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Treat Men Like They Matter
Men need to be treated as valuable in their own right, not just means to reach some other end
In my WSJ op-ed on why men turn to online influencers instead of traditional authorities, I noted that one reason is that online influencers treat men as ends in themselves, not just means by which to achieve some other goal.
Young men today often feel as if their needs are secondary to those of their female peers. Society tends to speak about the well-being of men and boys as a means to an end. There’s a lot of hand-wringing about how a decline in the number of marriageable men makes it harder for women to find husbands. Some argue that male struggles cause a litany of social ills like crime and child neglect. Church leaders justify outreach to men as a way to reach women and children.
By contrast, online men’s influencers seek to help men themselves, to show them how to improve as people and achieve their own goals. To be sure, some of those goals are immoral, such as taking sexual advantage of women. But many are worthy, like health or career success. Online influencers treat men’s hopes and dreams as important in their own right.
Even much of the rhetoric in our society that is aimed at building a case for why men are important tends to focus on some other goal as the justification. For example, if you are religious, you have almost certainly heard something like this:
A 1994 Swiss study gives insight to the trends among church-goers, regardless of religion. The study provided a wide-range of family scenarios; providing data for a variety of family situations. What happens if the mother is practicing and the father is non-practicing? What happens if only the father is practicing? The results seem to suggest that children follow the example of dad.
If both mom and dad go to church faithfully, 33% of their children will grow up to be regular attending patrons of the church.
If only mom is taking the kids to church, only 2% of children will become lifelong church-goers, while 37% will attend occasionally. An excess of 60% of her children will end up leaving the church.
What happens if dad is active, but mom is not? Curiously, the numbers seem to go up. As previously stated, 33% of children remain when they witness both mom and dad going to church regularly. The number grows to 38% with an active dad and an occasionally active mom. It continues to go up to 44% when it’s just dad taking the kids to church.
To sum up the data: if dad does not attend regularly, only 1 in 50 of his children will remain in the church.
While it’s not the case in this particular article, this rationale is typically used to justify or encourage outreach to men.
What’s truly important in this type of argument? Is it that dad go to church? Or is it that his children go to church? All of these basically imply that the real goal is to get mom and the kids to church. Dad is primarily an instrument to accomplish that end.
By the way, all of these claims seem to trace back to that one study in Switzerland from 30 years ago, which makes me skeptical that these findings would hold up in modern day America.
Another very common approach in secular society is to describe the problems facing men in terms of the negative consequences that has for women. For example, the conservative New York Post ran a piece saying that broke men are hurting American women’s marriage prospects.
There’s a devastating shortage of men who have their act together, according to a new study that may not be so surprising to all the single ladies out there.
Research now suggests that the reason for recent years’ decline in the marriage rate could have something to do with the lack of “economically attractive” male spouses who can bring home the bacon, according to the paper published Wednesday in the Journal of Family and Marriage.
“Most American women hope to marry, but current shortages of marriageable men — men with a stable job and a good income — make this increasingly difficult.”
And a recent article in the Atlantic essentially blames a shortage of good men for why women are freezing their eggs.
Her generation of women (Inhorn is in her 60s) were the first to enter higher-educational institutions en masse. She writes about how many women in her cohort of female doctoral students, faced with men intimidated by their achievements, remained single or “‘settled’ for suboptimal relationships that subsequently ended.” And the plight of educated women such as Inhorn and her interlocutors is one that has long been confronted by women in communities where economic challenges, such as the loss of factory jobs, led to widespread male unemployment—surely a factor in their hesitation to commit to a partner or start a family.
For the most part society is only interested in severe life challenges faced by men insomuch as they are affecting women. Men here again are a purely instrumental good that exist to enable women to fulfill their life ambitions.
A related version of this is when male dysfunction is blamed for right wing politics or other things some people don’t like.
I think many of these kinds of arguments, particularly the religious ones, are well-intentioned. Their goal seems to be convincing a perhaps skeptical audience of why it is important to reach men. One natural and completely reasonable way to go about this is to try to frame the argument in terms of the concerns the listener already has. This is done every day in a wide range of domains and is completely legitimate.
It’s when this form of argumentation becomes dominant that we run into problems. Men are hearing loud and clear from this that they don’t matter until they become a problem for somebody else that society actually cares about.
Former Brookings scholar Richard Reeves seems to do a better job of public argumentation. If you look at the summary of his talk to the UN feminist initiative #HeForShe, he does mention that men’s problems can translate into grievance politics, but he correctly relegates this to a subordinate role. He primarily emphasizes the problems men are facing themselves.
I think this is a good way to balance it. It’s of course appropriate to talk about the downstream consequences of troubled men. I do it myself. But that can’t be the primary emphasis.
The online influencers put men themselves front and center. Maybe they do this to an excessive degree, ignoring the elements of service to others and civilization that are part of the healthy masculine package. But at least they do care for men as people who are important in their own right. So should we.
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Cover image credit: Upsplash