Editor’s Note: This is an adaptation of a recent talk presented by Carrot to a group of scholars. The thoughts expressed here do not necessarily represent those of theDIHEDRAL.

It’s kind of hard to talk about men, and problems facing men.  At times thinking of the plight of man feels like a bit of sketch comedy.  There is no doubt that throughout the history of mankind personkind men have been the oppressor.  Men are responsible for the most unspeakable acts both historically and presently.  They have been the privileged sex, the holders of power, the writers of history, the judges of morality, and the authors of “reality”.  Simone de Beauvoir properly asserts that the “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”  

When one begins a discussion on men, an obvious response is that men have been in power long enough, they may not be thriving, but they had their reign, and so to hell with ‘em.  Discussions about problems that men face are not helped by those who claim that roles have been reversed, that men are now the oppressed.  That is certainly not the claim I wish to advance.  Cries to “Make America Great Again” or urges to “go back to the way it was” carry no weight with me.  I, like most have no desire to return to a time when inequality was promoted, accepted, and celebrated.  While it is true that some (primarily men) would cherish a return to the days of a male dominated workplace and the incarceration of the stay-at-home wife, most appreciate the advances toward equality.  Progress is a slow march, but in the end, it’s a tide that raises all ships. 

I simply want to stress the point that talking about men, despite past grievances, is not a conversation that we should ignore.

Men are currently the minority at every level of higher education including PhDs.  The disparity is around 60/40, and the gap is widening.  Men also tend to have lower GPA on average at all levels of higher education.  Highschool graduation rates are nearly ten percent higher for young women than for young men.  With over 60,000 drug overdose deaths per year men outnumber women by nearly double.  Men account for nearly 80% of all suicides, they have a lower life expectancy, higher levels of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, men are the victims of more homicides.  Men account for nearly 90% of the prison population, and nearly 100% of the mass shooters.  In terms of seeking help, less than 10% of men receive any form of counselling or therapy.  In 2016 more men were reported to be unemployed and not looking for work than at any other time in US history. 7,000,000 men aged 25-54 were reported to be unemployed and not looking for work.  In 2018 63% of US men reported feeling lonely.  Loneliness in turn contributes to a higher percentage of sleep disorders, weight problems, substance use, neurological disorders, and kidney problems, among other things.

Male NEET’s (men who are neither employed nor in education training) spend an average of 311 minutes a day in front of a screen, and this stat does not include time playing video games.  Which as it turns out are played by men much more than women, with 49% of women aged 18-29 reporting video game use either sometimes or often and 72% of men aged 18-29 reporting video game use either sometimes or often.  It should come as no surprise that those who spend more leisure time in front of a screen report higher levels of loneliness, which in turn leads to some of the stats mentioned above, including higher rates of chemical dependence, and higher rates of deaths of despair.

Options for leisure and social interaction away from a screen have been in decline for years and continue to dwindle.  Fraternal organization memberships have been steadily declining for 60 years.  Movie theaters, putt-putt golf courses, shopping malls, arcades, and pretty much every form of active entertainment is marching toward extinction.  Grocery stores have seen their numbers in decline.  Church, the once unremitting sanctuary for direct human interaction has seen its numbers fall to unrecognizable lows.  In 2021 US church membership fell below the majority for the first time ever. Apps like Amazon, Instacart, Netflix, and Xbox Live have helped to reduce human interaction and increase screentime.  Even when people go out to social gatherings like concerts and sporting events, there is a good chance that recording the event on a cell phone will supplant the objective to enjoy the event.

Concerning men and boys, we have seen a decrease in GPA, graduation rates, mental health, life expectancy, social interactions, marriage rates, and careers, while seeing an increase in suicide rates, overdoses, dropout rate, unemployment, loneliness, and violent crimes.  With these stats and the way these stats are trending, I would say that yes, we should be talking about men.

Sociologist and Masculinities expert Michael Kimmel raises a question about the difference between a “good man” and a “real man”.  The replies he gets are very different, where the qualities of a good man rarely overlap with the qualities of a real man.  There is an inference that until we get these qualities to overlap, we will continue to have problems.  The issue however is not that cut and dry.  Philosophically speaking, terms like “good” and “real” are vague concepts, and so figuring out what good men or real men actually are may be biting off more than we can chew.

I recommend that we start off by simply trying to define ‘man’.  I’m personally a big advocate of continuums, especially when it comes to fluid terms like ‘man’.  I think there is a gender, sex, and age continuum that restricts us from coming up with an absolute objective definition of ‘man’.  In the absence of a rigid designator, it would seem wholly acceptable to appeal to the contributions of our friends from the existentialist movement. 

Simone de Beauvoir was on to something, when she wrote in her groundbreaking 1963 work The Second Sexthat “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”.  As noted, de Beauvoir explains that “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”  This is a sticking point.  It is difficult to become a woman when the models of the past have been almost entirely men, but feminists worked hard, and the work didn’t go unrewarded.  Not only are there an abundant number of spectacularly spectacular woman role models today, but through the feminist movement we have been able to spotlight extraordinary woman throughout the history of humankind.  

Similarly, men, like women are not born, but rather become what they will inevitably be.  A major difference however is that women, while breaking the chains of oppression had a much cleaner slate from which to work.  It’s easier to etch out a new role when the cast from which you were thrown is slight, this is not to say that it has been easy.  By comparison, modern men have work to do, just to get to the point in which the slate is clean.  There is a history of machismo, virility, and masculinity which has cornered the market on the model of man.  It is not the best model, and I am sure (although some may disagree) that it’s not the worst model.  It is amodel, and until we’re able to open the doors to all models of man, men will continue to be mired on an abandoned track from which the train has left nearly 200 years ago.

So then, in the absence of an objective definition of man, the use of models becomes paramount to the growth of individuals, independent of how they are classified or how they classify themselves.

Social scientists have shown that much of the learning that occurs during childhood is acquired through observation and imitation.  If we want better men, we need better models.  As it turns out, girls are more likely to look up to people they are in direct contact with e.g., their parents, especially mothers.  Boys are more likely to look up to famous personalities or sportspeople (among the most searched personalities in 2023 you’ll find such role models as Goku, Will Smith, YE, Trump, Jake Paul, and Messi).  Regarding role models in the home, consider that 90% of homeless and runaway children, 85% of all youths in prison, 71% of all high school dropouts, 85% of children with behavior disorders, and 63% of youth suicides are from father absent homes.

With all of this, I think there are some proactive steps that people can take to improve the situation.

  1. Be part of the conversation.  If we can all agree that there are problems, then I think these problems are worth talking about.
  2. Radical creativity is an essential condition for radical change.  What we’re doing now isn’t working, and so, unique and interesting ideas are essential to revolution.
  3. Limit screen time.  It took a long time before tobacco companies were required to put warnings on cigarette boxes.  Social media companies are well aware that what they are doing is harmful, and I would have no issue with regulations which require warnings regarding the overuse of screen time.  Until then, it is paramount that we regulate ourselves and remind others of the potential negative effects of overdoing it.
  4. Masculinities 101. I’m not an expert, and I am not sure what this class would entail, but if we can’t get academia to take this problem seriously, then we’re going to have a difficult time getting the hoi polloi to accept any change.  I would recommend that psychology, sociology, biology, philosophy, feminist theory, and gender studies are included into the discussion
  5. Make school cool.  School sucks, and boys tend to gas each other up for embracing that mantra. Unfortunately, they are kind of right.  Standardized testing, Florida, parents, regulations, reduction of arts, music, and sports have led us down an avenue to boredom.  Nordic countries have found ways to keep school interesting and educational.  The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, and Finland consistently rank amongst the top five countries in terms of overall child well-being, while the United States, Bulgaria, and Chile round out the bottom. We need to stop the hemorrhaging of fun, or we can expect the same results that we have been getting for the last 20+ years.
  6. Don’t look back.  We aren’t going back to the way things were, that way madness lies.  Looking to the way things were is a waste of time.  We don’t live in that world anymore and we’re never going back.  Stop glorifying the days of old and start stepping forward.
  7. Man a rigid designator.  There is no right way to be a “man”.  To define ‘man’ in one specific way is laughable and ridiculous.  There is no absolute ideal of a man.  It is a loose concept that has endless interpretations, and no one designation can be considered the ideal.
  8. Role Models.  Celebrating men in more than just a handful of packages is indispensable.  If we can diversify who we expose youngsters to, it will pay off in highly meaningful ways. (John Wick and Mr. Beast aren’t real)
  9. Community.  People are generally social creatures, and anything we can do to increase positive community interactions is a plus for society.  As the social role of brick-and-mortar institutions, especially the foundational institutions such as schools and churches continues to diminish, the need for new means of social interaction increases.  The government has been subsidizing social venues and institutions for thousands of years.  From coliseums to catechisms, the fed has been there to buttress funding.  I’m thinking community bouldering areas in every town, but maybe we can start with community kickball or community painting classes and go from there! 

41 Replies to “Men”

  1. Great post! School does need to get more interesting. Let teachers teach what inspires them, not to the book. And ask what the students want to learn. I’m tired of seeing textbooks. I’d rather students read a novel. Instead of reading a textbook in Philosophy or English read Cosmic Memory by Rudolf Steiner. Anyway, lots of great ideas you present.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “We need to stop the hemorrhaging of fun, or we can expect the same results that we have been getting for the last 20+ years.” I think that’s a good place to start. As a woman who discovered in elementary school that boys’ games were more fun than girls’ (Kill the Man with the Ball vs. Jacks, seriously) I think there’s something to fun and I think that the (what I believe to be innate) energy and competitiveness in boys are maybe positive traits and why boys hero-worship sports figures. Prowess has (in my limited experience) always been a male value (though I always valued it, too).

    We’re none of us distinctly one or the other gender as far as that goes. I was pretty old before I understood that what men value in women is not what they might value in each other. There is a difference (duh…). It was a shock to me when I realized that (as an athletic woman) the grown up boys weren’t going to be as attracted to me as the little boys had been in 4th grade. There’s a lot of stuff like that. It’s complicated. It seemed to me that women were valued for who they ARE (looks, social skills, etc.) and men for what they can achieve. I don’t know how much that has changed. I don’t even know if it’s hard-wired into our animal nature.

    When I was a kid there was a lot of emphasis on “being” a man and how to do that. I watched my uncles with my cousins. The fact that there were BOY scouts and GIRL scouts was related to the different social roles. I dunno. I also remember during the bra burning days it was women who didn’t need them that burn them most often. I need one and they’re expensive. I thought it was profligate and didn’t change anything. I never saw women as defined by their mammary glands but THEY ARE.

    So, I dunno Carrot. This is an enormous subject. I could say more, but…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well, damn, Martha! I played jacks with my sister (and hopscotch). When someone made fun of me for jumping rope, my dad (a former boxer) grabbed the rope and did things those kids could never dream of doing. Not that my dad was a great role model in most ways, but fun is where you find it. I’d rather scrape my knuckles on the concrete playing jacks than on someone’s face trying to prove I’m a “real man”. (“Fighting” and “boxing” are not the same but, like you, I think it’s time to stop.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My point is that we’re individuals as well as men and women. You played jacks? I played jacks. But being the fastest runner in the school? I like that more.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I used to chew on the jacks ball. Not sure what that says about me haha? Great imagery of your dad stepping in, that is really cool!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. As a woman that burned her bra after a Doors concert I have to say it is still a memory of empowerment I am so thankful for. The experience of being with other women in the parking lot expressing our power in the 60’s was the beginning of another 5 decades plus of being & becoming a individual comfortable in her own skin.
      That being said, we each have our own self-awareness moments & Men may be one step closer with this incredible piece by Carrot.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. It’s a big subject, the entire talk originated with a philosophy club meeting last semester. You would have loved it, there were several talking points, the students were engaged and some were angry (which to me is the most education part of college). After it was over, students immediately asked if we could do a part 2, and it was just as lively. All that is to say this is an enormous subject!

      This is a great comment Martha, let me know if you develop these thoughts into a post on your site, I wouldn’t want to miss that one!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you like the comment, keep it. 🙂 I did develop it on my site and I deleted it. I realized that I don’t want my experiences public. I think the whole gender identity thing is wow… I pretty much failed as a woman as it was defined back in “my day.” I noticed younger generations were getting better at this thing than mine was (and those before me). But, fundamentally it might be an individual thing. I don’t know. But go ahead and leave my comment. It’s OK. I meant it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Teach your sons about toxic masculinity and consent. Mothers can encourage men to express feelings, as we all have them in us. (And have the destructive PS4 at your ex-husband’s house.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As long as gender matters are viewed as an “us v. them” issue, there will be no progress. Unfortunately, that is how both the far right and far left view it.

    Maybe if we didn’t expect men to be family providers, many of them would become wonderful househusbands and happily eschew the world of remunerative work. But the truth is that most women want a man who can “provide.” I’ve seen poll after poll on that. I’ve often been told that by women, including my current wife.

    Or maybe men need instictively to be hunters. If there is no longer a place for this in society, men will inevitably feel useless and purposeless.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think there is something to that. In my post, I’ve tried to speak ONLY for myself, and even that is difficult. If I were to involve myself with a man again (I won’t and who’d have me) he would have to support himself. I don’t care if he supports me, but I’ve supported men and 1) until women earn the same wage as men, and 2) men pick up the work women normally have done at home it’s not equitable. That could explain the polls. But, again, I only know my experience and I hope so much it’s not universal.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting listen to James Brown’s it’s a mans world. And you left out men are also capable of feats of kindness. That has many dimensions. As in I’ll help the guy whose car is stuck in snowy streets.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As long as one group tries to “own” another group, we’re in deep doo doo. We humans have to own ourselves then it will be easier for everyone else to own ourselves and our identities.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. One more comment. I’ve been reading Sheff (2013) and she wrote “men who are able to cry, but it is a grudging and shallow approval that stops well short of actually valuing gentle, empathetic, and kind men. Contemporary ideals of masculinity in the United States remain firmly rooted in aggression, and it is the chiseled features of the muscular hero able to escape the building moments before it detonates that capture our imaginations (p. 282).”

    Kindness and collaboration with all should be a value for all humans. I hope, hope, hope that I’m instilling both of those in the 17-year-old boy that I’m raising.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How is it possible to beat kindness and collaboration? That is excellent! I think your right to hope that these get passed on to your son. Those are values that at the end of the day, anyone could sit back and be proud of!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is really interesting a great read, as you know ive been writing about dealing with my own demons and vulnerabilities on my blog here Conversations about the end of ‘Toxic Masculinity’ could let us men off the hook, when we have a responsibility to deal with our own woundedness that wounds others. We have to be vulnerable, we have to be open, we have to be aware, we have to feel, and value and not be scared to feel. So much, thank you for this

    Liked by 1 person

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