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Munk Debates: The End Of Men

Four women debate whether men are obsolete. It made me want to scream.

Image 1Last Friday night, “End Of Men” author Hanna Rosin, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, British broadcaster Caitlin Moran, and Humanities professor Camille Paglia took the stage at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, Canada, to debate the proposition “Are men obsolete?” Early on, Moran connected with the crowd by musing, “Why are four women debating the end of men?!” And when the crowd laughed, I wanted to scream.

How Four Women Ended Up Having a Roundtable Discussion about Women in an Event Billed as a Debate About the End of Men

The Munk Debates are well-regarded semi-annual debates on subjects of international significance. In 2011 they had Henry Kissinger and Fareed Zakaria on whether the 21st century will belong to China. Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens debated the significance of religion. One of last year’s debates, featuring Paul Krugman and Newt Gingrich, asked whether we tax the rich enough.

But there were few women in the debaters’ chairs. The organizers were under pressure to include women, so they hosted a women-only debate. But they didn’t choose an obvious women’s subject such as whether ascendant western feminists should continue to fight for precise equality at home or begin to fight for the non-western women who are still gang raped in great numbers or not allowed to drive. The organizers clearly thought of such a topic. They had video of Naomi Wolf discussing exactly this point.

Instead, they chose “The End of Men?,” I assume, for its sensationalism. Western white women are enjoying their rising power over men and the Munk Debates stoked it. They took the title from Rosin’s over-hyped book and embellished it with a lovely graphic, reminiscent of a James Bond title sequence, of a little man cowering under a stiletto heel.

Image 2They also changed the rules. They made the debate format more conversational, a changeup that somebody somewhere probably assumed women would like. With the exception of opening and closing statements, this was in fact not a debate but a roundtable discussion. There were prerecorded cameo appearances by Wolf, who spoke about the aforementioned plight of non-western women, and Tina Brown, who talked about Miley Cyrus and femininity. Both Wolf and Brown made interesting points, but they were not on topic for the question of obsolete men.

The organizers had no intention of keeping on the actual topic. The End of Men resolution was just a flashy disguise for a chat about the rise of women. That is probably why no one objected when Rosin changed the premise in the middle of the discussion. It wasn’t really a question of whether men were obsolete—of course they weren’t, Rosin conceded about midway in the discussion. By default, the question became “Are they in decline because the rules favor women?” an obvious and hardly debatable notion. In fact, a post-debate critique I heard both in the lobby and saw on Twitter, the panelists agreed about too much. According to one write-up in Canadian news magazine McLean’s, “Everyone was thoughtful and hilarious but it was obvious they didn’t really disagree.”  I don’t know about the thoughtful and hilarious part, but stretching to use those kinds of superlatives in the process of admitting the “debate” was noting of the sort only underscores the self-congratulatory nature of the affair.

Prior to the event, I met a lovely older lady in the lobby. A Toronto resident and Munk Debates member, her favorite debate was the one with Kissinger on China. Impressed I’d flown so far (I came in from Texas), she told me these were usually great debates. I told her not to get her hopes up for this one, that Paglia was the only one on stage with any intellectual credibility. This would not be a clash of gifted minds that she had seen in the past. Two hours later, she waited for me as we left the auditorium and asked with wide eyes, “How do they expect me to buy that women are rising when they can’t even stay on topic? What was that?”

They Didn’t Talk About The End of Men So Much As Act Out How It Is Happening

As off-topic as the debate was, it did manage to touch on men. Moran thought it awful that we didn’t give credit where credit was due, to the men who undoubtedly built the infrastructure and economy that women are taking over. Rosin claimed that men’s decline was just the harsh truth and it did no good to deny or fight it. If you’ve read Dowd’s column in recent years, you will find it unsurprising she said absolutely nothing of consequence or relevance. She opened with “Um, I’ve never debated before. I’m so screwed,” and proceeded to recycle Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and Ted Cruz barbs. When the author of Are Men Necessary did get around to the theme of the evening, her observations bordered on nonsensical. “So now that women don’t need men to reproduce and refinance, the question is, will we keep you around? And the answer is, ‘You know we need you in the way we need ice cream — you’ll be more ornamental,'” she said. I confess I’d never previously thought of using frozen treats for decorative purposes. Frankly, “ornamental” is the nicest thing I can write about Dowd’s performance. She looked quite lovely.

Only Paglia had ideas for men. The audience particularly warmed to her point that we need to revitalize trade education and give trades the respectability that they deserve. She complained that we are “snobbish” about university degrees and that we degrade men by scoffing at their talents.

But if the audience liked her vocational education point, they didn’t understand the bit about snobbery. When Paglia mentioned that she listens to sports radio, Rosin broke in with an incredulous, “You listen to sports radio?” To which Paglia explained, rather well I thought, that it was one of the few environments that allowed typical, blue collar men to speak freely. She listened so she could hear their voice.

People snickered. And that’s when Moran jumped in with, “Why aren’t the men discussing this?” The audience laughed and applauded.

The end of men played out right on the stage. Female intellectuals alternately use, exclude and ignore men while half-heartedly debating whether the rules are tilted to favor women. Then they complain men don’t show up and imply it is because they are too lazy or haplessly ill-suited for the task at hand. The huffy do-women-have-to-do-everything-themselves sanctimony is just the cherry on top of this ornamental end-of-men sundae.

I saw quite a few tweets asking how women would feel if four men were asked to debate whether women were obsolete. But that hypothetical doesn’t quite capture the absurdity of men’s position. What would happen if the Munk organizers took Moran’s question to task and asked four men debate the end of men? Patriarchy! How dare they worry about their privilege when women are still not 250 of the Fortune 500!

Women had to discuss the end of men not because men are too lazy or complacent, but because men aren’t allowed such candor.

And The Audience Survey Says…

Before the doors opened, the organizers polled the audience and found an 84/16 split in favor of men’s continued relevance. At the end of the debate, the audience voted 56/44 for the same. By Munk standards, Rosin and Dowd won for changing the most minds. I suspect the swing was mostly due to Rosin changing the resolution, but also due to a little silent joke.

Image 3The organizers gave out yes or no stickers. I saw more than a few young men standing next to their girlfriends wearing “I voted yes” stickers. A few smirked when I caught their eye and indicated the sticker.

Caitlin Moran had finished her opening statement by declaring that if men were obsolete then women would really have to do everything. “I’m not going to let you get away with it, you f***ers!” she yelled into the hall. Again she was met with great laughter. (This had to be the the most tweeted comment from the event, and Moran emerged from the event a crowd favorite.) But the dates with the “I voted yes” stickers made me wonder, did the young men find the whole thing so insulting, that they declared themselves obsolete in protest? Is the fact that they felt they could be cavalier about the outcome of the debate proof of their continued relevance?

Rosin, who didn’t seem to give a critical eye to any contradictory evidence, will likely think that she carried the day. But I don’t think she did. I suspect that after the quips and the secret protests fade, the solutions proffered by Paglia will linger.

What Camille Paglia Said

Paglia was more diplomatic than I expected. I had thought that the exacting and scathing Paglia of the recent piece in the “Chronicle of Higher Education” — Scholars in Bondage — would show up and relentlessly pound Rosin on her lack of knowledge or evidence.

Rosin’s book is full of anecdotal evidence. Like Betty Friedan who wrote “The Feminine Mystique” based on a questionnaire of a few hundred Smith College graduates, Rosin’s “The End of Men” is based off interviews and a smattering of uncritically examined data.

Aside, however, from an early statement that “the only men who gain voice in your book are those willing to confess their victim status” (Rosin freely admits she didn’t include the non-victim men because she didn’t think there were enough of them) and a later comment that to believe in the end of men is naive, Paglia didn’t go on the attack. Instead, she was almost pleading with the audience to understand.

She has the advantage of age and the perspective that comes with it. The omens are bad, Paglia observed. No one is listening to men. We are using them, mocking them. And Rosin and others might say that men have no choice to submit to the new women’s order—but they have choices. Whether men retreat into themselves or decide to overthrow the women’s order, it ends badly for women. And the hollowed out shell of modern feminist thought will provide no defense. We change all the rules that we can to favor women, but some rules won’t yield, no matter our wishes.

Paglia has made these points repeatedly over the years, but there was a sense of urgency in her closing.

Paglia is unlikely to pen a desperate confessional like Elizabeth Wurtzel‘s or Liz Jones‘s anytime. She has a long and distinguished career to look back upon. Paglia, like her mentor Harold Bloom, will be seen as instrumental in keeping the flame alive should the Western Canon see a revival in academia. She is one of the few national voices speaking common sense on education, and she continues to fight the good fight against the feminists who confine the movement to career and sex. History will judge her favorably.

What Paglia understands, what got lost in this discussion, and most others, about western men and women, is that career, sex and power struggles, win or lose, they aren’t enough. She described walking along the New Jersey shore and watching with rapt attention how generations of blue collar families gathered. The little old grandparents watch their families in the surf and sand and marvel at “what they had wrought.”

Caitlin Moran is a heavy Twitter user. After the debate she tweeted that she had about six hours until her flight to London. By the math, sleep wasn’t worth it. So she stayed up and drank with Rosin and Dowd.

I’m guessing that Paglia saw nothing to celebrate. She probably went home weary.

You may listen to the debate here If you do not have an hour and a half to listen, I recommend Paglia’s opening and closing statements and the end of men moment, about midway though the program.

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