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NCFM PR Director Steven Svoboda book review, “Men on Strike,” two thumbs up

July 23, 2015


Men On StrikeMen on Strike: Why Men are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream—and WHY IT MATTERS.

By Helen Smith, Ph.D. New York: Encounter Books, 2015. 218 pages. $

As a long-time reviewer of books about men and masculinity, I continue to marvel at the ability of new authors to come along with fresh energy and new things to say. Dr. Helen Smith, a Knoxville, Tennessee psychologist specializing in forensic issues and men’s issues, is no exception in her bookMen on Strike. Smith and I would probably not completely agree on all aspects of the gender wars, but who cares—her heart is in the right place and she is full of compassion for all of us. “There truly is a war on men going on in our society, and the average man knows it full well.” It strikes me that Dr. Smith is writing for a newer phase of the men’s movement, with us already having enjoyed at least the limited success of getting our basic message across to “the average man.”

Dr. Smith cannot brook stories such as that of “father Cliff Hall, who paid his outstanding child support for his eleven-year-old son but was sentenced by a female judge to six months in jail anyway.” Much worse, exploitation of our honored service members appears to be endemic. One says, “When I was in the Marine Corps, I was sued by 11 different women for child support…. It’s a huge scam, and no one cares.” Well, thanks to authors such as Dr. Smith, not quite no one.

Astonishingly, as Dr. Smith reports based on her own firsthand experience, the, in her words, “unacceptable… reproductive sexism” still exists whereby a man seeking a vasectomy is required to first state his marital status and then, if married, needs to get his wife’s consent to the procedure.

Dr. Smith notes, “In our society, men carry most of the responsibility with very little privilege.” She concludes, “This disturbing, rigid mindset is why so many men have gone on strike.”

It is nice to read a book by an author who grasps the big picture. “It is not only in family relationships that men are screwed, but also in many areas of modern society. Men are portrayed as the bad guys, ready to rape, pillage, beat or abuse women at the drop of a hat. From rape laws that protect women but not the men they may accuse falsely to the lack of due process in sexual harassment cases on college campuses to airlines that will not allow men (possible perverts!) to sit next to a child, our society is at war with men and men know it full well.”

She has a way with throwaway truths, noting, “the real reason many rational men do not marry is that the incentives have changed and growing up is no longer a reward but a punishment for men—so why do it?” She talks to men and what’s better, she listens to their answers, whether they fit her preconceptions or not.

Dr. Smith recounts one horrific tale about a fifteen-year-old boy astonishingly forced to pay child support to a 34-year-old woman who committed statutory rape each of the five times she had sex with him five times. When she wrote an article asking if a man could be raped by a woman, “Many of the commenters felt that men were asking for it, should keep their legs crossed, or should have known better than to allow a woman to harm them. This sounds like what women used to be told about rape fifty or more years ago. Are men now being treated like the women of yesteryear?”

Dr. Smith makes an excellent point I’m not sure had even occurred to me, that the very fact that such miscarriages of justice as jailing parents without a trial for failing to pay child support can occur is because the jailed “parent” is almost always male. “[O]ne of the reasons that this type of atrocity is allowed to happen is that it is men who are thrown in jail.”

On another topic, Dr. Smith explores why boys having more trouble than girls in school. Why, she asks, are university enrollments approaching sixty percent female? “Boys are now seen as ‘defective girls’ in need of a major overhaul.” Moreover, Title IX bars schools from using one of their most natural methods to lure men.

Men’s sexuality and freedom are being controlled, she shows us, with the astonishing myth that only men can consent to drunken sex. “Isn’t that sexist toward women?” she asks. Of course it is.

Sadly, men are now shying away from saving children even from life-endangering situations for fear of being labeled a pervert. And the fear is reasonable, as 28-year-old Fitzroy Barnaby can testify. Barnaby now has on his record “unlawful restraint of a minor,” a sexual offense in Illinois, for the time he jumped out of his car and grabbed a girl’s arm to lecture her on how not to be killed after she had stepped directly in front of his car. Also, with the old incentives changing, men seem to be heading for the rowboats when a ship goes down, rather than chivalrously first saving the women and children. “If we continue to teach men and boys that it is ‘every man for himself’ by stereotyping, isolating and penalizing them for the crime of being born male in the twenty-first century, they will be reluctant to help or interact with women or others who may possibly endanger them.”

I appreciate perhaps most of all Dr. Smith’s intuitive understanding of men’s vulnerable position nowadays. “When a partner isolates their spouse from friends, associates, and public places, it’s called domestic abuse. When it’s done to an entire gender, it’s called feminism.”

Dr. Smith ends her book with several tips, some of them easier said than done. “Stop letting women run the agenda by controlling the dialogue on sex, gender, relationships and reproduction.” “Fight for better treatment of men in marriage and relationships.” “Fight for better laws, including those on paternity and forced fatherhood.” “Fight back in education.” Sill, the author provides some helpful specifics and suggestions going along with each of her tips. Regarding education, she relates the sad story of Caleb Warner, a University of North Dakota student who was suspended for three years after a false report about an alleged assault. Even when the falseness of the report was proved by the police, the university refused for quite some time to reconsider the case and only did so after a Wall Street Journal expose forced them to do so.

Further tips include: “Fight back against negative portrayals of men in the media and culture.” Don’t turn on your fellow man by laughing at him based on societal prejudices, she advises us. Don’t be part of the problem. “Reclaim male space.”

Tips for women: stop complaining even though doing so is culturally reinforced, do not complain about your partner to others, and listen without judgment to what your “guy” has to say.

The book concludes with a somewhat lackluster ending that tapers off as the author seemingly tires. Nevertheless, this fine work is one of the most compelling reads I have come across lately and richly deserves your attention and support. Highly recommended.

National Coalition for Men Men on Strike: Why Men are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream—and WHY IT MATTERS. By Helen

 …because MEN MATTER!

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