A couple weeks ago Jezebel did an article covering a recent piece by Rachel Burger for Forbes that argued that feminism should not be blamed for the decline in the achieve-ability of American Masculinity (aka the ‘feminization’ of America) but rather we should look to the recent American capitalist economy and its effects on the male labor market.
It is a fresh and interesting angle to take on the issue. I’ve often studied how the economy affects and is affect by women’s labor (affective and unpaid labor included) and therefore the development of women’s social and cultural identities and positions. Reading about Burger’s ideas reminds me that just as womanhood is affect by the economy, so is manhood. It seems silly to have to spell it out like that— after thinking about womanhood and economics, how could I not remember that such a relationship exits between manhood and economics? But I think that when we talk about the Economy affecting the country and Americans, we are not often explicitly genderizing what effects we are talking about— although often we ARE talking about things that might uniquely affect men, we tend to talk about those problems as if they are universal phenomenon that everyone experience and/or shoulders responsibility for.
For example, when we talk about reducing funds for welfare or social programs—- news corespondents and politicians tend to immediately talk to us about single mothers, children, or elderly— usually because such sob stories grab our attention. But when outsourcing is discussed, I see few politicians and news personalities discussing how outsourcing is often a bunch of male business executives choosing to move many traditionally male jobs out of the country. Outsourcing is instead discussed in other contexts, and without its gendered implications, making it a problem only framed as an issues for Everyone. I’m not saying that outsourcing is not an issue that affects everyone. But what I guess I’m trying to get at is that if men (or Americans in general) want to fight for this identity and lifestyle, they need to own it and openly examine it . . . and thereby uncover the multifaceted factors that are leading this lifestyle/identity/labor to be under threat (and not just do knee-jerk blame-the-women because they can’t be bothered to think of any other explanation after thousands of years of human civilization). I guess, American masculinity is again assumed to be a standard that everyone desires and is concerned about, so the mainstream doesn’t feel the need to examine it explicitly . . . even if that is a lost opportunity to save it or assist its evolution.
I have been thinking about this idea of American masculinity being under threat because even though big corporations are not supporting it economically, they are still trying to capitalize off of it through the advertising industry. I see ads for cars, home maintenance, insurance, health care products, food etc. that target the American male adult still peddle this idea of a rugged modern cowboy punching out of the factory (where his performance has been enhanced by his allergy medication or cell phone) or putting his hammer back on his tool belt, driving home in his powerful car to enjoy his beer, meat, or cable service with his beautiful woman and his progeny, whom he has protected via a manly insurance plan and tough home security system. It frustrates me that companies still try to exploit (and idealize) this dream and these criteria for masculinity, while undermining the economic components that make such a lifestyle possible.
The Jezebel article does critique Burger’s ideas a bit, asking for a more nuanced consideration of the class components to both these economic phenomena and American masculinity. The idea of what kind of labor our creative economy does value these days, and what gender implications that has is also discussed a bit. There is definitely a lot to think about!