Politics is the obsession of the week, with pundits and politicians busy studying what's left of the tea leaves left over from Tuesday's elections, but we shouldn't forget sex. Some of our sociologists, psychologists and biologists think they've identified cultural changes with far greater impact on how we govern ourselves than all the elections put together. Boys, they say, are being replaced. By girls, of all things.
Women have become the aggressors in the war between the sexes. The changes that have been detected in the teenage years are so alarming that some parents now worry over how to protect their sons from predatory females. Gone is the young man's agonizing backache and fear of rejection. Instead he's the "Nervous Nellie" (for Nelson) in fear of getting hustled by Hannah the Heavy. (It's something his daddy and his granddaddy could only have dreamed of.)
The "material girl" has morphed into the "macho girl." She's pulling his chain, tightening his leash, dragging him by the hair in a role reversal of the "Me, Tarzan/You, Jane" scenario.
"The teenage boys I see often say girls push them for sex and expect them to ask them for sex and will bring it up if the boys don't ask," Tabi Upton, a counselor at the Johnson Mental Health center in Chattanooga, Tenn., tells the New York Times. She consults with 20 or 30 teenagers a month and identifies a shift in the culture, where it's the girls who have all the "attitude," aggressively approaching boys with a heightened sense of their own sexuality.
CosmoGirl, the little sister magazine to Cosmo, aimed at girls between 11 and 17, offers pullout posters of bare-chested boys reclining on bear rug or beach. Story lines urge the macho girl to "Make him say 'I love you.'"
Trend watchers see macho girls in direct competition with the mean girls, the teenagers who are aggressively nasty toward members of their own sex. These girls are daughters of boomer mothers who told them to be all that they can be. Unfortunately, they adopted the strategies of the cads whom their feminist mothers railed against at the dawn of the sexual revolution. Now they've become the cadettes mothers of boys warn against.
Destiny's Child captures the spirit of the macho girl in the rap song "Independent Women": "(I) only ring your celly when I'm feelin' lonely/ When it's all over please get up and leave." This may be the flip side of the lament of a Nashville guy: "My phone still ain't ringing so I guess it's still must not be you."
Explanations for all this are plentiful and you can round up the usual suspects - the triumph of feminism, female "empowerment" in jobs, sports and education as well as sitcoms such as HBO's "Sex in the City," where women sleep around enjoying instant gratification only to complain about what rotters men have become.
A neo-Darwinian analysis may be closer to the truth, illuminated by the theories of Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at London University who's written an amusing and at the same time depressing little book called "Y: The Descent of Men" (after Darwin's "Descent of Man"). His point is that men, not women, are the second sex, doomed by the Y chromosome, rapidly deteriorating. The final demise of the male is not exactly around the corner unless you measure your corners in millions of years, but the distinctive male Y chromosome is in bad shape, considerably less "virile," shall we say, than the female X chromosome, of which she has two.
The forecast of a world without men mixes the nature vs. nurture arguments, but the professor reserves his greatest contempt for narcissistic men's studies proliferating on American college campuses. Purveyors of this dismal stuff are preoccupied with the "inner man" who they say is trying to break out of his skin. Adding to this state of (loveless) affairs, sperm counts are down and cloning threatens to make the male irrelevant. Professor Jones concludes: "From sperm count to social status, and from fertilization to death, as civilization advances those who bear Y chromosomes are in relative decline."
In an advertisement in the New York Times, next to the article about macho girls, something called the Women's World Institute for Consciousness, Spirituality and Aging, announces a conference called "The Ways of Wise Women Creating Fulfillment After 50-plus." One of the panelists will be Gloria Steinem, who originally coined the phrase that "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."
Participants may want to treat themselves to an evolutionary update of the young man who puts his fin to the pedal and pedals away, his gills purple with fear. And you thought the congressional campaigns were dreary.