Last fall I stopped talking about the economics of gender, and began talking about the economics of sex. It was wonderful.
So much can be discussed under the rubric of economics of sex. Take, for example, the pick-up artist phenomenon, described in books like The Game. It's like Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer books, urging men to be alphas, take a leadership role, and ignore begging and requests for attention. The major difference as far as I can see is that pick-up artists aim to make women come to bed, rather than dogs come to heel.
One blog, Chateau Heartiste, particularly interested me, because it has a Dating Market Value Test. Twenty-six questions are used to assign men a value score from -26 to +26. What is fascinating about the test is the low weight it gives the obvious measures of desirability - good job, good income, high education, uncomplicated marital history. Any man who is reasonably fit, out-going, and risk-taking can get a high score, as long as he behaves like an "alpha".
People have a deep seated need to feel masculine or feminine; to feel that they are sexually desired and desirable. Once upon a time a man could feel like a man by getting married, having kids, buying a house and a pick-up truck. But we have been living, for some time now, in a Bruce Springsteen economy: these jobs are going boys, and they ain't coming back. So how does a man feel like a man?
A pick-up artist doesn't need money. Take, for example, this question from the men's dating value test:
20. You’re chatting up a pretty girl you just met in a bar. After a few minutes she asks you to buy her a drink. You reply:
(B) “I’m not an ATM.”
(C) “No, but you can buy me one.”
If you answered (A), subtract a point.
If (B), no points.
If (C), add a point.
The message: it's not about providing, it's about taking control. The message is reinforced in the women's test.
28. On a first date the check arrives for dinner and drinks. You:
Offer to split the check or even pay in full: +1 point
Smile and thank the guy when he pays for the check: 0 points
Forget to thank him after he pays for your ungrateful ass: -1 point
[The women's test is truly repugnant. If you're young or unscarred, please don't read it.] Ladies, you're expected to contribute economically - and you're lucky to get laid.
I can see that the pick-up artist movement, like Fight Club, reflects a genuine yearning to forge a new masculinity, that's not about jobs or how much money you have in the bank. It's about men giving themselves permission to be assertive. I'm sympathetic. But does masculinity have to involve being a jerk?
Competence matters. Respect matters. In my ideal world that would be earned, not by psychological mind games, but by real accomplishments - baking lemon squares, replacing a car battery, repairing a flat bicycle tire. It doesn't have to be about money or having a job or serving someone else's needs. It could be about being the best dancer or playing the meanest saxophone solos.
But we don't live in my ideal world.