Men May Be Disposable, But They Are Not Ending

Pelle Billing calls for greater respect for the men who build everything from bridges to the internet.

During the past few years a number of voices have questioned whether maleness has any intrinsic value. The basic line of reasoning seems to be that post-industrial society is better suited to women, and that men no longer have any unique contributions to make. The most famous spokesperson for these ideas is perhaps Hanna Rosin, who wrote the article and subsequent book The End of Men.

Rosin posits that women are better suited to our current economy, since they excel at social intelligence, open communication and the ability to sit still and focus. Men, on the other hand, are only better at being big and strong. Women have the traits needed today, men have the traits needed yesterday.

Living in a post-industrial society, does not mean that we live in a non-industrial society. … Building, manufacturing and mining have certainly become safer, but they have not become safe, nor have they disappeared.

Ultimately, the question asked is the same as the title of Maureen Dowd’s book: Are Men Necessary? Considering how well women are doing in our current economy, this question would seem to be both timely and pertinent. Perhaps maleness is out of fashion—no longer adding any real value—and the best we can do is resocialize men into women, if that is even possible.

However, those who ask whether men are necessary, are very much out of touch with the foundations of our civilization. Perhaps this disconnect is a result of being immersed in feminism for too long; perhaps it is the consequence of being too privileged for too long. Possibly, it’s both.

Our civilization would not exist without roads, bridges, houses, plumbing and the electrical grid. Building these structures requires raw materials from mines and oil rigs, as well as cargo ships for transportation. Finally, we need armies, police forces and fire brigades to keep the entirety of this system safe.

Apparently, Hanna Rosin and similar voices have forgotten that it is almost exclusively men who build and maintain our infrastructure, as well as provide the raw materials needed. These services do not magically appear, they still require the daily effort of millions of people. If men were to end, our civilization would collapse overnight.

What many of these civilization building tasks have in common, is that they require the worker to be disposable. Not disposable in the sense that his skill set isn’t valuable, or his humanity invaluable, but disposable in the sense that he regularly faces a real threat of dying or seriously injuring himself. The price for our prosperity, safety and comfort has always been the sacrifice of millions of men around the world; men who often accept these dangerous jobs as a means to provide for their family.

Living in a post-industrial society, does not mean that we live in a non-industrial society. The knowledge economy that has leveled the playing field between women and men, still rests squarely on a foundation of industrial processes. Building, manufacturing and mining have certainly become safer, but they have not become safe, nor have they disappeared.

Mark Twain once wrote, after The New York Journal mistakenly thought he was dying, that “the report of my death was an exaggeration.” I would claim that the reports of men ending are greatly exaggerated. Not only exaggerated, but also severely disrespectful towards the millions of men who go to work daily, risking their lives for our collective well-being.

Furthermore, it’s not like men have stopped making unique contributions in the post-industrial era. It’s predominantly men who have built the Internet as well as digital giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. What would our lives look like without computers and smartphones, constantly connected through the Internet? My guess is that society would be decidedly less post-industrial without these services.

So let us be clear on one thing: Men are not ending in any shape or form. We may gradually need fewer and fewer men who sacrifice their lives building and maintaining our infrastructure, due to technological advances. This is a good thing and means that more men can live long lives and be less disposable.

However, for every man who stops building something in the physical world, there is a man who starts building something in the more abstract world. Instead of proclaiming the end of men and a new era of female supremacy, we would do well to ask ourselves how we can support boys and young men in this new world. We do not need men who are bleak carbon copies of women, we need men who express their creativity and their maleness.

 

Read more on The Disposability of Men on The Good Life.

Image credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

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About Pelle Billing

Pelle Billing is an M.D. and a professional teacher of Argentine tango, who writes and lectures about gender and men’s issues. You can read more from him at his eponymous website.

Comments

  1. Great article. Yeah, we get a bad rap. I think men are one of the last acceptable groups to stereotype. It is probably due to thousands of years of domineering and misogynistic behavior by men, which is still socially acceptable in many parts of the world. But that doesn’t make prejudice against men right, any more than it is okay to prejudge any group. Many people in this world, need to look into themselves, and be the change they want to see in the world (to coin a phrase frequently attributed to Ghandi). How great of a world would it be if every individual had the self-awareness and drive to positively contribute to society, value the positive contributions of others, and accept the humanity in each of us? Wow, that’s a world I want to live in, so that’s how I try to live.

  2. michael mcveigh says:

    Industrialisation has made many tasks suitable for women to do. However, ask them to back up a vehicle with a trailer attached….
    And when the foreign hoardes come, what will happen. To think that they won’t come is a blind disregard for history and the way it constantly repeats itself.

  3. Mike Russo says:

    I wonder if any of those the author has pronounced may have been ” immersed in feminism for too long” (not just women, but anyone who has convinced themselves of this reality) knows how often people in deplorable, dirty jobs have to open up those manhole covers to go under the street and into the guts of a city to fix a broken line. The manpower needed every thawing spring to replace fractured piping for gas, cable, water, electricity is astounding. It’s really like saying your family’s prayers are keeping you alive in a hospital. Well then, I guess you don’t need all these fancy medications or digital life support/monitoring equipment.

    Yes, I used “Manhole cover” on purpose. I did so because that’s what they are called. Yes, women can go into those holes and fix those pipes, but ask any 100000 women on the street and I would bet a lot of money that fewer than 100 would actually consider a career in doing so, but I’d also guess more than that might mention we should call them “Peoplehole covers.” I used “manpower” on purpose, because those jobs are largely held by men, and I mean VERY largely.

    How would a 100 story skyscraper, which is constantly kicked around by high winds at the top, stay up if it’s girders and concrete supports weren’t frequently repaired and reinforced? Or concrete bridges? Or highways? These are all jobs women can do, and I have seen women in these jobs more than once, but less than I can count on all my fingers and toes. The vast, and unfortunately silent majority of these jobs are filled by men. And for some good reason, since these jobs are physically tolling and let’s be honest, brutal work. Think about that worker when you drive over a bridge in your 2010 white Buick LaSabre, drinking your Iced Mocha Soy Double Shot Latte, without whipped cream. Women can be more suited to an increasing age of connectivity and digital apathy, but don’t forget the infrastructure that made it possible, and the millions of men who have actually been buried under the infrastructure they helped build in this country and around the world.

    This whole coversation is odd. Considering one of the skills women are supposed to bring to the white collar world that men don’t is an emotional intelligence. Usually, one would consider empathy and sympathy within that intelligence, and the types the author describes here are displaying a serious lack of sympathy and appreciation to those who built the steps they climbed to the top…

    • … don’t forget the infrastructure that made it possible, and the millions of men who have actually been buried under the infrastructure they helped build in this country and around the world.

      Well said, Mike, and it can’t be said often enough. It is far too easy to forget all the men who built our roads, railways, canals, airports, bridges, homes, retail and office buildings, power grid, water and wastewater utilities, schools, hospitals, and parks. Even our graveyards, which hold so many of those long-forgotten and underappreciated men who gave us the foundations of all the infrastructure we use and take for granted daily.

      That infrastructure, as both you and Pelle have rightly pointed out, is not some static fossil or a perpetual motion machine that can be left to keep chugging along unattended, and unfortunately it is not just the ghosts of the past who are all too often invisible and unappreciated for their toil and risks taken for the good of us all.

    • Supra deluca says:

      “but ask any 100000 women on the street and I would bet a lot of money that fewer than 100 would actually consider a career in doing so(…)”
      And probably less than 100 men as well. Most men do not want these jobs, just like most women do not want to work as maids, cleaners and charwomen, washerwomen.

      When it comes to works where strength is needed we will always have less women (and weaker men) working on them, because of the obvious biological differences.
      Now you should never believe that only because less women wok in construction that women did not contribute to the world. That is a lie (that so many insecure men and boys like to tell themselves as to feel even more superior to the supposed lower female species) and obnoxious. Praise these men, they deserve it. But don’t dismiss women’s contribution. Don’t dismiss these men’s housewives who where there at home working to make it cozy and raise their kids to be great adults, cooking and cleaning and washing these men’s clothes.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Peggy Noonan, in her post-9-11 column, “Welcome Back, Duke” pointed out that the “princes” of the city hadn’t actually acknowledged or noticed the guys who did the hard work. The latter were invisible. And if they’re invisible, I guess you don’t wonder how the work is actually being done.
    In fact, on GMP and other places, you will hear poorly-hidden disparagement of the guys who do the hard work because it’s “macho”. Trucks, chain saws, fire equipment, some military issues should be de-masculinized, miners….
    But electricity comes out if the wall and that’s all you need to know.

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