“Ooooo,” I said when I saw the recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, provocatively titled, “Men, Who Needs Them?”.
The author – a man – argued the following (although I have rearranged the order of his points):
“Mankind is a misnomer. If all the men on earth died tonight, the species could continue on frozen sperm. Women aren’t just becoming men’s equals…an uninterrupted, intimate and essential maternal connection defines our species.”
He cites the growth of assisted reproductive technologies, which allow women to reproduce without men. It turns out that dads contribute only 3.3 picograms of DNA per baby, anyway, which translates to less than one pound of male contribution to the 107 billion babies born to the entire human species.
“Women live longer, are healthier and are far less likely to commit a violent offense…With human cloning technology just around the corner and enough frozen sperm in the world to already populate many generations, perhaps we should perform a cost-benefit analysis.”
Compelling scientific factoids, certainly. The question remains intriguing on many levels. Do women need men? Does the human species need men?
Do I need men? Do you?
I must confess, at times I long for a world free of men. Men have equaled heartbreak and frustration for significant stretches of my life. I remember my dad mostly for his absences. His career as a lawyer always came before family, and he divorced my mom after 32 years of marriage and five kids, and then even declined to honor mom’s life (or to be there for us kids) by skipping her funeral.
After Dad came a looong string of boyfriends whom I loved passionately until I absolutely couldn’t stand the arrogant, domineering, smelly sight of them for one more single solitary second. And the men at work? What exactly did they add? The ones who ridiculed me for taking maternity leave, spoke first in every meeting, hired less qualified men instead of brilliant hardworking women, and then fired my single mom friends when they missed work their kids were home alone sick.
At 47, I’m still in search of the perfect man: the perfect husband, the perfect boss, even the perfect president. In some ways, my quest stems from growing up in the shadow of early feminism in the 1970s. My Radcliffe-educated mom and Gloria Steinem and at least 100 hundred female teachers, coaches and mentors left me with the distinct impression that two ideals were my and my female peers’ birthright: equality at work and equality at home.
On the first count, the blasé assumption was that the workplace would welcome (with open arms of gratitude) smart, hardworking, competitive women. On the homefront, the equally presumptive plan was that if we picked the right husband – kind, liberal, raised by a feminist mother — we would be supported and embraced for all our wonderful femininity and strength. Girlpower! Didn’t everyone agree that chicks ruled?
I have often felt let down, in equal measure, by these oversimplifications and by the wonderful men I’ve known at work and in love who have failed to live up to my hopeful expectations. I spent the last ten years probing the so-called Mommy Wars, which stem from frustration with men and our society, turned inward onto ourselves and other women, whether we navigate the shifting sands at work, or give up and head home to our kids.
At the beginning of summer, such a hopeful, happy time, I rendezvoused with one of my all-time favorite women. She is in her 70s and has known me since I was 13. She is my alter-mom, all the things my own strong and brainy mom was not. Every time she greets me, she booms out “I LOVE YOU LESLIE!” (She yelled this even at her younger son’s wedding when she spotted me in the audience.)
We usually talk about her sons, whom I adore. But this time, the topic turned to her husband. She married her college sweetheart, a handsome, smart, quiet man, over 50 years ago. In the 35 years I’ve known him, I think we’ve exchanged seven or eight words. But I always romanticized their relationship as one of those perfect marriages, perhaps a little inscrutable from the outside, but clearly intimate and lovey-dovey behind closed doors.
My friend would agree. She is as in love with him as the day they first met. To her, he is the perfect man.
I was crushed in June when, for the first time, my friend told me matter-of-factly that her beloved husband can be distant and at times dismissive of her exuberance and her psychological needs.
“He’s a man, Leslie,” she explained, talking slowly, as if deciphering addition for a five-year-old. “He can’t meet my emotional needs.”
I felt like wailing. Say it isn’t so! There goes my last perfect man!
Now some of this is simple: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. We speak different languages. We have different needs. It is the natural order of humanity that we drive each other crazy.
And, in retrospect, 40 years later, I realize how hopeful and naïve I was as a girl. (Not that optimism or innocence are bad, per se…but too much of a good thing can be a tad dangerous.) I fell for the overpromises of my feminist childhood. Naturally I’ve been disappointed. This doesn’t mean my feminist mentors were wrong. Perhaps they were just off on the timing of all this equality and a few of the other details, like men’s interest in validating women’s journey toward independence.
Maybe the human species no longer needs men. But, for better or worse, I do. I like them, love them, crave them, enjoy them. I just wish they’d evolve. And I wish I could accept them as a little less than perfect.