More and more men are dropping out of American society. They aren't going to college, they aren't holding down jobs, they aren't getting married and they aren't becoming fathers. Current explanations typically involve blaming the men themselves: Some blame pandemic immaturity (XY-chromosomers won't "man up" and accept adult responsibility for wives and children). Other cite a "Cardboard Man" rigidity that makes men unwilling to function as househusbands or amanuenses to the female professionals increasingly favored by our deskwork economy.
Helen Smith, a practicing psychologist and blogger for PJ Media ("Dr. Helen"), offers an alternative theory: "Most men are not acting irresponsibly because they are immature or because they want to harm women; they are acting rationally in response to the lack of incentives today's society offers them to be responsible fathers, husbands and providers." They are "going Galt," as Ms. Smith puts it—imitating John Galt, the industrialist titan in Ayn Rand's 1957 novel, "Atlas Shrugged," who hides out in a gulch to defy the big-government welfare state. (Ms. Smith is a self-described libertarian and Rand fan.)
The statistics that Ms. Smith proffers are impressively dismal. Male workforce participation has plummeted. In 1970, some 80% of working-age men were employed full-time, in contrast to the 66% employed full-time nowadays, Ms. Smith notes. Women today earn 58% of U.S. bachelor's degrees. This is partly because, as Christina Hoff Sommers wrote in her 2001 book, "The War Against Boys" (cited admiringly by Ms. Smith), the K-12 education system that feeds into college favors docile, conformist girls over aggressive, competitive boys. Colleges, as well, are riddled with feminist ideology, decimate their athletic programs in the name of Title IX and regard male students as likely rapists in their interactions with their female classmates.
Ms. Smith argues that men are simply reacting to a woman-centric culture that systemically belittles them as bumbling incompetents, denigrates their achievements and outright discriminates against them in such venues as family court. Mothers usually get custody of the children after a divorce, even if they have cheated on their husbands. Husbands sometimes end up forced to support children who aren't genetically theirs. For women, it's "my body, my choice," whereas men can be stuck writing child-support checks for 18 years even if the mother was a one-night stand who lied about using birth control. Ms. Smith blames not only feminists but passive "Uncle Tims," as she calls them, who go along with all this because, well, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially if she is your wife or your boss or she decides to start a Sandra Fluke-inspired boycott of you or your company.
This is a potentially persuasive thesis—yet Ms. Smith hasn't done much to advance it with hard evidence. Her book contains surprisingly few references to actual studies. For her assertion that more than one million American men may be currently raising another man's child unwittingly, her source is . . . a 2007 article in Men's Health magazine. A "men's' rights" blogger named Douglas Galbi is her source for a statement that about 50,000 people are behind bars on any given day for failure to pay child support. Indeed, much of Ms. Smith's material comes from the comments section on her own "Dr. Helen" blog. These commenters tend to be men who got burned in a divorce or other relationship. Divorce and discord between the sexes can be a nasty business, bringing out the worst in all concerned, including a tendency on the part of affected men to indulge in a level of victimological self-pity worthy of the most irritating feminists.
Some of Ms. Smith's commenters seem to be mostly victims of their own poor judgment—such as "Anonymous," who married a woman he thought was his "soul mate." After Anonymous lost his job, the soul mate started sleeping with another man in Anonymous's own bed, then left Anonymous and took him to the cleaners in the resultant divorce. "The adultery doesn't seem to matter to the court," he complained. While visiting his sick parents in a Louisiana hospital, Emile, a veterinarian cited in Ms. Smith's chapter on paternity fraud, engaged in oral sex with a nurse named Debra while wearing a condom—and then discovered that Debra had used the condom's contents to make him a father. Maybe Emile should have had a cup of coffee in the hospital cafeteria instead.
The real reason for such moral chaos is that we are living in a world where sexual and marital expectations have been remade by progressives male and female in the name of personal freedom, in which just about any arrangement non-judgmentally goes. No-fault divorce means exactly that. It means that adultery is on a moral par with slurping your soup, so what's wrong with an adulterous wife's getting half the marital property? The laws about which Ms. Smith complains long predate the rise of feminism. Bastardy laws that require fathers to support the children they sire out of wedlock date to Elizabethan times. Those laws and others grew out of an era in which lifelong marriage was the norm, copulation was supposed to occur within wedded bonds and nobody pretended that sex wasn't likely to lead to babies. They can work ultra-punitively in our time when few wish to accept the consequences of a failure of self-restraint.
Ms. Smith rightly protests the feminization of contemporary culture, and she rightly urges men—who, after all, built the civilization onto which feminism has latched itself—to start fighting back. But to win such battles she will need to construct arguments likely to persuade others besides the angry, alienated men who click onto her blog and mourn that their "soul mate" turned out to be not much of a mate.
Ms. Allen is the author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus."
A version of this article appeared June 26, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Adam's Discontent.