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 a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

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

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