It’s no secret these days that men are in crisis. Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men” got at the problem quite eloquently. A new book, Jack Myers’ “The Future of Men: Masculinity in the 21st Century,” uses analysis and interviews (many of them with women) to try to plot a path forward. Documentarian Morgan Spurlock calls it “an incredibly important and timely book. A game shifting story.”
Jack Myers is the founder of MediaVillage.com and the author of “Hooked Up: A New Generation’s Surprising Take on Sex, Politics, and Saving the World.” He also advises businesses on trends in media and technology. (His book's passages on Super Bowl commercials and ads for beer companies are especially insightful.)
We spoke to Myers from New York. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
How did your book get started?
I’d started out just to get answers; I’d done a book called “Hooked Up,” about the first generation to grow up with the Internet, and I saw so much female dominance emerging with that generation that I kept getting the question, “What’s happening with men?” And I didn’t have answers.
It’s become a passion for me. It’s emerging as my life’s purpose.
The crisis in masculinity has been going on for a long time. Was there an event or image that crystallized things for you, made it clear you had to pay attention to this?
There were three areas where it really crystallized. Education – the decline in college education among young men, especially in the black and Hispanic communities. Economic: One thing that surprised me is that young women are out-earning young men under 30 … Because women are out-earning their male partners, they’re more likely to stay in their jobs while the men leave.
And third, in terms of relationships: In long-term heterosexual relationships, 85 percent of them are ended by the woman.
So I went on a path to try to understand those realities. Those were the triggers that told me there’s more to understand here.
Is this a shifting balance of power or a change in roles? Or maybe a little of both?
It’s a shifting balance of power driven by shifting roles. But so much of it is positive. The women’s movement has been a positive force. There’s still a long way to go. But I’ve spent my life in media and advertising, where more than 60 percent of the employees are female, so we see the inevitability of the glass ceiling shattering over the next few decades.
Your book is very good at sketching out how this works in pop culture. Can you talk about how commercials or television shows illustrate what you’re talking about? You have strong examples from Super Bowl ads and “Mad Men” in the book.
“Mad Men” is a great example: That series will ultimately prove to be one of the great television series of all time, and it personifies the transformation in gender relationships and gender norms. We look at Don Draper in the first season as the personification of the “real man” of the 1950s – strong, silent, building his whole life around lies and mistruths. Women are disposable to him… That strong, silent, macho, James Bond-like character. And by the end of the series, the last episodes, it’s about how can we bring everyone together, how can we live as one. How can men, women, all cultures, be happy together.
With young men today, many of them are growing up in fatherless homes, many of them are growing up in an educational system with female teachers and female students. Online there’s cultural and gender equality. And then they come to their adult years, thrown into a world that still expects them to conform to that 1950s Don Draper [model].
Beer commercials personify the man as idiot or the misogynist served by gorgeous women and he’s the fuckboy. So they’re getting those images that are just completely outdated and for many of them, just not relevant to who they are, but they feel they need to conform to.
The crisis today is a crisis of self-identity.
What kinds of men are better able to adapt to this, and what kinds of men are having more trouble? Do class and generation make a difference?
Great question. The man most suited to the transformation is a man comfortable with his feminine side – comfortable being emotionally open, being honest with relationships, honest with himself, honest in his career – all the qualities that we’ve historically attributed to women. And all qualities that a lot of young men have.
But also, a man who’s not threatened to show that side of him in a heavily, traditionally male environment.
The other men who seem quite adept at making this transformation are ones who, unfortunately, are angry and fighting back. They seem perfectly willing to hold onto their traditional definitions of masculinity based on physical strength and power, financial strength and power, and regulatory strength and power. Let’s call it for what it is: Donald Trump is a 60-year-old fuckboy.
Just as that model is very successful in a bar, very successful with some types of women, he’s very successful at putting his macho foot forward. And the hell with anyone it might hurt.
Funny that we’re talking about a style of masculinity we’re saying is ending, but it’s exemplified by someone who is very likely to win the Republican nomination.
It’s not surprising that in any period of creative destruction, you have a strong desire to hold onto the past.
We’ve seen an eclipse of machismo and a rise in female authority over the last few decades. We’ve also seen more openness about sexual orientation. There’s more tolerance, gay people are more visible in pop culture… Do these changes have anything to do with one another?
Absolutely. One of the lines in my book is that ironically, the future definition of a real man, quote-unquote, may be more in line with the qualities we attribute to gay men. The fact that we see more of an openness and acceptance allows straight men to accept their feminine qualities. All women have male qualities, all men have female qualities.
It’s clear that the rise of women is good for women. But do men have something to gain from this shift as well?
I’ll go back to the statistic of 85 percent of heterosexual relationships being ended by women. Young men have grown up being exposed to porn as the defining sexual standard – I think a better understanding of what makes a good sexual partner, without having to live up to some standard set by false media images, to eliminate the negative images in advertising of man as moron, man as buffoon, the Homer Simpson … These stereotypes, especially for men growing up in fatherless homes, are the role models men have to measure themselves against.
So I think when society pays more attention to those negative stereotypes, everybody gains a better understanding.
Let’s look at the male mantra of deny, deny, deny. That prostitution is OK because no one’s getting hurt, that strip clubs are OK, that infidelity is OK as long as my partner doesn’t know about it. Women are basically standing up in relationships and saying, No, this is no longer OK.
The male benefit to that is the man learns about intimacy – that being emotionally connected, and being honest about your relationship, 100 percent open, is a healthy way to live. To me, that’s a huge positive for men.