Hacker's 'Mismatch': infomercial between covers


Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Men and Women, by Andrew Hacker. Scribner. 240 pages. $25.

In the modern age, we have publishing's answer to the infomercial, and Mismatch seems to be a perfect example of this new development. The authors of these books try to sell you information you already know, and they do so with a cynical interest in market share that is simply breathtaking. Academics write these books in a language that is distinguished by its slipperiness and the use of the passive voice, along with a smarmy condescension to the reader. Here, for instance, the author writes that this book is "intended for an intelligent audience interested in a serious subject." Frankly, this kind of self-congratulation is the infomercial version of "We will sell no wine before its time."

Purportedly, Mismatch is about changes that have taken place in the way men and women now live, and how these changes (in education, jobs, sexual experience, etc.) have affected how men and women are getting along. For instance, one of the subjects this book pretends to address is marriage. The author goes through contemporary marriage rates, divorce rates and the reasons for these divorces.

Then he addresses marriages that don't fail. How, the author asks, do these people who don't get divorced manage it? "The true answer," he says, "is that they didn't do much at all. The chief reason is luck ..." Now, as someone who has been happily married for 25 years and having brought up two daughters while both my wife and I had jobs, I can say that this comment is so bizarre as to make me wonder what Hacker has been smoking. Luck, I'd have to say from personal experience, is about the least of it.

But let us move on to the subject of masculinity. In an attempt to define masculinity, Hacker invokes such items as the fact that in the Southwest, men wear cowboy hats even though they aren't cowboys (I'm not kidding), that they go hunting to prove the fact that they are "real men," and that a man's masculinity was determined by the "cheers of his chums" when he bragged about his exploits.

I was puzzled as to where Hacker got his sensibility about men, but after a moment's reflection, I realized that he is reporting on what he has seen in the movies and on TV. Masculinity is defined in this book not by laudable traits, such as loyalty or dedication or dependability, but wearing a cowboy hat and having any point of view that is disreputable.

On the subject of violence, Hacker really shines. He writes, "Of course, all men don't rape." Now in his giddy condescension he says this while being smugly unaware that it is just as bigoted as saying that "Of course, all women aren't lousy drivers." He also says, in the same breathless arrogance, that men rape because they take the "notion of masculinity to an extreme." What the hell does masculinity have to do with rape? It is the un-masculine, idiotic, weak fools who rape, people who are as far from being masculine as it is possible to be.

I am sure that there are some new and important things to be said about how men and women are getting along, and I, for one, am waiting to read them, but you won't get them from this infomercial, which is directed at bitter women to get them to pay for the statistics they have already read in the paper, packaged with bigotry, and written in a passive, dead-stick prose.

Craig Nova is the author of 10 novels, including The Good Son, Tornado Alley and Wetware. His Brook Trout and the Writing Life was published in 1999. He is at work on a new book and on a screen adaptation of The Good Son.

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