American men are in crisis, the conventional wisdom goes. And, according to some experts, they have been for a while. For a few decades, perhaps. Maybe for more than a century.
But in a discussion about this “crisis” on Tuesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, panelists had varying notions of what that crisis entails, if it exists at all. For Michael Kimmel, an author and professor at SUNY Stony Brook, where he founded the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, the crisis involves one type of man—heterosexual, white ones—who feel like their power “is slipping.” Tristan Bridges, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agreed with Kimmel, adding that the crisis affects men who are now contending with “unchallenged entitlement.” For the writer Thomas Page McBee, the crisis involves men who are hurting in the face of society’s stereotyped expectations that they should be more inhumane than humane, more violent than empathic. For Joseph Derrick Nelson, a senior research fellow with the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives, the crisis is hitting black boys who need support and the kind of unconditional love necessary to help them break free of certain damaging norms.
What the panelists did agree on is that the crisis is damaging American society—harming men’s educational outcomes, women’s well-being, and the public’s safety. Bridges pointed to research showing that when men feel like their masculinity is challenged, they are more likely to advocate for war, discriminate against homosexuals, express an interest in buying an SUV, and believe in the inherent superiority of men. They are also more likely to express attitudes supportive of sexual assault and coercion. Nelson contended that stereotypes about black boys as inclined to violence and disinterested in academics can lead to prejudicial treatment from teachers and parents who have internalized those stereotypes and then expect bad behavior.