I listened to a podcast episode earlier this week entitled What the World of Psychology Gets Wrong About Men. After a few minutes, I considered turning it off, as I felt that the guest, Dr. John Barry, was about to stray into “men are under attack” territory.
But I kept listening, and I was wrong. It was a really balanced, well-structured conversation which pointed out how problematic the term “toxic masculinity” is when it’s applied to any behaviour we don’t like that’s exhibited by men. That’s not how the phrase originated.
This article is a review of Richard Reeves’ new book. What struck me about it was the discussion of how young men’s veneration of hugely problematic figures such as Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate, and Donald Trump is a symptom of male alienation. “Women’s lives have been recast. Men’s lives have not.”
In his new book, ‘Of Boys and Men’, Richard Reeves argues that the [crisis of masculinity] is structural. Society has undergone profound cultural and economic changes in the past few decades and many of them have left men—especially working-class men—disoriented and demoralized. As certain structural barriers that used to hinder women have been removed, women have proven their “natural advantage” in several areas, including in our colleges and universities. The structural disadvantages faced by men, meanwhile, have only become more entrenched during the same period. Several rounds of globalization, more outsourcing of traditionally “male” sectors like heavy industry, increasing automation, and greater workplace competition from women meant that, for many men, the economic picture has been getting bleaker by the year.
As a result, many men are struggling to fulfill their own outmoded expectations of what a man should be. “The problem with feminism, as a liberation movement, is not that it has ‘gone too far,’” Reeves writes. “It is that it has not gone far enough”—that is, it has not succeeded in replacing traditional models of masculinity with something more adequate to our current circumstances. The Western male is stuck in a culture of masculinity that is now desperately mismatched with his material reality. “Women’s lives have been recast,” Reeves writes. “Men’s lives have not.” Men have been consigned to “cultural redundancy.”
Addressing the kind of male disadvantages that Reeves catalogs does not mean ignoring or excusing inequalities that favor men over women. It’s possible, Reeves writes, to “hold two thoughts in our head at once.” Indeed, it’s urgent that we do so.