Philobiblon: The weaknesses of men

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The weaknesses of men

An interesting post over on Blogcritics about Men Who've Had "Too Much Breast Milk" drew me into a comment that turned into a post. DeLilah writes:

Men have been coddled and protected in a skewed effort to protect their manhood and ego. I know countless men who are products of this type of rearing - a rearing where in the majority of cases, the custodial parent, dominant parent or primary disciplinarian in the household was the mother. These were strong, resilient, hard-working mothers - who often times were single-handedly raising multiple children. These mothers subconsciously reared their daughters to be clones of themselves (self-sufficient, hardworking, ambitious and determined) and simultaneously raised their sons to be more reliant and expectant than dependent.

I think she's right about the condition, wrong about the timing and causes. I don't think single mothers are a cause; I think this goes back at least to the early post-WWII situation, when early marriage - teens or early 20s - suddenly became the norm. (Historically a very unusual situation.)

So virtual children got married. The women were, however, forced to grow up when they had children (often _very_ soon after the marriage) because caring for babies and small children demands responsibility, attention to the needs of others, self-discipline i.e. being grown up.

The men, however, without this pressure, became "extra children" in the family, never really taking responsibility (except _sometimes_ financial, which may bear no relation to personal responsibility). This was certainly the situation I saw growing up in Australian suburbia in the Seventies - it was a standing, somewhat bitter joke among my mother's friends that they had an extra child - who took no responsibility for anything, from the trivial e.g. picking up their own dirty socks, to the deeply serious, e.g. co-operating in caring for their children and making personal sacrifices (eg giving up watching a football game for the purpose).

They'd married as emotional or actual teenagers, and they'd never grown past that self-centred condition.

There's a parallel in this in the extended family structures found particularly on the Sub-Continent - at least that's the area I know something about. Male children are cossetted and protected, never forced to do chores or make any contribution to the family. Women are brought up to be much tougher, both because they are (sadly) less valued, but also because there is an awareness that when they move to their husband's family's house they are going to need emotional toughness, self-discipline and general life skills.

One of the theories of a thesis I wrote about the female prime ministers of South Asia (which I am really, really going to post soon), is that this prepared the women of elite families for the often (very) rough and tumble of politics much better than the men were prepared.

So a tougher upbringing is in many ways an advantage. And I think this is undoubtedly a factor in divorce rates. Women, now increasingly if still inadequately - with other economic choices before them, decide they'd be better off without the extra, unchosen "child".


Anonymous Brian Gillin said...

As I have written elsewhere, this topic is unnecessarily gender-specific. There are just as many women who show these traits as men. For every "momma's boy," there's a woman with a princess complex.

11/09/2005 07:35:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

I'd agree this is true up to the point of having children, which some 60-odd percent of women still do.

Unless you have an awful lot of money and can pay people to be grown up for you, or are going to raise very dysfunctional children (and that does happen), at that point the princess complex is necessarily swept away. No one ever talks about Sleeping Beauty's children.

But the same transformation at that point is a lot less common with men, because they still only rarely are the ones who have primary responsibility for the children.

11/09/2005 08:09:00 pm  

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