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Christine Emba is an opinion columnist and Editorial Board member at the Washington Post, and also serves as a contributing editor for Comment magazine. She is the author of Rethinking[…]

Young men are increasingly finding themselves single and struggling to meet traditional expectations. Journalist Christine Emba breaks down the masculinity crisis and what can be done to fix it. 

The rise of “manfluencers” like Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan reflects a new type of masculinity that both challenges and redefines what it means to be a man today. While these influencers often offer empathy and simple life advice, their viewpoints tend to escalate into misogyny, resulting in even more societal isolation for men down the road. 

Emba’s advice is for men to evaluate what masculinity means to them — Is it strength? Support of a family? Leadership through conflict? She stresses these traits need not exist in opposition to the traits of women, and instead can complement them, leading to a more productive, cohesive, and ultimately happier society.

CHRISTINE EMBA: When we do talk about masculinity, we're often talking about it in negative terms. In some circles, phrases like, "Men are trash," or "Men are garbage," have become de rigueur. I think the word that people most associate with masculinity right now is the word "toxic," which doesn't really bode well for the whole thing.

So it's hard to be convincing when you say men are in trouble. After all, like, look around us - all 45 U.S. presidents have been men, and probably the next president will be one too. If you look at the S&P 500 a few years ago, there are actually more CEOs named Michael or James than there are women CEOs, period.

But that said, most men aren't CEOs and most men aren't president of the United States. It's easy to focus in on a certain set of men that are doing well and realize that the majority of men are not hanging on so well.

I'm Christine Emba. I'm an author and a journalist, and my latest book is, "Rethinking Sex: A Provocation."

So what are the trends that have led men to struggle in this moment? I think that there are three key areas where we can clearly see that men are struggling, perhaps even, yes, in crisis.

Our labor market has changed over the past several decades due to globalization and de-industrialization. We have now moved towards a more credentialed-favoring economy where things like brute strength aren't as valued as they used to be. Some of the jobs and areas that used to be fairly male-coded, male-centric, safe areas for men to work, the industrial sector, etc., are now kind of gone. And many of the men who used to be in those spaces are no longer there.

We're seeing a drop in employment in men, especially young men. In fact, men ages 25 to 34 are among the groups that have dropped out the most from the labor market, which is surprising 'cause these are prime working age men.

Then we're seeing issues in education. Obviously, Title IX was a good thing and it allowed many more women into the educational sphere, but now you're seeing a sort of flip from men earning most of the college degrees to women doing the same. There was a huge decline in college enrollment during the pandemic. And looking back at the numbers, 70% of the dropouts are men.

And then you get to the domestic sphere. Stagnating wages, labor market participation and falling educational rates have downstream effects in domestic life. 34% of young women, approximately, say that they're single, nearly 63% of young men say that they are. More women than men say that they're finding trouble finding a partner, so men, who live up to their standards.

You also see a little bit of destabilization in traditional roles in relationships. When you think of kind of traditional relational arrangements where there's one higher earner and one lower earner, that perspective has also shifted over time too. Almost 50% of women say that they earn as much as or more than their partner, which is a huge shift from just a few decades ago.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, in the same way that women overachieving in education is definitely not a bad thing. But they have provided a sense of destabilization, perhaps a feeling that the world isn't exactly as it used to be, and men are struggling to find what their place is in the new arrangement.

So I also think about the number of men who seem like they've just disappeared from society. These are men who are known as NEETs in the sort of wonky parlance "Not in education, employment, or training." So what are they up to? Well, it seems like they're on the internet. Many of them are at home sort of, pouring out their woes to these online forums; whether it's incel forums or men going their own way discussion groups where they talk about how dissatisfied they are with life and how it feels like the world has wronged them.

Then you're seeing a lot of men playing video games, frankly, instead of engaging with the world. And that's actually compelling in understandable ways. It does seem like gaming gives you the opportunity to achieve goals or achieve success in a way that might not be as visible in the real world if you aren't able to find fulfilling employment or if you feel like you're left out of other societal pursuits.

You also see men following what I term "manfluencers," people like Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate, and Joe Rogan, who I think are sort of stoking their sadness and fears while telling them that the world is what's done them wrong. And the thing is, I can't say that they're all bad. In fact, there is some good there, perhaps much good.

When I talk to young men, especially, about what Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan give them, one of the first things that they actually cite is just empathy. These men actually do seem to feel for the struggles that young men and other men are facing, and they're really straightforward about that. And then they also try and provide solutions. So Jordan Peterson famously says:

JORDAN PERTERSON: 'Clean up your room.'

EMBA: And while that sounds like pretty basic and straightforward advice, to me, in fact, it seems like something that your dad or grandfather should have told you, it speaks to men who don't have that father figure or that male mentor in their life who can tell them what to do.

JOE ROGAN: 'Just did 25 minutes at 196 degrees, I got a new sauna.'

EMBA: And not just a script for the basics. Many of these manfluencers provide a script for how to live, whether it's a particular all-meat diet or a way of working out that will transform them into some kind of better man. And then they also talk about masculinity with a sort of specificity that makes it feel aspirational. Many of them describe the process of manhood as a challenge, as a summit that the aspiring young man can surmount while these guys are basically cheering them on. And that's appealing to men who have heard masculinity or manhood denigrated- or who aren't sure what direction to turn.

'LIVER KING': 'But if I could do it, trust me when I tell you, you could do it. Anybody can become a king.'

EMBA: So there is definitely a positive influence that many of these influencers have had, if only that they're, you know, telling young men, "Hey, don't just sit on the couch, maybe go out and talk to girls if you want a girlfriend. Maybe make your bed and find a job, get good at a skill." But there is a downside, and it's a major one. One of the things that's notable about a lot of these manfluencers is that they often discuss masculinity, or an ideal manhood, in opposition to femaleness.

MATT WALSH: 'Men and women are different, and it's a beautiful thing, it really is.'

EMBA: And in fact, they often spend a lot of time talking about how feminism or feminists or female agency is what's actually bringing men down.

ROGAN: 'What exactly is going on with women's studies that you believe is fostering revolution?

PETERSON: Well, you go on their websites and read, read what they say.'

EMBA: Sometimes the worst of these influencers take this rhetoric to action.

ANDREW TATE: 'I turn and whack and I smacked her.'

EMBA: So you have a figure like Andrew Tate, who's constantly talking about, you know, choking women, hitting women, dominating women. And more recently, has been arrested in Romania for actual sex trafficking.

So some of this advice curdles from empathy to outright misogyny. So while I think that men are worried about their place and are struggling, there has to be a different solution for them moving forward.

If we actually want to help men who are in crisis, we have to come up with a positive vision of masculinity: one that is aspirational, not denigrating.

And I think a positive vision of masculinity has to be one that is specific, one that actually speaks to men, that doesn't say, "Well men, to be non-toxic, you need to be more like women," but actually what does it mean to be a man, specifically? How is that good and how can you be better?

So what does a positive vision of masculinity actually look like? When I asked men themselves, young men, older men, people I interviewed, there were a few things that came up often.

Strength was discussed, not necessarily physical strength, but strength of some kind. Self-mastery, leadership, responsibility, and care for others. There were discussions about being led by physicality, whether being sort of inspired to great acts by sexual urges or otherwise.

But the thing is, I think that many of these traits are actually scaffolded in some ways by biology. Sex drive and assertiveness are both associated with testosterone, the male sex hormone. And I think the key is that you have to channel these traits to be pro-social.

Positive masculinity means using traits that feel distinctive to men for the good of others and for the good of society as a whole.

When we talk about manhood or manliness or masculinity, we often discuss certain traits, whether it's strength or risk-taking or bravery or something like that. And I think there's a fear that by ascribing certain traits to masculinity, we might be saying that those traits can't be applied to women too.

If we say that good men are strong, does that mean that women have to be weak? If we say that men are leaders, does that mean that women have to be followers? I think we're afraid of boxing both sexes in.

The thing is, this isn't a zero-sum game. The sexes rise and fall together.

As a person who loves and cares about men in my family, my friends, people I want to be romantic partners, I actually do want them to survive and flourish. And if we want our broader society to survive and flourish too, both sexes have to be doing well.

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