Everywhere, men are stepping back when it comes to romantic commitment. Many young men are simply indifferent to the idea, some are afraid, while others are angry and have this bitter message for the opposite sex — "We don't know you; we don't need you, and we don't want you."
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In 1970, more than 94 percent of women in the UK were either married or had been married by the time they were 40 years old. Since then, marriage rates have plummeted, and over all age groups, married couples are now in the minority. The decline of marriage is a popular topic of discussion in the media with many commentators putting it down to changing lifestyles and freedoms for women. Indeed, there is a general consensus that young women are putting careers ahead of relationships, and as a result, the number of marriages taking place per year has almost halved over recent decades.
For much of the last 40 years or so, it is undeniably true that women have been postponing both marriage and childbirth. I would argue, however, that there is now a new phenomenon taking place, one that is a harbinger of radical change for the relationship between men and women. In the years to come, it will be men, not women, who will be the ones driving down marriage and birth rates.
Men are beginning to recognise their appalling vulnerability when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex, and they are individually waking up to the ridiculous risks they face. Almost 70 per cent of divorces are now initiated by women, and typically it is the man who stands to lose everything — his children, his home, his future income and his reputation. With suicide being the biggest killer of young men in the UK, and with those experiencing relationship breakdown being at the highest risk, he also stands to lose his life. In response, many men are now avoiding long-term commitment, or are simply turning their backs on relationships with women altogether.
Recent national crime surveys show that men account for 40 per cent of those who suffer domestic abuse. Many believe the true figure to be higher because men under-report the abuse against them. Male victims know that they face, not just ridicule, but the risk of being falsely labelled as the perpetrator by both the police and female support agencies.
Young men, especially, have internalised the appalling message that whenever two drunken people have sex, one of them is a rapist.
American psychologist, Dr Helen Smith, agrees and argues that men in the west are both consciously and unconsciously "going on strike". In her recent book, "Men on Strike", she describes how young men have internalised society's negativity towards them and are, not only avoiding marriage and fatherhood, but are also dropping out of higher education and leaving the workforce at astonishing rates.
Where married men and father figures where once viewed with respect, they are now presented as buffoons in the media, and new generations of males are simply refusing to relate to such negative stereotyping. As a result, young men are rejecting traditional gender roles, giving rise to the metrosexual male — urban heterosexual men who prioritise themselves and their lifestyle above other commitments. Such men are decidedly single.
If we want a glimpse of what the future may hold, we only need to look to Japan where those who reject their traditional masculine role are referred to as "grass eaters" or "herbivore men". These men are not just decidedly single, but they show little or no interest in sexual relations. With a staggering 70% of young Japanese men identifying themselves in this way, they have become a cultural and economic phenomenon, not to mention, a major target for advertisers. They are also considered the significant factor in the plummeting Japanese birth rate, and are blamed for many a single woman's solitude.
Irrespective of whether men are reacting consciously, having become aware of their own vulnerability in adulthood, or unconsciously, having already internalised the negativity towards by adolescence, most are doing so on an individual basis. There is, however, a growing counter-culture of males who collectively define themselves to be "Men Going Their Own Way", or "mig-tow", a pronunciation of the acronym "MGTOW". These are men who positively identify in their refusal to commit romantically to women. Many MGTOWs would disagree with Helen Smith's metaphor of men "being on strike", but would prefer to claim that they have simply "left the building" and are not coming back.
Geoff is a typical young man who identifies himself as a MGTOW. At the age of 23, he tells me that he was trapped in an abusive relationship with someone who was, in his words, out to destroy him. He explains that what really affected him was how he had believed, all along, that it was his role as a man to make his girlfriend happy. Therefore, he had always felt that whatever was wrong in the relationship was, somehow, his fault.
Several years later, however, he began to find websites where other men had similar stories to tell and he realised, for the first time, that he wasn't alone in his feelings or experiences. Looking back, he recalls how amazed he felt to see the things he had been secretly wondering openly voiced by other men. "It was if all those tiny nuggets of dissent that I'd carefully tucked away for fear of being seen as a sexist were suddenly validated," he says. He adds, "I realised that I didn't have to apologise for being male."
MGTOWs can be seen as an off-shoot of a wider men's movement, which also encompasses egalitarian and traditionalist sub-groups. Whereas traditionalists argue for a return to family values, egalitarians accept that the profound cultural changes of recent times mark an end for the traditional sex roles. For egalitarians, the toothpaste is already out of the tube and there is no putting it back. Indeed, many would not want to. Members of all groups claim that, contrary to popular perception, it is men who are the ones being disadvantaged and marginalised in society, not women.
Now, I'm going to let you into a big secret here, one that hasn't yet reached mainstream consciousness — outside of the MGTOW groups, a significant proportion of those in the men's human rights movement are, in fact, women. I would estimate that women account for around 20% of those active in the movement, falling evenly between traditionalist and egalitarian camps.
MGTOWs are separatists, however. They represent a collective rejection by men of the traditional relationship with women and, in some cases, of women themselves. While they typically claim to be indifferent towards women, I personally sense a strong under-current of anger (they regard "nice guys" and "good men" as fools). Outsiders typically see them as misogynistic. I, myself, used feel this way toward them, but my view has changed somewhat over time.
I now recognise that our tendency to see male dissent as misogynistic is nothing other than a symptom of our cultural inability to acknowledge the pain and suffering of adult men, even when it is laid out bare before our eyes. It might seem appropriate to dismiss MGTOWs as a bunch of angry misfits, but to do so would be a grave injustice. If, instead, you are willing to look through their anger, you will see men who have had their children stripped from them by the family courts, or men who have had their lives ruined by abusive partners and false allegations. Among their number, you will also find the children abused by their mothers who, knowing nothing except what it means to be rejected and disbelieved, have now grown up into damaged adults.
These are men who have long since given up waiting for somebody to care about them.
Moreover, I have come to appreciate that MGTOW-ism embodies a coherent ideology — one which is diametrically opposed to that of the radical feminists of the 1960s and one which will be extremely compelling to many a disenfranchised male. Their philosophy is based largely on the writings of Esther Vilar (yes, a woman) and her 1971 book, The Manipulated Man. In this, she describes how women coldly manipulate men for their own ends, and while some of it may be patent nonsense, I sense that many a man will find profound identification within its pages. Those who read it, having first been suitably broken at the hands of a woman, may forever look upon all women with dark eyes.
Just like an iceberg, most of which lies hidden beneath, there is a great body of disenfranchised males out there. With no voice, and no one to represent their interests, they lie invisible just beneath the surface of society. If you were to put Esther Vilar's book into their hands, I surmise that it may cause many to radically re-evaluate their world and their place in it.
No one controls MGTOWs. There is no central website, no leader and no particular plan. In any case, men are individually "going their own way" whether they realise it or not, and whether women like it or not.
Men never retaliated in the gender war that was declared upon them on behalf of all women, everywhere, by the radical feminists of the 1960s. Instead, slowly at first, they simply began to walk away. One of the few rays of hope is that it will be women themselves who, in increasing numbers, give their support to the wider men's human rights movement, thus providing an alternative to "men going their own way".
If allowed to continue to its miserable end-game, however, I solemnly predict that the gender war will be a war that all women, everywhere, will eventually come to bitterly regret.
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
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1. Marriages in England and Wales, 2010. Office for National Statistics