A New York Times op-ed explains the difference between the imaginary end of men and the real problems men face.
Call me a cynic, but somehow it’s always a breath of fresh air to open a New York Times op-ed piece and find something other than recycled conventional wisdom. That’s why I enjoyed Stephanie Coontz’s well-researched piece “The Myth of Male Decline“, in which she addresses the current trend of articles and books about how women now run the world and men have all been reduced to emotionally crippled adolescents as a result. Well, “addresses” might not be the word I want. “Beats the living crap out of” might be closer.
She spends the first part of the article addressing the notion that women now have all the economic agency in the world, and again “address” may be the wrong verb. You can check out her well-supported arguments and citations yourself, but short version: that gender earning gap is still quite real.
What we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance. Between 2010 and 2011, men and women working full time year-round both experienced a 2.5 percent decline in income. Men suffered roughly 80 percent of the job losses at the beginning of the 2007 recession. But the ripple effect of the recession then led to cutbacks in government jobs that hit women disproportionately. As of June 2012, men had regained 46.2 percent of the jobs they lost in the recession, while women had regained 38.7 percent of their lost jobs.
Emphasis mine. Tom Matlack’s written about this before, but in case you don’t want to click, I’ll just repost this graph, and then keep reposting it until someone notices.
Kindly stop acting like movement toward equality is some godawful gender disaster, opinion-havers.
What’s better than just her economic analysis, though, is where Ms. Coontz goes with the social role of men. For example, that whole idea that men are becoming loutish, uncivilized adolescents? Ms. Coontz proves you should never bring sitcom jokes to a hard-data fight:
Most men are in fact behaving better than ever. Domestic violence rates have been halved since 1993, while rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70 percent in that time. In recent decades, husbands have doubled their share of housework and tripled their share of child care.
Wow, dumb gender stereotype fails to be supported by real-world evidence. Golly, didn’t see that coming.
The real payoff, to my mind, comes on page three of the article, when she gets into the underlying emotional reasons so many people seem so eager to buy into this end-of-men scenario: we’re butting up against the narrow, confining edges of male gender performance.
One thing standing in the way of further progress for many men is the same obstacle that held women back for so long: overinvestment in their gender identity instead of their individual personhood.
Preach it, sister!
The masculine mystique is institutionalized in work structures, according to three new studies forthcoming in the Journal of Social Issues. Just as women who display “masculine” ambitions or behaviors on the job are often penalized, so are men who engage in traditionally female behaviors, like prioritizing family involvement. Men who take an active role in child care and housework at home are more likely than other men to be harassed at work.
Men who request family leave are often viewed as weak or uncompetitive and face a greater risk of being demoted or downsized. And men who have ever quit work for family reasons end up earning significantly less than other male employees, even when controlling for the effects of age, race, education, occupation, seniority and work hours. Now men need to liberate themselves from the pressure to prove their masculinity.
Yes, yes, and hell yes. This is a case I’ve been making for a while. The crisis facing American men today is not that we are somehow “losing” to women. Times are hard for both men and women economically, so that’s not the crisis facing men either. The crisis is that the roles we have been taught to play are inadequate to the lives we live. It is that we do not learn the vocabulary to talk about our pain and where it comes from. It is that we are still just starting to fight our way free of the straitjacket of all the things we’re “supposed” to be, and taking our first steps to discovering who we actually are.
Stephanie Coontz gets it right. Men aren’t ending—we’re finally beginning.
Photo—Young businessman kneeling on a cliff from Shutterstock