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