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The so-called crisis of masculinity is in the news. New books are calling attention to it and reports from the UN find that boys are falling behind in school in 140 countries across all regions of the world.
The crisis is indeed global. It shows up around the world in education, in the conservative backlash to women’s rights, and in men (and some women) voting for politicians who hold up traditional views of manhood and use fear of men losing out or “going soft” as part of their political strategy. The spike in men’s violence against women that happened during COVID lockdowns confirms that when men face declining employment, their use of violence against women increases. Men’s life expectancy continues to be five years less than women’s with the gap increasing – mostly due to preventable causes such as diet, smoking, alcohol use, suicide, occupational accidents and violence.
Also on the Forum Network: OECD Forum Virtual Event: Engaging Men as Allies for Gender Equality & Diversity by Willemien Bax, Head, OECD Forum, OECD
The session will focus on how we can be better allies to achieve gender equality at work, at home, in caregiving & education, while countering the upsurge in gender-based violence on and offline, and ensuring that traditional expectations don’t hold any of us back from rewarding lives & careers.
But is there really a manhood crisis? Men continue to be the vast majority of CEOs of major corporations. We earn more than women on aggregate and we rule most statehouses and parliaments. Men who hold a lot of power seem to be doing just fine – better than fine. But a lot of low-income men – and women – around the world are not doing well; many never have. It’s far too simple to say that manhood is in crisis. We have to ask - which men are affected? And after that, which areas of our lives?
Questioning manhood can generate backlash on the right or turn into short-sighted criticism on the progressive side – that discussing the problems of men and boys takes away the focus from the crises of women and girls.
Unfortunately, not many people want to have this conversation. As men, we often think any criticism of manhood means that we’re inherently bad, or we’re worried we’ll have to give up privilege. Questioning manhood can generate backlash on the right or turn into short-sighted criticism on the progressive side – that discussing the problems of men and boys takes away the focus from the crises of women and girls. It’s confusing politics indeed.
When it comes to men’s early deaths and schooling challenges, the response often turns to biology, which matters of course. But the assertion that it’s testosterone – and other aspects of our genetics, including brain development – that drives men’s use of violence, suicide and poor educational outcomes doesn’t hold up when we examine global research. Men vary tremendously in our biology, and women do as well. Far more of what happens to men and boys in schools and beyond has to do with how we are socialised as boys and men.
Global research Equimundo has carried out (via the International Men and Gender Equality Survey, IMAGES, one of the largest studies ever on men and gender), arrived at two major conclusions. First: half or more of men continue to believe in traditional views of manhood – that men should be in control at home and in sexual relationships, that manhood requires emotional repression and going it alone and that violence is a valid means to solve problems. The other conclusion across countries is this: men who believe in those restrictive and unequal norms are more likely to cause harm to themselves, to be less satisfied in their intimate and personal lives and to have worse health outcomes.
IMAGES research also finds that around the world, younger men have more rigid, restrictive and inequitable ideas about manhood than their fathers’ generation. The conclusion is that we’re going backwards on these issues in many countries. The reasons are complex: confusion, which breeds insecurity; economic instability, which causes fear; and the absence of a global conversation about healthy masculinity. In addition, conservative social movements and leaders are actively pushing back against gender equality, women’s empowerment and sexual diversity.
We need to continue to call out individual men who cause harm or abuse power; they need to be held accountable in restorative ways that take into consideration the level of harm caused. [...] The long-term battle requires us to buckle down and build healthy, connected, equitable versions of manhood.
In a recent study we carried out in the US, we also found that economically fragile men are more likely to believe in restrictive views about manhood.
How then to move forward in bringing men into the cause of gender equality? We need to continue to call out individual men who cause harm or abuse power; they need to be held accountable in restorative ways that take into consideration the level of harm caused. That’s the short-term battle. The long-term battle requires us to buckle down and build healthy, connected, equitable versions of manhood.
The global crisis in manhood is that our traditional and restrictive ideas about masculinity are not fit for our current world. Our modern lives require men learning how to care for children and do our full share of it, how to be aware of the harms we cause to our planet, how to be allies in ending violence in our homes and how to support and demand workplaces that are not exploitative of and unequal for women. That’s not biology; that’s justice and social change.
Too many of these conversations become women versus men, instead of women and men and individuals of all gender identities. We need more conversations – in our homes, in statehouses, in schools, in workplaces – about how we all benefit from ending harmful ideas of manhood and embracing equitable and caring ideas of manhood.
The evidence is clear that we won’t advance on gender equality if we don’t name the crisis: it’s about manhood, and how we raise our children differently, not the difference in their biology. We must affirm that questioning harmful ideas of manhood is not against men; it’s in favour of all of us.
Read the full report: Joining Forces for Gender Equality
OECD countries continue to face persistent gender inequalities in social and economic life. Young women often reach higher levels of education than young men, but remain under-represented in fields with the most lucrative careers. Women spend more time on unpaid work, face a strong motherhood penalty, encounter barriers to entrepreneurship and fare worse in labour markets overall. They are also under-represented in politics and leadership positions in public employment.