Book Review: Men on Strike, by Dr. Helen Smith

The full title of this book is actually, Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters, which is a bit of a mouthful. To say this book is controversial may be putting it mildly. The topic is not necessarily new; there are many books and magazine articles popping up these days complaining about how men are turning into “perpetual boys” or otherwise failing to live up to expectations. Where this book differs is in what it holds up as the cause of this and why it’s a problem.

Dr. Helen Smith has been known for many years as an advocate for mens’ rights, and she feels the feminist movement overcompensated, either accidentally or intentionally, and now it’s men who are getting the raw deal–and are disengaging from society as a result.

Some of the areas where Smith focuses are disparities in rights between men and women in reproductive and marital issues. For example, while women have a variety of legal options if they become pregnant, the man’s options end. He has no choice in what is done with the baby, be it abortion, adoption, or keeping it.  He is expected to pay child support for a minimum of eighteen years, even if the child was conceived without his knowledge or consent. And, in most cases, even if it later turns out that the child is not actually his, it is next to impossible for him to terminate financial responsibility or reassign it to the real father.

Should there be a divorce, even when it was the wife who strayed, the man still loses most of the property, pays alimony and child support, and custody goes to the mother in the vast majority of cases. “Deadbeat Dads” are dramatically more likely to be prosecuted and jailed then “Deadbeat Moms”. The courts and the laws are stacked in the woman’s favor, and unless a man is aware of the law and gets good legal counsel, he can expect to be improverished for the next twenty years or more. Even when the woman’s actions were illegal. For example, in a case in California, a 35-year-old woman committed statutory rape with a 14-year-old boy, but he is still expected to pay child support.

Smith also discusses the increased shift in educational institutions to favor the learning styles and interests of girls and women. Typical boy behavior is discouraged, and men are continually treated as “rapists-to-be”. College enrollment is approaching 60% women to 40% men, male students are dropping out of college at increasingly higher rates, and no one seems concerned.

This and other sources of inequality (name a TV father that isn’t a buffoon, a creep, or a psycho) are increasingly leading men to boycott traditional roles and do their own thing.  When mainstream media and feminists notice this, it’s either to applaud the signs of progress for women or the further chastize men for failing to live up to women’s expectations. But why should men engage in a society that does not value them at best, and is openly hostile at worse? Where is the incentive? Forming a “guy cave” with other male roommates, playing sports and video games, working just enough to get  by, and basically avoiding women is the safest thing for them to do. Women can scratch their heads, wring their hands, bemoan the lack of “good men”, and tell these “man-boys” to grow up, but until they take a look around and recognize the reasons why men are disengaging it will only get worse.

Some women probably view all this as a feature, not a bug. For them the goal was not really equality between sexes, but a reversal so that they could do to men what see men as having done to them. The only downside is the deficit of eligible men for entertainment, breeding, and perhaps domestic union, but fish don’t need bicycles.

But Smith makes the case for a much larger problem. If allowed to progress much farther there could be long-term damage to society. The lack of male perspectives in education will only accelerate the retreat–or feminization–of boys and men, and provide fewer role models, both for boys to emulate and for girls to learn to interact with and relate to. There will be fewer sports coaches, fewer mentors, fewer non-female perspectives. 

More importantly, the safety and security women seek may be undermined. For men to become policemen and soldiers they have to feel that they are a part of the society they are asked to protect. If men disengage it will become increasingly harder to find enough men willing to put their own lives at risk for everyone else. It could even swing the opposite way–men increasingly engaged in crime out of a “what’s in it for me” mentality and a lack of regard for a society that already turned its back on them.

Does Smith go too far in predicting the consequences? Is she over-stating the problem? It’s hard to say, as I’m most closely associated with a segment of society that still values and respects men, though I see that eroding here, too. But I have to admit that my “out-dated” religious beliefs play an important part in my choosing to step up, “be a man”, get married, and have a family, and that is under attack, too. I don’t have to look far to see many of the disincentives that Smith points out. I consider myself fortunate to have found an “old-fashioned” woman who shares my religion and outlook on marriage.

I think Smith’s book is important, though it will be largely dismissed by the people who need it most. I’m going to try to take Smith’s advice and speak up when men are unfairly treated, even though I expect to be shouted down. I owe it to my boys. They deserve as much as my daughter to grow up in a world where their gender is not a liability.

If you’re at all fair-minded and are willing to at least consider that there may be something to what Smith says I’d recommend you read this book, especially if you have boys. If you don’t, at least keep your eyes and mind open to the signs around you. If it was harmful to society to discriminate against women, it can be just as harmful to discriminate against men. It’s not about payback or control. It’s about doing what’s best for our society, and it’s hard to imagine how society can flourish if either sex takes their ball and goes home.