According to some commentators, American men are in crisis. For Democrats declining workforce participation rates, rising suicide rates and increasing drug use are symptomatic of an economy that is too weak and rigid to offer men the opportunity they need to thrive. Republicans prefer to focus on social causes of men’s woes: the rise of feminism, the decline of the man as the chief breadwinner, the decline of marriage and family responsibility, and a culture that increasingly insists masculinity is ‘toxic.’
It’s certainly the case that the ever-radical nature of modern-day feminism can make the notion of men as victims taboo. Too often it is assumed that because women have faced gender discrimination on a scale and intensity that men haven’t, men cannot face particular challenges of their own. America ought to be mature enough to recognise that both men and women face different hardships. Starting arguments on which is the more oppressed sex isn’t helpful when trying to make good policy.
It’s also the case that many American men feel purposeless and lost in the modern world. With the decline of traditional manufacturing and resource extraction jobs, men often find it hard to navigate the new economy. Being unable to provide for their families can rob a man of his pride. American men are more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be involved in a crime, more likely to take drugs or abuse alcohol, and are certainly far more likely to be addicted to porn. The 2016 presidential election had an unusually large gender gap, and for good reason. Trump spoke to the men who feel uneasy with the direction America is headed. Conversely, Hilary Clinton was the archetype of the sort of woman who loves modern America: wealthy, college educated, socially liberal, feminist, at ease with America’s ethnic transformation.
Having said that, the conservatives who seek to blame feminism and/or liberalism as the primary causes of men’s plight are deeply mistaken. Empowering women does not come at the expense of men. Female labour force participation rates have risen considerably over the past fifty years, yet men’s wages continue to increase unabated. American feminism, at least outside the most radical college campuses, does not view masculinity as evil, so long as it does not come at the expense of women’s freedom.
Rather, men are suffering from a lack of personal responsibility. Increasingly, they blame women for unsuccessful marriages or failed relationships, instead of self-reflecting at their own faults. They turn to substance abuse and junk food, instead of taking responsibility for their own health. And rather than re-educating themselves to adapt to the modern economy, they drop out of school or college, and then blame politicians for changes to the economy beyond anyone’s control. Due to the increasing importance of knowledge-based services, and the increasing number of highly educated, career-orientated women, men can no longer simply be mediocre at school, and then expect the jobs and the women to come to them. It takes time, effort and forward planning to be successful. And partly thanks to the #metoo movement, old-school chivalry is making a comeback.
I understand that some social and economic changes America has experienced haven’t been to men’s benefit. But the men’s rights movements, and other right-wing phenomena that make men out to be hapless victims of middle-class feminism, are completely deluded. American men ought to take responsibility, work hard, be courteous and respectful, and seize the opportunities the modern world affords. And with a bit of determination, they can build careers, relationships and families to be proud of.