Does City Life Feminize Men?

Posted on 2015 February 12


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There’s a region of the Internet called the Manosphere that rejects most feminist ideology. It discards with contempt the notion that men and women are basically the same but trained by society to act differently. Its bloggers argue that women are different by nature, deeply attracted to insouciant, overconfident “alpha males” instead of the nice, helpful, polite “beta males” that left-leaning women insist make better mates. Manospherists allege that feminist equalism has so thoroughly conquered America that men are now an oppressed group.

Naturally, feminists excoriate the Manosphere, condemning it (not without some justification) as chauvinistic, backward thinking, and intolerant. Arguments erupt between feminist and Manosphere bloggers, and a lot of verbal blood gets spilled.

What’s going on here? Is there really a cultural backlash against the women’s rights movement? If so, which side will win out?

A hundred years ago, women were expected to be obedient helpmates to men, who in turn ventured out to the worlds of war and work and achievement. Also there was a lot of violent crime, usually started by men. Today, women are largely accepted among the ranks of the employed; they raise children out of wedlock; they have the full political rights and privileges of men. Also crime is greatly down from thirty years ago and way, way down from 300 years ago.

Why do I conflate women’s rights with crime rates? It speaks to the changing roles of men and women in urban society. The toughest, meanest men have largely been imprisoned or killed off by police (or the huge wars of the 20th century). Meanwhile, women have advanced the campaign for their own political, social, and commercial freedoms. Perhaps something has shifted in society, something that may have reduced the need for males to be “masculine” while at the same time removing those who resort to violence.

Cities, where most of us now reside, need cooperation between strangers if they are to function. People must set aside their differences to work together with diverse others. We live closely packed, and violent confrontations — which might have been tolerated during the sparser agrarian past — nowadays throw monkey wrenches of uncertainty into the jostle of modern life, to which city dwellers strenuously object. No wonder we want fast police response and prison for offenders.

Basically, women are better suited to urbanity. They’re more sociable, less violent, more able to negotiate conflicts. They did so for ages while their men went hunting.

One of the greatest risks a woman faces is giving birth and nursing a baby. During this time she is highly vulnerable, and in the past she’d rely on a strong, vigilant male to protect and provision her and her newborn. Today organized urban agencies, from Lamaze classes to hospitals to financial-support bureaus, greatly reduce the risks women face. Meanwhile, wild predators are largely extinct. A woman’s need for a tough, rugged guy has dwindled.

Men, as men, may simply be less important today. Already they make for a milder gender than before, and what remains of their maleness is less pivotal. Modern social norms train them to restrain their aggression. They’re told to admit women into once-male domains, which further dilutes the testosterone-fueled atmosphere of clubs and office suites and political backrooms.

In short, modern urban life feminizes men.

Yet in their social lives men and women still respond in the old ways. Males want females who are curvaceous, cute, and kind — ideal for obedient child rearing — while women still yearn for powerful, confident, devil-may-care men whose insouciance suggests strength and protection, not to mention healthy and competent offspring. 

In other words, our genetic makeup hasn’t caught up with the social changes of big-city life. Our sexual yearnings still erupt out of the Stone Age; our DNA simply hasn’t had enough time to adapt fully to urban lifestyles.

It may well be that feminism will triumph permanently over old-fashioned male supremacy. In that case, the Manosphere is the last gasp of men’s macho past. On the other hand, any number of future events could push males back toward the forefront and a more masculine bearing: overpopulation or climate change or religious crusades might foment an age of constant warfare; or the AI Singularity arrives and humanity must do desperate battle against machines; or, who knows, maybe the aliens will attack. Or something completely unexpected changes city life so that once again tough, stalwart men are prized by society.

Until then, a dwindling group of paleo-masculine swains will argue for what’s left of urban manliness while they roam the clubs and bars of the city at night, inspiring an unreasoning and decidedly non-feminist craving by women for fearless, take-charge men to sweep them up in their arms.

And the next day, those same women will go to work and boss their male underlings. It’s a crazy world.

If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct . . .  — Camille Paglia