A Vindication of the Rights of Ken
What “Barbie” and “Succession” teach us about the works of Mary Wollstonecraft and NO WAIT DON’T CLOSE TAB
Another day, another think piece about men in crisis. Men are doing worse in school! Men are doing worse at work! Men can’t stop playing video games! (This was cited as a serious explanation for men’s struggles in the last article I read on the subject.) Men have been doing all these things since at least 2010, when Hanna Rosin told us that Men were Ending, and yet every day someone introduces it as a new phenomenon.
It’s not new. We have known its probable causes for a while now. Men are struggling in modern schools and workforces for the same reason that countries with female leaders did better during COVID: The “virtues” we deem traditionally masculine — independence, dominance, courage, competitiveness — aren’t terribly useful in 21st-century life. Independence translates to unruliness, dominance is bullying, courage bleeds into recklessness, the need to always be the best gets in the way of helping others succeed. The style of working we traditionally teach to girls — following instructions, over-preparing, cooperating with peers — tends to be more effective in the average workplace or classroom.
The irony is that those skills are taught to girls in the hopes of making them meeker, quieter, and more submissive — in other words, to prepare them for a life as subordinates. We still associate leadership with being courageous and dominant and all the rest. Even though women have begun to surpass men in education and workforce participation, the top jobs are still overwhelmingly given to men. It’s not that men are any more suited to lead — women do fine on that front. It’s that we teach men to act in a way that we wouldn’t tolerate from anyone but the man in charge.
Most men are not the man in charge. Most men, therefore, struggle, unless they are willing to learn traditionally “female” strategies for getting ahead. Yet those strategies are explicitly meant to help someone cheerfully accept lifelong subordination, which not many men — not many people — would willingly choose. In order to save their lives, they’ve got to play the game, but that game requires forfeiting their human dignity.