Andrew Yarrow’s piece in the Washington Post about which I wrote last time has much to recommend it. As I said last time, Yarrow grasps not only many of men’s problems, but excoriates as “morally wrong” the Left’s refusal to acknowledge, much less address, those problems. His is a powerful article that all people who believe themselves to be liberal should take to heart.
But, like most discourse on men within the liberal realm, Yarrow’s article suffers from a misunderstanding of current society and why those problems have arisen. In those rare writings by liberals that take men’s problems seriously, it’s a standard trope that a changing economy and workforce have left men behind and they don’t know how to catch up. When once a young man could graduate from high school and get a job that supported a family of four or five, now it take far more. And the industrial economy is far less the pillar of the GDP than it used to be. In short, men need more education in more highly technical fields than ever before. A high school diploma just won’t cut it any more.
Such is the standard liberal line and it’s not wrong, only very, very limited. What Yarrow and others miss is the fact that much of what plagues men nowadays is no accident, that the changing economy is far from the only cause of their ailments.
For example, divorce is now as common as dirt. It hasn’t always been, and that meant that men were rarely separated from their kids. They maintained their role as father, family provider and mentor to their children. Now they’re routinely removed from their children’s lives either altogether or mostly. For almost all fathers, this is a terrible blow emotionally and to their sense of self-worth.
Then of course there’s the virulence of the anti-male public discourse and pop culture in which it is increasingly rare to see males depicted, either in the news or in the movies or television, as anything but deadbeats, buffoons, playboys and thugs. Yarrow of course details some of that, but seems to see the phenomenon as a fault on the part of those messages, but not as anything that might impact men. It’s entirely possible that men, faced with a nonstop barrage of the most degrading messages about them, might simply check out of society or, failing that, absorb the message and emulate what it describes. Indeed, many men seem to do exactly that.
Nowhere does Yarrow mention the fact that extremist feminism has, for decades now, screamed its hatred and denigration of everything masculine. That more mainstream society, far from shunning such bigotry, seems more and more bent on embracing it, can’t feel good to men. Colleges and universities teach the message that all men have power, that male power is unearned because it stems from inherent privilege, that men are defective humans who fail to behave sufficiently like women. The “long march through the institutions” has sent many graduates of those colleges and universities into policy-making positions and influential positions in public discourse. As one example, Russlyn Ali was able to singlehandedly issue the “Dear Colleague” letter from her position in the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education. Few things have had a more direct and adverse impact on men, but far from calling feminist rhetoric and influence to task, Yarrow all but dismisses anyone who questions the movement.
Many on the right have drawn attention to men’s problems — some thoughtfully, but more often to bash feminism and women.So Yarrow, for all his awareness of the problems besetting men and his generosity toward them, balks at criticizing the very gender feminism that created the false anti-male narrative and has continued beating that drum for over four decades.
Indeed, Yarrow outlines the problems reasonably well, but never asks why they’ve cropped up when, say, fifty years ago they were non-existent.
Is he aware of the change in how children are schooled? Does he know that schools intentionally adopted classroom settings and work assignments that appealed to girls’ but turned boys off? Could that have anything to do with boys’ continuing problems in school?
Does he mention the family court system that tends strongly to remove one parent from a child’s life when its parents divorce? Does he mention that that parent is almost always the father? Does he recount all the ways that negatively affects boys? No, no and no.
Yarrow knows something about the changing labor force, but wouldn’t dream of pointing out the obvious – that the loss of labor force participation by men is precisely due to increased female participation? No one argues that women shouldn’t have a fair opportunity to support themselves and their families, but the fact remains that a look at a graph of labor force participation by men and women from 1950 to the present reveals that women’s gain is men’s loss. The two lines are mirror images of each other; as men’s declines, women’s rises. Are men supposed not to notice or care?
Much has changed in society and the economy over the past 50 years or so, but much has remained the same, and that too adversely affects men. For example, women are free to work and earn equally with men and many do. But the unmistakable message from the behavior of the sexes is that women are far less interested in paid work than are men. So men continue to be the chief wage-earners in the huge majority of households. That was once valued, but now it’s just the source of more anti-male palaver. It’s more “toxic masculinity,” you see, that makes men lord it over women by working and earning more.
And of course that very tendency on the part of both sexes means that, when Mom divorces Dad, he gets to continue supporting her via child support and alimony. The prevalence of divorce may be new, but the assumption that men are natural providers and women aren’t is as old as the hills.
And woe betide the married man who loses his job. There’s no greater predictor of a woman’s filing for divorce than that event. Again, this is 2019 and women aren’t supposed to care about a man’s support, but they do. So the society that promotes women’s working for pay simultaneously creates the condition for their leaving their husband. Could that adversely affect men?
Yarrow mentions that some 2 million men are incarcerated, but seems not to know that they’re treated more harshly at every step of the criminal justice system than are women. Does that send a message to men about their how society values them?
I could go on and on, but mercifully will not. The point being that, if Yarrow is serious about the Left’s taking on the problems facing men, he (and they) will have to admit things they’re so far unwilling to. They’ll have to come to grips with the fact that it’s gender feminism that brought about much of those problems. They’ll have to actually embrace men’s massive and positive contributions to society. And that’ll mean totally abandoning their preferred narrative of male corruption and female innocence. And they’ll have to grasp the fact that, despite decades of feminist hectoring, men and women tend to still embrace the traditional sex roles of men as resource providers and women as caregivers to children.
I’m here to tell Yarrow and anyone who thinks like him that the likelihood of those changes occurring is vanishingly small. I’m glad Yarrow has the honesty and good sense to understand that men are human and need our help and compassion. But sadly, he’s still too deeply mired in a leftist mindset to figure out all the ramifications of truly addressing men’s issues. I personally doubt that he’s ready to do that. So, fine as his article is, it still testifies to how far we are from doing what needs to be done.