When I read a call for papers about female television pundits for the upcoming National Communication Association (NCA) Convention, I did what a usually do: respond with great enthusiasm and ask to participate. No worries that I already have two book projects in the works, that I’d promise to coordinate a likely new degree program and that I committed to co-leading another field study to China in 2012. I’m an academic and to earn my keep I need to keep learning and doing, right? Besides, summer was coming and there would be plenty of chaise-lounge-chair-reading-days to come. Well, today was (sort of) such a day and Washington Post syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker piqued my interest.
A conservative, she called for Sarah Palin to step down as vice-presidential candidate, and later teamed up with Eliot Spitzer, a.k.a. Client Number 9 for a T.V. show called “Parker/Spitzer: In the Arena.” She clearly got my attention for her novel take on things, but neither the Sarah “step down” column or the “Regis/Kelly wanna-be” for the thinking set TV effort with Spitzer were not nearly as interesting to me as her 2008 book, Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care. I had read NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s 2005 book Are Men Necessary?, and recognized that Parker’s book must be the conservative rebuttal. Indeed, Parker says as much early in the book.
Parker cites her motherhood to three boys as ethos for her book’s thesis. Similarly, being a mom to both a male and female I often wondered which gender has it easier. Clearly Parker thinks girls have it easier in their transition to womanhood than boys have it in their transition to manhood. And here’s why: She notes the plethora of commercials and Internet ads that mock manhood (she cites erectile dysfunction medicine advertisements and the portrayal of the bubbling dad in sit-coms) to cultural cues that diminish maleness, to the rise of the wealthy single mother and the advent of “Mr. Mom.” TIME’s recent cover story on “Chore Wars” underscores the workload tension between married couples. And I remember former Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder lamenting to me in an interview in the late 1990s that she worried more about her son’s development than her daughter’s. She reasoned that her daughter grew up seeing that a woman could be whatever she wanted to be, but it wasn’t as simple for her son.
In her book Parker argues that subtly and not so subtly American culture is trying to point the American male in another direction–away from traditional masculinity to something more closely resembling womanhood. She writes, “What women seem to really want from men meanwhile is a better girlfriend–one with broad shoulders who can come to the rescue in a pinch, but who is otherwise equally at home with a Dustbuster and a weed whacker.” But more seriously and more deeply as the book ends she points to the real danger for our children, whether male or female, the break up of the American family. She writes: “bringing men and women back together–inviting our sons and daughters to recognize each other as friends and future partners instead of hostile forces to be one-upped and conquered–may save us from self-destruction.”
And she calls for “restoring the family–not by eternal means, but through mature recognition and voluntary self-sacrifice.” That raising children in an environment where they feel safe and free from parental bickering and put-downs could have positive effects on them. Nobody’s perfect, and maybe we should behave with a little grace. What a concept. Here’s to men and women behaving well. I have a lot of research ahead on Parker, but for starters I thoroughly enjoyed (and quite agree with) Parker’s book.
I’m glad I took on this new project. Good thing my husband and I split the chores.