Progressives should stop avoiding men’s issues
Millions of American men are disconnected from work, children and family; are in poor physical and mental health; suffer from addiction and isolation; and struggle with what it means to be a man. Yet, most progressives — who claim to care about all of society’s underdogs — seem to assiduously avoid these issues. Instead, their main concern when it comes to men is that too many men remain wedded to “traditional” notions and norms of masculinity. Problems facing men of colour are largely seen through the lens of race, not gender.
The very phrase “men’s issues” conjures images of bitter, angry white guys who stupidly don’t realise that they are oppressors and on top of the world. In the era of #MeToo, men don’t have problems; they are the problem. To some, even talking about men’s problems can brand one as tone-deaf and sexist.
I am a liberal, I have studied and supported feminism, and I know well that sexual harassment and assault are sickeningly common. But women remaining victims in many ways does not negate the reality that many men are struggling and are victims of economic and cultural changes — ones that often also hurt women, children and society. Men are not a monolithic group, and it is not a zero-sum game in which men win and women lose — or vice versa.
So, what are these problems, who are these men and why should the Left — as well as Americans across the political spectrum — care about them?
During and after the 2016 election, we have heard the simplistic trope that Donald Trump’s supporters are angry, less-educated, white working-class men — the people whom Hillary Clinton unhelpfully called “deplorables”. These men on the sidelines of American life are of all races, places and classes, and include millennials, better-educated, late-middle-age men and former prisoners.
The data on male wellbeing tells a bleak story for a large minority of American men. About 20 million men have abandoned work — or work has abandoned them — as the male civilian labour force participation rate has fallen from 85 per cent in the mid-1950s to 69 per cent in November. This excludes two million incarcerated men.
Median inflation-adjusted income for all US men was only 1 per cent higher in 2017 than it was in 1973, and incomes for about 80 per cent of men have stagnated or declined. About eight million to ten million fathers never or rarely see their minor children — and most of those fathers are not “deadbeats”.
Young adult males have higher poverty rates than their counterparts 40 years ago, and 25 to 34-year-old men are significantly more likely to live with their parents than women their age. Twice as many men than women are hardcore gamers. Compared with girls, boys have more behavioural problems and lower average academic achievement, and they are much less likely to graduate from college. The millions of formerly incarcerated men have few prospects for a decent life.
Health and mental health problems among men are increasing: life expectancy, which remains stagnant among women, is declining among men. Males bear the brunt of opioid overdoses and alcohol addiction. Suicide is 3½ times more common among men than women. Many men are lonely or disengaging from society, as membership in unions and organisations that foster male camaraderie, such as rotary clubs, has cratered. Males’ anger is rife towards women, employers, government and “the system”, which too often leads to misogyny and violence.
Helping all people in physical, socioeconomic and psychological distress should be a defining characteristic of a humane, caring and democratic society. However, in our bitterly divided times, these foundational goals have been politicised: many on the Right have drawn attention to men’s problems — some thoughtfully, but more often to bash feminism and women. Many on the Left are silent because they are implausibly unaware of such issues or, more likely, less willing to highlight them because doing so would be deemed politically incorrect.
This failure of liberals is not only morally wrong, but also it hurts their own prospects of winning broader support among men. Those on the Left should wake up and heed the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
• Andrew L. Yarrow, a former New York Times reporter, is a senior fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute. He is the author of Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life
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