By Marko Martin
BERLIN - Thirty years ago, German singer Ina Deter had a hit song about her country’s need for “new men” – a need so urgent, she was going to “spray the message on every wall.”
What has happened since? Nothing – or, at least, nothing positive – says Ralf Bönt, 49, a Berlin-based writer, in a newly published book called "Das entehrte Geschlecht. Ein notwendiges Manifest für den Mann" (The Dishonored Sex: A Necessary Manifesto for Men).
A physicist by training, the writer gets straight to the point. "When women began to resist rigid roles, men did not ask for more freedom,” he writes. “Like soldiers, they go on serving their employers, the state and their family until they keel over and die. Men’s greatest mistake was not claiming a place of their own. Three words sum up the male life story: career, competition, collapse."
This may sound subjective, perhaps a tad sniveling, but statistics back up what the author writes. On average, men in Germany die six years earlier than women. Interestingly, the author points out that where the lifestyle of both sexes is equivalent -- among monks and nuns, for example, or those living in Israeli kibbutzim – there is no such difference in life expectancy.
Bönt, a former researcher at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), has a surprising take on male dominance: "Men dominate the top-end of the social scale,” he writes, “but also the lowest: the chronically ill, the homeless, migrant workers, are mostly men.” Women have always and continue to make up the middle, he says.
Latin Lover's 'fragile' reality
Couldn’t there be some halfway solution? That’s the problem, not the solution, says Bönt, and it’s turned what we expect from men into an unrealizable catalogue of contradictory expectations. Men not only have to deal with the moods and demands of their bosses, but also the unwritten expectations of society and loved ones: be a genius and a Latin Lover at the same time.
The result, Bönt says, is that the “cool” ones are viewed as dominators that we simultaneously build up and tear down. But the major and fundamental mistake of our feminist times, according to Bönt, is the idea that there is any freedom in the classic male life story.
Bönt's book focuses on feminists like Simon de Beauvoir and Alice Schwarzer, leaving out such feminist voices as writers Fanny Lewald or Erica Jong. More information about where he himself, the intellectual and family man, is coming from -- Western, Protestant, Socialist -- would also have helped his cause. If nothing else, it would have lightened the weight of the argument, which sometimes is so resolutely serious it becomes unwittingly comic. At one point, for example, he defends the fragile penis (there’s even a text-book-style picture of one!). No, it is not an insensitive “male weapon,” he says. Bönt goes on to analyse the “active” components of the vagina.
None of this, however, makes the essay’s main arguments any less viable: that the self-liberation of men – emancipation – is urgently needed, and still lies ahead.
Read the original story in German
Photo - brennan.v