This morning I was sent an article from The New York Times’ opinion pages entitled “Men, Who Needs Them?” You might think the title is a hook, but no. It’s more of a rhetorical question, because according to the author, Greg Hampikian, the answer is, “Increasingly, no one.” As in, men are unnecessary to humanity.
Reasons? All that a man contributes to a human birth is a tiny amount of genetic material, of which we already have enough frozen to last women for generations. Women conceive, carry, bear, feed, fortify against disease, and nurture children – in other words, they are necessary and sufficient to perpetuate the species. Men are neither, save a one-time DNA donation.
Worse than that, men are increasingly of no use and of more trouble between conceptions. Over the past several decades, women are the ones going to college, wielding more and more weapons of technology and sophistication, and doing it while breaking fewer laws, causing less violence, and requiring less incarceration. Much like a car that’s less reliable than the alternative and violates legal standards, in Hampikian’s mind men are an unwise purchase compared to women. If you ask me, Hampikian is painting a pretty clear picture: harvest all the necessary X-chromosome sperm from the men of the Earth, then get rid of them. The world will be better for it.
Now I’m not sure Hampikian himself is quite ready to go this far – after all, he looks fondly upon his year as a house husband, raising his child. But then, he doesn’t seem to think that has enough affect upon his value to the superior sex to tip the scales, so who is to say we should take his opinion into account? He finishes by quoting a woman who proposes (I pray to God, jokingly) that men are worth putting up with because they are “entertaining.” But he himself questions whether this is enough.
So what do we do with this? Why am I writing about it?
I don’t disagree either with Hampikian’s summary of the mechanics of reproduction, nor with his gender statistics on education and law enforcement – somewhat troubling, at that, if not unfamiliar. I don’t find his premises wrong. I find his conclusions distasteful. I find the approach of the article sad, offensive, and misleading. Falling into a common trap within the science community, it reduces humankind to the survival of the species and discards the immeasurable worth of persons in all their complexity in favor of service business model competition.
This inferiority complex I’ve been watching and hearing in a stream of self-deprecating commercials, in articles, in books, in speeches — most by men — where spectacular women are mopping the floor with useless guys but tolerate them because guys are entertaining — it’s nauseating. None of this would be abode in the media if gender roles in these stories were reversed. What is the matter with us? Much of this material has levity to it, but every joke contains a seed of truth, and even a joke, repeated enough times, convinces of its truth. That’s how propaganda works.
Now commentary of the sort produced by Hampikian only exacerbates the problem. My dear men – all the men who might be having the kinds of doubts Greg Hampikian articulates – please, stop. Just because so many women stood up and showed the world they were good doesn’t mean you are worse. As a sex or as a gender, that is. Doesn’t mean you have to spiral down into the pit from which women have been climbing out and to convince yourselves you are weak, flawed, and second rate. Not everything is a competition. Is the word “equality” really not something humanity understands? Strength, goodness, dignity are not zero-sum games. You haven’t lost the game to women. You can only lose to yourselves if you, like some of the women of our own past, begin to see yourselves as cattle of breeding and source of trouble, reluctantly supervised by the master race that carries nourishment, knowledge, and common sense.
One problem among many with this whole discussion is the question of who is necessary for procreation. For one, technology indeed is advanced enough that soon we won’t need a womb to grow an egg, and eggs can be frozen as well as sperm. People who’ve never been breast-fed develop into functional adults. So, does this mean that in the foreseeable future women too will be obsolete? I think, this very question is flawed.
We are a biological species that procreates, but we are more than our ability to procreate. Just as not having a child does not make someone a useless human, not being necessary and sufficient for procreation does not make someone an unnecessary human. Conversely, being necessary for procreation does not make someone definitive of humankind. And allow me to depart from biological definitions, but I would not become what I am now if not for the presence of my amazing, strong and gentle, brilliant and funny and sparkly-eyed and healing, nurturing and masculine and utterly, utterly necessary father in my life, in my family, from the beginning to this day.
Again, call me what you will, but I dare say that we are part of the great network of universal life, to which we contribute what we are — our thought, our art, our history, our mistakes and inventions and struggles and pains. We hold some values above all things — love, freedom, dignity. For them we fight to the last life, to the last drop of blood. Exaggerating what happens to us every day, we tell tales we consider heroic of alien invaders and the world that would stand against them as one person, shoulder to shoulder, to fight for what matters most. Procreation matters — our life matters. But we will give up procreation — we will die, each one and as a species — before we let this world be turned into a slave mill. Into a lab. Into a zoo. And every time we tell the tale of standing for that last battle, people whose voices tremble with maternal and paternal love, having decided we’d rather give up the future of humanity than its freedom or its dignity, declare that our essence is not limited to procreation. And we say it in one voice: men, women, androgynous, undifferentiated, hijras, and all, all the others who are unique and in that equally necessary and equally insufficient by ourselves to make up humankind.