David Brooks wins that title with most of his articles, but his piece fretting about men in the economy is particularly bad. After a long pointless discussion of The Searchers, which I guess he means to use to
fill his word count construct men as pioneers who become irrelevant, Brooks proceeds to misunderstand completely why male employment has not recovered like female employment. It’s not because of some crisis of values, which Brooks loves to push. It’s because of the very economic model for which he has spent a whole life selling us.
The definitive explanation for this catastrophe has yet to be written. Some of the problem clearly has to do with changes in family structure. Work by David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that men raised in fatherless homes, without as many immediate masculine role models, do worse in the labor force. Some of the problem probably has to do with a mismatch between boy culture and school culture, especially in the early years.
But, surely, there has been some ineffable shift in the definition of dignity. Many men were raised with a certain image of male dignity, which emphasized autonomy, reticence, ruggedness, invulnerability and the competitive virtues. Now, thanks to a communications economy, they find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.
Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn’t want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on. A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things.
This is, frankly, stupid. The reason why male employment hasn’t recovered is because the jobs men used to have no longer exist. That the 20th century economy was inherently sexist cannot be questioned. Men had industrial jobs that became high paying after decades of union organization. The middle-class of salesmen, middle managers, etc., was also dominated by men. Women were in service positions. Now you tell me, which jobs still exist in the United States in 2013? The industrial jobs on the shopfloor? Uh, no. Even college educated men are told that they will change jobs multiple times in their lives. The basis of a secure economy that came from knowledge that your job would last a lifetime is long gone. Even lawyers have no work. What remains is a service economy, with jobs long defined as female. Housekeeping, nursing, child care, entry level office work, Wal-Mart–these are jobs that are available. This is not so different than the Great Depression, when men found themselves out of work and women often did not. That’s because telephone operators, teachers, secretaries, and other female-defined jobs proved more stable than a mechanic, working in an auto plant, or mining coal. In the 1930s, you saw a rash of men, embarrassed because they could no longer fulfill their masculine duties of maintaining a household, running away, hopping trains, committing suicide, leaving their families behind.
None of this is to excuse gender divisions at work. It’s to say that (likely) long-term shifts in American capitalism are to blame for what David Brooks would like to blame on culture.
……I stand corrected. Richard Cohen saying that our fear of even mentioning crime committed by young black men is like our fear of talking about sex in the Victorian Era is the dumbest article you’ll read today.