TOWARD A NEW MASCULINITY
Reisenwitz is a D.C.-based writer. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex
and the State and her writing has appeared in The
Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE
Motherboard and Reason magazine,
down to write this essay having just finished washing the dishes
from the breakfast I made for my boyfriend. The neighbourhood
we live in, with an olive oil shop next door, a sushi bar across
the street, and an artisanal cheese shop around the corner, I
could not afford without his generous assistance. In return I
happily take the clothes to the wash and fold, and walk to the
Whole Foods. The app that sends us housekeeping help is on my
phone, not his.
a trope that feminism stands in opposition to masculinity, typified
by the man-hating feminist. I don’t speak for all feminists,
of course, but I love men. I love masculinity. I’m writing
this not because I delight in seeing masculinity in decline. It
makes me sad to know that fewer and fewer people get to experience
what my partner and I do. I would feel incredibly grateful for
my charmed life regardless. But knowing what I know about macroeconomic
trends, I feel even more so.
I sat on a Heritage Foundation panel about single motherhood.
Of the four women participating, I was the only product of one.
I hadn’t expected to get angry, because I was young and
naïve. The idea from some of the other panelists was that
by normalizing single motherhood, the media was encouraging women
to become single mothers, thereby exacerbating poverty.
Cooper wrote for the Week in March 2017, many D.C. conservatives
and libertarians “are obsessed with poor people’s
relative lack of marriage. They look at social dysfunction among
the lower classes, conclude that it happens because they don’t
conform to bourgeois social norms, and then rig up some policy
to bludgeon the poor into getting married (and staying in school,
getting a job, and so on).”
my antiquated gendered norms. Just like some people love the soft,
flickering glow of candlelight. Or a hipster loves to jar his
own preserves. But as great as they are, candles, preserves, and
marriage are all utterly incapable of saving anyone from poverty.
More than that, the traditional conception of marriage, with a
male breadwinner and a wife who works less or not at all, is quickly
becoming as workable as candlelight and canning for lower income
then? How do we save marriage? Is it worth saving at all? I think
the answer is yes. But to do so, we need a new masculinity, built
upon a more solid and lasting foundation of liberal gender norms.
ISN’T A SOLUTION TO POVERTY
need the elaborate fantasies conservatives have concocted to explain
the trend away from marriage. Murphy Brown and Gloria Steinem
didn’t convince women that they “don’t need
no man.” Most people still want to get married. According
to Pew research only 13% of never-married adults say they do not
want to marry.
rates are only declining among the poor. Among the upper and middle
classes marriage is just getting delayed.
that single motherhood is a personal choice motivated by television
and movies is belied by the fact that the vast majority of single
mothers are poor. In developed nations, 33% of births are out-of-wedlock
on average. But when you look at areas where demand for manufacturing
labour has collapsed, 70% or more of births are outside of marriage.
Women, at least 78% of them, highly value a steady job in a spouse
or partner. They’re not wrong to. Marriage is only helpful
if it comes with resources. And that, for poor women, is getting
harder and harder to find.
the middle and top marry women at the middle and top. This phenomenon,
known as assortative mating, is a fairly recent phenomenon in
the US, and is a driver of inequality. Because assortative mating
leaves only men at the bottom for women at the bottom.
the bottom are not doing well. And for that reason they don’t
make very attractive husbands. Men are far more likely than women
to spend time in prison. There are 20 million men with felony
records who are not in jail. And men are less likely than women
to earn a college degree. According to the Economist,
boys in the developed world are 50% more likely to fail their
basic math, reading and science classes than girls.
York Times reports that more than one fifth of prime working
age American men (between the ages of 20 and 65) had no paid work
last year. Seven million men between 25 and 55 aren’t even
looking for work right now. From Men Without Work, America’s
Invisible Crisis: “In 1948, men made up a little more
than a tenth of working age (20-64) Americans without jobs. By
2015, however, they made up nearly two-fifths of this population.”
1979 and 2013 median wages for high-school educated men fell 21%
in real terms. During that same period it rose 3% for similarly
not that people are choosing to stay unmarried, and are therefore
poor as a result.
a study by David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson shores up
what other studies have shown. Which is that there simply aren’t
enough single, high-earning men at the bottom of the economic
totem pole to lift anyone out of poverty. Women at the bottom,
unable to find men who can provide materially, have three choices.
They can marry a man who is a net economic cost and does not pull
his weight in the realm of housework and childcare. That seems
like a bad idea. They can choose not to have children at all.
Or they can choose to have kids out of wedlock.
vast majority of women would prefer to have a partner who does
his bit both financially and domestically.
would rather do without one than team up with a layabout, which
may be all that is on offer: American men without jobs spend only
half as much time on housework and caring for others as do women
in the same situation, and much more time watching television.
the unraveling of working-class families. The two-parent family,
still the norm among the elite, is vanishing among the poor.
NORMS HANDICAPT THE POOR
2017 New York Times article points out that the large
cohort of non-working American men are turning down new service-sector
jobs. Why? Because they pay less than manufacturing jobs and have
less prestige. But also because they’re “women’s
ain’t gonna be a nurse; I don’t have the tolerance
for people,” 53-year-old unemployed welder Tracy Dawson
told the Times. “I don’t want it to sound
bad, but I’ve always seen a woman in the position of a nurse
or some kind of health care worker. I see it as more of a woman’s
masculinity is standing in the way of working-class men’s
employment,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist and public
policy professor at Johns Hopkins. “We have a cultural lag
where our views of masculinity have not caught up to the change
in the job market.”
same attitude keeps men from contributing around the house. We
stigmatize men who take care of their children full-time and engage
in other ‘feminine’ activities. Which puts low-education
men in a bind. They aren’t qualified for high-earning jobs.
But if they do the labor available to them, they’re emasculated.
the past generation, middle-class men have learned that they
need to help with child care, and have changed their behaviour.
Working-class men need to catch up. Women have learned that
they can be surgeons and physicists without losing their femininity.
Men need to understand that traditional manual jobs are not
coming back, and that they can be nurses or hairdressers without
losing their masculinity.
are useful, but when they are rigid and butt up against economic
realities people on the fringes find themselves caught in the
middle, squeezed from both sides. Unable to hew to norms, the
marginalized find themselves having to choose between staying
poor and being mocked or ostracized.
is so much more to masculinity than the ability to bring home
more money than your female partner. We do men and women such
a disservice by reducing men to what -- and how -- they earn.
and specialization are prized features of the liberal order. Poor
men need our tolerance for a wider variety of ways to perform
masculinity so they can specialize according to their individual
World Economic Forum executives at companies working in artificial
intelligence (AI) , including IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Facebook
Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc., debated the likely impact
business leaders and economists are optimistic about the impact
of machine learning on employment, predicting AI will create more
new jobs than it displaces, on net. They see automation raising
prosperity across the board, just as past waves of innovation
see a less rosy future. A recently released World Economic Forum
study shows that over the past five years annual median incomes
in all advanced economies fell 2.4%. Many economists blame automation
(plus global trade) for slow job growth and stagnant wages across
the developed world.
don’t think you’ve even really seen the beginning
of the disruption,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said. “The
wave of technology will create a big increase in productivity.
But we also risk getting a lot more inequality.”
of inequality has been talked to death. And we’re beginning
to grapple with the impact of automation and outsourcing on low-education
men’s employment and wages. But how these factors are impacting
marriage has not been discussed nearly as much.
of low-education men dropping out of, or never entering, the job
market is a massive problem, and it’s only growing. On the
EconTalk Podcast, host Russ Roberts spoke with economist Erik
Hurst who told him that if you asked a 21-30 year old man with
less than a BA whether he’d worked in the past year in 2000,
8% would say they hadn’t worked at all in the prior year.
Today, that number is 18% for same cohort. This trend started
prior to the recession and hit 18% in 2010 and has stayed there.
And these men aren’t in school either. For women, there
has been no similar drop off in labour force participation.
a problem not just because men aren’t working outside the
home, but because they’re not working inside of it either.
America still needs men. Marriage can be a way to utilize male
talent and energy once again. But men need to become worth marrying
once again. Some of them can do so by learning how to earn money
in a shifting economy. Others will need to take greater responsibility
for helping out around the house. Most will need to do a little
is no silver bullet solution. When it comes to earning potential,
some, like technology thinker and entrepreneur Anil Dash, see
coding as a viable replacement for the manufacturing work we’ve
lost to outsourcing and automation. He recommends that high schools
offer coding classes, perhaps through vocational programs. It
would also help if we as a culture could stop telling our children
that racking up debt for a four-year degree is the only path to
success, when there are skills they can learn just as effectively
at a community college. For those already in the job force, programs
like Dev Bootcamp offer a way to pick up coding skills.
not every man is going to be a coder. Other, more traditional
vocational paths, such as becoming an electrician or plumber,
are far too undervalued. Ultimately, however, more men will have
to embrace a broadened vision of manhood.
marriage is worth saving. And I think it can be saved by embracing
the liberal principles that helped bring much of the world out
of grinding poverty. Deirdre McCloskey, emerita professor of economics,
history, English and communication at the University of Illinois
at Chicago, recently wrote for Reason, “Adam Smith defined
liberalism in 1776 as the shocking idea of ‘allowing every
man [or woman, dear] to pursue his own interest in his own way,
upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice.’”
of prescribing a narrow, stifling, and ultimately unworkable path
for men, why not broaden masculinity to encompass more general
principles? The Art of Manliness posits 3 P’s of Manhood:
protect, procreate, and provide. There are myriad ways to protect,
procreate and provide that have nothing to do with breadwinning.
To protect the home and family from those who would do them harm
does not require a high income. Nor does procreation. There are
many things a husband can provide that have higher value than
a paycheck. A husband can provide a safe, clean home. He can provide
training and education to his children. He can provide transportation
and planning and all the things it takes to run a modern family.
There is nothing to keep modern men -- even ones who are not incredibly
competitive in the job market -- from being fabulous husbands
and fathers but our own narrow ideas of what is valuable about
marriage among the poor is kneecapped by the idea that work traditionally
done by women is less important, valuable and respectable than
work generally associated with men.
like me, with college degrees and middle-class incomes, can afford
to be antiquated in a way that people without those privileges
cannot. I recognize that it’s rich for me to prescribe a
vision of masculinity for others that I’m not willing to
adopt for myself. But it’s my love of men and everything
they offer that makes me want to find ways to make marriage work
for everyone again, and not just the privileged few.