One of the most misunderstood things about feminist thought is the idea that identifying patriarchy is about “hating men” or “blaming men for the world’s problems” or whatever. But, of course, patriarchy is bad for everybody, even if men benefit more. An excellent example of this is, as Amanda notes, is this risible Washington Post article. And what’s really amazing is that its typical attempt to find some way to blame feminism for banal human problems is even worse than most. You can’t really blame airheaded style-section thumbsuckers for relying on random anecdotes and cherry-picked quotes; that’s the coin of the realm. This article can’t even do that right.
Now, in fairness, it starts according to the rules of the genre so well that I suspect Caitlin Flanagan not only of putting them up to it, but of ghostwriting it:
Adam Skrodzki, a tall, redheaded senior at the University of Maryland, bench-presses a respectable 280 pounds. He fights fires in Howard County as a volunteer and plans to join the Secret Service in the fall. In short, he’s a man’s man.
Or so he thought until last fall, when he hooked up with a sophomore — at her urging.
The girl really wanted to make a go of it with him. On learning earlier that he had no interest in pursuing a relationship, she had offered to be his “friend with benefits,” and he had agreed. In his mind, that decision was a no-brainer.
But on this night, their first in bed, his body was telling him something else. She used every trick she knew, with no success. Adam panicked.
“I’ve had no problem with this before,” he thought. “What if this gets out? What if she tells her girlfriends? My reputation will be ruined.”
Skrodzki is far from alone. It seems that for a sizable number of young men, the fact that they can get sex whenever they want may have created a situation where, in fact, they’re unable to have sex. According to surveys, young women are now as likely as young men to have sex and by countless reports are also as likely to initiate sex, taking away from males the age-old, erotic power of the chase.
Ah, perfect. Just like Flanagan’s assertions that sex was better than the 50s (omitted: how the hell she would know), we have an assertion that one person unable to get it up once is not an example of a perfectly ordinary human problem but some widespread social trend, using the nicely vague phrase “it seems.” Then, in a remarkable non-sequitur, we immediately leap to the fact that women are more likely to initiate sex! What’s the link here? After a Weezer lyric (!), we have the key expert quote: “One can argue that a young woman speaking her mind is a sign of equality. “That’s a good thing,” says Sawyer, father of four daughters. “But for some guys, it has come at a price. It’s turned into ED in men you normally wouldn’t think would have ED.”" Um, what “kind of guy” would one think not have ED? (What’s particularly funny, remember, is that the article starts out with how much a guy can bench press, which I respectfully submit may not be a perfect correlation. “Like, last night I was with this guy who had a huge head, huge triceps, and lots of back acne, and he couldn’t get it up! I can’t explain it–must be feminism.”)
Now that we have a highly dubious assumption of a social trend, based on the paper-thin reed that men at a couple universities are more likely to talk about sexual problems than they were 30 years ago (which, of course, means that the problems must not have existed then!), the next step should be clear: deploying the random anecdote. Maureen Dowd, trying to buttress her thesis that men won’t sleep with
her successful women because she they are just too beautiful, intelligent, and charming, can scrounge up some studies of men born in 1874 and a couple of anecdotes about how shallow assholes turn out to dump their wives for 25-year-old maids. (The lesson, of course, is always “feminism is bad for women!” rather than the more obvious “broaden your social circles beyond shallow assholes.”) Jennifer 8 Lee can at least dig up a couple of homophobic yuppie wankers who are obsessed with what might happen if they order wine at a dinner with a male friend. This article can’t even do that. What do the experts say?
In certain young men, impotence can be a result of diabetes, cardiovascular disease or other organic problems. But for students such as the ones Brodie and other mental health professionals see, experts point to lifestyle. An increasing number of students arrive on campus taking antidepressants, some of which reduce libido and sexual function. They consume larger amounts of alcohol at one time than in years past, killing performance. Smoking, lack of exercise and anxiety also may be factors.
“We get reports of increased stress levels starting at younger ages. These are kids living on the extreme, drinking caffeinated Red Bull and beer and working very hard,” says Thomas Jarrett, chief urologist at the George Washington University Medical Center.
Seems pretty convincing! But maybe the men involved in this story think that somehow women wanting to have sex is making them flaccid?
Peter Schneider, a sophomore at GW, had been sleeping with a girlfriend for several weeks freshman year when, one night, he failed to respond. The next night, the same thing happened. The morning after that, he woke up thinking, “This better not happen again.” But it did.
Schneider, who lost his virginity at 15, was bewildered and upset. Almost two weeks passed until one afternoon, he plopped down on his bed, “torn up inside,” and began thinking about his lifestyle. He was smoking cigarettes and marijuana, popping Adderall in order to work through the night to finish his econ papers. He was drinking a lot and not getting any regular exercise. His body was simply worn out.
He decided to drop his bad habits for a while, start taking walks outside and working out at the gym. He sat down with his best friend, Josh Rolf, and spilled his guts. Rolf told him no one is a stud every time. Almost immediately, his talents returned.
The most obvious conclusion to this story, then, is “young men, as they always have, suffer from impotence, which can result from unhealthy habits, and a natural anxiety about pleasing sexual partners. People in caring relationships can generally work through it.” But if you can’t blame feminism for something, there’s no story! And note that the anti-feminist approach is also much more contemptuous of men that the better-defended null hypothesis. Despite the inability of this article to cherry-pick them very effectively, there are certainly men who are threatened by female sexuality and want to dominate their partners. But what we see here for the most part are not young men complaining about women who want to have mutually pleasurable sex–indeed, they seem to like it–but simply have utterly ordinary problems and insecurities. The tendency of style writers to turn such banalities into something that can be blamed on feminism, and doing so in ways that also make the men in question look worse, is just bizarre.