The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why progressives should stop avoiding men’s issues

A man fills out a job application at a job fair in Miami Lakes, Fla., in July 2016. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Andrew L. Yarrow, a former New York Times reporter, is a senior fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute. He is the author of “Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life.”

Millions of American men are disconnected from work, children and family; are in poor physical and mental health; suffer from addiction and isolation; and struggle with what it means to be a man. Yet most progressives — who claim to care about all of society’s underdogs — seem to assiduously avoid these issues. Instead, their main concern when it comes to men is that too many men remain wedded to “traditional” notions and norms of masculinity. Problems facing men of color are largely seen through the lens of race, not gender.

The very phrase “men’s issues” conjures up images of bitter, angry white guys who stupidly don’t realize that they are oppressors and on top of the world. In the era of #MeToo, men don’t have problems; they are the problem. To some, even talking about men’s problems can brand one as tone-deaf and sexist.

I am a liberal, I have studied and supported feminism, and I know well that sexual harassment and assault are sickeningly common. But the fact that women remain victims in many ways does not negate the reality that many men are struggling and are victims of economic and cultural changes — ones that often also hurt women, children and society. Men are not a monolithic group, and it is not a zero-sum game in which men win and women lose (or vice versa).

So, what are these problems, who are these men, and why should the left — as well as Americans across the political spectrum — care about them?

During and after the 2016 election, we’ve heard the simplistic trope that President Trump’s supporters are angry, less-educated, white working-class men — the people whom Hillary Clinton unhelpfully called “deplorables.” These men on the sidelines of American life are of all races, places and classes, and include millennials, better-educated late-middle-age men and former prisoners.

The data on male well-being tell a bleak story for a large minority of American men. About 20 million men have abandoned work (or work has abandoned them), as the male civilian labor force participation rate has fallen from 85 percent in the mid-1950s to 69 percent in November (and this excludes 2 million incarcerated men). Median inflation-adjusted income for all U.S. men was just 1 percent higher in 2017 than it was in 1973, and incomes for about 80 percent of men have stagnated or declined. About 8 million to 10 million fathers never or rarely see their minor children — and most of those fathers are not “deadbeats.”

Young adult males have higher poverty rates than their counterparts 40 years ago, and 25-to-34-year-old men are significantly more likely to live with their parents than women their age. Twice as many men than women are hardcore gamers. Compared with girls, boys have more behavioral problems and lower average academic achievement, and they are much less likely to graduate from college. The millions of formerly incarcerated men have few prospects for a decent life.

Health and mental-health problems among men are increasing: Life expectancy, which remains stagnant among women, is declining among men. Males bear the brunt of opioid overdoses and alcohol addiction Suicide is three and a half times more common among men than women. Many men are lonely or disengaging from society, as membership in unions and organizations that foster male camaraderie, such as Rotary and Elks clubs, has cratered. Males’ anger is rife toward women, employers, government and “the system” — which too often leads to misogyny and violence.

Helping all people in physical, socioeconomic and psychological distress should be a defining characteristic of a humane, caring and democratic society. However, in our bitterly divided times, these foundational goals have been politicized: Many on the right have drawn attention to men’s problems — some thoughtfully, but more often to bash feminism and women. Many on the left are silent because they are implausibly unaware of such issues or, more likely, less willing to highlight them because doing so would be deemed politically incorrect.

This failure of liberals is not only morally wrong, but also it hurts their own prospects of winning broader support among men. Those on the left should wake up and heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr. : “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Read more:

Richard Cohen: Privilege is real. But being a white man shouldn’t disqualify me.

E.J. Dionne Jr.: How progressives can get identity politics right

Suzanna Danuta Walters: Why can’t we hate men?

George F. Will: America’s ‘quiet catastrophe’: Millions of idle men

Robert J. Samuelson: Is the American Dream killing us?

Robert J. Samuelson: Jobless by choice — or pain?