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David Brooks Gets Something Right


Men are having some difficulties these days.

Men are struggling in the workplace. One in three American men with only a high school diploma — 10 million men — is now out of the labor force. The biggest drop in employment is among young men aged 25 to 34. Men who entered the work force in 1983 will earn about 10 percent less in real terms in their lifetimes than those who started a generation earlier. Over the same period, women’s lifetime earnings have increased 33 percent. Pretty much all of the income gains that middle-class American families have enjoyed since 1970 are because of increases in women’s earnings. [My emphasis]

Men are also struggling physically. Men account for close to three out of every four “deaths of despair” — suicide and drug overdoses. For every 100 middle-aged women who died of Covid up to mid-September 2021, there were 184 middle-aged men who died.

He quotes a new book by a white man that further documents those difficulties. He comes up with the definition of the problem that you knew he would.

Yet this is not a matter of individual responsibility. There is something in modern culture that is producing an aspiration gap.

Not the men’s fault. Boo-fucking-hoo.

He’s wrong about that, as he usually is. Back in the early days of Second Wave Feminism, we recognized in our consciousness-raising groups that if we were to achieve the place in society that we wanted, the entire society would have to change. Including men.

But the struggles to achieve legal equality were overwhelming enough that we put that part aside. It was something men would have to do anyway.

And men didn’t do it. So here we are.

Women’s earnings have increased 33 percent because we made that happen. Women feel more purpose now that we’ve achieved something.

Brooks goes to a standard male whine: it’s someone else’s fault.

The culture is still searching for a modern masculine ideal. It is not instilling in many boys the nurturing and emotional skills that are so desperately important today. A system that labels more than a fifth of all boys as developmentally disabled is not instilling in them a sense of confidence and competence.

This is what Brooks gets right:

I come away with the impression that many men are like what Dean Acheson said about Britain after World War II. They have lost an empire but not yet found a role. 

Men can find those roles. I have confidence in them.

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