(WOMENSENEWS)–In her Alaska reality TV show, Sarah Palin has a close encounter with grizzlies, kayaks down swift-moving rivers and climbs tall mountains, not in a single bound perhaps, but with grit and determination.
All in all, she appears to be trying for a single-handed reenactment of "How the West was Won." She also appears to be telling the whole nation–as she told Republicans on the campaign trail–how to "man up."
Palin has a penchant for slang that questions the masculinity of men who don’t see things her way. Back in July, Palin announced that President Obama lacked "the cojones" to take on the problems of undocumented immigrants.
Her "man up" usage spread to other right-wing female candidates in this year’s elections. In Nevada, Sharron Angle told Harry Reid to man up and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware gave the same message to her republican opponent Mike Castle.
The phrase hasn’t yet run its course. In a recent episode of "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough decreed that the whole country needed to man up.
I suspect the high-testosterone political talks suggests a tide of nostalgia, not only for the good old days of prosperity and high-paid manufacturing jobs, but for a gone-but-not-forgotten era when (mainly white) men ruled the roost, in politics, business and of course the household.
This nostalgia harks back to a time when men could simply pull up stakes, grab a rifle and head West if they didn’t like the way their lives were turning out.
Warner Bros. Westerns
Tea-Party women today seem like the feisty females in the old Warner Brothers Westerns who urge their reluctant men to ford raging streams, to get the money from the cattle drive, confront the bullying sheriff or stand down the gunslinger in the street in front of the saloon. "Man up, guys."
It seems we haven’t forgotten the frontier, when–if only ever in popular imagination– the West was the place where a man could escape his past and control his destiny.
The West looms large in the American imagination. In the 1890s, historian Frederick Jackson Turner said it was the frontier that shaped the uniquely American character. The West became a modern day Garden of Eden, an agrarian paradise where people could escape the evils of the cities. It was a land of opportunity, where rugged individuals could find freedom, fortune and adventure.
But on the darker side, Turner pointed out, we also became more violent, less trusting of authority or government and suspicious of learning, reading, intellectuals, art and cities.
In the early 1900s, Indiana Sen. Albert Beveridge counseled boys to "avoid books, and in fact avoid all artificial learning, for the forefathers put America on the right path by learning completely from natural experience."
The Boy Scouts were founded in 1910 in large degree because of a worry about the "feminization" of young boys who spent their days in the female world of school.
Sarah Palin dips into this distrust of educated elites with great success, as did George Wallace of Alabama, who railed against "pointy-headed intellectuals."
Enchanted By Testosterone-Fueled Men
Today, we seem enchanted with testosterone-fueled males at a time when they hardly offer real answers to our problems.
The frontier has been closed for a long time. Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt are long dead. Palin’s America is the America of yesteryear, seen through a golden haze of myth. Her idea of "manning up" is not going to solve our current predicaments.
There are plenty of men who would like to do the jobs that Carl Sandburg wrote about in his poem Chicago: "Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders."
But the jobs those big shoulders did were shipped off to China and to Bangladesh.
We still miss them.
American men today may not be strong, silent unemotional John Waynes, but they are manning up in a different way, spending more time with their children, being supportive of–and happy with–their working wives.
Millennial fathers (late 20s to early 30s) spend an average of 4.3 hours per workday with their children under 13, nearly double the time that men their age spent with their children in 1977, according to the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce. That’s a dramatic doubling.
Men Take More Responsibility
Men took more overall responsibility for the care of their children in 2008 than in 1992, according to themselves and their wives and partners. "Taking responsibility for the care of children" means not only providing one-on-one care, but also managing child care arrangements, according to the study.
"Men are also doing more of overall family work," the study reports. "It has clearly become more socially acceptable for men to be and to say they are involved in child care, cooking and cleaning over the past three decades than it was in the past!"
None of this is making men miserable. As the wife works more, the husband’s marital quality of life goes up, notes Rosalind Barnett of Brandeis, my frequent co-author and director of a major study on dual-earner couples. There’s less pressure on him to be the sole breadwinner and this gives him more time with the family. More and more, men and women have become true partners in supporting and parenting their families.
Palin’s ideal man may be wrestling grizzlies to the ground, but for a lot of other Americans, especially women, it’s the guy doing the grocery shopping with his baby in a Snugli who is really manning up.
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Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers is the author of "Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women" (University Press of New England).