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Are men obsolete?

That was the topic at tonight’s Munk Debate at Roy Thomson Hall – a sold out crowd of more than 3000, including many men, come to hear 1 British and 3 American intellectuals debate the decline of men relative to women in family and work: for the Pro side, Maureen Dowd of the NYTimes, who wrote “Are men necessary?” and Hanna Rosin of the Atlantic, whose book is “The End of Men.”

On the con side, Caitlin Moran from England, author of “How to be a woman,” and the controversial Camille Paglia. It was interesting that the Pro women wore tight skirts – Dowd in a little black dress and high heels – whereas Paglia – dedicated lesbian that she is – strode in wearing plain pants and flats, and Moran in shorts with tights and big boots and plaid shirt, like the punk SHE is.

There was a disconnect from the start in the debate in that both Dowd and Rosin were not arguing that men should vanish, only that we must be realistic in looking at a world – a western world anyway – that is shifting fast in favour of women. That manufacturing and blue collar jobs are disappearing, men are failing in the workplace, and one in five men were not working in the U.S. last year, whereas women are moving in the other direction: young single women now have higher incomes than men, women earn 60% of college degrees, and the “Alpha wife” who earns more than her husband figures in 40% of American couples.

Those statistics were from Rosin, who started with Rob Ford jokes – that our mayor was proof of the topic, we could just stop right there – and who was interesting but lightweight. Dowd was a disappointment; she’s a brilliant writer but, as she said at the start, “I have never debated before. I am so screwed.” And she was – she read her notes in a Margaret Atwood flat voice and didn’t engage.

Whereas the Con two, whom I had rather dreaded hearing – I found Moran’s book fun but exhausting – were fabulous – passionate, fierce, to the point. The real surprise was Paglia, who to me was the star of the evening, though her talks were cruelly cut off by the timekeeper; I could have listened to her for a much longer time. She rhapsodized about true masculinity, the working class men who keep our world running, and berated “upper-class feminists” for being “indifferent to the gallant work of construction workers.” She spoke of the crisis in education – that schools are toxic for creativity, especially male creativity, and “maleness needs a revolution in the education system.”

There was a spirited discussion about the meaning of Miley Cyrus, which once again I thought Paglia nailed, when she said Cyrus wasn’t disturbing or anti-feminist with her blatant sexual come on, just boring, because she doesn’t know that real sexuality is about mystery. Paglia ranted that there are no real male movie stars now like Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum or John Wayne, because those were men who had manly jobs in the real world before becoming actors and stars. The young now have dismal role models, she said.

And she finished by musing that at a certain point late in life, power and wealth are meaningless, but that our Western obsession with wealth and career is distorting the meaning of life – leading us to barren lives. She goes to a beach near her home frequented by working class families, all generations vacationing together. As we grow wealthy, she said, we lose those close family connections. Feminism has denigrated the stay-at-home mother and the value of children.

Whew! I have felt some of those things for years – about the demonization of boys in our education system, and the lack of respect for childcare work in traditional feminism. I was there as the mother of a son struggling to find his place in the world and a daughter raising a boy alone. Lots of what was said was of great relevance to their lives.

Dowd: Men are so last century.
Moran: These are not problems of men or women, but of all humanity. We are the same species. Human equality is a necessity, like water. In the 21st century, our biggest resource is brains.
Dowd: Saudi Arabia is oppressive, but it’s more liberated than the Catholic Church.
Moran: Straight white men are an extreme minority in the world, but they sure get a lot of shit done.

In the end, the vote was pretty close but the Cons won. Not a surprise. What was a surprise was the huge crowd, le tout Toronto, a real creme de la creme bunch – Torontonians desperate for a dignified, sophisticated evening out, celebrating what this city can and should produce. Brava to all four!

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

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