The Death of Macho

As if David Zincenko’s USA Today op-ed heralding “The Great He-cession,” wasn’t enough, now we’ve got Reihan Salam claiming “The Death of Macho” in Foreign Policy. Salam’s argument, thank goodness, is a bit more sophisticated than Zincenko’s–essentially he’s arguing that the fall of the financial sector, loss of jobs, and psychological frailty of unmarried men (I’m not kidding), is going to lead to the end of macho culture. He uses lots of international examples–from China to Russia to Western Europe to prove his point. Men, he goes on, will have two choices when confronting this new reality–adapt or resist. Resistance could possibly be “very violent.” Geez.
Claiming that sexism is over just because we’re finally paying attention to these issues is like claiming that racism is over just because Barack Obama is president. Sexism has way deeper roots than Zincenko or Salam realize.
I don’t think anyone can herald the “death of macho,” or that men are an “endangered species” (Zincenko), until things actually change. Women still aren’t making equal pay for equal work and still are disproportionately targeted with subprime mortgages. As Dana Goldstein reports in “Pink Collar Blues,” sixty percent of impoverished children are living in female-headed households. The poverty rate is still higher among women than it is among men of any race. One out of six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
As I wrote in my column last week, this sort of men vs. women thinking is all a bunch of unproductive nonsense. Why does it have to be a man’s world OR a woman’s world? Why can’t it be both. This either/or thinking doesn’t acknowledge our interdependence. It just makes for shocking headlines.
And what about all these frickin’ gender essentialisms being thrown around nilly willy? Amanda Fortini of Broadsheet puts it well:

If the recent mistakes of certain men at the highest levels of finance and government have altered our beliefs and opened our minds toward the possibility of more women in power, that’s progress. But to conclude that the mistakes of a handful of men say anything conclusive about the entire gender is wrongheaded. And as for Salaam’s assumption that women aren’t aggressive or daring, well there’s only one word for it, isn’t there? Macho.

I’m taping a segment of CNN This Morning on the topic today. Will let everyone know when it’s going to air…

Join the Conversation

  • norbizness

    Macho officially died with the recent passing of Ricardo Montalban (13-time winner of the SNL game show ¿Quien es Mas Macho?)

  • Athenia

    That article would be awesome if it wasn’t so alarmist.
    I loved how he renamed “general economic policies” as “pro-male policies.”
    However, I wish he would have focused on solutions rather than problems—institutions don’t have disappear, they just need to *change.*
    He needed to emphaize that our cultures of household “breadwinners” aren’t a sustainable formula. It may have worked in the past, but it’s just not sustainable.
    It’s not a male vs. female war, it’s a what-the-hell-works war.

  • TD

    Why does it have to be a man’s world OR a woman’s world? Why can’t it be both. This either/or thinking doesn’t acknowledge our interdependence.
    The National Organization of Women certainly seems to think it is. They launched an outright assault on the idea of revitalizing the economy through spending in the hardest hit sectors, because they felt that too many men would be employed. It wasn’t relevant to them that more men had been laid off or that the sectors most conducive to rapid job creation were male dominated, or that spending money in NOW’s proposed sectors will only cause inflation and fail to deliver a recovery in a short time frame.
    That wasn’t relevant. Their attitude was one of collective guilt, that because a group of bankers were primarily men, that men who had nothing to do with it had to suffer.

  • spike the cat

    What’s the name of the campaign that they launched, just out of curiosity?
    I did see mention of redirecting defense spending money and some townhall meetings to discuss the economic crisis with a focus on with a focus on pay equity and childcare and foodstamps, where I can see they could have used more exclusive language since there are also plenty of single fathers with kids falling into poverty. There were also some press releases on the economy as well…
    But I doubt that’s the assault you are talking about? I just want to check it out for myself, from their website. Do you have the link to it on their website? I’ve poked around going back about 6 months…

  • Stephen A

    As a psychologically frail unmarried man, I for one welcome the death of macho culture. It doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon, though, unfortunately.

  • TD

    I’m not sure of their campaign name, however
    Summary by NOW of their participation:
    The stimulus program must invest in jobs that women traditionally fill, jobs that will support the people who make up our communities and determine our future, such as teachers, teachers’ aides, home health workers, social workers, child care workers, and many more.
    Despite the fact that many of these jobs have not suffered from problems, healthcare for example has added jobs while fields such as nursing face shortages not layoffs, and teachers have historically one of the most stable jobs in the economy.

  • kmitch

    I think what´s really absurd about all of these types of articles is the idea that “men” as a category are in danger. I think it´s important to point out that there are plenty of people that society would recognize as “men” who do not identify with MANY of the characteristics of masculinity that at least Zincenko´s article seem to assert are trademarks of manhood and that are disappearing. If the difference between woman-identified people and man-identified people is shrinking and it´s therefore becoming more acceptable for people to express their gender how they want to rather than how others expect them to, I think that´s liberating for everyone, including the “machos”…

  • Alex Catgirl

    Reihan Salam is a cartoon characterture of a right wing commentator, so I’ll be a cartoon too!
    Salam – We have no precedent for a world after the death of macho. But we can expect the transition to be wrenching, uneven, and possibly very violent.
    Catgirl- Bring ‘em on! *rattles mace*

  • jason_

    On the one hand, given the international scope of the statistics and trends he compiles, Salam is highlighting a real problem that has distinctive gender dynamics. Not least to protect the immigrants, Jews, Muslims, and other minorities as well as the women vulnerable to unstable, unemployed young men’s violence and harassment and sometime-fascist politics, we should be thinking about their experience and how to respond creatively. (That isn’t to deny that some women contribute to such oppression, of course–and their experience should be studied as well.) Such a commitment does not have to entail opposition to women’s advancement or any denial whatsoever of the discrimination, hostility, and inequality women continue to face. In fact, just as denying the gender-oriented problems of women in favor of a facile universalism conceals institutionalized sexist patterns, so too envisioning gender equality requires examining the psychology and sociology of male sexism.
    On the other hand, I agree with Fortini’s piece that Salam is guilty of some essentialism here. And as Martin recognizes, focus on gender-specific problems can serve to obscure the ways women’s advancement can often benefit men and vice versa–the reality of interdependence that sounds less provocative than narratives of gender conflict.
    Finally, it should be said that nowhere does Salam come close to claiming that sexism has ended. Indeed, he speculates that to some degree, it will be an obstacle to equality and economic growth for the whole of the twenty-first century. Indeed, one has to hope he is being too pessimistic here.

  • sass787

    The sexual assualt rate for women is always mentioned but what is the sexual assualt rate for men?