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Have Men Become Obsolete?

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  • Pages: 5
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  • Category: Gender

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Men’s roles in relation to reproduction and the family have in recent decades been increasingly dismissed, rendering the traditional institutions of marriage and family obsolete. Proponents argue that men are not needed in a family unit, providing the mere genetic code for their children, thus are replaceable and “obsolete”. I believe that this can be best explained by developments in reproductive technologies and the gender revolution – its effects on marital satisfaction and meanings attached to roles of men and women in a traditional nuclear family.

The improvements in assisted reproductive technologies (ART), like in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and artificial insemination, and the legalisation of their use have given women more alternative means to facilitate birth and pregnancy. To the extent that men’s contribution to a family is sorely biological, men’s function in the family could be considered negligible. This is observable in trends of patients receiving IVF. Yet in reality men are not perceived merely as sperm ‘donors’. To thoroughly explain the author’s stance, a symbolic interactionist approach to understanding the meaning attached to the roles of a husband to his wife might better explain changes in social attitudes towards men’s roles in matrimony and family. The gender revolution can explain this change in social attitudes towards men’s roles. The global shift towards a post-industrial society saw an increase in the demand for a more literate and numerate workforce (Brym & Lie, 2007).

“Muscle mass” was less of an employment consideration and employers were employing more competent women, thus leading to more women working and receiving education (Brym & Lie, 2007). The author rightfully noted that “women have been a majority of college graduates since the 1980s and their numbers are growing”. Conflict and feminist theories identify men as the breadwinners in a traditional nuclear family, and women as being economically dependent and controlled. Increased income independence can result in women no longer seeing marriage as essential to economic security. One factor influencing marriage is whether couples believe that the benefits of marriage will outweigh the costs (Bracher & Santow, 1998), thus economic independence can reduce women’s incentives to marry (Becker, 1981). With ART, women can then proceed with childbirth and raise a child without men.

Happiness constitutes a large component of marital satisfaction (Brym & Lie, 2007). However the growing gap between the number of women and male graduates is resulting in a mismatch in the marriage market. South Korea and Vietnam see an increased number of highly educated single women as compared to men, and they expect to marry up (Howard, 2011); the United States (US) sees more female public school graduates across races (Greene & Winters, 2006); and Higher Education Policy Institute of UK found larger numbers of unemployed male graduates as compared to female graduates. There might be cases where women have to take over the breadwinner role that is traditionally that of the husband’s. Where women value men’s earning power (England & Farkas, 1986 pp. 33-34), this trend can result in a shift in the perception of men’s roles, rendering them useless in their functions in a traditional nuclear family.

The critical factor however seems to be love. Marital satisfaction and mate selection is increasingly dependent on love between the couple (Brym & Lie, 2007); so much so that the Singles in America study conducted by the Institute for Evolutionary Studies at Binghamton University found that most Americans valued a meaningful and loving relationship over the legal institution of marriage. Willingness to marry without love is decreasing: in the US only 4% of respondents in a study conducted on the importance of love in marriage are willing to marry without love (Levine et al. 1995: 561). This suggests a shift of social attitudes towards the roles of men, where they now have the role of being an emotional companion and support. With this premium placed on love, many women are unwilling to get married without first finding ‘Mr. Right’. However many women do want to have children and are aware of their biological clocks ticking. Their solution to this problem is then to start a single parent family, conceiving through ART. In this sense men are considered unnecessary to starting a family, contributing neither emotionally, biologically, nor financially. However the reasons are not as negative as the author puts it. The prevalence of love as a factor of marriage has led to a shift in the meaning of men’s roles in a relationship, with respect to his wife, thus causing him to become unnecessary and possibly obsolete in childbearing decisions.

In conclusion, analysing the effects of ART, the gender revolution, and the importance of love through a symbolic interactionist perspective, suggests the phenomenon of men becoming obsolete to childbearing and family to be explainable by the development in reproductive technologies, and the changing meanings attached to the roles of men in a relationship between the couple and his function in the family.

Bibliography and references:

Becker, Gary S. A Treatise on the Family. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981. Bracher, Michael and Santow, Gigi. “Economic Independence and Union Formation in Sweden.” Population Studies, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Nov., 1998): 275-294. Levine, Robert, Sato, Suguru, Hashimoto, Tsukasa and Verma, Jyoti. “Love and Marriage in Eleven Cultures.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 5 (1995): 554-571. Accessed September 18, 2012. doi: 10.1177/0022022195265007 Hope, Jenny. “The soaring rate of ‘no-father’ families: Lesbian couples and single women rush for IVF.” Daily Mail, December 20, 2010. Accessed September 18, 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1340012/Lesbian-couples-single-women-rush-IVF.html Brym, Robert J., and Lie, John. Sociology: your compass for a new world, 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2007. “Unemployment for male graduates far worse than for female graduates – findings of a HEPI report published today,” Higher Education Policy Institute, July 04, 2010. Accessed September 18, 2012. http://www.hepi.ac.uk/478-1849/Unemployment-for-male-graduates-far-worse-than-for-female-graduates-%E2%80%93-findings-of-a-HEPI-report-published-today.html Howard, Michael C. Transnationalism and Society: An Introduction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. England, Paula and George Farkas. Households, Employment, and Gender: A Social, Economic and Demographic View. New York: Aldine, 1986. Greene, Jay P. And Winters, Marcus A. “Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates.” Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Civic Report No. 48. April, 2006. Accessed September 18, 2012. http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_48.htm Rollason, Kevin. “The changing face of the family: Traditional unions down in Winnipeg, across Canada.” Winnipeg Free Press, September 20, 2012. Accessed September 20,

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