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19 September 2002  

SOCIETY

(Yes, your humble goliard is still alive and well…just very busy with many other things. Musings will continue to be quite occasional.)

Women drivers. While watching the glorious opening-game victory of the Houston Texans a couple of Sundays ago (I have, you see, regarded the Cowboys as a manifestation of evil since the day they fired Tom Landry), I saw an advertisement for Kia automobiles that was new to me. It portrays a woman who, over time, drives her Kia with an assortment of boyfriends sitting in the passenger seat. The point of the ad is that the fellas come and go, various boyfriend-influenced hairstyles come and go, but the good old reliable Kia remains the same.

The picture of a man driving the car, with a woman sitting in the passenger seat, used to be iconic in our society, and among the older demographics it still appears to be the norm; but in recent years I have come to expect that if I see twentysomethings out on the highway, more likely than not it will be the female's (or the female's parents') car, and she will be driving. Have others taken note of this, and has anyone else taken a guess as to just what this could mean? Is this more an indication of female empowerment or of male disempowerment? Does it indicate encouraging things (ambition, being organized) about the females, and/or worrisome things (fecklessness, lack of direction) about the males?

The reader may be tempted to think that too much is being made of a trivial detail here; yet I do not think so, particularly in light of correlating trends. Elsewhere on the television there is a rash of advertisements featuring men who are idiots (and, not infrequently, savvier women who save the day); out in the real world, perhaps the most easily visible indicator is attire. When the twentysomething couple exits from the car to go have dinner or take in a movie or something, what does one typically see? What I normally see, in this part of the country at least, is a painstakingly-groomed female wearing smart clothes, accompanied by a young man sporting stubble and indifferently-styled hair, wearing clothes that are more casual than the female's—often strikingly so—and never, ever with his shirt tucked in. What is the deal here? Is this a simple supply-and-demand issue? (And if so, what on Earth could have induced today's young women to prefer underdressed and/or slovenly companions?) Is this a leading indicator of a change in the status of men versus women? Does it tie in to the automobile phenomenon noted above?

And does it have anything to do with an additional indicator: the fact, noted by Peggy Noonan among others, that the whistle-blowers who spoke out against Enron and other perpetrators of corporate fraud, as well as the government investigators who tried to aggressively pursue such cases (but were often blocked by bureaucracy), were almost exclusively women? I think it might, under the general observation that the younger generations of women are really starting to feel their oats; whereas in many professional circles the men feel an ever-increasing sense of vulnerability. Women over forty in the business world may still find themselves struggling against glass ceilings and good-old-boy networks, as the last generation of privileged males clings to positions of power; but the dynamic is dramatically different for younger folks, many of whom grew up in educational and social environments containing much support and even advantage for females, and much danger for males who did not carefully watch their step. Which in turn may have something to do with the fact that the percentage of males enrolled in higher education, and the performance of those who are enrolled, continues to decline.

I do not intend, by any of this, to argue that we should go back to the way things were before, or that it was right and good for males to have enjoyed privilege in the past, or that males are horribly oppressed today. What I am suggesting is that, in ways both large and small, important and seemingly trivial, there appear to be huge changes taking place in the male-female dynamic in our society, and in each gender role individually, and that these changes have been underreported and underanalyzed. I would further suggest that any negative effect that these changes may be having on males are in particular danger of being overlooked when habits of facile feminist boosterism (the usual "Hooray for the women…it's finally our turn!" celebration which takes place when women win the World Cup, or get elected to the Senate, or whatever), or sentiments that the hated oppressor is finally getting his payback, are allowed to substitute for critical thought.

I believe that we very much need to think about and come to understand what is going on here; and if this blog has many readers left after its long, unfortunate-but-necessary periods of lying fallow, I would love to see a discussion in the Blogsphere of such things.

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