I realized this week that I have been a terrible mistake.
In hindsight, it’s understandable why I made the mistake. After all, when I first came here to Romania 12 years ago, my life was a lot different. I suffered terribly from insomnia. I worked 100+ hours a week and I lived on the border of a neighborhood where there were shootings and murders all the time. And although I wasn’t making any conscious comparisons, it wasn’t too hard to sense that this country was different. And so I guess that in retrospect my mistake was easy to make.
You see, I now live in the most peaceful place on Earth. And moving here was my mistake.
It may sound a little weird to say that Cluj is the most peaceful place on Earth, but it is. Sure, there are more peaceful spots in forests and on mountaintops and along stretches of empty beaches but nowhere is there a city, an urban metropolis with hundreds of thousands of residents, that is more peaceful than Cluj.
Romania is a peaceful country and Cluj is the capital of that peace, the headquarters of it, a place of mind-boggling social harmony. There hasn’t been a shooting war in this country for over 70 years or large-scale violent civic unrest in over 20 years (the 1990 Mineriad). The last time I turned on ProTV news (which focuses obsessively on death and mayhem) the top story was a bad case of food poisoning at a party. People had to be hospitalized but nobody was killed.
Back in America, the “right wing” likes to carp on about the feminization of society, saying that a combination of feminist thought and other bizarre factors (like drinking soy milk) have emasculated the men, turning them into weak boys or “prissy” versions of their female counterparts. I certainly disagree with the misogynist basis for these opinions but there is one particular conclusion with which I have to agree – there are a lot fewer men in this world than there used to be.
Without bogging this down into a book-length essay, I’ll summarize my lengthy analysis of this (after years of thought) into two categories, which interestingly enough are the principle components of most television shows: sex and violence.
In an open society where there are no cultural barriers to employment, women are capable of doing any job a man can do. I’ve known women who were soldiers, police officers, firefighters, taxi drivers, lumberjacks, doctors, engineers, mathematicians and every other job that exists in society and some women performed these jobs poorly and some performed them exceedingly well.
By far the most capable and dangerously lethal SWAT (special weapons team) member that I’ve ever known and worked with was a woman who was 1,52 meters tall (5 feet) and weighed maybe 50 kilograms (110 lbs). Being a woman was clearly no barrier to performing this job.
But if you look at populations which are overwhelmingly male, you find that they have one thing uniquely in common – they are all dangerous positions. Miners, firefighters, soldiers and people in jail (whether inmates or the guards) are almost exclusively male, even in societies where there are no (or few) cultural barriers to female participation. Other dangerous occupations that are primarily male include farming and several very risky sports like paragliding, boxing, hockey and (American) football or rugby.
Again, there are women who do and could participate in these activities and yet they are the almost exclusive domains of men. Why is that? Certainly it’s not lack of ability. A woman can box or jump out of a plane or shoot a gun or go rob a liquor store or drive a tractor if they wanted to. But they rarely, if ever, do.
Therefore, as odd as it sounds (to some people), it must be considered that violence and danger are principle hallmarks of what it’s meant to be a man.
A lot of very smart people, including my ancient nemesis The Economist regularly make horrendously incorrect inferences concerning birth rate statistics and income. In fact, you will often hear a lot of smart people say that the birth rate falls in richer countries (which is true) and therefore the way to address the planetary population explosion is to increase the income levels in poorer countries.
This is a failure to understand the causality of what makes the birth rate increase, which has nothing to do with money and is almost exclusively the result of using birth control. To make it incredibly simplified, the richer you are, the more you are aware of and have access to and use birth control. That’s what it is.
What’s really interesting to me is that for millions of years, everyone knew that if a woman had sex with a man, there was a significant possibility that she would get pregnant. For those millions of years, including six thousand years of modern civilization, this was a given. Even with all kinds of tricks and “rhythms” and everything else, any time a woman and a man had sex, there was a very risky roll of the dice going on.
Every culture devised a different way to handle this. In places like Saudi Arabia, women and men are just forbidden to spend time together until they are married. The Puritans of America had their bundling board. I remember talking once to an old Cuban (who left in 1959) and telling me about how they had to spend days just talking to the girl’s relatives inside their front parlor before being allowed to go out on a chaperoned date. Even in much more liberal America in those days, there was a ritual (now highly fetishized in some circles) of the young man, the “suitor”, coming to be grilled by the girl’s father before being threatened with violence if some “harm” should come to the girl.
These and thousands of other rituals, including being “pinned” and wearing letter jackets or “going steady” or exchanges of rings, all the way to the even older processes of arranged marriages or marriages intensely negotiated by the respective families were all there to ensure one thing and one thing only – that any time a woman became pregnant, her family would know who the father was.
Even in the case of a shotgun wedding, there was a process in place that when a woman got pregnant, society knew who the father was and he (the father) was then under tremendous pressure to be responsible for providing for both the woman and their child.
However, in the 1960’s, the birth control hormone suppressor commonly know as “The Pill” began to be used widely in society. This was followed soon after by mass-produced physical prophylactics, including the currently popular condom, and the entire world soon changed.
Now of course it is entirely possible to have sex risk-free, especially concerning the risk of getting pregnant (preventing sexual diseases is a useful side benefit). And as soon as birth control is made available to any human population, the same thing happens regardless of income – fewer women become mothers, mothers have fewer children and there is a whole lot more casual (i.e. not resulting in marriage) sex.
A lot of people are surprised to learn that there were “free love” cults and societies existing in America more than 100 years ago. But this lifestyle never caught on en masse until the advent of access to effective birth control, for good reason. Likewise, track any population that gained access to birth control in later decades (Spain in the 80’s, Romania in the 90’s) and you’ll see the same results regardless of the local culture: access to birth control = more casual sex.
In that sense, the “right wing” conservatives in America are right, that there is a steady decline in marriage rates and an increase in the “casualness” of relationships since the 1960’s but they are wrong about it being the result of feminist thought. Plenty of conservative people are equally controlling their family size via birth control.
A Safer World
The other intervening factor of course is that especially in Europe, there has been a dramatic decrease in wars and other widespread violence since World War 2. Even in hyper-violent America, there hasn’t been an involuntary military draft since the early 1970s and the vast majority of Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Australians (to name a few) haven’t faced the risk of a generation of young men being killed in a very long time.
Furthermore, fewer and fewer risky jobs now exist. It’s dangerous to be a soldier in America (where you will be fighting in a war guaranteed) but it’s hardly dangerous to be one in Germany, Romania or France. Many other formerly dangerous jobs, such as steelworker and other factory positions, have been made safer by advances in technology and robotics. Other previously dangerous jobs like being a whale harpooner or a chimney sweep have disappeared entirely.
And of course we cannot forget about farming, which is still a dangerous occupation today (and one that I’ve done briefly, which was enough for my tastes). Fewer and fewer people are farming every year, the production of food becoming a matter of transnational corporations which operate enormous tracts of land. Every year, more and more farm boys (and girls) move onto the cities to study at the university and then never return to the countryside.
It Takes a Man
So then what happens when there is nothing violent or risky for a man to do? What happens when he can have casual sex without risk of assuming the responsibilities of being a father and husband?
What happens when there are no dangers in his job, when he doesn’t need to know how to wield a knife or shoot a gun or calm a bucking animal? What happens when everything has been sanitized, rubberized, rounded and rendered safe? What happens when his juice is flash pasteurized and there is anti-bacterial soap in every bathroom?
More importantly, what happens if he does get violent, does take risks, does get angry and boisterous? He gets reprimanded, chastised, written up, fired, arrested or incarcerated, all of which make having a good life in the city very difficult indeed.
Not only is actual violence censored and prohibited but even risk-taking is punished. Ask any corporate manager about the Peter Principle and they’ll tell you that employees (both male and female) who avoid risk are promoted. Every corporation of any significant size always has a senior management team composed of risk avoiders.
Incidentally, this is why Steve Jobs was so lionized, not because he was such a genius (that’s Wozniak, who is usually ignored even though he is still alive) but because by God he took a lot of risks. Likewise, Bill Gates, who took a few risks himself especially when he was young, is rarely respected precisely because of his risk avoidance behavior the moment he started making money.
And so we get to Romania, where there are no street gangs, no wars to go fight in, (practically) no stabbings or shootings in bars, fewer and fewer dangerous jobs in the cities and every incentive to avoid risks, to avoid confrontation, to avoid violence or the risk of violence.
Combine that with almost no risk of impregnating a woman and you get the culture we have here today – stupid boys who obsess over their mobile phones and their hair gel, who wear pristine white T-shirts and work boots in immaculate condition, who have absolutely no concept of what it means to be a man. Being a spineless, non-confrontational and obedient toady is the path to success as any Romanian corporate manager or politician can easily tell you. And being a vain, primped, fussy and delicate crybaby is the way for a young men to pick up (and have sex with) girls, or at least that’s the prevailing strategy from what I can see in my experiences here.
There’s always been a strange dichotomy in my social life. On one hand, I get along quite well with hippies, with “liberals”, with well-educated people, with professors, with writers, musicians and artists, with vegans and vegetarians and people who volunteer at animal shelters. And on the other hand, I get along quite well with thugs, with roughnecks, with crude, lewd and the uneducated, drug dealers, toughs, men who carry guns, hunters, miners and construction workers.
I’ve been a reader all my life and I always enjoy a lengthy conversation with a well-educated person who has taken the aphorism “know thyself” to heart. But it’s always been a lot more mysterious why I bond so well with these ne’er-do-wells, these men who drill for oil or have done hard time in prison or killed people in the line of duty.
Years ago I was at a bar in Bucharest and a man at the bar struck up a conversation with me. He had just moved to the city because he now worked for a petroleum company, doing something a little more sophisticated but he had previously been employed on oil rigs in the middle of the North Sea and before that he had been a Royal (British) Marine. Despite the fact that I was in the bar with both a Canadian man as well as another British guy, this man bonded with me instantly and it took me a long time to figure out why as I’ve never worked in the petroleum industry in my life and certainly never served in the armed forces.
But later I realized that our common bond was that we were both dinosaurs – real men in a world full of emasculated adult boys. I may have spent much of my life sitting at a desk in an office but I’ve been through a lot and had to learn responsibility the hard way, via a lot of dangerous and stressful experiences. This former Royal Marine learned his responsibilities via a different route but by the time we met in that bar in Bucharest, we had both survived our challenges and become strong, self-reliant individuals. A century ago this would’ve been unremarkable but in this modern, peaceful day and age, it is rarer than red diamonds.
If you had asked me when I was 13 if this is the life I would’ve chosen, I would’ve said no. I would’ve greatly preferred an easier and more civilized life, a less risky one where my greatest daily challenge would’ve been driving to work and choosing which brand of high-fiber cereal to eat for breakfast. I’m sure in another universe, that is exactly the life I would’ve led, and right now I’d have a body free of burns and scars and be living in a big house in America. But in this universe, the one we’re in right now, things turned out differently. I got shot (at), poisoned, electrocuted, (almost) drowned, stabbed, mauled and run over a few times and I’m still here to talk and write about it.
And after a horrible year in America, and all of the horrible, paranoid things that happened afterwards, I found myself deep underground in a military bunker, meeting with some very scary and highly paranoid people in the government and I knew there had to be a better place to live. Romania was it, and I moved here, and now I sleep better, feel better, eat better and walk around this town every single day risk-free without carrying a single weapon.
But I think that it might’ve been a big mistake. I’m glad for the respite but I’m really getting tired of being surrounded by emasculated adult boys. I’m really getting tired of going to clubs full of prissy children wearing too much hair gel who get their feelings hurt if you speak to them in a direct manner. I’m getting tired of having boy children criticize my cracked, worn work boots which got that way from actual use. I’m tired of irresponsible, vain, flatterers who cannot keep their word, who cannot understand the concept of punctuality in important matters and who lie reflexively because they are too weak to handle even the most minor of confrontations.
I’m also a little tired of girls with boyfriends, in supposedly committed relationships, who openly flirt with me shamelessly in front of said boyfriends, knowing that there is not a goddamn thing that they (the boyfriends) will do. That might be some men’s fantasy, to have girls throw themselves at you within sight of their boyfriends but it turns my stomach. I understand it and I know where it’s coming from (and let’s not even mention the countless stories girls tell me about boyfriends who have “sexual performance” issues) but at the same time it’s unwanted and unwarranted. Likewise I have little patient or stomach left for girls who find me attractive and so try to gin up some drama despite zero interest or flirtation on my part, solely because their current relationship status with one of these boy children is deeply unsatisfying to them.
A lot of Romanians, particularly women, spend a lot of time and energy hating pitipoance, loosely translated into English as “bimbos”. But in my mind, this is just the natural consequence of the emasculation of men. If men are going to become like girls, endlessly fussing over their clothes, primping in the mirror for hours, carefully tailoring their accessories then it only makes sense that a woman’s response is to become hyper-feminine, to wear lots of make-up, have big, long hair and to wear high heels and dresses. If men are shifting towards the female end of the spectrum, the women will shift even further into the female zone.
If you are a pitipoanca, your only concern is looking good. Men (and society) will take care of the rest. And while there is no direct male equivalent for this term (himbo in English), increasingly “men” in Romania are taking the same route, which is why I increasingly have no respect for them.
And quite frankly, I am getting mighty sick of it.