How Some American Men Feel Left Out Of Society In The #MeToo Era
LAUREN GILGER: The #MeToo movement has shed a light on the experiences of millions of women in the U.S. But there is another side to the story, according to our next guest. Andrew Yarrow spent the last two years talking to hundreds of men who he says are being left out of modern American society. In his new book "Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life" he delves into the troubling reality for these millions of men who are out of work, angry and caught in the current fog of gender roles in America. I spoke with him more about the book and who exactly these men are.
ANDREW YARROW: I look at really four populations of men: white working-class men — the sort of Trumpian constituency; but also over 50 middle and upper- and middle-class men; formerly incarcerated men, of which there are 17 million in the U.S.; and Millennial men, who are doing particularly poorly.
GILGER: There seems to be a narrative in America today about men that working-class white men are the ones that are being left out or, or have been sidelined by technology, by globalization, they've lost their jobs in the recession. They were sort of like you mentioned the people who were angry and voted in President Trump. You hear a lot about that constituency now — is that what you're talking about? Is that narrative true?
YARROW: It's true, but that's only a part of my story of "Men Out." I think there, as I estimate there are at least 20 million men who were and/or not working, not in families, not with their children, having addiction problems or other health problems and who are angry. Politically angry, and angry toward women and others.
GILGER: So this is such a diverse group — like this seems to cross economic and cultural and racial boundaries. I wonder how it is that you realized this was happening. How did you find this?
YARROW: Now that's a great question. I saw a number of problems out there that have tended to be sort of siloed or seen separately as problems. One, the growing numbers of men who have dropped out of the labor force or not working at all. One, the huge number of fathers who are not with their children. So the tensions between men and women — would almost go so far as to say a kind of gender war out there, particularly the misogyny on the part of many men and particularly fueled by the internet. And, you know, a lot of other things, like Millennial men they're more likely to be at home, come back to parents or relatives, than Millennial women. I mean just a lot of different phenomena that are hitting men, a certain swath of men, pretty hard.
GILGER: I want to talk a little bit about what's led up to this. I mean I would assume that this is economic, but that might not be the whole story. Did this begin, you think, with the recession?
YARROW: Well, it's economic and cultural. On the economic side, yes, there are a lot of men who lost jobs, who either couldn't find jobs or found jobs that you know many told me they felt were below them. You know like working as a clerk at a big box store, but on the other hand there's this cultural dimension which gets to masculinity or "toxic masculinity."
GILGER: What do you mean by toxic masculinity?
YARROW: Well, traditional masculinity — which some call toxic — is this set of beliefs, set of norms that, you know, men have to be tough. Men have to have as many sexual partners as possible. Men don't express emotions. You don't cry. And I think there's a lot of confusion out there in terms of masculinity these days. There's an interesting survey of young men that found a majority of young men subscribing to gender equity but then when asked, how did they act? They say, "Well, I feel the peer pressure. I have to act like, you know, this old-style man."
GILGER: And what are the results of something like that? So if you look at that on almost on an individual level what kinds of things did you hear from men of all ages and races and economic levels about what that makes them do in their lives?
YARROW: I mean, there were young men I talked to who just, you know, were holed up with their parents, felt depressed, felt ashamed of their lives. Young men who'd been opioid addicts. Young men addictive gamers. But probably the most troubling thing is the misogyny and the misogyny that is especially seen online. We've all heard of the many online anonymous attacks on women journalists. We see the attacks with Dr. Ford and the Kavanaugh hearings, you know, that have threatened her life or threatened her sexually. And a lot of attacks toward both exes, women men know and women in general. I mean some of it's quite vile.
GILGER: So, after having done all of this research, talked to all of these men. Do you think that that anger, even if it is misdirected, is legitimate in some way?
YARROW: Well, somewhat. I mean I think there are a lot of things that are going wrong for men, or for some men but, you know, the whole issue of not working, in many cases. How do they support themselves? They turn to wives or girlfriends. These wives often become ex-wives. But, as I say, there are a lot of other ways in which men are hurting, they're you know twice as likely to die of overdoses, they're three and a half times as likely to commit suicide. I mean, that's a deluge with statistics. But, you know, there are clearly a lot of expressions of hurt out there.
GILGER: Yeah. So, I guess then the question is what do we do about this? ... Is this a reaction to women gaining power over the last generation and therefore men being displaced by that? Is there no way to sort of do both and we can be equally successful?
YARROW: Well, there certainly are strong currents or new currents of what some call "positive masculinity." Kinds of groups that actually have curricula to teach men, to teach fathers, you know, how to be more sensitive; how to be more caring with their children; with women in their lives; with men, if they're gay. But on the other hand, I think it will take more than that. I mean, for example, with online misogyny. I mean, I strongly believe that there need to be stronger laws and stronger enforcement of all kinds of hate speech on the internet and, you know, in the culture, too. I think boys need to learn being a boy is not being toxic. There was a great quote from a former NFL lineman Joe Ehrmann who said the three most destructive words that the boy can hear is: "Be a man."
GILGER: Andrew Yarrow is a former New York Times reporter, a U.S. historian and policy analyst and the author of "Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life." Andrew, thank you so much for coming on The Show to talk about this.
YARROW: Thanks so much, Lauren. It's been a pleasure.