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As Men Struggle To Keep Up, Some Women Pose The Question: Who Needs Them?

Outperformed in school and, in many cases, the workplace too, men are increasingly being seen as a “problem” – especially when it comes to forming families. Women prefer men who are equally if not more accomplished. Trouble is, there aren’t enough such me

Manless and fancy free? (Julien Haler)
Manless and fancy free? (Julien Haler)
Bettina Weber

ZURICH -- Things are going badly for men – again. In Germany, an article published in Zeitmagazin has created a furor because the author, a woman, described the 30-year-old men in her age group as Schmerzensmänner. By this she meant the men are childish, oversensitive, self-centered and so focused on "finding themselves' that they haven't got a clue about relating to women. In short: men aren't guys anymore – they're needy softies.

The article unleashed a flood of letters and comments from readers, hit the blogosphere big-time, and even inspired one actual male to present his side of things – and ask for understanding. The heated discussion made one thing very clear: men are increasingly being seen as a problem.

Lists of criticism include such items as: never grow up; refuse to accept responsibility; don't help enough around the house; emotionally stunted; mamma's boys; and overly dependent. Even sociologists and researchers are sounding alarm bells, saying the main problem is the lack of role models. The Berlusconis, Schettinos Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship and Schwarzeneggers of the world aren't exactly helping the situation, so it's no wonder, say the experts, that there is no such thing as a new, modern man.

Failing to make the grade

While women are advancing with giant strides, men appear to be falling behind. In school, boys need a lot more help than girls to get through – although, interestingly, successful female students still tend to be credited for their "hard work" and "discipline" rather than "talent" or "intelligence." What's even more interesting is that the reaction of many boys to girls being better at school is that good grades are "girly" and uncool – the feminine being perceived as inferior and thus not worthwhile.

Another theory has it that since there are more female than male teachers, their way of teaching is more adapted to girls -- so the boys are getting the short end of the straw. The lack of male teachers also means that boys are missing vital role models at school. This argument has been going around as tirelessly as a prayer wheel for years, without getting any truer from repetition. Studies in Germany and Switzerland have shown that children learn how to read better with women teachers, and that, overall, female teachers are more competent than their male counterparts.

"In Germany, the male teachers in primary schools are not among the very best," the Swiss paper NZZ am Sonntag quoted a researcher at the Berlin-based Social Science Research Center (WZB) as saying. Anton Strittmatter of the Swiss Teachers' Association says: "Among primary school teachers in their 40s and 50s, there are more brilliant women than men." So aside from the argument about women teachers doing boys a disservice, the question also poses itself: why do there need to be male role models in the classroom? What's Dad doing, for example?

Whatever side of the issue one may be on, the figures speak for themselves: in 2011, 57.6% of all high school graduates were girls; the percentage of women registered at institutions of higher learning was 55.3%; and women walked away with 62.1% of the university degrees.

Consequences of the dominance of females in education can already be seen in the United States. The disparity in salaries for the under-30 age group is disappearing as women start to be paid as much or more than men. According to a national study conducted in 2010, in 147 of the 150 largest U.S. cities, women earned on average 8% more than men of the same age. Topping the list were Memphis and Atlanta, where the figure was 20%, followed by New York City with 17%, San Diego with 15%, and Los Angeles with 12%.

What the study also showed is that women have a slight lead in holding well-paid top positions – though the ones who did tended to be unmarried and childless. In the United States too, having a family is often a hindrance to professional advancement for women.

The situation in the United States caused Time Magazine to pose the worried question as to whether colleges should introduce a quota for men so they aren't left entirely on the shelf. The same question is getting asked in Europe. At a recent info-evening for students who would be attending a cantonal high school in Zurich, one of the (male) teachers, in a private aside, said he thought that measures to support boys academically had become necessary.

A shortage of family guys

At first glance, this development is of course positive for women. But there is a flip side: unlike men who are often happy to have relationships with less-accomplished women, women don't tend to like less-accomplished men. They want the men in their lives to be at the same level as they are, or higher. Highly educated women are more often childless and partner-less than their less well-educated sisters. Should women lower their standards?

Renowned sociologoist Eva Illouz says no. Her advice to women is not to make the desire for kids dependent on a man – i.e. not to give up having children just because there is no viable candidate for partner or fatherhood on the horizon. She goes so far as to say that, except for conceiving, women shouldn't even plan for a man in their lives and would do better to explore alternative family models, for example several mothers living together. Under this scenario, men risk becoming superfluous.

In the United States, the scenario is already a frequent reality – particularly among Afro-American women. In his book Is Marriage for White People?, Stanford law professorRichard Banks argues that the black population is often a barometer for social developments. Afro-American mothers have for a long time tended to be unmarried more frequently than white American mothers.

Women remaining single – something that was considered "pathological" in the 1960s – has now made considerable inroads in western societies. Today, across Europe, 37% of mothers are unmarried -- and 66% of Afro-American children grow up without the presence of a father. Mothers and children may not always choose this, to be sure, but it's a rising trend.

Sociologists ascertain that what is basically happening is that black women tend more to a new model of the family than to the standard formula. They have children and then live with their own mothers, who look after the kids while the daughter goes to work. The fathers of the children don't even figure as extras in the script. As providers, they are thoroughly dispensable since women tend to have the better education.

Professor Banks's analysis would point to the Afro-American model becoming pan-European. For the present, it's not a wide reality. But the attitude and outlook are already widely present. At a recent panel discussion of single moms, two women acknowledged that – although they didn't like to say it out loud – their lives were a lot easier now that there were no men around.

Society tends to pity such women. It shouldn't. Even when they shared their lives with men, these women found themselves handling all of the household responsibilities on top of going to work. They had no choice, in other words, but to do everything anyway – so in the end the preferred to be autonomous. Whiny Schmerzensmänner may be a problem, but the real dimensions of the man problem are a lot bigger.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Julien Haler

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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