Romano, Andrew, Dokoupil, Tony, Newsweek
Byline: Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil
To survive in a hostile world, guys need to embrace girly jobs and dirty diapers. Why it's time to reimagine masculinity at work and at home.
What's the matter with men? For years, the media have delivered the direst of prognoses. Men are "in decline." Guys are getting "stiffed." The "war on boys" has begun. And so on. This summer, The Atlantic's Hanna Rosin went so far as to declare that "The End of Men" is upon us.
There's certainly some substance to these claims. As the U.S. economy has transitioned from brawn to brain over the past three decades, a growing number of women have gone off to work. Men's share of the labor force has declined from 70 percent in 1945 to less than 50 percent today, and in the country's biggest cities, young, single, childless women--that is, the next generation--earn 8 percent more than their male peers. Women have matched or overtaken men as a percentage of students in college and graduate school, while men have retained their lead in alcoholism, suicide, homelessness, violence, and criminality. Factor in the Great Recession, which has decimated male-heavy industries like construction and manufacturing, and it's no wonder so many deadline anthropologists are down on men. But while the state of American manhood has inspired plenty of anxious trend pieces, few observers have bothered to address the obvious question: if men are going off the rails, how do they get back on track?
Without an answer, some men have turned to old models and mores of manhood for salvation. Rutgers University anthropologist Lionel Tiger, for example, wants to reclaim "maleness as a force, as a phenomenon." Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield advocates action and aggression. And the term "retrosexual" has all but replaced "metrosexual" in the lifestyle sections of national magazines, which are full of stories about affluent urbanites wearing hunting garb, buying designer axes, and writing about the art of manliness on blogs with names like (ahem) the Art of Manliness. Throwback masculinity dominates other media as well, with The Dangerous Book for Boys (a work of dad-and-lad shtick) and Shop Class as Soulcraft (a cri de coeur for manual labor) topping reading lists, and television shows such as Dirty Jobs, Ax Men, and Deadliest Catch re-romanticizing soot-collared work. A rapper's saggy jeans, a hunter's concealed weapon, a suburbanite's man cave, a hipster's obsession with Don Draper: all might be seen as variations of the same coping mechanism. The impulse transcends race and class.
But suggesting that men should stick to some musty script of masculinity only perpetuates the problem. For starters, it encourages them to confront new challenges the same way they dealt with earlier upheavals: by blaming women, retreating into the woods, or burying their anxieties beneath machismo. And it does nothing to help them succeed in school, secure sustainable jobs, or be better fathers in an economy that's rapidly outgrowing Marlboro Manliness.
The truth is, it's not how men style themselves that will make them whole again--it's what they do with their days. The riggers, welders, and boilermakers of generations past weren't wearing overalls to feel like men, as Susan Faludi, the author of books on both sexes, has pointed out. Instead, "their sense of their own manhood flowed out of their utility in a society, not the other way around," she writes. "Conceiving of masculinity as something to be"--a part to play--"turns manliness into [something] ornamental, and about as 'masculine' as fake eyelashes are inherently 'feminine.'?"
Since the 1950s, the image of the American woman has gone through numerous makeovers. But masculine expectations remain the same--even as there are fewer opportunities to fulfill them. As a result, says Joan C. Williams, author of Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter, "men have a choice: either feel inadequate or get a lot more creative. …