Lately, there have been considerable attention in the media about masculinity and the behavior of the male gender. The most recent is the Weinstein sexual harassment scandal. Another powerful man acting badly. No defense of his deplorable behavior but some of the backlash in the press again makes it seem that women are subject to constant and widespread sexual harassment in the workplace. An earlier blog, “Gretchen Carlson: “Every damn woman still has a story’ about harassment” raised concerns about some of the definitions of sexual harassment and how this is phrased in the questions on surveys that report a virtual epidemic of men behaving badly. Glamour industries like film and television are more prone to the casting couch phenomenon of sexual abuse. Let’s not create an atmosphere of wholesale gender mistrust in every workplace.
The Las Vegas tragedy also triggered a media backlash focusing on men and violence. One article stated that men have committed 95% of mass shootings while women only account for 3% of these incidents. Clearly one can make the case that men are far more prone to violence and martyrdom than women. This is obviously not a new revelation. Historically, as feminists are quick to point out, men have been responsible for most of the wars, genocides and overall savagery since recorded time. Few would argue that the tendency to physical violence is significantly greater for men and this is often coupled with a sense that a real or imagined cause is worth killing and dying for. Not that women do not have strong beliefs and a firm moral compass but that they seem to be far less willing to put on a suicide vest or fire an automatic weapon to express their outrage or violently act out their inner demons. Men will not become less aggressive if we just advocate gender neutrality and shaming. A focus on redirecting the warrior aspect of masculinity in ways that men can harness their aggressiveness to contribute to the benefit of society. Assertiveness for the general good should be perceived as more manly than a gun rack in a pickup truck.
A media story that underscored taking gender equality to an absurd conclusion focused on two schools in Sweden which banned the words boy and girl. In their attempt to eliminate gender discrimination – which incidentally is always skewed to a man’s bias against women not the reverse – the schools are trying to perpetuate the myth that gender behavior is solely driven by cultural norms. By creating their version of a gender neutral classroom and language environment the intent is to have children avoid traditional gender roles thereby insuring gender equality. There are far better and less confusing practices that enhance gender equality without pretending that boys and girls are really the same except for a few minor anatomical differences. Accept the fact that male energy and female energy are not the same and both can contribute to the general good.
Another disturbing story highlighted the decrease in marriages. Especially the fact that many women earning good salaries are not finding men suitable for marriage. “The lack of good jobs for these men is making them less and less attractive to women in the marriage market, and women, with their greater earnings, can do fine remaining single,” says Bertrand, the Chicago economist. “For gender identity reasons, these men may not want to enter into marriages with women who are dominating them economically, even if this would make economic sense to them.”
So what are men challenged by economic inferiority to do? One expert recommends that if one is able to specialize in areas that are harder to automate – jobs that require problem-solving and creativity – men will benefit. But those jobs also often require more education.
Then comes the much more complex issue of gender norms and expectations. There are individual choices to be made at a personal level for men to take on traditionally feminine work, or for heterosexual couples to settle on a situation where the wife brings home the bacon. But these individual choices don’t happen in a vacuum — they’re necessarily informed by the broader culture.
“Traditional masculinity is standing in the way of working-class men’s employment,” Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin said in an interview. “We have a cultural lag where our views of masculinity have not caught up to the change in the job market.” (This was captured in a recent New York Times headline: “Men Don’t Want to Be Nurses. Their Wives Agree.”)