The first time I heard the phrase “men’s rights movement,” I think I rolled my eyes. And I probably rolled them pretty hard, because come on: Men have all of the rights. They control all of the things: The U.S. Congress, corporations, banks, Hollywood, governments, all of the money and power and launch codes in the world.
Men, particularly white, heterosexual men, are undeniably in charge.
But take a few steps back from the echelons of power—and the elite corridors that lead to said echelons—and the picture isn’t so pretty.
Male-dominated industries were hit hardest in the recession, and the employment rate for men still lags; women, in contrast, have regained all jobs lost in the recession (in part because women tend to be paid less, but that’s another story). Girls perform better in school (though this does not, seemingly, result in higher wages). Many marriages end in divorce, and though it’s difficult to nail down a precise statistic, about a third of divorces are initiated by women (PDF), who tend to out live men. And, according to a new study, men are just more likely to engage in “idiotic behavior.”
For more than fifty years, women have been talking about what it means to be a woman. What we can do when, in theory, we can do anything. We’ve redefined ourselves, through a process of fits and starts, expanding the territory we cover to include, as the author Hanna Rosin noted in The End of Men, a range of jobs and responsibilities once consider exclusively the province of men. Men, meanwhile, haven’t followed suit: Women have almost tripled the number of hours worked outside the home since 1965; the amount of time men spend on childcare and housework hasn’t kept pace. The world is changing, and men aren’t keeping up.
Men, it seems, do need a movement. Just not the one they have.
Visit the online homes of men’s rights adherents, and you’ll quickly get the impression that the biggest problems facing dudes these days are fat women, sluts, women who claim to have been raped, and, obvs, feminism.
Or read a recent opinion piece describing something called “The Sexodus,” a phenomenon in which young, embittered men are departing wholesale from the dating scene. Despite a handful of interviews contained in the piece, this is not something that anecdotal evidence and data would suggest is, at this point, statistically significant.
Oh, sure, men’s rights advocates are concerned about the climate in divorce courts, where custody and financial decisions are perceived to favor women. But their approach is conspiratorial—the laws, they say, are rigged and controlled by radical feminists—not an acknowledgement that courts haven’t changed as rapidly as society.
These are reactive, not proactive, stances, and they do little to offer substantive solutions.
So, if I can womansplain, here: Fix it. If the men’s rights movement is about more than misogyny, about more than longing glances back at a time when men were giants, it’s time to refocus. Have the tough conversations about what it means to be a man when women are no longer dependent on men for income and social acceptance. Mentor boys who aren’t doing well in school, or support networks for married or unmarried men who’d like to play a more vital role in parenting. Agitate for better role models in popular media, beyond the henpecked sitcom dad, the stoic police procedural detective or Don Draper.
All of this requires rigorous self-examination: When you can be anything you want to be, what do you want to be? It’s a terrifying question, one women have yet to definitively answer. But we’re talking about it. Men deserve to have the same conversation.
What nostalgia for those seemingly simpler times doesn’t admit is that it was always a question of scale, not of substance: Men were giants because everyone else was small. What does masculinity look like in a world where men and women alike can be titans? I hope they figure it out.