Several people, knowing my fondness for the Navy (think Navy League), sent me links to a Wall Street Journal article that Lt. Cmdr. Greitens, a Navy SEAL, wrote about what goes into making a Navy SEAL. Of course, it’s not just the training; it’s the man behind the training. No man who is afraid of ultimate responsibility, extreme hard work, painfully uncomfortable physical conditions, and pushing his own limits to their furthest boundaries will even think of becoming a SEAL. When one considers the demands of being a SEAL, I’m surprised that there are even 2,500 men qualified as active duty SEALs. Given the nature and habits of so many of the men I know here in the suburbs, I would have put the number closer to, say, 12.
The suburban men I know are nice men — really nice men. They’re bright men. They’re highly educated men (often Ivy League). They’re multi-credentialed men. They’re high-earning men. And aside from bringing home the bacon, many (not all, but many) of them aren’t good for much else. Between the people they pay to do tasks (the gardeners) and their over-achieving wives, they don’t do much that is traditionally manly (other, of course, than the wage thing, which is not to be sneezed at).
Although this is certainly not true for all the households I know, in a large number of them, the wives do everything but earn money (and some earn money too). These women not only do the traditional female tasks, such as children, cooking, shopping, cleaning and laundry, they also do the traditionally male tasks, such as garbage, gardening, clearing the table after dinner (when I grew up, the men did that as a courtesy to their wives), plumbing, small home repairs, etc. The women gripe about the never-ending tasks, but they also take a certain pride in their ability to get, not just a few things, but everything done.
One can easily blame women’s lib for the “vanishing male” phenomenon. After all, the men around me grew up in the 1970s, when they were told that women could bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and still be pistols in the bedroom. (I don’t think Madison Avenue appreciated quite how tired those women were after bringing home and bacon, frying it up, and giving birth to and raising a few children.) You remember this classic commercial, don’t you?
Women’s lib emasculated men!
I don’t think it’s quite that simple, though. I think these men — the men who have abdicated the roles that for a few decades belonged to suburban men — enjoy what I call auto-emasculation. Sure, they’re a bit less manly than their daddies, or the working class stiffs a few towns over, but on the other hand they’ve got so much less to do. Since they’re not hauling the garbage, they can go to the gym. Since the gardener is mowing the lawn (which is how my daddy kept his muscles in shape), they can watch that extra couple of hours of TV every weekend. And really, it’s nice to have a competent wife, so that you don’t have to do anything around the house. Even if you end up looking helpless around the kids, the trade-off is a good one: more couch time.
I didn’t read the SEAL article. I started to. Really. I did. But it’s about manly men, and I sorely feel the lack of them in my world. I understand that these manly men can be tough to be around, since they’re not in touch with their warmer emotions, they’re pretty scarred by some of their experiences, and they’re not around a lot. I grew up the daughter of one of those manly men, and it presented its own difficulties. Still, as the French say, Viva la difference! Many of my female suburban compatriots thought they were marrying real man, and found that they’d ended up marrying someone who, once he achieved the suburbs, decided that he’d filled his lifetime manly quota, and could pass the baton to someone else.
Cross-posted at Bookworm Room