Maya and Lori on the “Beached White Male”: Newsweek spews steam out of its blowhole


Newsweek published an article this week about the plight of the “Beached White Male.” It asks, “Can manhood survive the depression?”

What a question! We decided to tackle that one together.

Maya: First of all, let’s be clear who we’re talking about here. This article is specifically discussing college-educated white men ages 35 to 64. Among this group, unemployment has more than doubled since the recession began and is now at over 5%. That’s 600,000 “beached white males.”

Lori: And as the authors of this article go out of their way to point out, men in this “kill zone” have lost jobs faster than any other group, including teenage girls. Did you hear that Maya? Even the silly young girlie girls are beating this poor group of real, deserving, older white dudes.

Maya: David Sirota explains in less biased detail how white men are actually doing compared to everyone else,

For example, the Huffington Post recently reported that while the March jobless rate for white workers dropped below the overall national average to 7.9 percent, the unemployment rate among black workers increased from 15.3 to 15.5 percent. In case you think that’s some momentary product of recessionary economics, remember the recent Center for American Progress report showing that “the employment rates of African-American men remained stagnant even during the economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s.” It’s also not a product of education levels — as the New York Times recently noted that, among college graduates, the white unemployment rate has been roughly half that of the black unemployment rate.

Lori: Sure, black men, women, and a whole host of other demographics are suffering during this recession. But hey. We should probably cut the authors of this article some slack. I mean “Beached white, black, and racially diverse men, women, and a lotta other people” somehow isn’t nearly as catchy or provocative as just “Beached white males.” And it probably wouldn’t cause much of an internet ruckus, which is what these authors must have been going for. Right?!

Maya: Right. Because otherwise I can’t see why we should  care about the BWMs more than all the other people affected by the bad economy? Oh, well apparently the authors have an explanation for that, too. Let’s see…

“It might be tempting to snark at the former fat cats suffering lean times. But when Beached White Males suffer, so do their wives and children. Live, marriages, and future are at stake. Examining who these guys are, and what washed them up, is not an exercise in schadenfreude. It’s a cautionary tale.”

Hmm. Because only white men have families that rely on them. Seriously, how the fuck is this presented as a unique dynamic? When mothers and fathers of any race or ethnicity suffer, their spouses and/or children do too. When single black mothers who are the sole providers for their families are laid off, I’m pretty sure lives are at stake too.

Lori: Perhaps the only thing more important than Nuclear White Families and their material well-being is- you guessed it- SEX!! Can’t forget the sex. Seriously, it is one of the MOST important things for BWM’s to protect, preserve, and maintain at all costs. Why? Because the BWM’s are in middle age, and the all-knowing authors of this article know what that means:

“The wife who doesn’t look at you quite the same way…The stain on your masculinity for becoming the bread-loser…The night sweats and dark refuge of Internet porn.”

Maya: The issue of sex and anxiety begs the question: If “beached white males” don’t actually make sense as a concept or a trend, then what’s the real meaning of this article? I think it can be found in the revealing last line of the paragraph I quote above: it’s meant to be a cautionary tale. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale for the white men reading Newsweek. And there’s nothing the media likes more than provoking anxiety in its audience. When it could be their lives and marriages and futures at stake, it suddenly becomes more important. As David Sirota says, “A white male dominated elite media is, by virtue of its complexion and its largely white audience, overly responsive to fear-mongering about white males being under attack — no matter how substance-free the fear-mongering may be.”

“Two coasts. Two men who can’t find jobs. One defining moment for the men in the gray flannel suits who used to run this country. Or at least manage it.”

Used to? Really? Who’s “running this country” now? This seems to imply that the (white) men in suits have been pushed out and replaced by other folks—for example, white women or black men or (god forbid!) black women. But we’re talking about men who were laid off because of the recession. It’s still white men in suits who dominate in this economy—there are just fewer of them now.

To me, this really seems like a coded reference to President Obama—an attempt to provoke racial insecurity in folks who think that having a black President means white privilege has been replaced by oppression. You used to run this country. But no more because look who is in the White House! And you thought you could, at least, continue managing it? Think again–as your peers are laid off one by one. A cautionary tale indeed.

Lori: Newsweek, your privilege is showing. Instead of “Beached White Males”, BWM might as well stand for “Bring Whitey Money” or “Blacks Working Mysteriously”. Except they don’t work mysteriously. They work hard, like everyone else in this country, and to single out privileged white guys as the only ones deserving of economic reward and stability is so blubbering and short-sighted that I’m tempted to believe the authors of the article are whales themselves.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • nazza

    How is this journalism?

  • Franzia Kafka

    Your photo on this article made me lol.

    • Lori

      LoL. Glad to hear it. We were definitely giggling a lot when we chose that one.

  • dark_morgaine_le_fey

    I would say I’m astonished at the constant hand-wringing over the state of white privilege, but we’ve seen for decades, even centuries, that any group which used to have exclusive power always feels threatened when they suddenly have to compete with marginalized people. This doesn’t decrease my disgust, however. The powers that be in the U.S., be they politicians or the fourth estate, can’t seem to keep up with the changes of society, or recognize that what they’re seeing is not anything new, just attention drawn to issues that used to be swept under the rug. That invisible divider of class, which permeates the debate around race, education and career fields, continues to raise its head, but we U.S. Americans don’t like to admit that class exists, and put our faith in the Protestant work ethic, which cannot sustain us in the current world structure. White collar, college educated white men in the given age bracket are struggling now, in a way most have never experienced on such a large scale. They feel threatened, and it’s easy to pit the blame on other groups they see as usurping them, the young, white women, POCs of all genders, relying on out-dated arguments like the fictitious view of the 1950’s white collar white skinned male breadwinner. Of course, in the fifties, wages increased at the same rate as inflation, and it was more possible to live on a single white-collar paycheck. That hasn’t been the case for decades now, making it impossible for many families to continue with just one breadwinner. I don’t know where they get the idea that women still expect men to provide for them, the majority of women work outside the home nowadays, and it makes sense that many of them would have already been making a higher wage than their spouses (of course they stick to the implied hetero- and cis-normative structure of the family in the article). The line of thought which says men must do all the financial earning for the household puts undo stress on the man and makes the woman look tremendously shallow.

    As progressives, we can only continue educating people that while we are ALL facing set-backs and hardships right now, we can all come through it together, if we don’t take refuge in our preconceived notions and attack each other rather than the problem at hand.

  • Danielle

    Seeing and hearing about articles like this feels like assault to me. My heart literally clenches and I feel pain. Its not as if I don’t know the stories and struggles of people of color and women don’t get erased quite often, but it seems the media has been hellbent on really doing it lately. This little piece is funny and it made me laugh but then at the same time its like, what the fuck?

  • Mary Ryan

    In the accompanying poll titled “Sorry, He’s Toast,” it lists as 58% the number of BWM who have not accepted a job because they considered it “beneath them.” The fragile male ego never ceases to amaze…..

  • Zaskoda

    I was laid off during the downturn almost a year ago and have not yet found full time employment.

    I have worked on oil rigs as a roughneck. This kind of work is sometimes deadly and frequently involves injuries that permanently remove part of the body – usually fingers and often toes, sometimes a hand or arm. The work pays really well. For some reason, I don’t run into women on oil rigs??? I do run into a whole lot of minorities, however.

    I have been homeless. When I was a child (80s) and my father lost everything in a previous economic down turn. I remember how uncomfortable it was to sleep in the car at night. He’s still spiteful about how he was turned away from charities and other organizations when he was trying to find help feeding his family.

    I earned a BS in comp sci and these days I write code and build databases. I worked through college and paid for my entire education myself. I waited tables, worked on farms and ranches, and did technical support at the local ISP. Meanwhile, I often took over 20 credit hours per semester.

    There might be white males at the top, but there are while males at the bottom and all in between. When you celebrate the demise of white males, you insult those of us who’ve worked very hard to build lives for ourselves. It’s idiotic, akin to classifying all minorities as perpetrators of crime because those responsible for crime are seemingly mostly minorities.

    To be completely and utterly honest, I feel my white privilege often. More often than not, with law enforcement. I can sense it and I hate it. However, near as my personal experience and my study of changing statistics has shown me, male privilege in the US is all but a perpetuated myth.

    As for “fragile male ego”… Please, have a nice long walk in my shoes… don’t worry, you won’t get bored, there’s a lot of heavy stuff to carry along the way.