Isn’t it too sensitive to write a book about the man’s problems? Friends of Richard V. Reeves, who Or boys and men wrote, advised against it. In the current American political climate, they said, they wouldn’t want to burn themselves.
Progressives would put you squarely in the conservative camp among Trump voters. Because aren’t it still women who earn less, who are more often victims of sexual assault, who are not enough in boardrooms? On the other hand, conservatives cry that the “left” will label everything male as poisonous, and to obliterate biological differences between men and women.
How to navigate through this polarized culture wars, which are particularly violent in the United States? We can both address men’s problems and be passionate about women’s rights, writes British-American Reeves, senior fellow at the leading think tank Brookings Institution in Washington DC.
Men fight. Reeves makes this clear with an abundance of particularly American statistics. Today, 74 out of every 100 bachelor’s programs for women go to e.g. men. Men drop out of school more often, are more often lonely, live less often with their children. Three out of four ‘desperate deaths’ (by suicide or overdose) are men.
In 2021, 15 percent of men said they have no close friends, in 1990 it was still 3 percent. “Suddenly, working for equality means focusing on boys instead of girls,” Reeves writes somewhat bravely.
Also read Maarten Huygen’s opinion piece: The man is really helpful
But what about the pay gap? Yes, for every hundred dollars that men earn in the United States, women earn 82, Reeves writes right on the first page. But that’s average. Men are especially dominant at the top: only 41 of the 500 companies in the Fortune 500 have a female CEO, only 3 percent of US venture capital investments go to companies with female founders.
The extreme inequality at the top obscures other developments further down the economic ladder. Earnings for men with only a high school diploma have increased by 14 percent since 1979 decreased, adjusted for inflation. Among black Americans, who are still often in the lower socioeconomic class, women are now more breadwinners than men. White women earn more than black men.
Among young adults, the gender pay gap is largely non-existent, especially if they do not have children. The wage gap that exists, Reeves writes, is really a parenting gap. The woman loses income per child because she takes on the care tasks. (For lesbian couples where both women have a child, the income remains the same.)
While women have increasingly become breadwinners in recent years, fathers have not taken on caring duties at the same pace. Reeves: “The changing economic relationship between men and women has happened so fast that our culture could not keep up.”
The man’s role in the family has long been defined as breadwinner. Men derive a large part of their identity from this, writes Reeves. The women’s movement has thus made male vulnerability visible (not caused). Women were financially dependent in families, but men were emotionally dependent, it now appears.
“The true nature of male misery is not a lack of labor force participation, but a cultural redundancy,” Reeves writes. According to the Pew Research Center, women give meaning to their lives (work, family and friends) in more ways than men do.
Men also do not benefit from automation because it mainly affects occupations that are mainly populated by men, such as logistics and construction. While the demand for employees in traditionally ‘female’ professions, such as care and education, has only grown.
It is not surprising that many men in the lower classes are angry at the left-progressive opposition to “toxic masculinity” and “patriarchy”. They often see no ‘male dominance’ in their environment at all.
Reeves cleverly criticizes both the progressive left, which he says doesn’t sufficiently recognize that men can lose, too, and conservative groups that want to turn back the clock decades to restore traditional family relationships.
Reeves is not the first to put the man first. The earliest example from his own book dates from 1958 with Arthur Schlesinger’s essay ‘The Crisis of American Masculinity’. Reeves quotes profusely The end of men (2012) by Hanna Rosin. In the Netherlands, Maarten Huygen took part The man’s utility a shilling in your pocket. But Reeves says he was so shocked by the men’s problems that he decided to start writing himself. This provides a fairly complete and at the same time concise overview.
Also read the review by Hanna Rosins The end of men: The matriarchy is the future
Or boys and men is strongest when Reeves shows how politicians (at least in the US) have a blind spot for men’s issues. Seen in the light of girls’ head start in education, it is actually incomprehensible that there is a national coalition for women and girls in education, but no male variant. He is rightly angry that the ‘National Strategy for Equality and Equality’ does not mention boys being left behind.
Reeves is a policy fetishist who also comes up with solutions, even if they sometimes seem a bit simplistic. For example, he proposes a national recruitment campaign to make work in health care and education attractive to men. At present, efforts are still being made to address staff shortages with ‘half the working population’. But Reeves never mentions the low wages in these sectors.
To improve boys’ performance in school, Reeves comes up with the radical idea of making boys start school a year later. He bases this mainly on biology: boys’ brains and cognitive skills are said to develop more slowly than girls’. The science isn’t entirely clear yet, but Reeves cites research showing that boys benefit greatly from such a one-year delay.
The Netherlands is very different from the US, but Or boys and men provides good starting points for talking more often about the problems of Dutch men. In the Netherlands too, boys drop out of school more often, they repeat more often and they move on to lower levels of education more often, according to the Education Council. Also in the Netherlands, many young men (and not all teenagers) leave their rooms. Here, too, men die by suicide twice as often as women. In an age group between 25 and 35, men are now more likely to be unemployed.
Are we sufficiently aware of this in the Netherlands? Doing more for boys and men does not mean abandoning the ideal of equality. “It’s an extension of that.” That thought, Reeves concludes, shouldn’t be so burdensome at all.