There was a line delivered by Dixie Carter on that old TV show Designing Women about men who dared complain about the strictures imposed on them by feminism. It went something along the lines of, “Men have been behind nearly all of the money making, trouble making, and war making throughout history, so spare us if the world is not turning out exactly how you hoped.” Speaking as a man who reads a lot of history, that’s pretty fair given the spotty track record of testosterone when it comes to harmony and well-being. However, when I look at macroeconomic trends in the industrialized world, I believe there is legitimate cause to worry about the role men play, and that their precarious economic position may be of concern to society as a whole. Middle- and working-class men are currently being squeezed between old societal expectations and corrosive new attacks on the workforce, and something will have to give. Consider two recent articles online, one by The Economist and another from a Georgetown business professor researching gender roles. “The Weaker Sex” is from the May 30, 2015 edition of The Economist, and it posits that working class men in rich countries are just plain in trouble:
AT FIRST glance the patriarchy appears to be thriving. More than 90% of presidents and prime ministers are male, as are nearly all big corporate bosses. Men dominate finance, technology, films, sports, music and even stand-up comedy. In much of the world they still enjoy social and legal privileges simply because they have a Y chromosome. So it might seem odd to worry about the plight of men.
Yet there is plenty of cause for concern. Men cluster at the bottom as well as the top. They are far more likely than women to be jailed, estranged from their children, or to kill themselves. They earn fewer university degrees than women. Boys in the developed world are 50% more likely to flunk basic maths, reading and science entirely.
The article explores why men are having difficulty adapting to the modern workforce, and if you read some of my recent analysis, this is by design. I talk about the absolute assault on steady employment in favor of an older model, the gobbe, or project-based day labor. And while I try to put out some tips on how people might handle this shift, let’s be real, it’s not a great match for the rest of our economic realities. Here’s where the vise-grip shows up. New research from Dr. Catherine Tinsley, a professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, shows that despite the push toward gender equality in the workplace, not to mention the acceptance of men as nurturing care givers in the home, virtually every demographic in American society still expects men to be the primary earners in a home. For all that we have been putting out the message that women should have great careers, as much as we say we want well-rounded, flexible Dads as comfortable with fixing dinner as working a ten-hour day, apparently even the Millennials don’t really believe it. Everybody still wants a man to make all the money, evidently.
We were surprised that the majority still wanted the man to be the breadwinner, implying our society’s attitude as a whole hasn’t shifted much on this issue. We also found women high on gender determinism (the idea that one gender does some things better than the other gender) made real-life work choices that lowered their wages. The higher a woman’s gender determinism, the more likely she was to work from home, and when we controlled for the number of hours worked, education level and type of job, we found working from home lowered women’s wages.Dr. Catherine Tinsley
We need to to figure out what to do with men, or trouble is just over the horizon.
I have been saying for years that we are at a crisis point with regards to masculinity in our society. Almost all of the mythology around what a man should be is squarely opposed by what is useful in society. We are fed tales of heroic individual action, yet teamwork is what the company requires. We are bombarded with images of physical bravery and hand-to-hand fighting yet nearly any expression of this myth would result in an assault charge of some sort. We are presented with the myth of the pioneer in an era where we have satellite imagery of the whole planet down to the centimeter. What we say we want out of men and what we demand on a daily basis have nothing in common.
Now we are faced with a persistent cultural meme that men must be the primary earner at all costs. Simultaneously, we outsource jobs to other nations and attempt to make as much of the economy driven by software as possible. Society says that it wants a man to have stable, voluminous income, then its tech sector attempts to push the economy in the direction of precarious day labor as much as possible, while simultaneously increasing wealth inequality.
I submit that if we are not going to take the economic pressure off of men and continue to force them into an unwinnable game, we will likely see a continuation of the recourse to violence – the one surefire way to recapture one’s masculinity.
Let us make a different choice.
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