I just finished Dr. Helen Smith’s book on the retreat of men from society. It is controversial and filled with opinions that are not obviously supported, and while Smith generates some valid arguments in this book, I have very ambivalent feelings toward the general fleshing-out of the book’s themes.
Who is Helen Smith? According to her Wikipedia page, she is “a forensic psychologist who specializes in violent children and adults.” Her doctorate degree is in an unnamed subject, and she holds masters degrees from The New School for Social Research and the City University of New York. Additionally, she “hosts a regular program on the conservative news site, PJ Media, where she discusses social issues and psychology, with a particular emphasis on the problems and experiences of men.”
In her book Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream — and Why It Matters, Smith talks about several subjects: marriages, reproductive rights, college enrollment, personal space. Throughout her discussion, she includes testimonies from many men, drawn primarily from those who posted on her site PJMedia.com, and some outside authers such as Christina Hoff Sommers.
The marriage section discusses the growing number of men who are not dating or getting married. Her main claim is that marriage is not a good deal for men for reasons such as an unfair family court system, few financial incentives, and the expanded access to sex without consequences.
The reproductive rights section deals with the potential dangers to men when considering having (or not having) children. She mentions that justice courts predominantly favor women by giving them custody rights and making the men pay for child support. Furthermore, she mentions that men can get duped by women who want children, even when the men do not.
“The College Strike” portion, probably her most convincing segment, remarks on the growing number of men who have dropped out of school or have just decided to not go school (university). She holds accountable the feminization of the college campus and the negative picture of men depicted through college media, as well as a primary educational system that disfavors young boys.
Smith’s last wholly informational section comments on the personal and public space for men noting the branding of men as potential predators, harsh portrayals of men in commercials, news, reports, etc, and the submission of men to go wherever their wives wish them to go. Because of these factors, Smith argues that men are pressured into staying in small spaces to detract from public space.
However, her analyses lack a number of significant elements and add some controversial discourse thereby weakening the appeal of her book. To start, Smith’s male testimony is centrally derived from men who are already on her website as loyal followers; therefore, her evidence from the personal observations of these men is fairly biased and noninclusive. Most of the attestation comes from unnamed men who, while thankfully keep a relatively neutral tone, lack real credibility as either scholars or proper representations of the general male population.
Secondly, Smith includes numerous opinionated quips that detract from the attempted scholarly nature of the book. There isn’t a clear demarcation between evidence-based claims and opinion, which detracts from the informative nature of her book. While, these quips are abundant, I will include four of them for the sake of supporting my claim. For instance, she declares, “Women and their minions want men isolated so they won’t band together politically, and it keeps men under women’s thumb in the domestic realm.” That’s emotionally-charged language filled with metaphors that, frankly, devalues her discussion. Also, it’s very difficult to prove this, and I am fairly certain there is substantial research that suggests otherwise.
A second tidbit she incorporates is a passage that states: “Now cheating women are celebrated and encouraged by the culture. Even Whoopi Goldberg nonchalantly talked about how she cheated on her husband with little judgment or repercussions by society…But if you are Tiger Woods, you can be hit in the head with a golf club if you cheat and society cheers on your wife for being empowered.” I don’t think the examples are comparable as the Whoopi case was about cheating with 5-6 men while the Tiger case was about cheating with over 100 women. As such, I am not convinced Smith provided an example of a double-standard. While there may be a slightly lighter response to female infidelity (although I have no information supporting this – it’s rather just a intuition) in the social sphere, I am fairly certain that it is widely discouraged among all groups of people.
A telling third example in split up over pages but continues with the thought: “Men are now subject to so many sexual harassment and campus policies surrounding their sexuality that they are afraid to have much to do with the multitudes of women surrounding them on the average college campus” which Smith says “boils down to…control over men’s sexuality and freedom.” One, I don’t think women, on the whole, report insignificant situations of harassment, like an unwanted kiss. Second, men are not the powerless sex with regards to flirting and courting – false accusations are terrible (and, to my knowledge, actually infrequent) but men are definitely not retreating solely due to drastic fear over this. At most, false accusations are just something that should be at the back of your mind when considering what the character of the girl you might wish to date.
The last case is even bolder – she includes and stands by a quote by a blogger who wrote, “‘misandry is the new Jim Crow.'” This excerpt is from a wholly non-credible source, a blogger named “Futurist”, and the inclusion of this as a point is incredibly racially insensitive. Misandry is a problem, yes, but nowhere near the magnitude of the implicit and explicit Jim Crow laws. Smith does not seem to take problem with this as she delicately writes, “Given some of these government and college regulations on men’s sexuality, it seems to be heading in that direction in a milder form” – a remark meant to mask the extremity of such a comment. I think this example alone could, and maybe even should, forcefully diminish the relevance of her book.
As aforementioned, I think this book is controversial. I sometimes agree with the general points Smith provides, but I dislike the manner in which she carries out explaining them. I wouldn’t not recommend it, but I do believe that this book is not a great presentation and elocution of men’s rights issues.