16 November 2023

What's the Problem with Young Men?

In case you haven't noticed, there have been a heck of a lot of stories over the last year about the Crisis With Young Men and the Crisis of Masculinity in almost every news outlet.

And there is a crisis. Men do 90%+ of the mass shootings. They're lonely and isolated, and are falling behind at higher education. More women go to college and university now than men do.

MY NOTE: Although, whenever people go hog wild on that one, I remind them that a large chunk of that is in the health care field, where an RN, an LPN, a PA, radiologist, various technical jobs, etc., all require a college degree of one kind or another, and most of them are considered "female" jobs. (Probably because they involve nurturing and icky stuff and are considered "subordinant" jobs.) Also, there are still a lot more blue-collar jobs that can pay well (plumbing, construction, electricians, factory work) that are still primarily male preserves. So I don't think women are actually pushing men out of slots in colleges, although I could be wrong.

Also, they complain that most young men are single, and deciding to stay that way. Well, people have been having fits about that since the dawn of time. The general assumption throughout history has been that women want to get married, and men don't, and have to be lured / tricked / seduced into it. See Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well", most 1950s rom-coms (especially the Doris Day/Rock Hudson ones), most Westerns (it's always the "real" men, like Shane or whoever John Wayne's playing, who are never married). Also innumerable movies and plays (Rosemary and Howard in "Picnic", Vida Sherwin in "Main Street", who marries the obviously gay man, because he's the only one who will have her) where women chase after even the least eligible bachelor and beg him to marry them. So since women need and want so desperately to get married, why don't they settle and take whatever they can get? Marriage will fix everything! Even that guy!

No, it won't.

And as for what men's roles actually are - our American ideas of what masculinity is and how it looks (how do I break this?) are not the historical or cultural norm.

"In the early 1940s, American society expected its men to adhere to specific characteristics that defined masculinity. In addition to courage and bravery, men strove to develop traits such as aggression, competition, stoicism, toughness, and independence in order to prove to others that they were truly masculine." (LINK)

For example, in China, for thousands of years the ideal man was a scholar (Chinese proverb: "Don't waste good iron for nails or good men for soldiers"). In Japan, in pre-Samurai days, a nobleman had keen cultural sensibilities and abilities (poet, perfumer, etc.), and this held true later when the warrior samurai came in. You might be able to kill with one blow of your sword, but you should also be able to write a damn good poem afterwards.

Think Cyrano de Bergerac (who actually existed). Also all those corseted, wigged, perfumed, high-heeled warriors of the world of Louis XIV, Frederick the Great of Prussia, the Napoleonic Wars, etc., and our own American Founding Fathers who read, wrote, thought, studied, and could kick some serious butt. Indeed, throughout almost all of history, in any culture, the hallmark of a true gentleman / nobleman / king was to be a scholar, AND a man of culture, AND a warrior.

Meanwhile, one of the screamingly obvious problems for young men today is loneliness.

Social circles have been shrinking for men and women, especially since the pandemic, but men struggle more. Thirty years ago, 55 percent of men reported having six or more close friends. By 2021, that share had slipped to 27 percent.

“Women form friendships with each other that are emotionally intimate, whereas men do not,” Levant said. Young women “may not be dating, but they have girlfriends they spend time with and gain emotional support from.”*

Aaron Karo and Matt Ritter, both in their early 40s, study the male “friendship recession” in their “Man of the Year” podcast. It arose out of an annual tradition of gathering at a steakhouse with several male friends, all close since elementary school.

“Guys are taught to prioritize career,” Karo said. “Also romantic relationships, although it doesn’t seem like they’re doing a very good job at that. Making friends and keeping friends seems to be a lower priority. And once guys get older, they suddenly realize they have no friends.”

The podcasters and their friends created the annual gathering as a way to keep their friendship alive. It spawned a year-round group chat and a “Man of the Year” trophy, awarded to the most deserving friend at the annual dinner.

“We treat friendship as a luxury, especially men,” Ritter said. “It’s a necessity.” (LINK)


Seriously, an historical reminder: throughout most of history, the primary love celebrated in letters and literature were friendships. Male friendships. Damon and Pythias. Montaigne and Etienne de la Boetie. Antonio and Bassanio (Merchant of Venice). Plato and Socrates. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Etc. Lord Nelson and Hardy. What happened to that?

Personally, I think the real problem with modern masculinity, and the lack of friendships, is (and has been for a long time) the American media: between war movies and Westerns, being "sensitive" in any way, enjoying the arts in any way, enjoying education and scholarship, having good friendships, etc. has been transformed into a form of a sign of weakness and/or homosexuality. (1956's "Tea and Sympathy" with Deborah Kerr sums it up beautifully.)

"What, are you gay or something?" is and has been for a very long time a major insult in the schoolyard, the streets, the prisons, and the family. And it works. It's a great way to turn a boy into a basement dwelling, introspective, mute computer drone with no idea of what comes next, and no idea of how to even try, because all the doors in their mind to friendship have been closed. When you're that lonely, that frightened, that isolated... bad things can happen.

It's not women and women's successes that are limiting men, it's other men, especially on social media, who tell boys and young men who / what they should be.  Whether it really is or not.

* I firmly believe that one of the reasons women live longer is that we generally have strong friendships in which we share our insecurities, health issues, laughter, etc.


  1. Very provocative post, Eve. It made me think of so many things that you didn't talk about, from front-facing male friendships (ie watching the game together) to online friendships to incels (a very different thing from single by choice) to the ancient Greek friendships that probably were gay (eg Damon and Pythias, Achilles and Patroclus). Also, wow, is Tea and Sympathy dated! I mean the acting style as well as the sentiments expressed. I could barely watch it. I find classic movies painful.

  2. Yes, "Tea and Sympathy" is very dated - but the message is the same as it is today. Young men should be tough, solo, and ready to **** anything that moves.
    In Ancient Greece, yes, male friendships often included gay sex, but later, a lot of it was sharing ideas, culture, etc., especially since women were kept uneducated until the last couple of hundred years, and most marriages were arranged. Intense same sex friendships (mostly nonsexual) were the norm among men and women, because they really didn't have anything else in common with their partners. It might have been lonely in the house, but their social world was pretty rich.

  3. Elizabeth Dearborn16 November, 2023 16:41

    Apparently, the Bible says something to the effect that everyone needs one or two close friends, & the rest of the people a person knows are just acquaintances. But don't ask me, I ain't no Biblical scholar. My BFF & I have been friends 62 years, since I was 10 & she was 12. She just called yesterday evening! Also Mr. Elizabeth & his BFF go back 28 years, since he was 36. Yeah he & I have a little age difference thing happening ... & recently my BFF's husband & mine have made friends & it's great. It is very difficult for him to meet potentially compatible people, as he is disabled. I only wish we lived closer.

  4. Eve, you are uniquely positioned to witness the fallout of socially and educationally dysfunctional males.

    BTW, a few days ago, the subject of male/female university students came up. I was astonished the ratio is 40% male and, making it worse, male students comprise the vast majority of dropouts in the 70-78% range. I'm not the first to note this, but it seems educated men are not considered sexy. Except us SleuthSayers, right? Right? Hello?

  5. A few things that I observed from teaching: a lot of young guys simply wouldn't do the work. They were there to party, hang out, deadlines were ridiculous, and they expected a constant pass. Re educated men are not considered sexy, I think - and I'm gonna be racist here - a large group of young white men have been trained to think education isn't sexy. Because most of the guys who flunked out in my day were young white men. And someone has to start retraining these guys.

  6. Also, look at what's happening in Congress these days. Fight, fight, fight!

  7. I think it is a wonderful blog post and your thoughts are right on. I think educated men can be very sexy. After all, I have a bachelors and a Master degree, plenty of male friends and a life long interest in the arts especially drawing and sculpture And we have been happily married for 45 years. I have written letters to my male cousins, but it is only the women who write BACK.


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