When Gary Gilbert lost his job, it was terrible. A merchant, he only joined his employer's company because he thought it provided a little more security than the endless pursuit of the next gig as a freelance cameraman, and that he could then secure a better future for his son. The dismissal happened without warning. “I was crushed,” he recalled. 'Oh my God. I cried at night because of this.
Although the dismissal dashed his hopes and, in Gary's opinion, was unreasonable, he refused to blame his employer. “There was no reason for me to accept this job,” he explained. “You know, I thought I was going to create a more stable environment. And I was wrong, you know, but it--it was my fault. I shouldn't have done this. I should never have let my guard down. I never had to put my livelihood into anyone's hands. It was the biggest mistake I have ever made."
Gary's response is not unusual; recent research shows that Americans are more likely to blame themselves for job insecurity, even if it is the result of structural changes in the economy. I interviewed 80 people up and down the corporate ladder and with varying backgrounds in precarious work. I have found that we do a lot to keep our strong feelings away from the employer - we shrug our shoulders in resignation, we talk about layoffs as new opportunities for growth, we even convince ourselves that we are glad not to continue working there in any case. case. Most of all we blame ourselves. And while this accusation can be corrosive for both men and women, there is something unique about the scars left on men, who often see work as the ultimate measure of masculinity.
For working-class men, this is something of a crisis. There is a lot of critique of the moral character of working-class men, usually considered uneducated, and much of it revolves around work, reflecting some underlying anxiety about who shirks and who gets it. We know that they watch more TV and care less about their children than working-class women, and are less likely than wealthier men to work overtime. Working-class men themselves consider "industriousness" to be one of the qualities they value most; for working-class white men marching in the American talk radio reserve army, hard work is highly valued and deeply respected. This forms the basis of their resentment of those who, when speaking on the radio, like to say: refuse to work. (For their part, black men value work, but also speak of collective solidarity.) Beneath the moral language of both sides is the notion of working as an arbiter of honor in the US.
However, the US job landscape has radically reconfigured who does what and for what benefit. Compared to decades ago, there is a much higher proportion of women and people of color in the labor force: about 47 percent of workers today are women, compared with 38 percent in 1970, while 36 percent of non-white workers are almost twice as many as in 1980. Meanwhile, the proportion of men working full-time has fallen from 80 percent 45 years ago to just 66 percent. The jobs that men have are also becoming increasingly insecure, first due to the changing types of work in the economy, and since 1996, probably due to the spread of layoffs as a managerial tactic.
At that time, work might still be a moral measure, but the distribution of work is becoming more and more unequal: some people work too much and many too little, and both are trapped in conditions not entirely of their own making. For the men at the top, work takes up an increasing portion of the 24-hour day, while those at the bottom, like Gary, can face despair, hopelessness, and even, as recently reported, reduced life expectancy. And the changed attitude of men to work has an impact on their changed relationship at home. asculinity has long been spelled out in relation to men at work and, despite the birth of feminism, included fatherhood and "loafing", today this is even more true. In 1979, there was a certain rationality in the relationship between income and working hours: the more you earned, the less you worked. The bottom 20% of workers were more likely than the top 20% to work long hours. By 2006, this relationship had changed. Now, the more money men make, the more likely they are to spend what is often referred to as "killer hours." What is behind the reverse? Why do rich men work longer?
Scientists argue about the reasons. Some refer to the "long hours allowance" earned by men in the professional managerial class, that is, the extra money that
Some of them are paid for near-constant availability and work, while others point to wage differentials within occupations as an incentive to work longer hours (men want to earn). more than the guy in the next booth), while still others attribute the trend to concerns about job insecurity that intensified in the 1980s and 90s among white-collar workers.
But these arguments miss the emotional resonance of the work, its profound ability to tell us something about ourselves. For men, it signals a form of noble masculinity, expressed in the moral code of "commitment to work," requiring an enormous investment of time and emotional commitment to a career or employer.
People from the professional management class are the big winners in this job transformation. To them, "insecurity" may look like "flexibility" as they jump from company to company in search of the best match for their skills. Highly educated workers are less likely than workers or low-level service workers to suffer job losses, and when they do, they lose less in wages.
However, it should be remembered that even at the top, choices can often be oddly limited: for most men, their only “choice” is either to work hard or get off the train. This all-or-nothing scenario has dramatic consequences for men, women, and families, preventing many men from becoming the fathers they want to be, detracting from the promising careers of many women who resist extreme schedules, and for straight couples, creating families that could explode. due to a mismatch of goals and capabilities, or to meet more traditional norms than the couple ever planned.
The transformation of work may have sped up the treadmill for professional men, but it has thrown other men completely off the track. Over the past 50 years, the number of men working full-time has fallen from 83 percent to 66 percent; between the 1970s and 90s, the proportion of jobs lost by working men in their prime nearly doubled. The change was even more dramatic for black men, in part because a disproportionate number of them in the US were employed in a shrinking manufacturing sector, not to mention the disproportionate impact of incarceration policies.
For those men who work, wages have stagnated, and the purchasing power of the average hourly wage peaked over 40 years ago in 1973. percent of private sector workers. Today, there are one and a half times more "contingent workers" than there are union members in the United States.
What does it mean to appreciate something—to understand it as the primary measure of what it means to live a fulfilling life—when there is less and less of it? How do men come to terms with the possibility of their own failure, especially middle-educated men who are more than three times as unemployed as college graduates? If work is what it means to be a man, what will you do when work is gone?
Abandoned by both his employer and his wife, Gary directs his anger at just one of them.
One option is to get angry. When I interviewed laid-off men for my recent book on job insecurity, their anger or, more often, wry bitterness, was impossible to forget. By and large, like Gary, the fired salesman, they weren't mad at their employers. However, at home they sounded different. “I have a very strong opinion about relationships and how women deal with them,” Gary told me quite bluntly. "It's something I've seen consistently throughout my life." Of his third serious relationship, Gary spoke of "the pain caused to me by the lack of commitment from other people", and complained that "marriage can be thrown away like a can of Pepsi." In a wind of uncertainty, Gary's anger at women keeps him grounded.
Most Americans can expect very little from their employers—as one layoff survivor told me, “I would say just a paycheck and a certain amount of respect.” They may shrug that job insecurity is the inevitable cost of doing business in a globalized economy (although some economists have found that layoffs usually end up hurting companies rather than boosting stock prices or productivity). At home, however, working-class men expect more from their intimate partners, and a fragile longing turns these expectations into betrayal if they are not met. Abandoned by both his employer and his wife, Gary directs his anger at just one of them.
However, it is wrong to understand this anger simply as the indignation of a dethroned king who has lost his prerogative. Working class men like Gary dream of a time when they were entitled to female loyalty, respect and
caring labor, and when, in their opinion, they earned this right by virtue of the hard work that they themselves contributed. The transformation of the job made it impossible for them to contribute their share of this deal, which certainly brought them benefits, but also required many years of their back-breaking work. It is this moral tale that allows them to consider themselves offended and gives such strength to their anxiety about these mythical emblems of the right: able-bodied people who refuse to work. What they want, they argue, is the opportunity to work hard to take their rightful place, to become a hero of the working class.
Perhaps a more powerful response to job transformation is to change what is considered worthy of masculinity. Some of the men I spoke to seemed to be seeking some form of "independence." They owed their employers as little as they owed them - which, they claimed, was not much - and at home they cultivated caution and freedom, even when their feelings were strong.
Stanley, an actor who had been fired from several day jobs, was in the process of divorcing. Lifting up the general image of "working on marriage," he said we need to redefine the term. “Because work is changing,” he said. “The job might be to let go. This is right. So yes, it's all work. Because I think hiding it or denying it won't work either." Independence drove men out of the home, but although they sometimes celebrated it as liberation, their stories often echoed with loneliness.
Others try to change masculinity not by reducing commitment, but by redirecting it towards home. Clark had been repeatedly fired and now struggled to earn enough money by working part-time in retail and playing in a band on the weekends. He talked a lot about how he raised his daughter - he cooked her homemade food, met her on the bus, warned her about social networks. "I wanted her to have a safe life where she knew someone was there for her," he said.
Precisely because active fatherhood is not a choice, but part of a noble soul, it becomes an alternative to heroic masculinity.
The news is full of stories of involved fathers doing it differently than their own distant fathers. To be sure, there are still about 100 times more housewives than stay-at-home fathers, and although fathers who live with their children have doubled their childcare time, they spend fewer hours with children than mothers; meanwhile, the percentage of non-resident fathers has increased dramatically since 1960, and more than a third of children now live without fathers. However, many men today find purpose and meaning in intimate relationships with their children.
When I spoke to men who were active caregivers, they often lashed out at the well-intentioned but clumsy comments of others that exclaimed their exceptional selflessness; as Owen described them: "Well-meaning people make comments like, 'Oh my gosh. Most men would have left." Yadda yadda yadda. And it pissed me off so much… I used to resent it.” To characterize what they do as a commendable choice is irritating because it implies that they may not have come close to fulfilling this recast masculine duty. It is precisely that this is not a choice, but part of their good character, their noble soul, that makes active fatherhood an alternative to heroic masculinity.
However, most working-class men like Gary are trapped in a changing economy and uncompromising masculinity. Faced with changes that reduce choices for less educated men, they have essentially three options, none of which are likely. They may receive more education than was prepared by their marital status or success in school. They can find low-paying jobs in a booming sector, jobs that are often considered women's work, such as a certified nurse's assistant or a retail cashier. Or they may take on more housework at home, allowing their partners to take on more work to provide for the household. It is the "choice" that causes them to either be class pioneers or gender rebels in their quest for enduring heroism; although both are commendable, we can hardly expect them from most men,
What does it take to turn the anger of desperate men into violence? The grief and antagonism that erupts after every school shooting is either due to the prevailing gun culture or mental health issues, but masculinity is certainly an integral component. Research has shown that the roots of these bouts of violence lie in a toxic relationship between “masculinity threat”—a man’s individual perception that he cannot live up to the ideals of dominant masculinity—and cultural betrayal, a sense that
men owe something. they no longer receive.
Meanwhile, the code of dedication is nothing more than a stroke of luck for employers, part of the moral glue that keeps us all indebted to work. But if there is a love affair with work, it is mostly unrequited. Employers have retreated from the old norms of reciprocity, while wealthy men work tirelessly to prove their mettle and less well-to-do men languish in despair. Can we answer somehow?
Masculinity has long included social norms that are widely understood and supported, but only a few can live up to.
It is worth noting that performance unreliability is not inevitable; policies that encourage long-term employment exist in other countries (and in some states). They are of three types. The former rewards employers who want to offer stable work with ideas like "short-term compensation" or using unemployment insurance to ensure co-ops instead of layoffs. Second, employer-employee relationships are being strengthened, including incentives for on-the-job training or improved accountability that holds employers accountable even for subcontracting or outsourcing. The third makes it easier for workers to do their jobs well, such as paid parental leave or measures to improve an unpredictable schedule.
But there is reason to be skeptical about any policy that is not in line with one that strengthens the Labor voice, which is now rather muted in the US. Other richer countries with higher union densities are taking steps to ensure both employer flexibility and worker safety through income support and retraining. In the US, better enforcement of labor law provisions that protect the right to associate will allow workers to slow or prevent layoffs or determine how they happen. However, a more subtle result is just as important: some scholars believe that, just as the black church appears to be doing for black men, labor unions could remind more white working-class men to appreciate more than just "heavy labor”, but also solidarity and other benefits. values.
While we can address the distribution and nature of labor, it is less clear whether we can dislodge its moral monopoly. Given the radical economic shifts, perhaps more men will redefine the concept of "noble" so that dominant masculinity will reflect other traits and qualities, perhaps even the contribution that more of them can reliably make. However, we should not underestimate a key attribute of masculinity: it has long included social norms that are widely understood and supported, but few can live up to. Given this history, we cannot assume that the growing scarcity of decent work will weaken its grip on honor or lead to a reworking of masculinity. This will require another seismic shift, this time in the cultural landscape.