There has been a growing chorus warning about the end of men for some time now. Camille Paglia recently exclaimed, “educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood,” joining the host of women concerned about the future of America’s boys (consider Hanna Rosin,Kay S. Hymowitz, and Christina Hoff Sommers, to name only a few in the brigade). Feminists, they cry, are to blame for men’s inability to achieve at school, lack of interest in pursuing a career in their 20s, and overall disinterest in traditional forms of masculinity.
The reality is that the economy–that men themselves created–is far more to blame for the sorry state of American men. The Internet Age, along with global trade and the mass outsourcing of low-skill labor has brought forth in the West a people-based and knowledge-based economy, which emphasizes social intelligence. Young women are now outpacing men across the board, from education to employment, and men should take a hint. If men want to pursue their roles as providers and achievers, they’re going to have to woman up.
The United States is different today than it was thirty years ago. Hymowitz accurately notes that traditionally “manly” jobs, like construction and manufacturing, have been disappearing for years, most visibly during the Great Recession. Meanwhile, the service-based, words-based, and knowledge-based economy has held steady. Traditional jobs for men, jobs that require heavy manual labor, are being replaced with outsourced labor and sophisticated machines.
But feminists aren’t to blame for this economic shift. After all, it was men who invented the Internet, who created and sold mass-produced computers, who shipped jobs overseas and who even fashioned social media. To blame women for the change in the male labor market is to feign ignorance of the realities of history. And in the West’s new creative economy, physical labor is, quite simply, less valuable.
This new economy isn’t going to change the masculine drive to be competitive or boys’ need to be valued for their achievements. These mentalities are ingrained into the male psyche since before they hit grade school. Unfortunately for these boys, and now men, the traditional route to provide for their families is increasingly unavailable. In a knowledge-based, words-based economy, these boys have to learn to play nice, just as women have had to learn to be aggressive and ambitious to succeed in the upper echelons of business.
It’s not that feminists are trying to beat femininity into our nation’s males. Indeed, this country’s host of concerned wives, mothers, and sisters are trying to equip their boys to achieve success. In an economy where maintaining a network of contacts relies less on facetime and more online skills, sheer force of mutual business interest no longer guarantees a relationship with a potential business partner. This is the era of LinkedIn, Facebook, and email, where every post and word matters. The Internet economy requires social intelligence.
Traditionally, emotional know-how been seen as a woman’s domain– sensitivity to others and expressed interest in companionable connection have not been such powerful forces for business–let alone social interaction–for men until very recently. To survive in today’s economy, boys must learn to express themselves. In other words, they must take on more traditionally feminine traits.
Women, particularly young women, are beginning to outpace men in this economy. They are earning more degrees, beginning their careers with higher job placements, and have a lower unemployment rate across the board. To be sure, feminism has perhaps granted women the confidence to push for a lucrative career, but that has little to do with whether men can keep up. America’s growing sectors–from healthcare to education to hospitality–are largely dominated by women, and have been for decades. Instead of continuing to live in the man’s world–the world of brute force and physicality–men must shift into the women’s world–the world of sensitivity and service.
Men must become more like women if they want to be able to continue fulfilling their more masculine roles as earners and providers. While it may be difficult to hear, boys are at a disadvantage if they do not learn to sympathize, communicate emotion and connect. In other words, it will be “man down” for men who can’t learn to woman up. The new economy is a woman’s economy, and inventions created by men, not feminists, are to blame for slowing male participation.
It’s time to stop blaming feminists for America’s changing economic landscape. We are spurring ahead in the age of technology, and little can change the growing need for more socially intelligent boys. If men are to compete in this brave new world, whining about feminists won’t get them there. But getting in contact with their more feminine side just might.
This post originally appeared in Forbes Magazine.