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Men on Strike review

I'm not sure where to begin on Helen Smith's Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters. When I picked up the book, I wasn't aware of the author's libertarian/conservative lean...though she makes this clear in the introduction. I'm not sure I would have read if I'd known. So I suppose that's not a bad thing. It's hard to cut through the libertarianism to get to the intellectual meat of the argument though, so the book comes across as a very lightweight marketing ploy for her blog and the conservative media she primarily writes for. She also writes much in a disparaging way about feminists. 

So why am I writing about it? Because the book occupies an interesting middle ground. Even if I disagree with it, I think it does add something to the conversation. The problem of an anti-male society is real...our wages are lagging, there are fewer jobs for us, our education is falling behind. etc.. And there have been numerous attempts to discuss this...Smith covers many of the books and authors on the topic that gender issue readers will be familiar with.

Smith is critical of the attempt to dismiss modern men as childish. She--correctly--is critical of showing modern men as the bumbling dad, the frat boy stereotypes, etc.. She makes an attempt to discuss that our response to bias against men is, above all, rational. But that's where it all goes south.

The author spends far too much time dealing with reproductive issues such as paternity. And while the discussion about marriage, eligible mates, and equality in relationships is interesting it lacks much nuance. The book mostly reads like angry men responding to the stereotype of angry, feminists. So when you read the 1-star Amazon reviews, it's no wonder that many of them come from those who see her as simple woman-bashing or trying to bring back hopelessly outdated versions of masculinity.

It's because maybe she is.

Obviously, my experience as a feminist Stay At Home Dad doesn't match. Just as there are many ways to be a feminist. Different schools, waves, theories...the men's movement has the same variety. So I'm not all offended and horrified at her conservative take on a very real problem. But I will say this book had a lot of promise and failed to live up to the title. A title, by the way, that is a nod to Ayn Rand. Insert eye roll here.

In the end, this is the very problem that plagues men though. The underlying premise of the book is true, but we're not even sure about the causes let alone ready to jump to Helen Smith's conclusions about how to fix the institution of marriage by giving men incentives to enter into one. That's a bit like putting a bandage on a tumor, if you ask me. There are other issues at play from macho male culture devouring far too many of us through gangs, drugs, and dropping out. There are issues with our popular culture losing classic masculinity in favor of superstar athletes/musicians/actors.

That doesn't take away from the way the court system is stacked against men. The way that the education system is setup more for female learning. A lack of jobs for men. A culture which does lean towards grotesque stereotypes of men as predators, deadbeats, fools. Real issues. But we're not going to have the very needed conversations about the real issues so long as someone like Smith chooses to write an incendiary book which plays into the very worst stereotypes we're trying to avoid.

So I'm going to give this book a mixed rating. Great topic. Horrible treatment. It's ignorant, lacks nuance, simplistic, way too politically biased, etc.. BUT, if you can get past that...there are some hidden, buried, interesting points about where men have gone in the 21st century conversation.

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