Watch closely as we boldly go into one of the last verboten topics in America. I am not talking about politics or religion, but… the differences between men and women. To be sure, just suggesting that there may be differences raises ire in some people, but the topic came up on the local radio, recently, and by a woman talk show host, no less. She asked why every indicator suggests that men are failing in this society and women are succeeding.
The number of households where women out-earn men is increasing. More women are being accepted to higher education than men, and getting better grades. This recession hit men much harder than women. Women are currently getting ahead in the workplace faster than men. Etc. So why? Here is my two-cents.
“Women want to be wanted. Men need to be needed.”
It is easy to be wanted in this culture. Women have thousands of years of learning how to make themselves attractive. It is hard to be needed. Attractiveness in men is based on being winners, successful, accomplished. These things are hard to come by in this current world. Consider:
Men At Work
Once upon a time, the world was filled with small shops, craftsmen, retail outlets where the store manager was king of his own castle. Men did most of the work, and while these manufacturers, “counting houses” and sales (retail) operations were often run like family businesses (even if the people were unrelated), every person’s contribution was vital to the success of the overall operation. Farms were family run, too… Men did well in these conditions.
Even the big trading houses that moved along the sea lanes, involved a Captain and his crew as an independent operation. So also with the early railroads, oil companies and most of the foundations of our modern economy. The trouble began in the mines (and a bit later in the steel mills). Mining was historically slave work. In a free economy, where men got paid for the work, the mine owners still reaped the benefits while the miners FELT like cattle. They were not needed, their contributions were not vital and they could be replaced. Particularly in times of recession, there was always someone to fill their shoes.
Thus there were riots, and eventually unions, and while the unions helped obtain a living wage and restored some dignity to the men, they did not solve the underlying problem: Men need to be needed: to know their contribution is vital—to be accomplished. I take nothing away from what the unions were able to accomplish, only they could not stop the progression away from a world where men, on however a large or small scale, could FEEL vital, accomplished, successful.
When Henry Ford invented the assembly line, everything went to hell for the men. The world of craftsmen, masters and apprentices that had worked so well for men came to an end with the rise of the big corporations, some of which, after a hundred years have finally become “too big to fail.” No one is vital in the corporate world. No one is needed. No one is indispensible, and the work itself is only like a “cog in the wheel.” There is little or no sense that any part of it is vital, and less sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
A man comes home after a day on the job and wonders, “What am I doing with my life? Am I throwing it away? Is it all worth it?” If married to a good woman, his wife might reassure him.
“Honey, what you do is important. You are making a difference.”
But the man is likely to shake his head as if he does not quite believe that.
I take nothing away from the incredible prosperity that the assembly line and corporate life has brought to the American people, only the current structure of the world has made life more and more difficult for men to feel good about themselves, their lives, and their place in the world.
In the retail world where more and more local operations are company owned rather than independent, family owned businesses, things got bad for men when the phones arrived and first class mail could actually get to the shop in two or three days. Suddenly, the corporate office could send out instructions and store managers lost their power to be accomplished, successful, vitally important.
It went downhill from there with the advent of fax machines, and eventually permanent, instant internet access. Now, the corporate office can micro-manage the entire local operation and stores become cookie cutter operations with no tolerance for deviation. The death of the manager bonus has been the last coffin nail for men. This was the singularly most important measure of a man’s success—that if his Woolworths made a profit, he got to share in that profit. Now, as a friend of mine recently put it, “They don’t want store managers anymore. Monkeys trained to read e-mail would do just as well, and corporate would probably prefer that because they could pay the monkeys bananas.”
If men are not succeeding in the workplace, why should anyone be surprised?