Numerous challenges await the modern man in the 21st century. But writing about the struggles and inequalities experienced by men is a sensitive matter, as there’s still so much to gain when it comes to women’s rights and equality. There’s a danger for men’s issues to become neglected. Men have been in a superior position for so long that they shouldn’t whine now, seems to be the popular opinion.
But I don’t think that paying attention to men’s struggles would necessary lead to a drop in attention for women. It would also improve the acceptance of feminism if the push for equality were to be more bi-directional. Not to mention that women would also benefit from more emotionally stable and supportive husbands, fathers, and sons.
In this article, I would like to discuss some of the reasons behind men’s struggles, why it matters and what we can do about it.
Challenges of the Modern Man
In the 21st century, society seems to change rapidly, especially when it comes to gender equality. Gender roles are changing, more jobs become accessible to women, and women increasingly occupy positions of power.
I think all these developments are positive and contribute to a better, healthier society. But at the same time, it takes some getting used to for men. Changes are happening so rapidly that it creates inequalities in other areas, sometimes to men’s disadvantage.
For instance, we see a shortage of male teachers in our education system, a labor market growing fastest in sectors where men are underrepresented, and policies that don’t offer men extended parental leave or flexible hours.
The traditional role that men used to play as breadwinner, head of the family, and powerful guardian no longer seems to be a necessity. Many men seem to be struggling to cope with this changing gender role. What does a real man look like in the 21st century?
Men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. But simultaneously, men are less likely to seek professional help or talk to friends and family about their mental problems. Men also have higher rates of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, depression, suicide, and more frequent encounters with police and violence.
Enough reason to take a closer look at the struggles that men are facing.
Boys vs. Girls
Opening up the education system and fighting for gender equality in the classroom has paid off. It allowed girls and women to catch up with boys and men. But it went a lot further than just catching up. Now that women are free to follow education, a new imbalance is showing: on almost every measure, girls are outperforming boys in school.
In 1972, when amendments were introduced that prohibit sex-based discrimination in schools, there was 13 percentage point gap in favor of men getting college degrees. Now, there’s a 15 percentage point gap in favor of women getting college degrees. So the gender inequality is actually higher than it was 50 years ago — it’s just the other way around!
It is interesting to see that girls outperform boys in all subjects when it comes to grades, but not in ACT scores. This may be because grades reflect day-to-day performance, which may be more affected by behavioral factors. For example, teachers may reduce grades for students who turn in their homework late, disruptive behavior or a lack of attention. This could point to boys having more behavioral problems and disinterest in everyday school life.
One possible explanation is that the female brain matures faster. So perhaps it would be an idea to send boys to school a year later than girls, so that they match up better in the classroom.
Teachers vs. Teacheresses
The differences can be seen not only between the boys and girls in school, but actually also among those in front of the classroom.
During the inception of public schools, teaching was still mainly a responsibility of men. But as early as the 1880s, it was mostly women who were in front of classrooms. Since then, teaching young children was mainly seen as a task for women. Moreover, since the late 1970s, the majority of secondary school teachers have also been of the female sex. In the 2015-2016 school year, the proportion of female teachers was 76.6 percent.
One of the reasons men don’t want to pursue a career as a K12-teacher, is the low pay. Women might be more willing to accept the low wages, because the profession is better catered to the needs of mothers. A school day tends to end a few hours earlier than a typical job, and teachers naturally have holidays that coincide with their school-going children.
Male teachers also often face suspicions on the job about their intentions for working with young children, according to a 1993 book about men in feminine occupations. Male elementary school teachers perceived as “too male” were dismissed as being incapable of working with children, while men who weren’t “male enough” were suspected of being child molesters.
An effect of the gender inequality amongst teachers, is that children have fewer opportunities to interact with male role models. You can also imagine that female teachers are less likely to understand what goes through a young boy’s mind, and children are less likely to take something from someone of the opposite sex.
The lack of male teacher puts boys at a further disadvantage at an early age. It’s harder for boys to do well at school where there are no male teachers to be seen. The inferior performance of boys plays through to university level and eventually their professional careers.
Also other fields have undergone changes that impact the employment of men. Advances in technology have led to the automation of many manual jobs. This has had a particularly significant impact on male-dominated industries, such as manufacturing and construction, leading to job loss and wage stagnation for men. The position of the working man is under threat.
Men work more often in STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and math) rather than HEAL jobs (health, education, administration, and literacy). HEAL jobs are overrepresented by women, and fewer men are working as teachers or in hospitals. We have seen a very sharp drop in the number of male psychologists; from 39% male to 29% male in the last decade alone.
These trends pose a threat to male employment, as HEAL jobs are particularly in demand. Richard Reeves estimates that in the US, for every one job that’s going to be created in STEM between now and 2030, we are going to create three in HEAL jobs.
In the US, labor force participation dropped with 8 percentage points, which means that 9 million men of working age are currently not working. On top of that, most men earn less than most men did in 1979.
In itself, all of the above should not be such a problem; after all, we now have women who can also contribute financially to the family. But then you have to find yourself a woman first.
Changing gender roles have been shifting power relations between men and women, and this is particularly visible in the dating scene.
Especially on online dating platforms, the power in the hands of women.
Physical attractiveness is a determining factor, because as a man, you cannot even start a conversation with a lady before she also likes you back. But the bulk of men only have a few matches, while an average woman quickly has thousands of horny guys to choose from. This makes women even more selective and creates a lopsided distribution. Whereas men rate women according to the expected bell curve, vice versa women rate men completely skewed:
We can blame women for being picky, but they have to be. They simply get too much attention and have to make choices. Plus there are some really creepy guys out there.
The bottom line is that many men are having less success with women. Since the introduction of dating apps like Tinder, Happn and Bumble, we have seen a growth in the percentage of men who no longer have sex. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Coitus interruptus? Definitely.
“It’s Not ‘GreatCupid’ or even ‘GoodCupid’. It’s OkCupid.”
~ Helen Hong
Why We No Longer Need Motherfuckers
The traditional role of fathers in families was to put bread on the table. Women needed a man to provide the resources required to raise children and sustain the family. But as women have grown in economic power and financial independence, a male breadwinner is no longer vital to the family. In more than 2 out of 5 households in the US, a woman in the main breadwinner.
This has greatly liberated women, which is great. Women now experience more freedom in whether to be with a man or not. And some women have decided that they no longer need a man at all! As a result, more and more women are deliberately single, the traditional picture of a married couple with children is no longer the norm, and divorce rates are at an all-time high.
Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of children living in families with two parents decreased from 88% to 69%, with children living with only their mother nearly tripled from 8% to 23% percent and children living with only their father increasing from 1% to 4%.
If the right man does not present himself, women are also increasingly choosing to bear a child themselves. Besides donor fathers, artificial insemination is also an option nowadays, and more and more women with a desire to have children are taking advantage of it. Rosanna Hertz, author of Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice, estimates that approximately 2.7 million American women are single mothers by choice.
The Curse of Custody Customs
But even when children are conceived the traditional way, with the bees, the birds, and two minutes of penetration, the man is in a tenuous position. If the relationship goes bust, the mother has far more rights than a father.
In many countries, fathers have fewer legal rights when it comes to parenting decisions or custody arrangements. Fathers are generally at a disadvantage in custody battles. These legal barriers can make it difficult for fathers to be fully involved in their children’s lives and can lead to feelings of frustration and powerlessness. Add to that that many fathers do not have access to the same types of support systems, such as parental leave or flexible work arrangements, that mothers may have.
One in four fathers don’t live with their children. If parents split up, kids much more likely to lose contact with their fathers than with their mothers — and so 1 in 3 children don’t see their father at all, a few years after the break-up.
This has an impact on the children’s upbringing too; particularly sons who will have no father figure to look up to. It is hard to follow in your dad’s footsteps, if his path is nowhere to be found.
For men in dwindling professions, dads unable to fulfil their father role, or all other men suffering adversity, there is a threat of negative thinking. No wonder, our sense of purpose is under attack, and this undermines our whole livelihood.
We hold ourselves to high standards, such as being strong and showing vulnerability, which makes it more difficult to resolve our mental health issues. Men are more likely to struggle with mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, and may be less likely to seek help because of the stigma attached to getting professional help.
We would rather bottle up our feelings than burden others, and find other ways to cope. Men use almost all types of drugs more often than women, and drug use leads to emergency room visits or death from overdose more often in men than in women.
In a society where men increasingly feel they are not needed, depression lurks. Men are more likely to experience social isolation than women, throughout all ages. It is more common among single men, and a change in partnership status has the potential to pull men out of their isolation and improve their well-being.
Men in the United States are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women. In the UK, the male suicide rate is its lowest since 1981, accounting for 15.5 deaths per 100,000. But suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45.
A study in Australia among almost 200 suicidal men, looked at the most frequently used words that they had used to describe themselves whenever feeling suicidal. On top of the list, with 74%, are the words “useless” and “worthless”.
The most common motive for not committing suicide after all, almost always had to do with other people. They thought of the consequences for their families, the people who needed them, and did not want other people to feel that they were the reason for their suicide.
This shows the importance of having a social circle and why we must prevent men from becoming socially isolated at all costs.
What can you do if you are a man?
Clearly, something has to be done to save the man. If you are a man yourself, what can you do?
Give 110% in school
If you’re still in school, make sure you’re aware that the average man is outperformed by our female counterparts. You will have to work harder to get on the same level as the girls in your class. So get your priorities straight. Do your homework. Study for your tests. Choose to go to bed early instead of having a night out with the boys.
Find Role Models
At school, you may not easily find masculine role models, and perhaps you yourself come from a broken family where your dad does not fulfil the role you would like him to. It’s up to you to seek out male role models and mentors. Find successful men in fields that interest you, and find out how they were able to gain their successes. See if you can copy some of their strategies to your own good.
As we discussed earlier, girls do perform better in school. We men mature a bit later, and some of us never seem to grow up.
The traditional way of learning practised in schools may not have been quite right for you. However, that does not mean you can learn more later in life. Choose a way of learning that suits you. Learn new skills with online courses, pick up a new hobby, follow online education in the evenings.
I don’t care how you do it, but make sure you keep investing in yourself.
Play the New Father Role
We can no longer hold onto the traditional model of simply being a father that brings in money; we need to take more responsibilities within the family. We need to rethink the father’s role.
We need to get more involved managing the household and the upbringing of your children. Our new role should focus more on companionship, emotional support, and actively doing our part around the house. If that means washing dishes, ironing or changing nappies for once, do so with devotion. Raise your children, teach them your values and provide them with a male perspective on life. Give your kids love, help them with their homework, and support your partner in her career.
It might be hard to swallow, but modern women need a lot more from us than money and semen.
Start a “Feminine” Career
Look around you in the workplace. If you are surrounded by men and you do not work in IT, chances are your profession will disappear within a few decades. Seek for job opportunities in fields where men are underrepresented. Make sure you pick a field that’s growing and flourishing, and will not be easily be replaced by automatization.
Break the stereotypes. Become a nurse, kindergarten teacher, caregiver, secretary or psychologist. Especially if your partner is also working, you can make ends meet just fine. A side benefit is that you hardly have to work overtime, leaving more time for other things like hobbies, your kids and hanging with the boys.
Many men prefer not to talk about personal struggles and see mental problems as a weakness. As a result, many issues go unspoken and sometimes even best friends don’t know from each other that they are having a hard time.
There is only one way out, and that is to express your feelings. Talk with your male friends about your struggles, and/or ask them if they are struggling. If you don’t find the right support with friends, you need to look elsewhere. Professional help is always available, but you have to take the first step yourself.
Become a Masculinist
I think the aforementioned problems experienced by men are only going to get worse in the future. We have to act now. It’s time to start our own movement, akin to the feminist movement.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of areas where there gains are to be made for women’s equality. And no-one should wish to return to the gender inequalities of bygone eras. So no, our new movement must not be an anti-feminist movement.
The thing I advocate is a men’s movement – masculinism, if you will – that creates awareness of the problems men face and works together to find solutions.
If you want to contribute to the cause of helping other men, find other men and women that promote gender equality and unite. Collectively support efforts that improve the well-being of men, raise awareness of the challenges faced by men and boys, and advocate for policies and initiatives that address our issues.
You too have a say in the betterment of men and generations of boys to come. Vote for parties aiming to raise teacher pay to make the teaching profession interesting to more men. Strive for breaking down legal barriers that prevent fathers from being fully involved in their children’s lives. Not only will this be better for the child’s upbringing, but will also reduce the number of estranged fathers and men ending up in social isolation.
More on Men's Struggles
Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It
In his book, Reeves argues that the structural problems contributing to male malaise affect everyone, and that shying away from these difficult conversations is not a productive way forward. He addresses many of the same points in this article at length.
Not much of a reader? Then you can also watch his 15-minute video for Big Think.