There is a growing body of opinion that masculinity is in crisis. On this view, women have made many social advances and this has left men out manoeuvred and demoralised. Men are turning in on themselves and asking themselves, what is the point of being a man anymore? Frankly I don’t see it, and in order to understand why, we need to look at the big picture.
Since the Second World War there have been seismic social changes. First, effective contraception has meant that women, and to a lesser extent, men, have been, more or less, completely in control of their fertility. As a species, we are no longer at the mercy of nature in the timing of starting a family. This has allowed women, and to a great extent, men, plan their family in line with their career plans. Many opt for delaying starting a family until they have become financially secure.
Second, as a world economy we have seen more or less constant economic growth for decades. We may be in a down turn now, but as a western country we generally have an abundance of jobs. So many jobs in fact, we continually import labour to do the work for us.
Seen in this big picture, yes women have made huge advances in their quality of life, but so have men. In fact men have never had it so good!
1. Compared to some tribal societies a man’s chance of being killed in war or competition with another man is miniscule. Far from the romantic image of a ‘noble savage’ that was peace loving, the truth is very different. In some tribal societies up to 50% of men could expect to be killed in warfare or in competition with another man. This compares to western men where the figure is less than 1% … and this includes the war dead of the 20th Century! In fact despite the moral panic, modern society is remarkably peaceful due, no doubt, to the abundance of resources available to us. What a great time to be a man!
2. Men are working with more women. Why is this significant? Well men are tuned to be competitive with other men but not with women. Far from women being seen as a threat in workplaces, men actually enjoy working with women. Strangely this is not quite the same for women. In one study 95% of women said they would prefer a man to be their boss because they perceived, rightly or wrongly, that a man would be fairer. Rather than men having a problem with women at work, it is in fact the other way round! Mixing with so many women means traditional male dominance hierarchies at work are becoming more relaxed, meaning men don’t have to engage their testosterone at work as much as they did. What a great time to be a man!
3. Men have the opportunity to plan their family more and are less dependent on work to bring in a living wage. What this means is that men have more time to devote to being a great boyfriend or husband and dad. Never before have men had such economic freedom to engage meaningfully with their family. In one recent study of men, work came a mere third in importance after wife and kids. Many men relish the opportunity to become stay at home dads so they can build their relationship with their kids. Paternity leave means every new dad that chooses gets time to bond with a new born. What a great time to be a man!
I guess I could go on, but given that it is a great time in human history to be a man, why is it that some people conceive masculinity as being in crises at all? Well my take on this is that the crisis theorist is locked into a win-lose gender politics. They see women making; quite rightly, important social advances, and they assume that men must somehow feel cheated by this. For ideological reasons the crises theorists then search for evidence to support their theory and find that some boys aren’t doing well at school and some men are feckless, etc. The truth about being male, however’, is found in the ‘dodgy’ Y chromosome. For good evolutionary reasons, there is greater variability in men which means that today, as always, there are a larger proportion of men who struggle in society than women. This is not a crisis of masculinity, but the trick nature plays on males of all species to generate biological diversity and therefore maximise the overall genetic fitness of the species.
So it’s never been a better time to be a man. Men, just as women are doing, are relishing the opportunities that come with greater financial affluence and choices around fertility. It’s not just a great time to be a man, but it’s a great time to be human!
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers: