One of the most enduring and pernicious charges thrown at the archetypal "modern woman" is that she has unreasonable, contradictory expectations of men. She claims to want an emotionally accessible partner, but is turned off by displays of vulnerability. She wants a traditional strong provider who will magically intuit what she needs five seconds before she needs it. She is doomed to dissatisfaction, and the man who tries to please her is destined for despair.
From men's rights activists who gloat about a rapidly approaching "spinsterhood epidemic" to Kate Bolick's offering in the Atlantic-article-turned-bestselling book parade, we're reminded of the growing surfeit of overachieving women and the parallel deficit of emotionally competent, educated, and ambitious single men. The cottage industry of books and articles peddling the masculine malaise has at least three goals –- or, if that sounds too conspiratorial, three "unintended" consequences — for those who buy into the notion of dudes in decline. First, women are pressured to compete ever more intensely with each other for a shrinking pool of good guys. Second, standards are lowered for men in college admissions (and in the job market that follows) as a perverse form of affirmative action designed to benefit the presumably no-longer-dominant male. And third, women should, as Lori Gottlieb argued in an earlier Atlantic article, lower their expectations for relationships with men. Don't expect passion or profound emotional connection, Gottlieb wrote; just "settle."