Views on politics and current events

Friday, September 08, 2006

Another Opinion...

OnThe Continuance of Glaring Omissions

After reading the New York Times online version for the last two to three weeks, I have come across to articles about the state of men in the United States that I just can't let pass by without a few remarks.

First, and most recently, is a story in the National news section entitled, "Facing Middle Age with No Degree and No Wife" (NYT 6 August 2006). The story discusses the situation of a growing number of American men who are remaining single well into their 40s, and their inability to find a wife. The article links this trend to various other phenomena, including the fact that these single men are most often not college graduates, usually blue collar workers (although some are thoroughly entrenched in the middle class), and afraid of alternatively divorce or committment. The article also blames the higher standards of single women, who are getting college degrees at a faster rate than men and who seek men with higher degrees, and "hence better financial prospects." The NYT also cites some "experts" who claim that "the greater economic independence of women and the greater acceptance of couples living together outside of marriage" have contributed to the declining marriage rate.

The rate in question, according to the Times, is "about 18 percent of men ages 40 to 44 with less than four years of college." The article goes on to argue that "That is up from about 6 percent a quarter-century ago. Among similar men ages 35 to 39, the portion jumped to 22 percent from 8 percent in that time." And to add icing to the cake, the Times notes that "even marriage rates among female professionals over 40 have stabilized in recent years." Even older professional ball-busting career women can get married, why can't these dopes?

There are many aspects of this article that make my stomach lurch, but of course, that lurching has to do more with what the Times didn't say or didn't bother to factor into their analysis, rather than what was actually included in the article. Although, the article itself is pretty bad.

Firstly, the four page piece fails to acknowledge how many of those 18 percent of men who are still single in their 40s are, in fact, not interested in marrying a woman because well, they just don't swing that way. No where does the Times account for how many of these men might be gay, transgendered, queer, celibate, or otherwise not invested in the Christian dictum of marriage. These men, assuming that some of them might actually not be heterosexual, would have been coming out in the 1970s and 80s - arguably one of the most importantly visible times for the LGBT community. But the Times refuses to acknowledge this possibility. If you will induldge some highly suspect number crunching, if 18 percent are still single, and roughly 6 to 10 percent of the population is gay, this means that there are possibly only 8 to 12 percent of heterosexual men who are still unmarried.

If you consider this configuration suspect, as I myself do, let us take another step back and ask why this matters? Why should we be concerned that people aren't getting married as frequently as they used to? If you listen to Pat Robertson, or even George W. Bush, this lack of married people contributes to the degredation of the US's moral fiber. But then again, so do gays. And feminists. And pro-choice activists, intellectuals, liberals, welfare queens, immigrants, environmentalists, socialists, and communists. Apparently the only people who don't contribute to this decay are white, middle class, married Christians - but don't they have some of the highest divorce rates in the world??

This article confuses me, and I don't know why the NYT insisted on devoting four pages to the declining marriage rates of older men. But in this article contributes to the spectre of fear of disappearance that haunts the heterosexual white male in US culture. A continuing backlash and anxiety attack over what is to become of red blooded American men, now that they are being displaced to the peripherals of society (apparently). Funny, when women and people of color were pushed to the periphery, we didn't have articles debating why they didn't get married with as much frequency as their hegemonic counterparts.

Perhaps these unmarried men should exchange their unworthy jobs for wives and a comfortable life of leisure, as the men in "Men Not Working and Not Wanting Just Any Job" did (NYT, 31 July 2006).

In this article, reporter Amanda Cox profiles several men in their forties and fifties who are currently unemployed and are not actively seeking work because they cannot find a job that is neither "demeaning nor underpaid" and instead rely on disability payments from the government, taking out multiple mortgages on their homes, or relying on their (female) spouses for financial income. Instead of working or looking for work, they spend their days playing piano, reading books, doing crossword puzzles, or sitting at cafes.

Unlike the women (most likely their mothers) who have the luxury or ability stay at home while a spouse works outside of the home, these men do not take up domestic duties, preferring to spend their time with hobbies. Apparently, laundry and cleaning is also demeaning and underpaid - who knew?

Most of the men profiled in the article are without children, or more accurately, are not required to support any children. Most of them are also white. The NYT calls them "America's Missing Men." Huh? They're not missing at all. Chances are they're still in bed (if it's before 11 am) or sitting on their ass somewhere, probably in close proximity to a television.

Loquacious gems from these missing men include:

“I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me,” says Alan Beggerow, 48, of Illinois, who draws his standard of living from the second mortgage on his house and his family's savings. Yes, but Mr. Beggerow, how much is it worth to your wife and your child? His wife used to do factory work, until an accident forced her to leave. She now takes on freelance seamstress and baking work, as well as selling items on Ebay for a fee. She is looking for a clerical job, in order to earn a steady paycheck, as the money she receives from her disability payments cannot support her and her husband. “The future is always a concern, but I no longer allow myself to dwell on it,” Mr. Beggerow says. Huh?

"To be honest, I’m kind of looking for the home run,” says Christopher Priga, 54, of California. His income also comes from drawing money against his house in Los Angeles. After being let-go from Xerox in the blow up of the dot-com bubble, Priga is tired of grunt work and prefers to spend his time reading at local cafes.

Near the end of the article, the focus turns to those men who are excluded from the jobmarket because of felony convictions and jail time. But this avenue only affords half of the last page. Rather than draw attention to the systemic discrimination in the prison system and how any links to serving time can severly hinder an applicant's chances in this racist and classist jobmarket, the article spends most of its time profiling men who have been let go from their employment because of economic shifts. Since the 1980's, the American economy has moved away from industrial processing and factory work, and thereby making many men and women redundant and unemployed. This is a tragedy and an immense diservice to the working class of the US, prioritizing high profit margins over community sustainability, but this aspect is also absent from the article's analysis.

What really gets me, though, more than anything in this article, is the extremely gendered representation of work in this country that is reflected in these men's choices to abstain from work. Women have been in support positions and are continually forced to engage in unpaid labor in the form of housework and family care, and now more than ever, women are taking on work outside of the home in addition to this support/domestic work. Beggerow's wife takes care of the home, and her husband, and also manages to do freelance work and search for a clerical job. Additionally, it is her disability payments that keep the household running. Why can't Mr. Beggerow or Mr. Priga flip burgers? Why can't they wash dishes? Drive a taxi? Sell groceries, waitress (intentionally gendered), babysit, do laundry, pick up garbage? As someone who is about to approach the job market once again after having taken a year off to complete a master's degree, I am desperate for any job. The social regard for my degree does not place me above doing whatever work I can find. The only job I won't do is clean the floor of a nightclub with my tongue on Monday morning...but that's a whole other set of issues. Perhaps my perspective is a little different, being in my twenties, having mounting school debts and the prospect of marriage and family on the very near horizon. I've worked nearly continuously since I was 17, and I'm terrified of starting my career. But that won't keep me from working.

These men have worked, have spent twenty and thirty years working. And everyone is due a break at some point. But being able to not work because of retirement and pension is a whole hell of a lot different than refusing to work because you can't find a job that you don't feel is demeaning or beneath you. And being retired is a whole hell of a lot different that drawing on public disability and social security funds to avoid having to pay child support (which one would have to do if one had a paycheck) or to avoid working a job that isn't exactly what you want. I applaud Mrs. Beggerow for having the personal strength to scour the classified/help-wanted ads while her husband reads another history of the crusades on the front porch. I personally would have launched a crusade of my own to kick him out of the house.

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