And to be clear, I’m not suggesting we need a men’s studies department to counter a women’s studies program. I have a women’s studies degree, and it was enriching and relevant. Earning it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But as the writer Rebecca Traister has warned us, it’s because we are asking women to overthrow their own bed mates (and our fathers, sons, brothers, friends and even colleagues) that our revolution needs a detailed plan for what to do with its men. A feminism with no plan for making better men is a feminism that will liberate women in name only, while at the same time leaving them with the daily burdens of unpaid bills, ER visits, bruised and broken bones, dead marriages, and silent Sunday dinners.
Four years ago, I set on a reporting journey to try and understand what was going on with men, who had begun to seem to me increasingly lost and out of touch. What I found was that without a plan for men, boys are failing in obvious ways.
Find that hard to believe? Well, boys are lagging behind girls in education at every degree level. Since 1982, women have received 10 million more degrees than men. And the number of black men who entered medicine in 2014 is smaller than the number who entered in 1978, which has translated into a literal shortage of black male doctors. And at home, men suffer, too. The research is almost unanimous: Especially as men grown older, they consistently report fewer social ties, a lack of deep friendships, and less contact with their close or extended families than women do. Middle-aged men remain the least likely demographic to be in therapy despite being the most likely to benefit from it (given that they’re at highest risk of dying by suicide). Men and boys need support but are stuck in a world that’s convinced them they need none.
If feminism is committed to bettering the lives of women, it needs to be a gender-neutral movement, full stop. And as a younger, more gender-fluid generation comes of age, it’s no longer in the interest of our cause to limit who benefits from feminism.
Not least because when men don’t evolve, it’s a tax on women, particularly those who are already disenfranchised. When I interviewed them for my book, women of all ages told me the same thing over and over again. They didn’t feel married to men, they felt like rehab centers for them. They didn’t feel excited about having sons, they felt worried about them. Why would we want to maintain the status quo, when it’s neither liberating women nor helping men?