for this type of injustice, that they can be put in jail, that they could be kicked out of college. There were young, poor boys around there and middle income who can’t read in this country because groups of politically correct people think there’s no use to paying any attention to boys, and that if we help boys we would somehow be short changing girls. I mean the unfairness of it is, I mean, the reward would be to help those young men. And to me maybe because my practice and my life-long work has been with boys and men, to me that’s the reward would be to…I think that anyone who believes in justice…I mean what is the reward of anybody doing anything if we use that analogy to say well there’s…I mean you have to fight back because the reward is worth more than just being seen as a…if you go around and you think well everyone will like me, I mean that doesn’t really mean anything. People will only like you because you’re following a herd mentality.
Mohler: Let me ask you to look to the future here because when we talk about Rational Choice Theory or rational choice on the part of men making these decisions we need to expand that to the society. We also at least collectively are making decisions as a society, as a culture, as a nation. Is it a rational choice for us to determine that this really isn’t a problem? In other words, is it a rational choice for America to let these trajectories continue?
Smith: No, because actually I talk about in the book it will actually end up destroying the society because what we have now is more and more women will simply be raising children alone. More and more men will opt out. What is the use of having a bunch of young guys who are disengaged from the society? More men will drop out; they don’t want to be engaged as often. We touched on this some, but the workforce will be lessened. We will have less taxpayers. We will have fewer children being born. And the fertility rates, I just saw something today on CNN about the fertility rates reaching an all-time low in 2012. In fact I think there are only 63 births per 1,000 women now, and that’s as low as it has been in all the time that they’ve been keeping track of those trends. I know when one of your guests, Jonathan Last, who wrote an excellent book recently aboutWhat to Expect When No One’s Expecting talking about what that will mean. What does it mean when fewer and fewer people have children, or the majority of those children are being born to single mothers. We know that 40% of all children, 40% of children born to mother’s under 30 are mothers who are unmarried. And those mothers tend not to make a whole lot of money. They’re making an average of something like $23,000 per year. And what is that going to do to the future of this country. Now for the democrats maybe that’s a good thing; maybe they have a lot more welfare people who are collecting benefits who maybe vote democratic, don’t really care about politics, and that type of thing. But it doesn’t bode well for the country and eventually that type of a system will just it will stagnate at best and explode at worst.
Mohler: Well, and we can see a living picture of that in that nation formerly known as the Soviet Union now known as Russia that’s in a demographic implosion and a social implosion where you’re left with a few oligarchs and with nothing like a functioning society of men who are actually about the task of building a culture, building a nation, building a future, getting married, having children. I mean, you do have a very stark picture in some places of the world, I would think of Russia first of all, of what it looks like if you just let these things continue.
Smith: We do and I think people are very short sighted because they just look at what’s happening immediately. Or they just say – a lot of people tell me with the book, “well, that’s not true; you just interviewed a bunch of disenfranchised men,” but as somebody pointed out once that group is growing. And, yeah, maybe they are disenfranchised; what’s wrong with that? The women’s movement was full of disenfranchised, you know frustrated and upset, women and they changed the culture. Men are the same as women. I mean they don’t go out, they’re not going to burn their bra or whatever; they’re going to have to fight maybe in a different way. But at the same time they can learn something from women, and that is to speak up because these issues are important, that we can’t succeed this conversation to women and their politically correct supporters; that those of us who care, those of us who see what’s happening and who care about young men and boys and potentially the women and the girls who are involved with them, that we need to stand up and say, you know, we need to do something about this and go through and look at the policies that are in place and see how to make those policies more fair on a nationally level. And at a grassroots level we all need to look at a lot of the state laws that we see need to be changed. And you can see some of those grassroots organizations. There’s a group called National Organization of Parents that used to be called Fathers and Families. But they go through and they’ll fight different laws in different states trying to help fathers in particular. And that group is very successful in a lot of ways. There are other groups and people who do make a lot of changes, but I think that we need more people who are out there who are willing to put the time and the work into helping men. Not in a way, like women get upset when they hear this, they think, “Well, they’re trying to send me back to the kitchen.” Well, no, we’re just trying to have an equal society where people of both sexes are treated fairly and where they both want to participate in a society to make it a richer and a more productive society where children and people benefit and do well instead of one that stagnates and becomes more like Russia or other countries where the men just sort of opt out because men opting out is not successful.
Mohler: Oh, clearly. It’s a timely book and a very timely issue. And I want to thank Helen Smith for joining me today for Thinking in Public.
Smith: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate your time.
Mohler: In her new book Men on Strike Helen Smith gives us a lot of information and some very pointed and, I think, important arguments. This book is also a reminder to us that at times Christians need to read a secular analysis in order to come to terms with the problem even as the secular world sees it. And Helen Smith has certainly helped us in this regard.
Her concerns reflect the kind of secular concerns that you would find in someone who is looking at the world around them and saying, “Something is wrong; something’s broken; we need to know what it is, and we need to figure out how to fix it.” And of course Helen Smith really helps us with her candor, demonstrating that the challenge of fixing this problem is made all the more difficult by a society that doesn’t want to admit that the problem exists, or that if it exists, it’s the problem of those who are indeed the victims of the problem.
That is another issue itself. Helen Smith engages so many of the books already written in the burgeoning library of books about the boy problem or the man problem. And she suggests that many of them are what she calls a-matronizing; it’s an alternative to patronizing. In other words, they deal with men from a feminine point of view, something that I think she basically escapes in terms of her own book writing nonetheless as a woman. She writes in a way I think men can understand the problem. And she writes with enormous sympathy in terms of the patterns and the pathologies that she observes. But I think she lets men off way too easy in many of her chapters, where, for instance, she tries to suggest that men are just following rational choice. They’re simply doing what appears to be reasonable to them. Rational Choice Theory is a form of moral argument, or sometimes moral explanation that suggests that human beings – this is a secular theory by and large – that human beings make moral and personal decisions based upon what probably is best described as a cost/benefit analysis. In other words what will I get out of this? For instance, in a Rational Choice Theory of the relationship between a child and a parent the Rational Choice theorist would say that they child obeys the parent simply because it’s easier that way; there are more benefits to obedience than disobedience. There are severe limitations from a Christian worldview perspective to Rational Choice Theory. And one of the clearest of those limitations is the fact that we are not according to Scripture merely rational creatures. There is more to us than that. There is a moral capacity that is built into us by our creator; a conscience, indeed, as Paul makes very clear in Romans 2, that goes far beyond what the calculus of a Rational Choice theorist could understand. But we do need to be informed by this kind of thinking. And we do need to understand that Helen Smith is on to something profoundly real when she says that many young men are not growing up because they do a cost/benefit analysis and it appears that they’re giving up more than they’re gaining by growing up.
You know she points towards some issues that we should hear related to that and not only in terms of the larger culture but also in the church. What are the privileges of being a man? Why should a boy aspire to grow up? What does it tell us when we have reversed the entire universe such that boys are no longer trying to dress like their fathers, but the fathers are trying to dress like their sons? How is it that we have all of a sudden institutionalized adolescence as where men should aim whether they are younger or older and where, surprisingly enough, many are deciding to stay long after they leave the teenage years?
There can be no doubt that men are on strike – from marriage, from education, and from the workforce. And this is going to come with huge costs to the society. Even by a secular analysis it should be rather easy to calculate the disaster that now looms before us when you have all these young men who are simply not going to be functioning agents in the new economy; when so many women who are never going to have husbands, and children who are never going to have fathers, and the pathology there is so very abundantly clear. When you have a society that is beginning to weaken itself by the fact that it is denying young men the privileges of entering into adulthood as an incentive for growing up, getting married, getting a job, keeping a job, and before that getting an education. What you’re doing is sowing the seeds of a societal disaster. But this is where Christians have to come alongside and say that’s a horrifying problem but it’s not the worst of the problem. The worst of the problem is in the souls of these young men, souls that are never encouraged to grow into true adulthood – souls that never develop in terms of the moral and character issues that should define a man as much or more so than what is true of his job and his family and his marriage. Not that those things can be so easily separated. The Christian worldview reminds us that all these moral goods are indeed held together in their goodness by the divine creation of God in such a way that to sever them, any one of them individually or their parts and trying to take them apart, what you end up with is weakening the whole. And of course that’s why a secular analysis of this problem can certainly point to a lot of the pathologies, can even point to some very important political and legal and other societal improvements. But it can’t point to the heart of the problem because the heart of the problem is the human heart.
One of the things that becomes abundantly clear looking at this evidence, and Helen Smith has pointed to it very candidly, is that if you give young men the access to the things they demand as teenagers and as young men without the responsibilities for growing up into marriage they’re then not going to take marriage seriously on the other side. And when you then remove all the privileges of adult marriage, you end up with a situation like what you see in many parts of America today where you have young men becoming fathers without marriage and you have young marriage increasingly leading into a hook-up culture that seems to be emulating male promiscuity. And we wonder how did this happen when we as a society sowed the very seeds for this ourselves.
There are huge policy implications for this kind of research. For instance, most immediately many people will think of what takes place in the schools where an undeniable feminization of the entire curriculum and the structure has made schools virtually at every level hostile environments for boys and young men. And they get the message. They get the message loudly and clearly and their disengagement from the world of education prior to their disengagement from the world of work is ample evidence of the fact that that message is getting through.
Helen Smith has offered us a wealth of argumentation and research in this book, and it’s important because she clearly is on an issue that is not only timely but urgent. Christians looking at this kind of research are prompted by a secular analysis to understand that we share all these concerns and even more. And so we as thinking Christians need to look at this kind of research coming from whatever the source and put it in the context of the Christian worldview and say we see not less here but more. And that should set thinking Christians to thinking. And today we’ve been thinking in public; many thanks to my guest, Dr. Helen Smith, for thinking with me today.
Before I close I want to invite you to join us here on the campus of The Southern Seminary on the 26th of September for one extraordinary day to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Carl F.H. Henry. Convenient partnership with the Beeson Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Union University, this one day event will feature addresses from some of evangelicalism’s most prominent theologians and heirs of Henry’s legacy. 100 years after his birth, Henry’s vision for a confessional and global evangelicalism remains as timely as ever. For more information, go to www.sbts.edu/events.