Two recent news items offer clues to the nagging question: What's wrong with the French?
One story headlined "French men yearn for pregnancy" seems to speak for itself, n'est-ce pas?
Another, which announced the birth of a new "hybrid male," describes a creature who wants to wear pink shirts and is no longer interested in playing superhero to a wife and kids. The headline on that one was: "Move over Rambo, you're cramping new man's style."
While Rambo quakes and Utero Man dreams of maternity smocks, normal people warily search for signs of sanity in the checkout line.
The French finding of maternity envy was the result of a telephone survey of more than 500 fathers, 38 percent of whom said that, science permitting, they'd like to have carried their children through the nine-month gestation. Spoken like someone who hasn't and likely won't.
On the other hand, science is closing in on an artificial womb that may make gestation possible outside a woman's body. Although touted as a solution for women unable to bear children, such wombs conceivably could be made available to men who want babies without the messy complication of a female.
Already some feminists are concerned about the threat such wombs may pose to abortion rights. Sacha Zimmerman, writing in 2003 for The New Republic, suggested the specter of fetal extractions from unwilling "mothers" and insertion in fake, pro-life wombs. From "partial-birth abortions" to "forced gestations," the boundaries of bizarre are reliably pliable.
While you ponder the many applications of fake wombs in a sexually confused and politically extreme world, we note that only those who view pregnancy as burden and abortion as "choice" would fail to see the greater insult to womankind. Strapping on our Huxley hats, we easily visualize a brave new world in which women, no longer essential to procreation, are eliminated.
Men - rage-filled by their former roles as sperm donors and human ATMs - would have a newly leveled playing field. Certain of their paternity and masters of their progeny, there would be no more abortions without consent; no more "child support" for kids they never see.
That rapping sound you hear is the sign going back up over the treehouse door: "No girls allowed."
As Pierre and Francois are dreaming of ways to get knocked up, meanwhile, the fashion industry is predicting a new man who is, well, not quite a man. Surprise, surprise.
The new boysies aren't interested in "traditional male values of authority, infallibility, virility and strength," according to the French consulting firm Nelly Rodi (no kidding), which forecasts consumer trends.
These "hybrids" are looking for "a more radical affirmation" of who they are, and want to "test out all the barbarity of modern life," says Pierre Francois Le Louet, managing director of the consulting firm. "Why not put on a pink-flowered shirt and try out a partner-swapping club?"
Wait. Because normal people would think you're a loo-ser?
Le Louet revealed his predictions for the new 21st-century anti-stud last week during a fashion seminar. A photograph accompanying the story showed a lad of indeterminate age with bright-red Annie hair, sporting Peter Pan knit pants, a red-and-green-striped T-shirt, and - in a coup de couture - suspenders worn backwards for that little-boy-dressing-up-like-Daddy look.
Can't we just be little boys forever 'n' ever?
The new species, which Le Louet says (might we guess breathlessly?) is emerging in Europe and the U.S., has the guts to be himself and isn't afraid of anything.
Except, of course, growing up.
It doesn't take guts to be irresponsible, as grown men know. It doesn't take courage to explore the barbarity of modern life in partner-swapping clubs. It does take guts and courage, however, to sacrifice one's delightful idiosyncrasies for the higher purpose of raising healthy, well-adjusted children. The real ones.
As for the new hybrid male, I think we've met him already. He's the lost boy of Neverland, human totem of the cult of Narcissus, that monument to arrested development - Michael Jackson.
It can't be mere coincidence that his trial on charges of pedophilia - the ultimate expression of the narcissistic impulse - intersected with the birth of a postmodern man who's all boy.
Jackson was found not guilty, of course, but humanity's trials are just beginning. In a world where men want to be women - and where woman's first concern when faced with artificial wombs is that her right to terminate life may be abridged - the innocents are doomed.