Populist politicians, men’s rights activists, and s–t-stirring columnists are falling over themselves to find a group, any group, to blame for the loss of the days when white men’s identities were fixed and they were guaranteed secure and well-paid jobs for life.
Trump blames the Mexicans. Hanson, having tired of putting the boot into Asians, is pointing her finger at Muslims. Meanwhile, UK conservative MP David Willets infamously blamed feminism for encouraging housewives to take men’s jobs.
But it wasn’t Mexicans who shut down factories in America’s rust belts and shipped the jobs offshore. And it wasn’t Asian Australians or Muslims or women who sat around in boardrooms deciding to shut down our car industry or automate the check-out at the supermarkets.
These decisions were made predominantly by men. Mainly, white men.
Replacing manual labour with new technology? That was white men too.
White men are so keen on eroding the collective power of working class men in Australia that we just had a bizarre double dissolution over union legislation.
In short, the story of the political, economic and cultural disenfranchisement of men begins and ends with men. Mainly, one group of powerful, mostly white, men screwing over another group of less powerful men — and then looking around for someone else to blame for it.
It’s not as if anything here is new.
In her 1999 book Stiffed, journalist and writer Susan Faludi documented how globalisation and automation had gutted the traditional cultural and economic roles of men in the US.
She talks to IBM male engineers laid off for the first time in Big Blue’s history and sporting fans whose teams had been uprooted from local communities and reconstructed as corporate franchise opportunities.
More recently, in 2012, Hanna Rosin documented a similar story of masculinity emptied out by contemporary capitalism. In The End of Men, she talks to men who are unable to reinvent themselves and adapt to the changing conditions of capitalism and globalisation.
Rosin’s interviewees are addicted to an unchanging and rigid model of masculinity grounded in manual labour and pining for a past that evaporated a long time ago and isn’t coming back.
Women, meanwhile, are picking up the pieces, getting retrained and reinventing themselves for different roles more suited to the wild and changing winds of contemporary capitalism.
Women typically have dramatic changes of roles and identity throughout their lives, from the workforce to the maternity ward and back again. In some ways, women have always been better at adapting.
Throughout history women have had to transform themselves from domestic servants to filling male labour shortages during wartime to then being kicked out of the workforce and sent back into domestic servitude when the men returned. And in many cases, they have done this for lower wages and fewer industrial protections than male workers.
While women have embraced gender role flexibility, many men are still reluctant to do so. They do a tiny faction more domestic work than their fathers, and dads who take the role of primary carers are still the exception rather than the rule.
Few men are willing to even entertain the idea of pursuing employment in growth industries such as service and caring professions because they consider them to be too feminine. But if they did, it’s likely they’d still enjoy the privileges of being a man.
When men join professions that are considered “women’s work”, such as teaching and nursing, their male privilege often enables them to not only raise the wages and status of the profession but they also manage to squeeze women out. Computer programming is a perfect example of a job that was once considered women’s worknow being dominated by men.
We need to move away from talking about power and profit as a zero sum game. A woman on a company board is not taking the job of a man, she is creating more jobs for men (and women) because companies with female board members are more profitable than those without.
And contrary to populist rhetoric, immigrant workers do not take local jobs or lower wages. Immigrants grow the market, create employment by starting their own businesses and are prepared to adapt and do jobs that locals are not willing to do.
There is no doubt that the loss of secure blue collar employment is devastating for male workers, their families and their communities. But to blame women and minorities for their suffering is not only wrong, it is inflammatory, dangerous and a distraction from what should be the real target of working class men’s anger.
This article first appeared in Daily Life