Jack Myers is deeply concerned about the future of men. Here’s why.
Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to spend some time interviewing Jack Myers, author of The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-First Century. Jack has a long history of thinking about society’s problems in ways that challenge us to solve them both sensibly and creatively, and his new book is no exception. Jack lauds the long-overdue accomplishments of the women’s movement, while simultaneously pointing out that men—who are now evolving beyond the old macho stereotypes, parenting more actively, and rewriting their emotional lives—are getting lost in the shuffle. He describes today’s men as a Lean Out Generation, feeling disenfranchised in today’s ever-increasing reverse gender gap. I asked Jack a few questions, and our wide-ranging conversation touched on many of the core issues and concerns that men face today.
Q: Why should we be concerned about men right now?
A: Our society and culture have been paying attention, with appropriate and continued focus, to the women’s movement—equal pay, equal representation in business and government (and now we have Hillary running for President)—and making real, measurable progress in these areas. Our collective reaction to messages about men, men’s issues, men’s needs is, wait, we’re not done yet with the reality of advancing women. And we’re not. But we also need to make sure men are not left behind, that our efforts to move towards equality move towards equality, not an imbalance one way or the other.
I think we do a disservice to men, particularly young men, the next generation of men, if we don’t address men’s needs. I see us as in danger of creating a generation of men who “lean out,” who are disenfranchised and left out. If you look at the statistics—60% of college graduates are now women, you have women under 30 outlearning their male counterparts—it’s clear that men have valid issues of their own. For example, corporations have gotten really good at creating support groups to help women advance. Now, in many organizations, 60% to 70% of the employees are female. And there are no support groups for the men. The bottom line is, men’s concerns today end up getting filtered through the women’s movement instead of being taken at face value.
Frankly, it’s confusing for young men who have grown up valuing gender equality to see so much help for women and so little help for men. We need a new paradigm for mentoring boys—not the old boy network—but the same kind of healthy support that women now receive in so many places. And this is necessary if we truly want gender equality. And if women believe in gender equality—which I think they do—what better way to show it than embracing the needs of today’s young men.
Q: Tell us more about what this new paradigm looks like and where you see it being applied.
A: I envision a new paradigm in education, the workplace, and relationships that addresses the needs of both sexes. All the experts who look at our educational system from pre-K forward agree that it’s designed to serve females. And you see the results in the grades and test scores. We need, for example, more online learning, more integration of gaming into education, more co-ed physical education, and more recess with the physical activity it allows. Changes such as these address the specific educational needs of boys. We also need better sex ed, since now most boys learn from pornography. Abstinence-based sex ed isn’t the answer. Boys need to learn about relationships and consent, and that their needs, their rights matter, too. We need to introduce early stage preparation for the H.E.A.L. professions and disciplines—health, education, administration, and literacy. And we need to encourage and support boys who take courses in these areas, the same way we support girls who go into STEM. Today’s boys are 50% more likely to fail math, science, and reading than girls. That’s a huge gender-based problem. We also need to recognize that boys in the classroom need opportunities to release energy, that they can’t just be repressed or medicated into silence.
In the workplace, when young men are looking for or taking their first jobs, we need to provide them with the same opportunities for productive, constructive mentoring that we now offer young women. We now segregate young women into single-sex support groups. I think we should bring men and women together much more. This would not only break down barriers but also help men learn valuable workplace skills such as collaboration and multitasking. Imagine if workplace training for men addressed not only sexism and issues around female parity but also men’s own sensitivities. In addition, men don’t come in just one flavor. Companies need to be more open to all types of men as role models—geeks, gay men, men of mixed ethnicities and cultures. We need to develop training programs for young men that help them navigate the ongoing shifts in the workplace that are singularly designed to advance women. Because the advancement of women should be for women but not at the expense of men. It’s not a zero sum game. When we address the needs of both women and men, everybody wins. This means, for example, teaching men how to compete effectively without feeling reserve discrimination, how to view the new anti-male bias in perspective and without feeling anger, how to recognize that outfacing relationships—such as those with clients—should be conducted in a gender-neutral context. The whole HR function in companies—which by the way is run by women, and primarily multicultural women—needs to be reviewed and revamped.
The truth is, for a young, white, straight man who graduates from high school and heads to college, the only place to find a group of cohorts is a frat—and that frat will teach him all the wrong things about what it means to be a man. If we don’t create alternatives—new organizations and support groups in our educational institutions and our corporations, young men who should be growing up to be exactly what the women’s movement wants will instead be co-opted by the remains of the old boy network, because there’s no one else who will support them.
Looking at relationships, we now live in a world where 85% of long-term heterosexual relationships are ended by women. Three times as many women aged 30-45 are single as were 30 years ago. It’s now 45%. And we have more and more children growing up in fatherless homes. Women are less likely than ever to stay in an unhappy, unhealthy relationship—and that’s a really good thing. But men, how do they get in touch with their unhappiness, in a world where to a large degree men aren’t even allowed to be unhappy? We have men growing up failing to learn about intimacy, how to express intimacy, whereas for women it’s a natural part of their upbringing. So you have men who end up with personal intimacy disorder—aka sex addiction. Where are the intimacy programs for men to teach them how to conduct a healthy relationship? We see more images in the media today of men hugging, but imagine if society saw men hugging each other as just as natural as women hugging each other.
Also, couples need to learn how to communicate. You know how men don’t like to ask for directions and women want men to know what they want. We need to learn how to bridge those communication gaps. The media could help by showing a new communications paradigm, one with more direct communication, in movies, tv, articles, self-help books, etc. Women pay more attention to clear communication, and we need to encourage men to open up and communicate their needs and desires more effectively. When you look at our current media narrative about men, you have Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, and other bumbling idiots. Look at our ads. Look at our sitcoms. In almost every case, women hold the solutions to problems that men create. And it’s been this way since the dawn of TV. Look at The Honeymooners. Look at I Love Lucy. The joke is always on the man.
The first place to start reeducating men—and women—about relationships is to put pressure on TV and advertisers to create a more positive narrative around men. Show us more competent and sensitive dads, and not just with their daughters, but with their sons. Show dads listening to their boys’ feelings and empathizing. We’re ignoring our sons and boys’ needs at our own peril. If women want young men to grow up to be supportive partners, to be emotionally competent in relationships, the women’s movement needs to stop working to marginalize young men and start embracing them.
Q: How do women and the women’s movement feel about your book?
A: Feminists and the women’s movement are highly supportive of The Future of Men. Mothers who read it are concerned about their sons, about the way we’re allowing boys to grow up today. I think I’ve found a way to promote men’s issues, needs, and concerns without attacking feminism or the women’s movement, without trying to reverse any of women’s legitimate and entirely necessary gains. The only negative responses I get are from angry men who accuse me of promoting what they call the “sissification” of men. Guys who think I’m selling men out. On the contrary, this is a book about men that calls out for society to treat men’s needs seriously in a world in which gender equality is here to stay. I’ll leave you with this. Over 70% of the men who have read my book have asked me the same question. “You mean, we have a future?”