Several years ago, the British feminist Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman, was on Zoom for International Women’s Day. One of her Gen Z daughters had drafted her to speak about feminism with several classmates, in the hopes that male friends might learn something – but the boys were not playing along. “Women are winning, and boys are losing,” she recounts them saying, on a call with The Globe and Mail. “We’re always talking about women; we’re never talking about men. Feminism has gone too far.” They were angry.
Moran had been asked about the state of the modern male at public talks for years, but at that moment her journalistic spider senses well and truly went up. “Angry people are usually scared people,” she says. “Anger is just fear brought to the boil.” Moran promptly scrapped the book she was working on, and dedicated herself to answering a single question, now the title of her new book, What About Men? Here, the U.K. broadcaster and bestselling author shares the answers she’s found.
In the book, you quote a conversation with a friend that stood out, about the way “liberal, Guardian-reading nice people” talk about men. Statements like, “This is classic straight, white male behaviour.” You point out that raising young men with the idea that straight, white men are awful might be driving them to seek out any role model online that at least celebrates maleness. You write, “There should be no shame in being a man. Being made to feel shame for how you are born is something every other progressive movement is trying to remove.” Can you unpack that?
Women are very good at identifying and talking about the toxic ideas of patriarchy and male behaviour. But I think it’s still presumed widely – by women and men – that all men are part of the patriarchy. And that all men are winning because of the patriarchy.
Most men aren’t. Most men are disadvantaged by these old roles that we’ve given to each other, particularly in the world now where most families have two working parents, and women have sexual and political equality. Yet, there’s still this idea of, “We need to go back to how men were 50 or 100 years ago. That’s how men would feel happy again.” Which I think is, provably, not the case.
Men don’t need power over women again. They need empowerment. They need to learn how to adapt to the new job market. They need to learn how to thrive in academia. They need to learn how to have equal relationships. They need to learn how to be an equally important parent in their child’s lives, and have time to spend with them. They need to prioritize their health. They need to not be lonely.
You make an interesting point in the book about incels – how the phenomenon is not just about sex, but a need for connection, which, in our society, many men find through relationships with women.
If incels can’t get a girlfriend, that not only means they don’t have a sexual partner and a romantic partner, but they also have half of their emotions cut off from them. They can’t access their vulnerability; they can’t access their anxiety. If you do not have a female partner, your friends will not offer that to you.
I’ve been doing the live tour in the U.K. and talking about male friendship. And realizing that when men do see each other, they often don’t talk to each other about what’s going on in their lives. Whenever I do the readings live, men are just crying, laughing, going, “I recognize myself.”
Men are realizing that friendship is a verb. Women are really good at doing friendship. We will schedule regular meetups with our girls. Men don’t tend to schedule that stuff. I was talking to a fairly well-known singer-songwriter pop star about this after I did a live event. He was going, “After I read that chapter, I realized I don’t see my male friends. So, I called my friends and was like, ‘We should meet up.’ And they all sort of went, ‘Why?’ ” I found that quite heartbreaking.
Why is there so much pushback on the idea that men have problems – essentially, that they are human beings?
It’s really weird. I think part of it is that there’s a fear – which I totally understand – on behalf of women in the feminism movement. Like, “Oh God, no, let’s not lose the ground that we’ve had.” This has been an amazing 10 years for feminism. It’s been so mainstream. We don’t suddenly want everyone to go, “Now, for the next 10 years, it’s all about men.”
I understand that fear. To which I would say: Most women will tell you that 50 per cent of their problems are men. It is abusive men. It’s emotionally shut down men. It’s men who are suffering. It’s men that are ill. It’s men that assault them. So, you can’t fix the girls until you fix the boys. Even if every woman on the earth was some brilliant, liberated feminist who was living their best life, if the men don’t also want that for them, and support that in them, and love them for that, we still won’t have progress.
Then, from a lot of men that I’ve seen pushing back … it’s, “I don’t need a book telling me that I’m upset. I’m fine. I don’t need some woman saying I’m in crisis.” It’s like, well, the stats are there. The suicide statistics alone. If the leading cause of death for men under the age of 50 is suicide, that’s a problem.
There’s been a shift in the masculinity conversation recently, with Of Boys and Men by Richard V. Reeves and a landmark essay from Christine Emba at The Washington Post, that makes it clear that we don’t have a model for positive masculinity. What do you most admire about men?
In the U.K., there’s been a massive sea change with our football stars. There’s been this new cohort who are very socially connected, very politically connected, very activist. Dele Alli – a Black, working-class footballer – bravely talked about the sexual abuse he’d suffered as a child. That was an incredibly generous act, because it’s finally allowed a group of men who find it particularly difficult to talk about childhood sexual abuse, to be able to start those conversations. So, when we talk about men being brave, it’s brave to go and shoot a bear – but it is also brave to talk about awful things that happened to you in your childhood, and how that’s affected you, and how you’ve overcome it. Adapting the use of the word “brave” to encompass different ways of being brave is a really beautiful way of inventing new kinds of men. I think we’ve been very good at inventing new kinds of women – and we need a similar sense of expanding the lexicon for men.
The thing that I’m really trying to point out in the book is that you actually need a men’s movement. We need a name for it. We don’t have that. Instead, you’ve got people on the right, or the odd self-help book. It needs to be a bigger, connected movement with stated aims, or we won’t get anywhere.
This interview has been edited and condensed.