Monday, July 02, 2007

A loser nation of loser men?

How did George Bush win the 2004 election? A left-wing Australian writer, John Bradford, believes he knows the answer.

Writing in the left-liberal Australian magazine, Dissent, Bradford argues that it was a backlash by men, particularly white working-class "loser" men, against women which gave electoral victory to the right.

In support of his theory he points out that a majority of women, 51%, supported Kerry, and so it was only the votes of men, 55% of whom supported Bush, which got the Republicans over the line.

Bradford is right that this "gender gap" in voting patterns exists. But even this starting point for his theory of a male backlash against women is misleading.

After all, only 44% of both white women and married women voted for Kerry. It was only Kerry's considerable support among young female voters (56%), unmarried women (62%) and non-white women (75%) which gave him a narrow majority of the female vote.

The "backlash" against the left, therefore, involves not just white men, but also white women and married people in general. So already Bradford's idea of a specifically male rejection of the left is on shaky ground.

Moral values

Bradford's next claim is that Bush deliberately fought the campaign on the moral issues of same-sex marriage and abortion in order to appeal to poor, white males.

He did so, writes Bradford, not because such men have an interest in these moral issues, but because many American men have become "losers" in recent times, and the moral issues give them a renewed sense of group confidence and adequacy.

Why are American men so stressed that they need to be appealed to in this way? One reason, asserts Bradford, is that the Americans have a free market economy, which is based on exploitation of the working poor, in which real incomes are falling, which is exporting jobs to low wage economies overseas, and which is debt-ridden and "in thrall" to foreign investors.

In comparison, the high tax, welfare economies of Europe provide higher earnings, shorter hours and better health levels for workers. Europeans, notes Bradford, are even growing taller than Americans!

Of course, it's predictable for a left-liberal to make this kind of economic analysis. All liberals, whether left or right, see society as made up of millions of competing wills, each trying to enact their own individual desires. Right-liberals believe that the free market allows people to selfishly pursue their own interests and still benefit society as a whole.

Left-liberals, though, think that the free market leads to unequal outcomes. They prefer competing wills to be regulated in a more deliberate way by the state.

A right-liberal, therefore, is likely to look to the (relatively) free market American economy as a model, whilst a left-liberal will prefer the example of the higher taxing, welfare states of Europe, in particular Scandinavia.

The descent of men

And now we get to the crux of the argument. Bradford observes that the traditional family has declined in America. Rising female earnings and declining male earnings mean that women are no longer so economically reliant on a husband. As Bradford himself puts it,

Men are fading from the family picture. Women have less need and less opportunity to secure their financial future by economic dependence on men, through marriage or otherwise.

This development, writes Bradford, means that "large swathes of men are being reduced to 'loser males'" who "can be more an economic hindrance than a help" to modern women.

Bradford has a point here. There's no doubt that young women have become more economically independent and that this undermines the traditional provider role of men.

This is something that liberals in general, and feminists in particular, have long aimed for. Liberals believe that we are made human by our capacity to create who we are from our own individual will and reason. Our freedom to act as we will is therefore paramount for liberals. This, in turn, means retaining our individual autonomy and independence.

It's not easy, therefore, for liberals to accept traditional marriage in which people give up a measure of independence in order to pursue deeper needs and purposes. It's particularly difficult for feminists to accept the idea of women being economically dependent on their husbands, even if it is to the advantage of their families.

So the modern liberal state has put a great deal of effort and resources into "liberating" women from an economic dependence on men. It has urged young women to pursue careers and to delay marriage, it has established single mother pensions, it has heavily subsidised childcare, it has set up an apparatus of alimony and child support payments, it has established official and unofficial quotas for women in the professions, scholarships for female students and so on.

Bradford, however, doesn't want to acknowledge any of this. He doesn't want to assert on the one hand that men are losing out and on the other that liberal policies are encouraging this loss.

Instead, he does what liberals often do. He claims that it is inevitable, impersonal forces of history which are driving the changes.


According to Bradford, the trouble all started about 12,000 years ago. Before then, there was no traditional family. There was a sexually promiscuous free-for-all (both heterosexual and homosexual) which bonded members of the tribe together.

In this system, men had sex with as many women as possible in order to transfer their genes, whilst women consented to sex in order that men would provide food and protection for them.

Bradford claims that women held the advantage in this ancient form of society because it was men who had to attract the favour of women in order to get sex.

I'm not an expert on human prehistory, but this scenario seems unlikely to me. If the women were so promiscuous, why would a man bother to provide for and protect a particular woman, since he could not be sure that any child would be his own? Nor is it usually so difficult for men, in conditions of promiscuity, to obtain sex - the currency of sex tends to be devalued. So men would not have had to work so hard to obtain female sexual favours.

In any case, Bradford then argues that when animal husbandry developed 12,000 years ago, the balance altered dramatically against women. This is when "fatherhood" and "the family" were invented. Men learned from stock herding that it was best to choose a female beast astutely and then ensure that it was only serviced by a chosen stud. They applied this lesson to their own lives and established the monogamous "patriarchal" family.

Note, please, how Bradford describes the values surrounding this sudden appearance of the family,

The paramount patriarchal value is 'fatherhood', a notion which incorporates power, the capacity to choose, as much as genetic paternity. Controlling paternity, which means controlling women and their sexuality, is at the heart of family systems. Slavery on the one hand and the family on the other, are just particular versions of animal husbandry where the animal concerned is human.

Is it any wonder that the traditional family is in decline when liberals can have these extremely negative views about the function and purpose of family life?

Bradford here firstly devalues both fatherhood and the family by regarding them as mere inventions or constructs of a particular historical period. He then undermines fatherhood by describing it in terms of power and privilege. He claims that fatherhood is based on the ultimate sin for liberals of creating unequal wills: of increasing the male "capacity to choose" at the expense of women's.

Finally, he goes further than perhaps any other liberal I have ever come across, by putting the family literally on a par with slavery and describing both as versions of animal husbandry!

Not a great basis on which to defend family life. Nor is it good history. According to Bradford, pre-agricultural societies were happy matriarchies, without a formal family structure or restrictions on sexuality.

But we actually do know how some pre-agricultural societies operated. The Australian Aborigines, for instance, did not practise animal husbandry prior to the arrival of Europeans. Yet Aboriginal society was highly "patriarchal", and had very complex family systems and sexual taboos.

In many Aboriginal tribes, for instance, the young women had little choice at all about their sexual partners, but were married off at an early age to the senior male members of the tribe. So Bradford has things the wrong way around: European agricultural societies seem to have actually achieved a higher degree of choice for women than more primitive hunter-gatherer societies.

Technological change

Just as Bradford claims that an economic advance (animal husbandry) gave rise to patriarchy, he believes that modern technology is restoring a matriarchy. He thinks that "modern mechanisation" along with birth control technology (contraception, artificial insemination, abortion) are giving women the competitive edge in the workforce. He writes,

With technological change impacting on sexual relations and an increasingly education-based economy, the marginally skilled "traditional man" has had his job exported, been downsized by technology, and is being 'fired', as a partner and a father by women.

His promised inheritance, of a life like his father and grandfather before him, supporting a spouse and several children, is being taken from him.

As I've already argued, if men are losing out economically, it's due in some degree to deliberate government policies designed to favour women in the workforce.

But even with such policies, the decline of male blue collar labour is often overstated. In Australia, for instance, we are currently experiencing a shortage of tradesmen to the point that state governments are competing to lure tradesmen to their own states. Technological change hasn't made blue collar labour redundant.

Note, though, the implications of Bradford's theory. Bradford is arguing that men are losing out because of mechanisation and because of reproductive technology such as abortion procedures which allow women to compete in the workplace unhindered by pregnancy.

So, for patriarchal men to restore their competitive advantage and their power, Bradford believes it makes sense for them to oppose what he calls the "innocuous medical procedure" of abortion.

He thinks that this is why George Bush raised abortion as an election issue and why "loser men" responded by voting Republican. Bradford laments of these loser men that,

They won the election for George Bush and in the short term 'loser males' may continue to win elections for the political right.

It must be said that Bradford has made a logically coherent argument here. But it's still not persuasive. If he were right, and large numbers of men were moving to the right in order to ban abortion and restore the patriarchy, you would expect men to be more opposed to abortion than women.

But this isn't the case. Polls on abortion usually show men to be slightly more in favour of abortion than women. Furthermore, when asked if there was sufficient attention paid to the abortion issue during the 2004 campaign, men and women roughly agreed in their responses.


Perhaps Bradford does recognise that there are many women, as well as men, who oppose both the Democrats and abortion. This might explain his oddly scientific attempt to explain the existence of right-wing women:

Without doubt many women alive today, to some degree, have been bred to patriarchy just as cows have been bred to have unnaturally large udders. Some of these women can sometimes be stressed to find they have no real inclination to live up to the roles their more feminist sisters have exhorted them to.

Bradford offers no consolation to these "artificially selected" women as he thinks the decline of the "patriarchy" is an inevitable fact of economic development.

Nor does Bradford have much to offer white working-class men. He concludes that "Inside America today is a 'loser nation' of 'loser males'" and that,

an inexorable reality would seem to dictate that American 'loser males' adapt to being incorporated into a global labour market and to become, in relations between the sexes, more like the men of Scandinavia.

But being brought up in a frontier culture of male aggressive dominance they are likely to strongly resist such an adaptation and they are understandably not keen to put themselves on the same economic level as the factory fodder in China's overcrowded and over-polluted cities.

What a dismal outlook! Is it any wonder the right is ascendant when left-wingers like Bradford compare the family (literally) to slavery, tell family-oriented women they have been bred like cows to patriarchy and give working-class American men no choice but to accept economic redundancy and a subjection to Scandinavian style feminism.

It is leftists themselves who have alienated white men en masse. Why should white men identify with a politics which casts them as the villains, and their own historic culture as oppressive and illegitimate.

It's perfectly rational for men to begin to move rightward. Of course, my own hope is that some men will realise that right-wing liberalism, as represented by the Republicans, will no more preserve the values they believe in than the left, and that support for a genuine traditionalist conservatism will grow.

(First published at Conservative Central, 07/05/2005)

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