Issue 237 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
'The boom economy has profited only the top third of society' Susan Faludi: men and work
We're moving further and further from the kind of work that comes from serving society to work that's just about generating more consumer appetites and exploiting people's anxieties by offering a consumer substitute for real work.
This is terribly debilitating for both men and women. A basic human need is to feel that what you do is necessary and essential to other people, and that you're contributing something meaningful. But it is a double whammy for men, because traditionally men were defined through what they were doing in the public world. So it's not only demeaning, it's also emasculating.
We're told over and over again this is an exciting moment of the information age. In America the so called boom economy is based more on stocks, speculation and money manipulation than it is on creating a product that people need or contributing in some meaningful way. It's a boom economy that has profited only the top economic third of society at the expense of breaking up unions and destroying work environments built on loyalty and reciprocity. It's a boom economy built on the backs of an outsourced, downsized, minimum wage, benefitless workforce.
The enterprise culture where everyone has to achieve on his or her own is also part of the masculinity crisis. We shift from a society in which you define yourself through a larger social purpose to defining yourself as a kind of stand-alone winner. Winners are proven by abstract ratings: how many people are looking at you, how well known you are, how many possessions you have, how much you made on the stock market, how many times your face appears on a magazine.
What the future holds depends on all of us--whether we wake up and confront what's going on, or we buy into the seductive siren song of a commercial culture that says all your problems will be solved if you buy more and buy into it more. I do see signs that people are beginning to question these values. One sign in America is the massive demonstration in Seattle in protest over the World Trade Organisation. It was a very broad coalition of demonstrators from industrial unions, steel workers, to environmental groups, to more traditional activist groups, to women's groups. So that seems like a possible counter-model. It's homegrown, it's not a media-generated or corporate-sponsored activity, it's something that comes out of people's genuine spirit. In France the farmers' protest against McDonald's is another glimmer of the possibility of mounting a genuine challenge to the consumer juggernaut.
The one bright spot that I kept coming back to in an otherwise rather grim picture of what's happened to men in the last 50 years is that the younger generations of adult men tend to be, with some glaring exceptions, more openly caring, involved fathers. They feel free to be more caring than their fathers ever did, and more equal and tender partners. That's in large measure due to the efforts of the women's movement, which really championed those roles for men. With the men I talked to, the one happy experience they would point to was a better relationship with their children than they had with their own fathers. The problem is that the larger culture gives scant validation to men who are decent, honourable fathers or husbands and it demands a hyperinflated, individualistic, domineering vision of manhood. So we go back to the question of how men can figure out how to define their manhood outside of the dictates of a larger, crushing, overwhelming commercial culture that seems to surround them wherever they look.Weyman Bennett: racism