[30px _i=”0″ _address=”″ /]

The labyrinth of “Male Malaise”

by | Jun 19, 2023 | All, Fatherhood-Motherhood-Children Education | 0 comments

Fernando Rodríguez-Borlado | Published on 6 June 2023.

For some members of the public, the idea that being a man is a social privilege is considered so selfevident that it does not merit discussion. The woke movement, in particular, has made this one of its founding theses. However, more and more voices are being raised to cast doubt on it, even on the left. What if the opposite were true, i.e. that men are now the disadvantaged sex, at least in certain areas?

Certain data seem to demonstrate this: boys fail much more often at school than girls, they go to university less often and graduate less often, they are more likely to drop out of the labour market, they take more drugs, they commit suicide more often, they have a higher crime rate and fewer friends, they waste more time on screens, and they are increasingly excluded from their children’s education.

Against this backdrop, it is good that public opinion is raising its voice to highlight the seriousness of the problem and propose solutions based on a non-pathologised image of masculinity.

A courageous book

At the end of 2022, Richard Reeves – a British researcher at the Brookings Institution, the benchmark think tank for the moderate left in the United States – published Of Boys and Men. Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It. Why the Modern Male Is Struggling. Why it matters. And what to do about it). His thesis stands in stark contrast to the Woke assumption about masculinity. According to Reeves, being a man today has, in fact, become a disadvantage in many areas: education, employment, health, psychological wellbeing, family relationships, and so on.

Reeves is certainly not the first author to address this issue. Since the turn of the century, several books have been published on the crisis of masculinity, but almost always focusing on children and young people. These include The War Against Boys (2001) by Christina Hoff Sommers, Boys Adrift (2016) by Leonard Sax, and The Boy Crisis (2018) by Warren Farrell and John Gray.

However, Reeves’ book has had more impact. Among other things, because it is written by someone who has a reputation as a progressive – although he describes himself as a “conscientious objector in the culture war” – who uses an approach and vocabulary much loved by today’s left, and yet who defends certain points of view considered to be “conservative”, such as the importance of the biological in the configuration of the masculine and the feminine, the damage caused by single parenthood or the appropriateness of positive discrimination in favour of men in certain sectors of employment.

Different at birth

The book states unambiguously – and in clear opposition to gender ideology – that men and women are different by nature.

However, Reeves does not fall into biological determinism either. He simply believes, as science and common sense show, that the feminine and the masculine are the result of a mixture of biological and cultural factors. However, the British author argues that, while the biological factors have a greater influence on a woman’s identity (notably because of the ‘maternal constitution’ of her body), the ‘script’ that directs the development of the masculine is more cultural: boys must complete their apprenticeship to masculinity in society, by creating links with other people. Traditionally, the family, the workplace and the religious community provided these links, and with them a sense of belonging and public purpose. The problem is that many men are “backward” in these three areas.

School, a source of male discomfort

A major part of the problem is what happens in the classroom. Boys are falling behind before they even start. In the United States, the percentage of girls who, by the age of five, have achieved ‘school readiness’, a measure of the minimum cognitive and non-cognitive skills needed to succeed at school, is significantly higher than that of boys. In particular, they perform much better in verbal skills. On the other hand, boys are much more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit, dyslexia or hyperactivity. We also know that the development of executive functions (those used to organise, guide and revise tasks, and which are so important at school) occurs earlier in girls than in boys.

This may partly explain the lower performance of boys at school. However, certain structural factors compound the problem. For example, the small number of male teachers who can serve as role models for boys (Reeves proposes recruiting more of them, including through positive discrimination if necessary), the almost total absence of programmes aimed at reinforcing boys’ weaknesses – compared, for example, with the profusion of initiatives aimed at encouraging girls’ interest and expertise in STEM subjects – or the negative effect, especially for boys, of starting classes very early in the morning.

Inertia within the class doesn’t help either. Several reports point out that girls’ advantage in standardised tests is much smaller than the advantage they enjoy in school grades, which may indicate that there is a ‘female bias’ in the way assessments are made at school, perhaps by giving weight precisely to attitudes linked to executive functions: handing in homework on time, being tidy in exams, or intervening with clarity and a sense of timeliness in class.

Whatever the reason, the result is that, in almost all the countries where data is available, boys fail, repeat and drop out more, and are much more hostile to the school environment. Logically, the percentage of those who go on to university and those who obtain a degree is increasingly lower than that of girls.

Outside the labour market

The lower educational profile of boys has predictable consequences on the labour market.

On average, since the 1970s, women’s wages have risen faster than men’s, due to lower wages in low-skilled jobs, where men are in the majority.

On the other hand, it is also well known that men have been the main victims of the de-industrialisation of economies (to the benefit of the service sector) and the automation of a large number of jobs. Together, these two processes have excluded many more men than women from the market. With this in mind, Reeves proposes encouraging the recruitment of men in other fast-growing sectors that are currently heavily feminised, such as health and administration.

In addition to the structural threats, there seems to be a psychological threat, a kind of ’employment defeatism’: a significant number of men – often young – are not only giving up work, but even looking for work, and are resigned to inactivity. The decline in the US workforce in recent years is largely due to this group.

What do these people do during the day? Drawing on US government studies, Nicholas Eberstadt – an American economist and member of the liberal think tank American Enterprise Institute and the World Economic Forum – points out in Men Without Work (2022) that many of them have fallen into a passive lifestyle. In the United States, of the four hours of increased free time spent by young unemployed people, three were devoted to video games. It is among this type of person that opioid consumption has spread, exacerbating the problem. They are “infantilised” adults, says Eberstadt, trapped in a labyrinth whose exit seems further and further away.

Outside the family
Lack of education and work also reduces marriage prospects. In fact, while the marriage rate has fallen overall, it has fallen most sharply among men with no higher education.

Furthermore, when a couple with children separates, only 30% of parents continue to see them at least once a month.

All these data point in the same direction: more and more men are excluded – often self-excluded – from family and professional life. And yet, according to various surveys, both men and women still consider that “working hard and being able to provide for a family” is part of the masculine ideal. So for these men, the feeling of failure in life is strong. According to various studies, men are more emotionally dependent on marriage, and men are more likely than women to suffer physical health repercussions after a divorce.

But beyond the consequences for the men themselves, the disappearance of so many fathers is also a burden for the children. Various research studies show that pupils brought up in single-parent households perform less well at school than their peers (even when the comparison is limited to other pupils at the same socio-economic level) and are less likely to climb the social ladder as adults. These two effects are more pronounced among sons.

This corroborates the theory, put forward by Reeves in his book but studied by other researchers, that boys are more sensitive than girls to dysfunctions in their environment: the absence of a father, marital instability, poverty, high crime rates in the neighbourhood, etc. Boys are ‘orchids’, which is to say they are more sensitive to the problems of their environment. Boys are “orchids” (they need more delicate care) and girls are “dandelions”. So it seems that the ‘weaker sex’ is more likely to be men, at least at the moment.

It’s true that all these “male misfortunes” mainly affect men from the lower and lower middle classes. For those from well-to-do families, money, family stability and social relationships offer more opportunities to escape the labyrinth of discontent and frustration.

Men as victims of the ‘culture war’

In his book, Reeves devotes several chapters to asking why, if the phenomenon of the male crisis is so obvious and serious, there is no sense of urgency in public debate. In his view, it is the ‘cultural war’ between left and right that is to blame. According to the British author, both are wrong in their diagnosis of the problem, but for different reasons.

On the left, the mantra of ‘toxic masculinity’ often fails to recognise men’s own obstacles and some of their structural causes, such as marital instability or the changing employment paradigm. This leads many men to believe that progressivism is not interested in their problems.

According to Reeves, this sense of alienation is being exploited by a populist right that has developed in various countries over the last decade, and which the author criticises for “fomenting this male discontent”, presenting an undifferentiated “mystique of masculinity” (in which rudeness or lack of emotionality are marks of masculinity) and forgetting about discrimination against women.

The truth is that beyond the United States and the Trump effect, in countries such as South Korea, Germany and Sweden, there is a significant wave of young men voting for this type of party.

The “culture war” between the two camps creates a dynamic of polarisation that exacerbates each side’s shortcomings: the more the left insists on “toxic masculinity”, the more the right closes itself off to recognising the socially constructed part of masculinity.

Ultimately, this harms men in the first place, and the rest of society, which needs the specific contribution of a positive and ‘prosocial’ masculinity, as Reeves calls it.

Preparing men to be fathers

In an interview with Public Discourse to mark the publication of his book, Reeves stressed the need for men to become more involved in looking after children, through ‘direct fatherhood’. By this expression, the author refers to the fact that, even if the marriage has broken down and it is the woman who has custody of the children, the man must still spend time with them, because the male contribution is necessary for their upbringing. In such cases, Reeves proposes, it should be permissible – and even encouraged – for the child support payable to the mother to be converted into hours of childcare.

Asked by the journalist whether, instead of emphasising ‘direct fatherhood’, we should not instead encourage marital fidelity, which seems to offer the best educational context for children, Reeves replied: “If I can get more fathers to become more actively involved in their children’s lives, there will perhaps be more marriages. But even if that doesn’t happen, I think fatherhood in itself is a good thing for men”.

In any case, concluded Reeves, society needs men to rediscover a sense of sacrifice and community in their lives (giving themselves to others and feeling that others need them), which in the past was a typically male trait. Having children is the most direct way of achieving this. But unlike women, for whom biology is like a call to motherhood, men need a social and cultural environment that stimulates them and prepares them to be fathers. “So the question is, what are we going to build this scenario around, this feeling of being needed, of giving, of being focused on the other person? My answer is fatherhood. Other forms of giving are possible, we might add, but the orientation must be the same: “Creating humanity, caring for others, sacrificing for others, giving for others”.

Fernando Rodríguez-Borlado is editor of Aceprensa. Source: https://www.aceprensa.com/sociedad/el-laberinto-del-malestar-masculino/.

Share This