Are Men becoming obsolete?

Guys badly need a wake-up call.

By Tom Cardella

I recently read “Gone with the Wind” for the first time. Margaret Mitchell’s novel has become controversial over the years because of its romantic depiction of slavery under the Confederacy.

What I found in the novel that’s most relevant to our society today is the character of Scarlett O’Hara.

In some ways, Scarlett’s battle against the restrictions on women in her era is a forerunner of early feminism. Many of those constraints seem downright inane to us today. Example: Women such as Scarlett were required to eat a full meal before going to parties because it was considered unladylike to do anything more than nibble later at the party.

The role of women in our society has changed dramatically since then and expanded exponentially during my lifetime. Many men have been slow to adjust. Guys in South Philly have arguably been even slower to change. And I find it not so far-fetched that a future Scarlett O’Hara won’t need a Rhett Butler in her life.

The role of women has changed dramatically over my lifetime. My father would not allow my mother to work or drive a car. She desperately wanted to do both, but she gave in to his male pride. Dad felt that a man whose wife worked was a man who couldn’t support his wife. A man whose wife drove a car was a man who was not protective enough of his wife. In short, that man was not a man at all. My mother complained bitterly, but she believed that her role was to respect her husband’s wishes. Their relationship was not much different from those between most husbands and wives of their era. Their marriage lasted 47 years.

The right to vote did not come easily for women. That’s well-documented. When my parents were married in 1937, my mother already had the right to vote, but that did not stop my father from pulling the lever in the voting booth for her. She was not happy about that, I might add. After she expressed outrage at his actions in the voting booth, he never made the same mistake again. Perhaps out of defiance, my mother registered Democrat while my father was a staunch Republican. She was as interested in politics, if not more so, as he was. Much to my shame, I also tried doing the same thing the first time my wife and I voted together. I can tell you that I haven’t done it since. Wives and husbands are not allowed in the voting booth together anymore. That’s a good thing for both.

Women of my era were not expected to attend college. Women were expected to graduate high school. Get a typing job. Marry a good wage earner. Raise a family. Most of the women I met while attending Temple University in the late 1950s were Jewish. But the expectations for them, as I found out later from Jewish friends, was much the same. Many, if not most, Jewish women had the same goal — to meet and marry a good husband — just at a professional level.

When I went to work at the Defense Personnel Support Center (also known as the Quartermaster) in the mid-1960s, women executives were almost non-existent. It was an axiom in our personnel office that if you wanted a great clerk-typist, you hired one of the many “girls” graduating from St. Maria Goretti. Many of those women wound up running the office for their male bosses, but without their bosses’ salary. Much of that unjust circumstance has, thankfully, changed since then.

Women outnumber their male counterparts attending college today by a staggering 25 percent. During my career, the federal government began offering its clerks an opportunity to attend college tuition-free. I would like to say that led to equality in the workplace where I was employed. It helped, but there was and is still male resistance to female executives, just as there is in other career fields dominated by men. Ask Hillary Clinton. Women were thought to be taking jobs from men. It was men, not women, who were “supposed to be” the primary wage earners in a family. Women who competed successfully against men for top jobs were too ambitious — substitute the “B” word for ambitious.

Women are dependent less on men to raise families today. Single parenthood is no longer as frowned upon as it once was. Adoption and scientific breakthroughs in fertilization have allowed women to become parents without men. Men ought to ask themselves why so many women choose to raise families without them.

I mentioned earlier in this column that I thought the problem is becoming especially acute in our area. Many South Philadelphia men have become slow to adjust to the new reality. They don’t like that the women they meet are often more educated than they are. They have trouble dealing with their “changed” women. Tragically, marriages fall apart. Too many young men around here exist in a 1950s bubble. They are like Rip Van Winkle waking up to a changed world in which they don’t have a place. They wait and dream of a return to “the good old days,” but the good old days will not return. Those days were not so good, especially for women.

Guys badly need a wake-up call. If you stay asleep, you risk becoming obsolete.

By Tom Cardella