When asked what traits society values most in boys, only 2% of male respondents in PerryUndem’s survey asked men what traits society values most in boys, 2% answered honesty and morality, and 8% said leadership skills—traits that are, of course, admirable in anyone but have traditionally been considered masculine. Orenstein says that when she asked boys what they liked about being a boy, most of them drew a blank. One college sophomore said, “Huh, that’s interesting. I never really thought about that. You hear a lot more about what’s wrong with guys.”
Here are some areas where we lack clear language to describe a phenomenon the media covers over and over again:
The boy crisis is global, but it’s egregious in the US. By high school, nearly 20% of American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. But if 20% of boys have a given trait, one might consider the trait is part of being a boy and not something to be drugged.
Boys with birthdays in August are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, because August is the cutoff for preschool so kids with August birthdays are the youngest in their grade. Instead of acknowledging that different kids mature at different times, schools medicate the most immature to enable teachers to manage large groups of kids.
Boys are more likely than girls to want to run around rather than sit still, and girls mature faster than boys. As a result, teachers identify boys as the cause of their inability to manage 30 kids at once. And social workers respond by recommending medication to the parents of boys. The result: schools are penalizing boys for being boys.
Single-parent homes and the de-masculinization of parenting
In the book The Boy Crisis, Warren Farrell describes researchers who looked at 70 different measurements of life without a father’s presence. (Obligatory Ted Talk here.) Boys suffer more than girls in each of the 70 measurements. The research suggests there is a male style of parenting and a female style of parenting, and if boys don’t get the male style, they suffer. Similarly un-PC research from the Autism community shows there are a male brain and a female brain, and girls who miss out on the female style of parenting suffer.
One reason we have no language for the masculine experience because it’s so un-PC to say single-mothers don’t provide adequate parenting for boys. The more we harp on the idea that men and women are only socialized to be different, the more difficult it is to create a language of masculinity.
Pink jobs, blue jobs and the self-segregation of men and women at work
Science tells us that know that girls are better at reading in part because they’re more introspective. And boys are better at physical activity in part because they have stronger cardio-vascular abilities and better hand-eye coordination. A study in Finland shows that when boys are sedentary their academic performance goes down, but this is not true for girls.
These gender differences in school impact the jobs men and women choose. The Economist says there are pink jobs and blue jobs and statistically men and women don’t show much interest in doing similar work. Women enjoy largely sedentary jobs with talking. Men enjoy jobs with less talking and more doing. Yet it’s illegal to talk about jobs in terms of gender, so we’re left with the decidedly limited language of pink jobs and blue jobs.
Making jobs, serving jobs and the rise of social skills
By 2022 robots could eliminate 75 million active jobs and create 133 million new desk jobs to keep track of the robots. Remember the research about how boys don’t perform well if they have to sit for too long? There are going to be a lot of broken robots if something doesn’t change.
You could think of the economy as making vs serving: making jobs are in manufacturing, mining, and construction; serving jobs are in health care, education, and technology. As the making jobs continue to disappear the unemployment rate for men grows much higher than for women. And increasingly there seems to be no role for men in modern society.
We steer men who are great with a cable railings kit, to be the person who helps people make railings decisions. we tell cabinet makers who lost jobs to robots, “You can consult for companies and tell them if the furniture they’re churning out will fall apart in a month.” But this tactic forces men to give up an active job for a job where their primary duty is talking and connecting.
There are no good men left
The marriage rate is plummeting, and economists think it’s because women don’t like their choices. Even though women earn college degrees at a higher rate than men, and women in their 20s outearn men in their 20s, women still want to marry a man who is as educated as she is and earns significantly more money.
A way to see the gap between men and women today is the rise in sexually transmitted diseases. When people feel like they can set their own goals and reach them, they use condoms and get tested at clinics for STDs. So it’s surprising that we’re in the middle of a surge in STDs among men who have sex with men. Compared to other times in history, this demographic has much more sexual freedom, social and legal protections today which should indicate a high level of condom use.
One way to explain the unexpected surge in STDs is that it’s not gay men per se, but all men feel reckless about condoms; all men have trouble (consciously or unconsciously) with the language of masculinity and knowing who they are. Women, on the other hand, feel high self-efficacy after half a century of feminist theory and three generations of women advocating for themselves. Women demand condoms as an expression of the security and power they feel in society.
After thinking about the condom gap, I wonder if women really want men who earn more. I think that might be placeholder language for what women really want which is a partner who inspires self-efficacy.
When we have a richer language for masculinity women will more clearly describe their hopes for a mate. And men will more clearly describe what they’d like to offer. Until then, I’m sure there are still good men left, but we don’t have the language to talk about them.