Interview: Helen Smith Talks Men on Strike
"When no one listens, people tune out and start to do their own thing," Dr. Helen Smith writes in the introduction to hew new book, Men On Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood and the American Dream – and Why it Matters:
There is a term for bailing out of the mainstream of society that I blogged about in 2008 called “Going John Galt” or “going Galt” for short. Have you ever read Atlas Shrugged? If not, do so. If you have read the book, you know where I am going with this. In Ayn Rand’s book, the basic theme is that John Galt and his allies take actions that include withdrawing their talents and “stopping the motor of the world” while leading the “strikers” (those who refused to be exploited) against the “looters” (the exploiters, backed by the government). One interesting fact about Atlas Shrugged is that the original title was The Strike, but Rand changed it at her husband’s suggestion. The original title of Rand’s book seems fitting for what is happening with today’s twenty-first-century man.
In some sense, men today feel very much like Rand’s characters in Atlas Shrugged, knowing that they can be exploited for their sense of duty, production and just for being male at any time. The state transfers men’s production to women and children through child support, alimony, divorce laws, and government entitlements that are mainly for women, such as WIC (grants to states for women, infants and children) or welfare payments to single mothers. 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 and children 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.
In fact, men have known that a backlash against them has been happening for decades, so why is it taking so long for men to fight back? Psychologist Warren Farrell, in his prophetic book The Myth of Male Power, written in 1993, talks about “the men’s movement as an evolutionary shift” and says the movement will be “the most incremental of movements” because it is “hard to confront the feelings we’ve learned to repress and hard to confront the women we’ve learned to protect.” Farrell believes that the greatest challenge of the men’s movement will be “getting men to ask for help for themselves. Men were always able to ask for help on behalf of others—for a congregation, their wives, children, or a cause—but not for themselves.”
If that's changing, then the contributions that Helen has made, first at her long-running blog and now in Men on Strike, have played a large part in, as the left likes to say about its own pet causes, "increasing awareness."
During our 27-minute long interview, Helen will discuss:
● Why “Enslavement used to be based on race, [but] now it’s based on gender.”
● Why men dominate the number of suicides reported each year.
● What are some of the ways that college is stacked against men?
● How the increasing popularity of the "man cave" is a bad sign for men.
● How comments posted on her blog at PJM led directly to the new book.
And much more. Click here to listen:
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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.
MR. DRISCOLL: This Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’re talking today with Dr. Helen Smith. If you’re a longtime reader of her blog at PJ Media.com, she needs no introduction, but for those stumbling into this podcast from elsewhere, Helen is a psychologist specializing in forensic and men’s issues. She holds a PhD from the University of Tennessee and master’s degrees from The New School for Social Research and the City University of New York. And she’s the wife of Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com. She’s also the author of the brand new book Men On Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood and the American Dream – and Why it Matters. It’s published by Encounter Books and available from Amazon.com and your local bookstore. And Helen, thanks for stopping by today.
DR. SMITH: Well, thanks so much for having me on your show, Ed.
MR. DRISCOLL: Helen, Ayn Rand originally titled Atlas Shrugged “The Strike.” Concurrent with Barack Obama taking office, the words “Going Galt” became a more or less household phrase, especially for entrepreneurs and those who are self-employed. So are men in particular going on strike? And if so, in a nutshell, what’s causing it?
DR. SMITH: Well, you know, my book is basically about men going on strike, and sort of reading Ayn Rand sort of got me thinking about it. I had talked about the term on my blog about four or five years ago. And I sort of talked about going Galt during the Obama administration, and that's sort of just withdrawing your production from the world and not producing in the sense that because you feel like you're not getting a reward for what you're doing, that there are punishments.
And I think that same vein, we have men today -- and I think even more so than women -- who are sort of going on strike. And what's happening is, the basic message of my book, is that men are acting rationally. The rewards for men in the fields of things like marriage, education, careers, and fatherhood, are a lot less than they used to be, and the costs and the dangers are higher.
So they're opting out, only kind of like people, you know, opt out when the taxes get so high, they sort of -- some people just quit producing as much. And I think in the same vein, as you noted, I think men are not -- it's not that they're not producing as much; I think that they're thinking about production more along the lines not just to -- you know, it used to, I think, men were more ready to give themselves over to families and do -- wanted to do things for women, like provide for them and that sort of thing. But now that times have changed, unfortunately, I think the traditional -- the feelings on the part of women and society are such that women are supposed to -- men are supposed to still do those things that are traditional, but at the same time, women have special privileges in the law and in marriage and in -- in a lot of ways. And I don't think we've changed the incentives for men.
MR. DRISCOLL: There’s astonishing quote early on in your book by Carnell Smith, advocate for male paternity fraud victims, who says, “Enslavement used to be based on race, now it’s based on gender.” Helen, could you talk a bit about the history of how we got to this point? If you watch TV’s Mad Men, you get the impression that prior to, I guess, 1968, men were brutish beasts who treated women like dirt on the job, cheated like sailors on their wives, and then feminism arrived in the 1970s and men and women become equals. That’s not exactly what happened though, is it?
DR. SMITH: That's not really exactly what happened. In the old days, we had, in the nineteenth century, something called coverture, and it meant that the woman's rights were sort of subsumed by that of a man in a marriage. But in today's world, according to -- I interviewed different people, experts in the field; and one of them was Michael Higdon, who's a law professor at the University of Tennessee, and he explained to me that coverture now is held in the hands of women.
Coverture means that those rights are sort of subsumed by the woman, and men's rights only go as far as women -- as women allow them to go. For example, there are just many aspects -- if -- when it comes to things like children, if a man gets divorced, only ten percent of the time does he get the custody of the kids. Who pays most of the alimony in the United States? About ninety-seven percent of it is paid by men. And there are even fights now over permanent alimony and that type of thing, were a woman can literally, if she's married a particular length of time, can get permanent -- or not even that long -- can get permanent alimony from a man.
And I think that what's happened is we've gone from a man-centric society, maybe like you were talking about with Mad Men -- although my sense is it's probably somewhat of an exaggeration. What I want to point out is during coverture, that men were somewhat held responsible. Of course there were atrocities committed towards women, and there were legal damages and things like that. But now we're turning them around; and when they happen to men in our society, people think that's okay.
And during coverture, if women did something that society -- like did something illegal, a man was held responsible, and he might have to go to jail. But now it's turned around to where if men do anything, for example, if a woman says he committed domestic violence, he can go to jail, often without any due process rights or anything. Men are put in jail for owing child support. In fact, Fathers and Families who -- I think it's changed their name now to the National Shared Parent Organization -- they did a study and they -- in Massachusetts, and they found that ninety -- something like ninety-six percent of those people going to jail for child support arrears, were men. And they found that men were eight times more likely to be put in jail if they owed child support, than women.
And so something about that is wrong when the majority of people are go -- you know, are male. And going back to the quote that you talked about in the beginning by Carnell Smith, I think it's just popular in our culture, it's accepted in our culture, that we can be biased against men, because they're the last group, pretty much, it's okay to be biased against, without a whole lot of repercussions.
MR. DRISCOLL: There’s a statistic in your book that I didn’t know. You write that, “In 2010, the latest suicide statistics show that 38,364 people killed themselves nationally and 30,277 of those were men.” One suicide is a man you mention in your book named Thomas Ball, whom you describe as “a man who set himself on fire on the courthouse steps because he felt jerked around by family court, was barely worth mentioning on the evening news for his dramatic ending. Ball, a fifty-eight-year-old New Hampshire man, stated that he was quote ‘done being bullied for being a man’ by the family court system.”
Which I guess leads to a two-part question: do people believe that the suicide rate is that skewed towards men, and do they give any thought as to the reason why?
DR. SMITH: Good question. No, I think when you hear about suicide, people think about who attempts suicide, and those people who attempt suicide are -- women tend to do that more often. And usually, either women will get help, or they don't tend to use a lethal means.
But men tend to -- I think women do it more as a cry for help, whereas men do it sort of to end hopelessness, at least that's my -- you know, from my twenty-year experience working with men who are suicidal. And I think it's just sort of a final thing for them. But our society, when you actually look at the media, they always -- even on a suicide site, they'll often have a picture of a woman or they'll talk about getting women help. But we really don't think about men. We don't -- our society is not empathetic to men in the same sense that they're empathetic to women.
We don't help them get the mental health care that they might need. And in addition, men won't go for mental health care. And as a practitioner, I truly believe this is because in part -- I mean, in part, of course, it's conditioning. Men, of course, to some degree, are conditioned to believe that they don't need any help. They are more fearful to ask for help. But it's with good reason. It's because a lot of times if men do complain, they're seen as being a whiner. And there just isn't the societal outpouring of empathy that we have for a woman who has emotional problems.
So when men are depressed, they're left on their own to solve the problem. I think men are also reluctant to go to a mental health practitioner, the majority of whom are women. And I've heard from so many men -- I mean, this is a bit anecdotal -- but I've heard from so many men that they'll go to a -- you know, a therapist, and they will tend to be more oriented towards women, or they won't really understand the male point of view as well.
And I think that tends to make men feel that there isn't any help available or that they would be reluctant to go. And so yes, I think our society -- and I don't think our society sees this as important. If men kill themselves, it's just oh, another man gone. And we see men -- there's this feeling in our society that men are expendable. And I think that's unfortunate, and I think that perception needs to change.
MR. DRISCOLL: Well, what role does academia play in creating these anti-male perceptions? Glenn Reynolds wrote the Higher Education Bubble last year, which explored a myriad of problems with America’s university system, not the least of which are its costs, in which students rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to get useless degrees. But how are some of the ways that college is particularly stacked against men?
DR. SMITH: Well, I think that first of all, it goes back even before college, where men in -- or boys, actually, in high schools or before, are -- I think that it's not an experience that a lot of boys can feel connected to. There are -- I think the schools have a lot of female-oriented activities. The readings that they do in schools tend to be more oriented towards girls. For example, they might have some politically correct information from Toni Morrison or other books that boys don't really want to read.
There's even been studies -- for example, there was a study done by the London School of Economics, that found that boys receive lower marks by female teachers, and that also, a lot of times boys are -- their behavior is evaluated and they get a mark based on behavior as opposed to merit.
The competitiveness in schools, the sort of politically correct atmosphere, is worse for boys than it is for girls. And I don't think it's good for girls either, believe me. I'm not -- I'm not saying that. But I think for boys who tend to be, maybe more individualistic, or less likely to conform, less likely to want to sit still, I think that schools are a difficult place for them to connect with.
And therefore, when they go into the college setting, where they're less likely to go -- that's the biggest thing -- and right now we're seeing it get down to where I believe it's heading towards sixty percent of colleges now are girls. It's basically at fifty-seven percent. And they're saying that it'll rise to sixty percent. And, you know, where does that stop? I mean, are we going to get to where no boy wants to go to college?
And then, as you pointed out, I mean, colleges and the academic world have gotten much more hostile to men. If you go in a class and they're talking about you as some type of pervert, racist, you know, pedophile, whatever, I mean, a man's not going to feel good in a setting like that.
And the other thing is, our speech codes are so draconian now, and the sexual sort of assault and sexual harassment codes are so difficult for boys, that they often -- it's a very difficult environment to deal with.
One of the things that's really concerning is the Obama letter that was sent out in 2011. It was a Dear Colleague letter that told schools, colleges that take federal funds, told them that they needed to lower the preponderance of evidence from basically a higher level to a lower one, where if a guy is charged with sexual assault, they even need fifty percent evidence, or a little over fifty percent, to charge him, you know, with having done that -- committed that assault. And that's a very serious charge. I mean, to charge somebody with a sexual assault can harm a young man's career, they can maybe not finish college, they can be thrown out of school.
And we just don't take those things as seriously as we do for women. We just wouldn't allow that to happen in this -- in today's world, to women.
MR. DRISCOLL: The last decade has seen the entry of the unfortunate phrase, the "man cave" into the vocabulary. What does the rise of the man cave say about the decline of men?
DR. SMITH: Well, I mean, in the old days, Brett McKay actually did a beautiful post. He wrote The Art of Manliness [Website] along with his wife, I believe her name is Kay. But they do The Art of Manliness books. He wrote a wonderful piece on the decline of male space.
And one of the things he talks about is how in the old days, men had more -- you know, you saw Dad with his slippers and a pipe, and he was right upstairs, maybe in the living room or the den. Now, it seems like men are relegated to the worst part of the house, maybe the garage or the basement. And I think what it says is that even though a lot of men, I think, enjoy dark spaces or like being downstairs, a lot of times I think it's just a portion of the house that's allotted to the man that's just -- you know, because the whole house is sort of run by the women and the children now, and Dad is just an afterthought, if he's available in the house at all.
I mean, a large majority of boys and girls are growing up without dads at all. But if they have one, a lot of times Dad's in -- you know, in the basement, or it's all about how a woman allows him to have the space in the house. And it's like the house now is the woman's, and a guy's just allowed to live there.
And I think that the decline of space -- male space in our society -- in the '80s there was just a lot of regulations about, you know, male-only clubs. We even see -- you know, so many things are heavily regulated, we don't even see the Elks Club or all those kinds of places. You know, men are discouraged from congregating together. And when they do, they're either made fun of or they're shut down.
Even in schools, they -- one of the things that was interesting as I went around to try to find men's centers -- and the truth is, there are only, I think, two in the United States, of colleges that even have a men's center. And everyone says, well, the whole campus is a men's center. But actually, that's not the truth.
And a lot of guys, when I talked to men who actually had formed a men's law group in one of the big public colleges, and they're -- one of the heads of this law group told me that, you know, they really didn't feel welcome in the environment, and they felt like they couldn't really open their mouth, and if they wanted to talk, they really needed to go off campus to do so. And this really sounds to me like how women might have felt, maybe in the 1950s or something.
MR. DRISCOLL: Your blog is one of the most popular at PJ Media, and there are number of comments from your readers quoted in Men on Strike. Could you talk a bit about how the blog posts you wrote and the response to them by your commenters led to the new book, and the process in writing it?
DR. SMITH: Yes. I actually -- I stupidly, about five years ago, I think I had -- or maybe it was six years ago, I did a blog post asking men -- you know, just asking men, should they get married. And I thinking like, oh, well, it's -- you know, there's some nice reasons men should get married. But all the men on my blog really set me straight. And they really got me thinking and let me know that, you know something, it is not such a good deal for us.
It's really, as time goes on, so many men are afraid of the legal aspects. The psychological aspects, where a lot of the men on my blog mentioned that they -- you know, were cut off from friendships, they were cut off from spending time with family, friends. And some of the research bears this out. And I know -- well, I don't know if you call this research, but I know there was an article I was reading that was men's health, and they talked about how it was so important for men to be around their friends, and that actually it's worse for men -- for men's self-esteem to have no -- you know, not to be around friends when they're married, because men tend to be more loners, and they don't connect as well. And to lose that during a marriage is to isolate them more, and maybe you see more of a rise in depression in men, which of course, turning that around, can lead to the suicide that we were talking about earlier. That's an extreme form.
But going back to the blog posts, yeah, everything I really learned -- I learned a lot from the Internet, but it was also from my experience having worked twenty years before with so many men. And I've evaluated, you know, probably five or six thousand individuals, at least half, probably more of them being men and boys. And just hearing from them and hearing -- I think the great thing about the blogesphere, is that you can hear from so many different voices from really all of the world. But, you know, a lot of what I -- the guys I talked to were in the United States. And a lot of them actually write me from PJ Media. I mean, they write me all the time.
And one of the things that really warms my heart about the book so far, of the men who have read it -- it'll be readers from PJ Media, and it'll be guys who say, you know, what? I got your book. And my mom or somebody didn't really understand where I was coming from, why I feel -- you know, I was always told I was cynical and depressed. I felt alone.
And maybe they could, you know, give the book to their mom, or maybe it would help maybe even a woman in their life to understand a little bit more, or at least it -- the best thing is that it would make me make them feel like they're not alone, like oh, their ideas are correct. And their feeling that things are not right, that the legal and the psychological and cultural environment is -- there is this backlash against men. And I think we need to right that. We need -- and the same way we righted it against women -- we don't want to go so far the other way that we harm our -- you know, our men and boys who are so important to the production and to the wellbeing of this country.
MR. DRISCOLL: Helen, when you discuss the topics explored in Men on Strike with people who haven’t read your book or your blog, do they react negatively or surprised at the notion that men can be victims?
DR. SMITH: You know, I don't know if I really want to call it victims. I mean, I guess in some sense, that's what people say. But rather than victims, I guess, you know, can men to be discriminated against. Absolutely. But what do people say? I mean it depends who you're talking to.
A lot of times -- for example, I was talking to maybe a liberal journalist, and they would look surprised. And their mind is very closed to that type of thing, especially older men, because they feel like they've never seen that in their lifetime. If I talk to younger guys, they totally get what I'm talking about.
If I talk to women, they sometimes don't understand. Like what I'll do with women, if they talk to me a little bit, and I'll say -- they'll tell me -- they think my book -- they'll hear -- if they ask what it's about and I say men or strike or why men -- I just tell them it's why men don't want to get married, and they think, oh, I'm a -- oh, it's a psychologist writing a cute book about how to help me learn how to rope a man, or something.
And in truth, it's -- that's the antithesis of what the book's about. The book is all about why, you know, from a political and legal standpoint, men don't want to get married anymore.
But what I ask women, and even men sometimes is I'll say to them, name me, you know five reasons -- five legal reasons, men should get married. Now, I understand the psychological ones. You know, they want -- they want to be with a certain woman, they love this person, of course. But I say name me five legal reasons, and honestly, I've not had one yet that could.
So you know, I think that -- I think that sort of opens their eyes, sometimes, too -- and I think that the reaction from women is -- I don't think women have ever put themselves in men's shoes. Women talk about being the empathetic sex, but in reality, I'm so bothered, in some sense, that women don't have empathy, a lot of times, for men. But at the same time, there are a lot of great women out there who, if you just sort of -- if they stop and think about it, they think, oh, well, maybe that sort of makes sense.
But the other thing I wanted to turn around is say is from a men's perspective, a lot of men just deny that this is happening. Oh, I've never had that happen, or this is ridiculous, or they want to sort of say, well, I don't believe in this. And I'm -- it's kind of like there's an old saying that, you know, you may not believe in war, but war believes in you.
You may -- you know, you may think that nothing will happen to you, but if that woman at your job points a finger at you and says you did something to her or you said something to her inappropriate, and you know, you don't have a leg to stand on. You may be hauled before the HR department with little support, and you may find out that your rights aren't -- you know, that being a man isn't going to help you in any way, and that in fact, you may be a target.
MR. DRISCOLL: We talked about how your blog led to Men on Strike; one of the recurring topics that Glenn Reynolds has been writing about since the early days of Instapundit, and that you also discuss in Men on Strike, is that men are invariably the butt of jokes in television advertising. How does that impact how men are viewed by society and is there anything they can do to fight back against this?
they can do to fight back against this?
DR. SMITH: Yeah. I mean, what's interesting is Jim Macnamara -- he's a public relations professor in Sydney, Australia -- and he wrote a book called Media and Male Identity, which is just terrific. I mean, I can't say enough good things about it. It's really a little book of research.
But what he found is that sixty-nine percent of the times when men are portrayed in the media are negative. And I really think that affects boys and men in our society. And yes, everybody laughs and says they're the butt of -- you know, men are the butt of jokes and they're always being beaten and hit. And women are slapping men in the face. And men can't throw a ball. You know, the Volkswagen commercial [earlier this year]. I think I did a post at PJ Media about that.
I mean, there's just a lot of times where men are seen as sort of buffoons and deadbeats. And I think that it is very negative. It's negative for boys to see this type of thing. And it's negative for men too, every time they turn on the television -- and you know, the worst part is it makes it acceptable. It's almost like when people see that they think that that's okay in the same way that maybe a kid sees something on TV and thinks, oh, it's acceptable to talk badly to my parents because that's what they do in my favorite cartoon.
It's -- it's just a negative message. And it sends a message to our society that it's acceptable -- acceptable to bash men and to be hateful towards them.
And what can men do about it? Well, first of all, one of the things I point out in the book -- and I offer a number of tips and solutions in the final chapter -- and one of the things that I -- you know, is don't laugh yourself. I mean, sure it's funny if it's like, you know a comedy or whatever. And I understand, you know, some of that stuff is funny.
But when you see a man being punched in the face by a woman or another man, it's really not funny. So first of all, try to control your own behavior. But also, I'd call -- I'd tell men to call other men and women out when they've laughing at such things.
Or if you see an add -- Glenn Sacks, who runs a website -- glennsacks.com -- who's a men's rights activist, he does a beautiful job, or he'll campaign -- when he sees something negative in the media, he'll get all like the guys on his side -- they'll all campaign against it, if they see something negative against men.
And they've often got -- at times, gotten things taken down or been very successful. So don't be afraid to, you know, write in, write e-mails. And I know a lot of PJ Media, you know, readers are very, you know, activists, and they will do some of those things.
So I think to keep that up and to just be aware and not to put up with it when you're out in society and people are laughing. Because I think when we -- when we tell or let other people think that that's acceptable behavior, then it become ingrained. And I just think that's a negative place to be.
MR. DRISCOLL: Well, last question. Going forward, as more and more men see the system in general stacked up against them, should they fight back; should they bail out on society and go Galt; or both?
DR. SMITH: Well, in the book I do talk about a combination of both. And I think you have to look at it -- as a psychologist, I look at people's sort of psychology of who are they, and how do they feel. Do you feel like you're a -- are you a person who likes to stand up and say, you know, I'm not going to take this anymore?
I think you have to use the strengths or the weaknesses that you have, and to sort of extrapolate from there. If you feel it's something that you just don't want to handle and you feel like going Galt or just opting out, I mean, a lot of men -- I see a lot of guys around -- I'm from Tennessee, and you know, a lot of guys are just riding around in their truck, drinking a beer, enjoying -- they're self employed. Maybe they have, you know, some type of small business. And maybe they're not married. And they just enjoy doing -- doing their own thing.
Or maybe they still date women. But they -- maybe they don't want to be married. And of course, I'm not -- I think marriage is a great thing. I've -- actually my 19th anniversary is coming up on the day my book comes out, which is really exciting. So I certainly advocate marriage. But I don't advocate it in the -- you know, I don't advocate the legal terms out there for men at this point.
But I do think, just as a man, to be aware of what's going on, and do fight back. And I do think going in -- and people say like don't get involved, like Internet chat rooms and things like that. But I don't think it's a bad thing when you see people say even in The Wall Street Journal, or people over at The New York Times, go over there and put your two cents in.
And I see people even over at The Atlantic, a lot of men get on that site. And they would really go after, you know, somebody who's got something negative to say about men. And I think that's terrific, because it lets people know there's another option out there besides making fun of men and treating them as the enemy.
I mean, we're all friends here. We all want to get along. And we all want to make the best of our society, hopefully, if we're decent human beings. And in that vein, I think it's important that we learn that men and boys do have feelings and that we do need to protect, you know, constitutionally and psychologically, those men and boys in our society, just like we do women and girls.
MR. DRISCOLL: This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media. And we've been talking with Helen Smith, who blogs at PJ Media.com/drhelen, and is the author of Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood and the American Dream -- and Why it Matters. It's published by Encounter Books and available from amazon.com and your local bookstore.
And Helen, continued success with the book and blog and thank you once again for stopping by today.
DR. SMITH: Thanks so much, Ed. I really appreciate it.
(End of recording; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)
Transcribed by eScribers.net, with minor revisions (including hyperlinks) by Ed Driscoll.