Do we need men at all? That was the provocative question posed by Nicolle Flint (12/12) in highlighting the fourfold increase over the past five years in the number of women using donor sperm to create a family.
''Hell, yes!'' was my immediate reaction. ''What sort of question is that?''
Relationships aren't easy. They can be messy and complicated, but they're at the heart of our society
But then I read on and found the Monash IVF director, Professor Gab Kovacs, observing that the failure to find ''Mr Right'' or even ''Mr Not-Too-Bad'' was increasingly prompting heterosexual women to heed their biological clocks and follow the single-parent path.
What's going on here? It seems that science, having generated one social revolution via readily available contraception is now moving even further into the area of human relationships, this time by deeming that men are not really required at all.
Relationships aren't easy. They can be messy and complicated, but they're at the heart of our society, despite all the disturbing statistics about break-ups, custody battles, and children being shuttled between parents.
So where are we if there is a genuine and permanent trend towards men being afraid of commitment (which seems a common complaint these days), and women not needing to worry about finding a suitable male partner in order to experience motherhood?
Are we really standing at a ''precipice'', as Nicolle Flint suggests, and what happens if we slip over the edge?
An article in the July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic magazine called ''The end of men'' traced changes in the American workforce in the wake of the GFC. Apparently 2010 marked the first year in American history when women held a majority of the nation's jobs. Of course, huge numbers of men (6 million) employed in areas such as construction, manufacturing and finance lost their jobs in the financial crisis, but the author of the article, Hanna Rosin, argues that this simply accelerated an economic shift that had been under way for three decades.
She maintains that ''.. the post-industrial economy is indifferent to men's size and strength''. Today's workers need social intelligence, open communication and the ability to sit still and focus … attributes that are ''not predominantly male''.
Men dominate just two of the 15 job categories predicted to grow the most over the next decade, those of janitor and computer engineer. The rest, including nursing, home health assistance, childcare and food preparation, all belong to women.
Women already hold more than half of America's managerial and professional jobs, make up 54 per cent of all accountants, and fill about half of all banking and insurance jobs. It's only at the very top of the corporate ladder, in the ranks of CEOs, that men still rule the roost … for now. Women gain 60 per cent of master's degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and almost 60 per cent of all bachelor's degrees. Men are now more likely than women to hold a high school diploma as their only qualification.
In other words, American women are on the march, but the men are going nowhere … and are consequently losing their attraction as partners and fathers. Where the old stereotype used to be that of women on the lookout for a man who would be a ''good provider'', are we heading into a future where women won't even bother looking at all?
If this seems far-fetched, consider for a moment the all-too-common portrayal of men in films and on TV. The Sex and the City generation, the Carries, Mirandas, Charlottes and Samanthas of this world, are shown plenty to complain about regarding the men in their lives. We're too short, too fat, too bald, too hairy, too clumsy, too insensitive, too stupid, too undersexed, too oversexed … you name it, we've got it wrong.
If Sex and the City achieved one thing, it gave men a pretty comprehensive catalogue of their failings, particularly in the relationships department. You can also see those weaknesses regularly on display in television commercials. There's a current example in that insurance advertisement in which the dill of a husband, trying to cook dinner, leaves a pan on the stove while he goes out to buy parsley … and burns the house down. Duh! Idiot!
Back in July 2007, Fay Weldon, once regarded as the voice of feminism, argued in The Daily Telegraph in London that the gap between men and women had narrowed so much over the decades that the sexes are intrinsically the same. ''Except, of course, that women occupy the moral high ground, live longer, look better longer, are more employable and need men less than men need women.''
If she's right, men are destined for a future as little more than mere accessories. Decorative bling, harvested for sperm. Glad I won't be around to experience it.
David Campbell is a freelance writer.