We live in a world dominated by men in pretty much every area of life. Hence anyone who argues that the state of men is in danger has a pretty tough row to hoe. And yet, that is the alarm that some people are sounding, that in our efforts to create gender parity, we are overlooking the fact that many men are currently really struggling to cope in contemporary US society and that the trends for them are not good.
To have a serious discussion about this, we have to first get beyond the more absurd exaggerations of people like former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
[W]ho could forget the “Tucker Carlson Originals” special “The End of Men,” which introduced the world to “bromeopathy,” the patriotic practice of bathing one’s testicles in red light? That special also featured hand-wringing about “soy boys,” paeans to raw-egg slonkers, and homoerotic montages, apparently filmed on Alex Jones’s bocce court, that looked like Abercrombie & Fitch ads directed by Leni Riefenstahl. Again, it’s easy to brush all this off as a campy, desperate ploy for attention, which it was. But “The End of Men” also made an argument: American men are being systematically emasculated by some sort of ill-defined global cabal, for the purpose of slowing down birth rates in “the West”; only “well-ordered, disciplined groups of men,” presumably after being armed and restored to testicular health, can “reëstablish order” and restore Western civilization. This is the sort of thing that seems funny until it doesn’t.
The more serious aspects of this issue are discussed by Idrees Kahloon in the January 20, 2023 issue of The New Yorker.
Many social scientists agree that contemporary American men are mired in malaise, even as they disagree about the causes. In academic performance, boys are well behind girls in elementary school, high school, and college, where the sex ratio is approaching two female undergraduates for every one male. (It was an even split at the start of the nineteen-eighties.) Rage among self-designated “incels” and other elements of the online “manosphere” appears to be steering some impressionable teens toward misogyny. Men are increasingly dropping out of work during their prime working years, overdosing, drinking themselves to death, and generally dying earlier, including by suicide. And men are powering the new brand of reactionary Republican politics, premised on a return to better times, when America was great—and, unsubtly, when men could really be men. The question is what to make of the paroxysm. For the revanchist right, the plight of American men is existential. It is an affront to biological (and perhaps Biblical) determinism, a threat to an entire social order. Yet, for all the strides that women have made since gaining the right to vote, the highest echelons of power remain lopsidedly male. The detoxification of masculinity, progressives say, is a messy and necessary process; sore losers of undeserved privilege don’t merit much sympathy.
Kahloon discusses the work of Richard Reeves, the author of the book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It who:
argues that the rapid liberation of women and the labor-market shift toward brains and away from brawn have left men bereft of what the sociologist David Morgan calls “ontological security.” They now confront the prospect of “cultural redundancy,” Reeves writes. He sees telltale signs in the way that boys are floundering at school and men are leaving work and failing to perform their paternal obligations. All this, he says, has landed hardest on Black men, whose life prospects have been decimated by decades of mass incarceration, and on men without college degrees, whose wages have fallen in real terms, whose life expectancies have dropped markedly, and whose families are fracturing at astonishing rates. Things have become so bad, so quickly, that emergency social repairs are needed. “It is like the needles on a magnetic compass reversing their polarity,” Reeves writes. “Suddenly, working for gender equality means focusing on boys rather than girls.”
“Of Boys and Men” argues for a speedy response because the decline in the fortunes of present-day men—not only in comparison with women but in absolute terms—augurs so poorly for men several decades on. “As far as I can tell, nobody predicted that women would overtake men so rapidly, so comprehensively, or so consistently around the world,” Reeves writes. He notes that schoolgirls outperform schoolboys both in advanced countries that still struggle with considerable sexism, such as South Korea, and in notably egalitarian countries like Sweden (where researchers say they are confronting a pojkkrisen, or “boy crisis”). In 2009, American high-school students in the top ten per cent of their freshman class were twice as likely to be female. Boys, meanwhile, are at least twice as likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and twice as likely to be suspended; their dropout rates, too, are considerably higher than those of their female counterparts. Young men are also four times as likely to die from suicide.
While the top echelons of business and most professions are still occupied mostly by men, the current trends favor the emergence of female dominance pretty soon.
An axiom of policymaking is that disparate educational achievement today will manifest in disparate earnings later. Reeves points out that women earn roughly three-fifths of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded. They are the majority of current medical and law students. And they’ve made extraordinary gains in subjects where they had once been highly underrepresented; they now constitute a third of current graduates in stem fields and more than forty per cent of students in business schools.
While the gender gap in earnings is decreasing, which is of course a good thing, the reasons for it are not necessarily because women’s wages are rising faster than men’s.
And so it’s chastening to realize that the substantial decline in the gender earnings gap is partly the result of stagnating wages for working men (which have not grown appreciably in the past half century, adjusting for inflation), and partly of the steady creep in the number of men who drop out of the labor force entirely.
We have some idea of why blue-collar wages have stagnated: a macroeconomic shift that greatly raised the value of a college degree, owing in part to the decimation of manual labor by automation and globalization. White men experienced a specific blow that Black men had felt earlier and even more acutely.
Compounding the problem is that men are withdrawing from the world of work but “most of these hours of free time are spent watching screens rather than doing household labor or caring for family members. Instead of socializing more, men without work are even less involved in their communities than those with jobs. The available data suggest that their lot is not a happy one.”
A few months ago, the radio show On the Media had an interview with Reeves about this issue.
There is evidence that men are struggling even in the social sphere, finding it hard to form stable relationships.
More than 60 percent of young men are single, nearly twice the rate of unattached young women, signaling a larger breakdown in the social, romantic and sexual life of the American male.
Men in their 20s are more likely than women in their 20s to be romantically uninvolved, sexually dormant, friendless and lonely. They stand at the vanguard of an epidemic of declining marriage, sexuality and relationships that afflicts all of young America.
Scholars say the new era of gender parity has reshaped relationship dynamics, empowering young women and, in many cases, removing young men from the equation.
“Women don’t need to be in long-term relationships. They don’t need to be married. They’d rather go to brunch with friends than have a horrible date,” said Greg Matos, a couple and family psychologist in Los Angeles, who recently penned a viral article titled “What’s Behind the Rise of Lonely, Single Men.”
As of 2022, Pew Research Center found, 30 percent of U.S. adults are neither married, living with a partner nor engaged in a committed relationship. Nearly half of all young adults are single: 34 percent of women, and a whopping 63 percent of men.
Women are tiring of their stereotypical role as full-time therapist for emotionally distant men. They want a partner who is emotionally open and empathetic, the opposite of the age-old masculine ideal.
“Today in America, women expect more from men,” Levant said, “and unfortunately, so many men don’t have more to give.”
“Women form friendships with each other that are emotionally intimate, whereas men do not,” Levant said. Young women “may not be dating, but they have girlfriends they spend time with and gain emotional support from.”
“Guys are taught to prioritize career,” Karo said. “Also romantic relationships, although it doesn’t seem like they’re doing a very good job at that. Making friends and keeping friends seems to be a lower priority. And once guys get older, they suddenly realize they have no friends.”
Compounding the problem in the US is that disgruntled young men have easy access to high-powered weapons to provide an outlet for their frustrations.
Saturday Night Live had a parody of this lack of ability of men to socialize and form friendships.